Archive for June 16th, 2009

Part of a BBC series charting the history of America, written and presented by David Reynolds.

American women push back against sexism, demanding career opportunities and access to birth control.

Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 3:45pm Thursday 11th June 2009
Duration: 15 minutes
Available until: 4:02pm Thursday 18th June 2009

After years on the defensive during the Bush administration, the National Organization for Women is elated to have a president sharing many of its goals. Yet NOW heads into its own leadership contest — a sharp contrast of age and race — mindful of the need to energize its ranks.

Kim Gandy, a savvy former prosecutor, is stepping down as NOW president after eight years leading the battle against many Bush-era policies.

The election to succeed her, set for NOW’s three-day national conference starting Friday in Indianapolis, is both an unusual clash of generations and an opportunity for activists to confront some of the challenges facing the feminist movement.

Delegates will be choosing between Latifa Lyles, a 33-year-old African-American who has been one of Gandy’s three vice presidents, and Terry O’Neill, 56, a white activist who taught law at Tulane University, who was NOW’s vice president for membership from 2001-05, and who most recently has been chief of staff for a county council member in Maryland’s Montgomery County.

The two have waged a polite campaign but are aware of the contrasts. Lyles would be NOW’s youngest president ever; O’Neill one of the oldest at the start of a term.

Gandy speaks respectfully of O’Neill, but she has enthusiastically endorsed Lyles.

“It’s hard to ignore the fact there’s been a generational shift in the country, and an organization that doesn’t recognize that is living in the past,” Gandy said. “Latifa’s youth is not a detriment, but an advantage. … She’ll take NOW to a different level.”

Yet one of NOW’s three current vice presidents — Olga Vives — is backing O’Neill, as are former NOW president Patricia Ireland and many other NOW regional leaders.

Both contenders expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

O’Neill, in turn, says she has the edge over Lyles in regard to grass-roots organizing and membership recruitment.

“I keep hearing `Terry, I want to see more activism in my community,'” O’Neill said. “The press releases, the media exposure, invitations to the White House — these are excellent things, but they’re not enough. The grass roots are not personally engaged.”

Like many feminists, O’Neill said she is still celebrating Barack Obama’s election as president — and his appointments of numerous veterans of the women’s movement to key posts in his administration.

“But even with a friend in the White House and a lot of friends in the Congress, it’s going to take well-organized, grass-roots movement to advance our agenda,” O’Neill said.

That agenda — more or less common to both tickets — includes ensuring that women’s needs are taken into account in health care reform and economic recovery initiatives. Feminists also bristle at continuing opposition to steps that would make birth control and abortion more accessible.

Ireland, NOW’s president from 1991 to 2001, says she is backing O’Neill — and serving as campaign treasurer — based largely on an assessment of the candidates’ tactical skills.

“There is a role that requires us to take unpopular stands and push on our friends,” Ireland said. “That’s what I think Terry really gets. She’s the one I believe will be very willing to use a wide array of tactics — not just traditional letters and e-mails, but also engage in civil disobedience, organize fasts, be at some congressman’s district office.”

However, Jessica Valenti, a prominent younger feminist who has been following the NOW campaign, says her contemporaries would be far more excited if Lyles triumphs over O’Neill.

“I never paid attention to a NOW election in my life until I knew Latifa was running,” said Valenti, 30, founder and executive editor of the popular blog

“This could be the moment where NOW becomes super-relevant to the feminist movement again,” Valenti said. “NOW has done amazing work over the years. But younger feminists, online feminists — we haven’t had a lot of connections with them.”

“When you think of NOW, you think of white middle-class feminism — 70s feminism,” Valenti added. “A lot of younger women are tired of seeing the same kind of leadership over and over. … They’re getting excited about smaller, local feminist organizations, more youth-led, doing more cutting-edge work.”

Overall, NOW says it has more than 500,000 “contributing members” — who are either paying membership dues at present or did so recently enough to stay on the mailing list. Gandy said there’s been a recent dip in membership revenues, but it’s modest enough so far that NOW has been able to avoid the staff layoffs occurring at many other nonprofits.

Gandy, 55, chuckled during a telephone interview when it was noted that both candidates to succeed her are promising to improve NOW’s grass-roots outreach.

“Every candidate is going to say that,” she said, recalling similar promises of her own. “The reality is that people who vote are from the grass roots, and every candidate is going to say `You’re going to get more attention from us.'”

Gandy was an early and passionate supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primary campaign, but shifted firmly into the Obama camp when he won the nomination and remains a fan of his.

“There’s no question that most progressives are giving President Obama some space to do the things he promised to do,” Gandy said. “That doesn’t mean that NOW’s pressure on the Congress or state legislatures is unnecessary. … You have to keep raising the issues, keep them in front of people.”

A woman submitted to a rape kit exam in July 2008 at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital after a husky stranger allegedly dragged her to the ground and sexually assaulted her, biting her on the neck and ears, according to police reports.

Nearly one year later, the kit with its potential DNA evidence sits in storage at the Downers Grove Police Department after the agency chose not to have it tested.

In other police storage vaults are rape kits gathered from a 6-year-old Bolingbrook boy, who told investigators an older child forced him to perform oral sex, and from an Aurora woman allegedly sexually assaulted by an acquaintance, who later made a taped confession, police records show.

By allowing a nurse to secure semen, saliva and other potential DNA samples — an invasive exam that can take up to eight hours — these Chicago-area residents provided police with potentially valuable forensic evidence. DNA testing of rape kits has identified sexual offenders, linking some predators to numerous attacks.

But in these and nearly 100 other sexual assault allegations handled over the last two years by some of the largest suburban Chicago police departments, including Naperville, Evanston and Aurora, police never had the kits tested, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Most of the 13 law enforcement agencies reviewed by the Tribune don’t require that every kit be tested — a notable exception being the Chicago Police Department.

In fact, some departments have placed most of the kits in storage, according to the newspaper’s review, a finding that prompted outrage from victims advocates and the offices of Cook County State’s Atty. Anita Alvarez and Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan.

“We feel very strongly that every single kit should be submitted from law enforcement to the crime lab for testing. Period,” said Cara Smith, Madigan’s deputy chief of staff. “It’s so rare for survivors of sexual assault to come forward. For victims to go through that exam and then have the kit sit on the shelf is infuriating. It sends the message that it didn’t happen. And we miss a chance to stop future attacks.”

Such concerns helped prompt Chicago police in 2005 to start testing all rape kits except in cases where the victim admits to lying, said Sgt. Kathy Warner, commanding officer of the department’s DNA unit and evidence evaluation program.

Before that, she said, the department only submitted kits if there was a suspect.

Concerned that Chicago police were sitting on potentially valuable evidence, a non-profit group raised private funds to test hundreds of kits that had been shelved. As a result of the effort from 2003 to 2007, 22 people were implicated in rapes. Three of the kits were traced to Wayne Willis, who was sentenced to 55 years for raping a 15-year-old girl in 1998.

“We now make sure nothing sits on our shelves,” Warner said.

Illinois law doesn’t require that police submit kits to a crime lab for testing — only that kits be retrieved from the hospital within two weeks.

The suburban police departments said rape kits are stored untested if the victim recants the allegations, doesn’t want to press charges or is found not to be credible. They are also kept if investigators don’t believe the case is strong, if the suspect acknowledges he had sex but says it was consensual, or if the state’s attorney’s office refuses to prosecute.

“Part of it is, you want to see where the case is going before you use those resources, how is it going to shake out,” said Kurt Bluder, deputy chief of the Downers Grove Police Department, adding that police can always pull kits out of storage if they later decide testing could prove valuable.

“Are you going to get a confession? Is there a suspect? Do we want to put things in the pipeline and system without knowing for sure we’re going to need it? If every department sent in every piece of evidence to be examined, we’d bring the system to its knees.”

The Illinois State Police Crime Lab continues to struggle with a DNA backlog, causing nearly yearlong delays in the testing of some rape kits.

The backlog is no excuse for not testing kits, said Shauna Boliker, chief of the criminal division of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which handles 800 to 900 sexual assault cases a year.

The medical consent form for the rape kits explicitly states they will be sent to a crime lab for testing.

“I don’t see any reason why these kits should not be tested,” Boliker said.

Critics say that by failing to unlock the potential DNA profiles in all rape kits as soon as possible, law enforcement agencies are letting down victims and placing the public in danger of repeated attacks.

Personal biases and sloppy investigating can make detectives ill-equipped to judge the value of rape kits, critics say. They note that although the DNA evidence may not lead to a prosecution in a particular case it can prove a useful in linking attacks and identifying offenders.

The victim in the Downers Grove case said she was unwilling to press charges if the attacker was found, according to police reports.

In the case of the Bolingbrook boy, records show the Will County state’s attorney office declined to prosecute after the alleged offender left Illinois. A spokesman said the youth is in a residential treatment facility in another state. In the case of the Aurora woman, DuPage County Assistant State’s Atty. Demetri Demopoulos refused the investigator’s push for charges.

“I asked him to reconsider since we had a offender taped confession, and a witness that observed the incident,” investigator Darrell Moore wrote in his report. Demopoulos “later called me, and advised me that the DuPage ASA would not be authorizing charges at this time. I advised him, that I disagreed with his findings, and thanked him for his time.”

DuPage County State’s Atty. Joe Birkett said his office takes sexual assault seriously but determined it could not win this case because the offender had no criminal history and the victim had been drinking and had initially expressed interest in having sex with the offender.

“I’m not suggesting the victim wasn’t a victim of sexual assault, but what her versions of events are and what we can prove in court are two different things,” Birkett said.

“It would be wrong to submit a kit in this case and have him [the accused] branded in CODIS,” he added, referring to the Combined DNA Index System, a database of DNA profiles secured from rape kits and convicted felons. CODIS, used as an investigative tool by police, is not accessible to the public.

Like the Chicago Police Department, the Will County sheriff’s office has made it a policy to submit every kit to the crime lab.

Sgt. Richard Kowalski said it is in the best interest of the victims, whether cooperative or not, to use the offender database to try to identify a suspect. Many victims, he said, become uncooperative after finding out how complicated the criminal justice process can be.

“Some victims blame themselves,” he said. “If it can be shown that a particular person has established a certain pattern of behavior, then it may prevent someone from becoming a victim in the future.”,0,3619454.story

Taking a Deep Look At Why Women Are Vulnerable to HIV/AIDS

Think again about the face of HIV/AIDS today. So much has changed about the virus since the media reported in the early 1980s on an outbreak of a rare form of cancer among gay men in New York and California.

A new book edited by a Northwestern University School of Law professor draws upon research from a number of disciplines to offer a provocative look at why today poor black women are overrepresented globally in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Sex Power & Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond” pulls back the veil to show how gender and economic power imbalances play out in the bedroom and make black women particularly vulnerable to the infection.

Responding to the AIDS crisis in the Caribbean, the book explores the relationship between gender and sexuality in that region and elsewhere to illuminate the impact of gender on HIV risk and prevention.

Many of the book’s authors — from the fields of anthropology, communications, law, literary theory, psychology, and public health, sociology and gender studies — initially came together at a conference designed to offer a deeper understanding of the global epidemic.

“We’re not focusing on especially stigmatized groups like sex workers,” said Dorothy Roberts, a co-editor of the book and a professor at Northwestern University School of Law. “We’re looking much more broadly at the political, social and economic conditions that make black women and men, especially those who are poor, vulnerable to HIV risk.”

Much of the HIV research aims at stopping risky behaviors, and studies dealing with gender tend to focus on how HIV/AIDS is different for men and women, without exploring the underlying power imbalances and gender norms that perpetuate the epidemic, said Roberts, who also is a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

“Gender inequities affect women in a number of ways, from engaging in sex for money to putting up with unfaithful husbands because they cannot afford to leave them,” she said.

Celeste Watkins-Hayes, an assistant professor of sociology and African American Studies and IPR faculty fellow at Northwestern, wrote a chapter titled “The Social and Economic Context of Black Women Living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.” She points out that 15 years ago the study participants she has been following for a number of years would not be alive.

Compared to HIV’s probable death sentence 25 years ago, people today are more likely to live many years with the virus if they have access to medical treatment because of the powerful class of anti-HIV drugs that were introduced in the 1990s.

Watkins-Hayes thinks that it is imperative that researchers and policymakers address the daunting social dynamics that women at the bottom of the economic pyramid face while living with AIDS. “The critical question for those already infected is ‘How do women who are HIV-positive go from believing they have a death sentence to believing they can live with AIDS?’”

From the early days of AIDS, when news accounts and obit after obit put the nation in a panic with chronicles of gay men’s deaths, the stigma of the disease has been the greatest for those perceived to be operating outside of mainstream sexual norms.

“Many continue to believe HIV is a kind of punishment, complete with sympathetic and unsympathetic victims,” said Watkins-Hayes. “Research shows that the sexuality of black women who are HIV-positive tends to be highly scrutinized, feared and viewed in light of stereotypical notions about supposed irresponsible sexual behavior of black women.”

The same women who are most likely to be HIV-positive are most likely to be subject to a vast number of social conditions that are bad for their welfare. They are more likely to be homeless, to be incarcerated or to have family members in prison. They tend to have little education and, after they get HIV, they often don’t have the necessary stamina to continue to work at jobs that often require physical strength. They, like most of us, depend on social networks, which, for them, tend to be highly fragile.

The problems of poor black women, like those of many women, often are compounded by the consequences of male dominance inside and outside the bedroom “Even powerful women who wield a lot of influence in their professional lives report they sometimes have difficulty asking men to use a condom,” said Roberts.

And women’s experience of violence is a strong predictor of HIV infection. Research shows that fear of violence prevents women from refusing unwanted sex or discussing condom use with their partners, according to the book.

In the United States, nearly half of over one million Americans living with HIV are black. African-American males continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in 16 black men will be infected with HIV in his lifetime, compared to one in 30 black women, according to the CDC. African- American women are 15 times more likely to be infected than white women.

Roberts began her work on the book when she was on a Fulbright fellowship in the Caribbean region, ranked second in HIV infection statistics. The book grew out of a conference that was part of the Research Initiative on Gender, Sexuality and the Implications for HIV and AIDS at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago. Roberts helped launch the project, and the UWI research initiative is ongoing. Besides Roberts, the co-editors of “Sex Power 7 Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond” are Rhoda Reddock, Dianne Douglas and Sandra Reid.

Men enjoy power, privilege and status at the expense of women, a fact that contributes to persistent and widespread gender-based violence.

Stephen Fisher, an Australian trainer on masculinities at the Chisholm Institute, Melbourne, was speaking at the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre’s (FWCC) Pacific Regional Meeting on Violence Against Women at the Naviti Resort on the Coral Coast in Fiji.

Fisher said the concept of masculinities was a major factor that reinforced male behaviour normalising demeaning and violent treatment of women.

Many men enjoy maintaining their dominance role in their personal relationships and in and this is expressed through their masculinity, Fisher said.

“For many men masculinity is an identity to be proven to others or defended from challenge,” Fisher said.

Objectification of women, treating them as goods by men, is also at the core of gender-based violence.

“Too often men treat women as objects to sexually conquer,” said Fisher.

Fisher challenged men to abrogate their desire for control and instead embrace “pro-feminist” in supporting women to eliminate gender-based violence.

Pro-feminism, he said, involves listening to women’s experiences and being informed by feminist analysis of issues that affect women.

The pro-feminist perspective also recognises that men as a group actually benefit from women’s domination. And even the gentlest of men enjoy privileges that stem from women’s oppression.

Another important aspect of pro-feminism, Fisher said, is being “gay-affirmative” and rejecting discrimination homosexuals, as gay-hating is very close to woman-hating.

“Some men fear homosexuality because it implies the possibility of vulnerability and intimacy between men, which challenges the competitive code and results in superficiality between men,” said Fisher.

“Many men may experience the traumatic psychological challenge of feeling attraction to other men and believe such feelings must be denied,” Fisher says. Being gay is often “hated” as it is perceived as being “feminine”.

See also:
* Fiji hosts regional meeting focusing on domestic violence against women
* Harmful practises against women in the Pacific and globally
* Violence against women raises HIV and STI risks in Fiji

Women’s organizations have called for gender equality education for all in society starting from the top levels, including the president and the prime minister, and down to the bottom, including private citizens, police officers, judges and prosecutors in the wake of a landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision that punished Turkey for failing to provide its citizens with better protection from domestic abuse.

Hülya Gülbahar, chairwoman of the Association for Educating and Supporting Women Candidates (KA-DER), said society needs to be educated on the issue of gender equality to overcome domestic violence.

“There must be gender equality education for the whole of society including the president and the prime minister,” she said speaking at a press conference yesterday organized by the TCK Woman Platform, which had successfully lobbied for changes in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) to protect women’s rights. Gülbahar added that all ministries should be mobilized to guarantee gender equality.

Pınar İlkkaracan from Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) has said there are several such measures that the state should take to increase the number of women’s shelters and to provide step-by-step guidelines for the police regarding how they should act when faced with a case of domestic violence.

“The ECtHR has found Turkey guilty because of its futileness and insensitivity in preventing gender discrimination against women,” she said referring to the case of Nahide Opuz, who applied to the European court in 2002 alleging that Turkish authorities had failed to protect the life of her mother, who was killed by Opuz’s husband, H.O. The court made a historic ruling on Tuesday fining Turkey 36,500 euros for failing to protect its citizens from domestic violence.

İlkkaracan said it is the state that is responsible for ensuring that gender equality is practiced in life and all citizens including civil society organizations, unions, professional organizations, political parties and press associations have duties in that regard.

“Now, the state should think about the measures that it should take,” she said, referring to the case in which Turkey was found guilty on a variety of grounds.

The ECtHR ruling pointed out — referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and ratified by Turkey on Jan. 19, 1986 — Opuz had applied to the court in the light of Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) and she further complained about the lack of protection for women from domestic violence under Turkish domestic law, in violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The Turkish government, meanwhile, contended that the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies since she and her mother had withdrawn their complaints many times and had caused the termination of criminal proceedings against the applicant’s husband.

However, the court unanimously dismissed the Turkish government’s objections and held the applicant Opuz’s arguments to be true. It also ordered Turkey to pay the applicant 30,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 6,500 euros for costs and expenses.

Speaking at the press conference, lawyer Canan Arın from Mor Çatı (the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation) said there have been no governments which showed strong political will to prevent violence against women so far and everything done remained only on paper.

She also criticized the approach of the head of the parliamentary commission on gender equality, Güldal Akşit, who said that the ECtHR’s rule was not just toward Turkey because it was based on “one unfortunate case.”

Arın said one case is important when the issue is human life. “Women are citizens too. Their lives should be protected and there should be positive discrimination when it comes to providing jobs. The incident cannot be undermined by saying that it is just one case. On the contrary, the case shows that violence against women is systematic and not isolated,” she added.

Indeed, Opuz’s case was critical in showing that Opuz and her mother were repeatedly threatened and even beaten by H.O. and that such incidents were documented by the police and the courts. However, H.O. despite being found guilty of murder in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison was released from prison pending an appeal.

Referring to the Diyarbakır-based Women’s Consultation and Solidarity Center (KA-MER) on domestic violence issues in Turkey, the ECtHR stated, “According to this report, a culture of violence has developed in Turkey and violence is tolerated in many areas of life.”

As the women’s organizations held a press conference in İstanbul, yesterday’s newspapers were full of front page stories on how several women were subjected to fatal abuse. One woman was shot to death by her police officer husband who targeted her in front of a courthouse where they were getting a divorce in the province of İzmir.

In Ankara, a woman was suffocated by her companion, who was on leave from prison for a day, in front of their 3-year-old child following an argument.

Another incident was in Afyonkarahisar. Two brothers forced a woman — who one of the brothers wanted to marry — out of her house and after she objected to the marriage proposal was killed by the men.

Meanwhile, Opuz, 37 was called to a police station yesterday and given protection. Originally from Diyarbakır but now living in a city on the western part of Turkey because of being in fear of her life, Opuz prefers to remain silent and speaks through her lawyer Arzu Başer.

Başer said that her client is delighted at the decree. However, the result cannot make up for Opuz’s mother being killed or Opuz being exposed to countless acts of violence.

“Opuz is still threatened by her husband. Only in October of last year did she apply to the prosecution again, filing a complaint against her former husband for threatening her. Opuz has children, but out of fear that her former husband may harm them, they do not live with her. She was given police protection before, but only for one week. We want her to receive protection for as long as her husband threatens her.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice had an inspector to investigate the Opuz case regarding whether or not the previous court processes were just and sound.

Convention set to combat violence against women

A convention drafted by the Council of Europe aiming to fight violence against women will be completed and ready to be voted on in 2010. On April 6-8, the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO) was held in Strasbourg. The meeting was devoted to discussing the scope of the future convention to combat violence against women, which should be completed by 2010. According to a preliminary report, there are five main issues which will be dealt with. These are domestic violence suffered by women, forced marriages, female sexual mutilation, honor killings and sexual violence suffered in the public or private sphere.

According to the convention, these issues will constitute a crime and will be punishable by law in the member countries. The convention is also expected to include articles which will protect women before they are exposed to violence as well as after they are exposed to it. A monitoring committee will be established in the body of the Council of Europe to see whether the convention is being practiced by the Council of Europe members.

Sources from the Council of Europe said the convention will view domestic violence as a human rights issue, noting that the European Court of Human Rights ruling on Nahide Opuz will help to shape the preparation of the convention.

During the preparation of the draft, some European countries wanted to view the issue of violence against women from the perspective of human rights while others said that the issue should be handled in the frame of a convention about domestic violence.

Justice ministers from the member countries of the Council of Europe who will gather in Tromso, Norway, will also discuss the issue of violence against women. The ministers are expected to vote on a Council of Europe recommendation about the issue.

İstanbul Today’s Zaman

On June 18 the Spanish parliament will rubber-stamp a new law extending paternity leave from the present 13 uninterrupted days to four weeks. This still falls short of leave for new fathers in European Union countries like Sweden, where a man whose partner has given birth is entitled to share the 16 months’ leave available to both parents. Meanwhile, to equality campaigners’ disgust, UK plans to extend fathers’ paid leave from two weeks to six months were temporarily shelved last week after the government decided that the present economic downturn was not a good moment to introduce the new legislation.

Despite its own economic plight, Spain’s modest two-week break is to be increased to a month earlier than was originally contemplated. When the Equality Law was passed in March 2007 it was, and still is, deliberately weighted in some respects – domestic violence, for instance – to benefit women. In other areas it cuts both ways and by 2007 it was considered that men had the right to paternity leave instead of having to use their own paid holiday allowance or relying on the understanding and co-operation of employers for time off.

Under the Equality Law, men were immediately granted two weeks’ leave which could be taken during the 16 weeks of a partner’s maternity leave or immediately after. Legislation over the coming six years was intended to gradually increase the leave to a month but at the end of 2008 the centre-right Catalan nationalist party Convergencia i Unio proposed in the national parliament in Madrid that the date should be brought forward. This, said CiU, would give men the right to involve themselves more fully in the care of their children.

After next week’s formalities, which have the backing of all parliamentary groups, the full month will be available from January 1, 2011.

CiU spokeswoman Merce Pigem last week praised the government for agreeing to fix a definite date when the economic outlook was so gloomy, as paternity leave is entirely financed by the Social Security system. It is precisely because of the recession that the new extended leave will not apply until 2011 when, in the words of MP Maria Isabel Lopez, there should be ‘more breathing space’.

Paternity leave is a new concept in a country where it previously consisted of an exiguous two days and not all men are claiming it.

Statistics reveal differing attitudes towards hands-on fatherhood in different regions, so in 2008 29,478 men in the Valencian Community took advantage of the new law and 6,966 have already claimed paternity leave in the first three months of this year.

It is in Cataluña where most new fathers exercised their right to stay home after a new addition to the family and with 15,894 women on maternity leave between January and March, 13,524 Catalan men took paternity leave between these dates.

There were 16,174 women on maternity leave in Andalucia during the same period – more than in any other Spanish region – but only 11,194 men took leave. New Basque fathers were more involved, with 4,379 births and 3,882 fathers taking leave although in the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla there were applications from only 74 and 52 fathers respectively.

Paternity leave costs the government 212,222,511 euros last year, an increase of 71.78 per cent, and this figure will rise in 2009.

But with one of the lowest birth rates in the EU, any measure designed to make parenthood less problematic is an investment for Spain’s future.

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) proposed a groundbreaking shift in the approach to reproductive health: women’s reproductive capacity was to be transformed from an object of population control to a matter of women’s empowerment to exercise personal autonomy.

The ICPD’s Plan of Action set out several key action areas: education and literacy, reproductive health care and unmet need for contraception, maternal mortality reduction and HIV/AIDS.

But although reproductive health programmes enjoyed fresh attention and resources from donors and governments, the emergence of HIV/AIDS as a leading funding priority undermined progress.

The two became awkward bedfellows despite HIV/AIDS being a health issue that cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from sexual and reproductive health rights.

An emphasis on HIV/AIDS produced mixed results. A study published in 2008 by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) – which included field research in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia – indicates that while new investment in AIDS services had many positive impacts on health systems overall, it also exposed existing weaknesses, in some cases increasing the burden on limited human resources by increasing demand and shifting governments’ attention away from other health priorities.

As a result of this, many women were denied access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Says Jennifer Woodside of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF): “Those of us working in the area of reproductive health and rights missed the HIV/AIDS bus because of these hurdles where experts in the field of HIV/AIDS and us on the other hand did not make use of the linkages.”

According to Woodside, the debate around the morality of reproductive health rights as envisaged by the ICPD further complicated issues such as access to family planning and constrained funding for reproductive health. “Yet family planning was meant to provide a package on reproductive health care as a way of achieving universal access to reproductive health.”

The ICPD Plan of Action calls for the achievement of universal access to basic reproductive health services by 2015 and for specific measures to foster human development, with particular attention to women. But its implementation has been hindered by governments in many countries focusing on HIV/AIDS programmes for which money was more easily be accessed.

The Plan of Action further underscores reproductive health as a right, which should strengthen women’s ability to take charge of their sexuality including sexual and reproductive health.

But efforts to improve access to contraception and safe abortion in line with the ICPD Plan of Action elicited international debate, with critics objecting on moral grounds to what they viewed as a licence for sexual behaviour.

In 2001, the George W. Bush administration in the United States reactivated the “gag rule” first formulated by the Reagan Administration in 1984. Also known as the Mexico City Policy the rule prevented U.S. funding for family planning that included abortion, abortion counselling and referrals services or abortion-related advocacy – even in countries where abortion is legal.

The enforcement of the rule – from 1984 until President Bill Clinton rescinded it in 1993, and again for eight years under the second President Bush – saw many family planning clinics and NGOs which provided comprehensive reproductive health care shut down.

The IPPF reported that it lost 100 million dollars in U.S funding during the latter Bush administration. Speaking during the 2015 Countdown meeting in London in 2004, Steven Sindling, then director general of IPPF said that as a result of the ‘gag rule’ there was an increase of unwanted pregnancies around the world: “More deaths from pregnancy- related causes, more HIV infections and more unsafe abortions.”

President Obama again rescinded the gag rule in early 2009.

According to Marcela Howell, who directs communications and marketing for the non- profit sexual and reproductive health rights organisation Advocates for Youth, the more than 1.1 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24 are bombarded with ideologies of abstinence until marriage, but have little information on how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.

But for youth like Rose (not her real name), an HIV-positive 18-year-old from the Kibera slum in Kenya, the information she receives from health providers is more frustrating than useful. She complains of impractical messages on abstinence directed towards her and her peers, most of whom are sexually active; and flatly incorrect information she was given about one day having a child, given her status.

Experts warn that providing Rose and billions of women like her with access to affordable reproductive health care as well as empowering her with education about – and protection for – her rights to sexual health is necessary if the much-talked about millennium goals of reducing poverty, maternal and child mortality and attaining gender equality are to become a reality.

Many hope that the spirit of the ICPD will rise again, and women access a holistic approach to reproductive health care.

Analysis by Rosemary Okello from

According to a 2008 study carried out by Guttermacher Institute of Medicine in the UK, in conjunction with Makerere University Faculty of Medicine, entitled “Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in Uganda: Causes and Consequences”, an estimated 775,000 women in Uganda have unintended pregnancies annually.

“The proportion of Ugandan births that were unplanned rose from 29% in 1995 to 38% in 2000-2001, indicating high levels of unintended pregnancy,” the study notes.

The study further states that overall, about 1.83 million pregnancies occur in Uganda annually.

“An estimated 16% of these pregnancies end in induced abortions, 26% in unplanned births, 42% in planned births and 15% as spontaneous abortions.”

The authors of the report noted that unintended pregnancies occur due to many women having difficulty in using modern methods of contraception correctly, which increases the risk of contraceptive failure.

“In addition, a substantial proportion of Ugandan women don’t use contraceptives at all because they believe they are detrimental to their health. Some think that they will become infertile if they use contraceptives,” Florence Mirembe, of the Faculty of Medicine, Makerere University and principle investigator and project manager of the study in Uganda, explains.

She says unintended pregnancy happens for example, when a woman decides to take pills only on the days she has sex.

Male deception and death of traditional sex education institutions also contribute to unintended pregnancies.

The study noted that some respondents from the society said the untrustworthiness of men, who sometimes sweet talk young girls into having sex by falsely promising that they will protect them against pregnancy, also contributes to unintended pregnancy.

One 36-year-old man in a rural area in Uganda confessed: “When I impregnated her, I knew I had because I went to her place and asked for sex. She refused, claiming that she was in her unsafe period.

“I was burning with passion, so I convinced her that I was going to withdraw before ejaculation so that I don’t impregnate her, but I failed to because I was enjoying myself.”

A group of urban women said when they were in school, they had a senior woman teacher who would counsel them. And even the ssengas (paternal aunts) used to counsel girls, but these days the girls are left to make their own decisions and end up getting pregnant.

“The breakdown of traditional community and family-centered methods of teaching young people about sexual partners (particularly the institution of ssengas), leaving adolescents with fewer knowledge and supportive sources to guide them through their sexual lives; and of course poverty, are other issues,” a group of urban women aged 36-49 responded.

The study further discovered that some women and families affected by HIV/AIDS might consider pregnancies unwanted because they fear transmitting the infection to a newborn.

Undoubted, though, the fundamental reason for the high rate of unintended pregnancy in Uganda is the low level of effective contraceptive use by women who want to space their pregnancies or who do not want to have any more children.

According to the 2008 population report, only 24% of women of reproductive age in Uganda are using contraceptives and the unmet need stands at 43%. As a result, women end up having abortions, thus endangering their health.

According to the study, an estimated 297,000 induced abortions are performed in Uganda annually, translating to an annual abortion rate of 54% per 1,000 women aged 15-49, as a result of unintended pregnancy.

Some of the women who abort end up bleeding to death, others suffer from chronic viral infections, septic shock and abnormal injury.

The researchers recommend that policy makers and health planners need to encourage people to increase contraceptive use. “The political will exists to improve reproductive health care, but the financial resources available are insufficient,” said Kiggundu.

They also encourage education in schools and community settings, as well as through the mass media, to emphasise the health and societal needs of family planning. Improving knowledge about, access to and use of effective contraceptives would lead to lower rates of unwanted pregnancy and reduced abortion, the study adds.

“Men should also be enlisted in efforts to improve reproductive health conditions among couples in Uganda.”

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Pregnant women and new mothers displaced by fighting in North West Pakistan are facing a potential health crisis, warn Islamic Relief’s medical teams in the region. A lack of appropriate healthcare, poor diet and the stress of the conflict and displacement are putting the lives of pregnant women and their babies at risk.

“Many of the pregnant women here are anaemic and malnourished and this is very dangerous,” said Dr. Jawad Ali from Islamic Relief’s health team in Char Gulli, in Mardan District. “If a woman is anaemic she is more likely to go into shock during labour. Malnutrition can cause babies to be born under-weight and women to have problems breastfeeding,” he warned.

“The mental health of a woman is also very important during pregnancy,” said Dr Ali. “She should not suffer anxiety or stress as this can cause premature births. I am worried that the current situation could have adverse affects on pregnant women and their babies.”

There are 69,000 pregnant women in need of healthcare amongst more than 2.5 million who have been displaced, most of whom are living with host families. This figure is likely to increase as people continue to flee the conflict in Buner and Swat. Islamic Relief is providing health services in the local community but like other agencies is struggling to recruit trained female doctors to work in such a volatile environment.

Local culture means women are reluctant to be seen by a male doctor for their gynaecological concerns. There are also concerns that the majority of these women will not be able to afford the cost of transportation to a clinic once they are in labour and may be forced to give birth at home in unhygienic conditions and without any medical help.

Raza ul Haq, Islamic Relief’s Programme Coordinator in Mardan said, “Even before this crisis the local health clinic in Char Gulli had very limited resources. There was no female doctor and no specialist maternal health facilities.

“Islamic Relief is supporting the local health unit by providing doctors, equipment, medication and a 24 hour ambulance service but we are still desperately trying to recruit a female doctor. We consider this to be a priority as we know that without medical care the lives of many women and babies are at serious risk.”

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Teenage pregnancy is on the rise in the Philippines and women’s groups said it is time to introduce sex education in government schools.

But their proposal has met with stiff resistance from the country’s influential Catholic Church.

According to the World Bank, the Philippines is among the top ten countries where there is an increasing number of teenage mothers (3.6 million) and these statistics often translates to a higher incidence of poverty in the country.

Women’s groups are alarmed by the steady increase in teen pregnancies. Seven out of every 10 women who are pregnant are teenagers, and most of them are younger than 19.

Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director, Likhaan, said: “We need to stress that delaying the age of pregnancies are important for them, not just physically to save their lives because of the risks of early pregnancy, but also economically, because we know that young people who are able to have opportunities are the people who are able to delay sexual engagements, especially having pregnancies. These are the ones that are able to finish school and have a better job.”

Non-governmental organisations are pushing for the enactment of a Reproductive Health bill. That piece of legislation would uphold the use of artificial contraceptives and institutionalise sex education in schools.

But the influential Catholic Church’s opposition to it has put it on hold.

Dr Junice Melgar said: “Unfortunately, even sexuality education is being challenged and opposed by conservative forces in the Philippines. Whether we like it or not, whether parents approve it or not, the young people are getting all source of information from the Internet, from their peers, etc.

“And if there’s no authoritative voice that tells uniformly on a standard basis what’s the harm, what are the risks, how can young people avoid the risk of early pregnancy? Then the risks to young people will stay as is, or could even increase the incidence of teen pregnancies in the country.”

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Zimbabwe records about 2,000 maternal deaths annually, UN agencies said in a statement last month.

Apart from the 2,000 women who die as a result of giving birth, “Several thousands more suffer severe or long lasting illness or disabilities. Zimbabwe needs midwives now more than ever,” said the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization.

The country’s economic collapse is blamed for the migration of midwifery skills to neighbouring countries and further afield, which is thought to have exacerbated the figures for 2007, the last recorded statistics, when there were 1,068 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, and a neonatal rate of 24 deaths in every 1,000 live births.

Between 2005 and 2006, only 68 percent of pregnant women were delivered by a skilled attendant, a situation Zimbabwe’s health ministry attributed to long distances between communities and health centres, poverty, and transport problems, particularly in rural areas.