Archive for July, 2009

A Judge has questioned if a man who had sex with a drunken woman after she passed out should be “marked for the rest of his days as a rapist”, describing it as a “technical rape”.

Sexual assault experts and victims groups said the judge should be censured while NSW Rape Crisis Centre manager Karen Willis said there was no such thing as a “technical rape”.

In the South Australian District Court yesterday, Judge David Smith said he was “troubled” by the case of Matthew James Sloan.

“Rape is a horrible offence . . . I suggest that this is a technical rape,” he said.

“This is not a situation where an offender perpetrated a sex act on an unconscious victim which she would not have consented to, had she been conscious.

“To mark this man with the grave offence of rape for the rest of his days will stop him travelling to some countries and prevent him getting jobs.”

Sloan, 29, of the Adelaide suburb of Highbury, pleaded guilty to raping the woman in the city’s east parklands in June 2008.

The court had heard Sloan met his victim at the PJ O’Brien’s pub and suggested they have sex across the road.

She agreed and the two began to have sex but she fell asleep during foreplay – which Sloan continued despite her being unconscious. Both were drunk at the time, with the woman being “heavily intoxicated”.

Sloan was due to be sentenced yesterday. Prosecutors had asked he receive at least a suspended jail term for his crime. However, Judge Smith said that might not be an appropriate penalty.

“I would put this offence at the lower end of the scale because the (sex act) began as a consensual one before the victim passed out and became incapable of consenting,” Judge Smith said.

He declined to pass sentence, saying he needed more time to consider his ruling.

He remanded Sloan on continuing bail until next week.

Anne Cossins, from the NSW Government’s Sexual Assault Task Force, branded the judge’s comments “typical”.

“Judges have become scared to voice what they think but this is what they think,” she said.

“It is the sort of thing judges should be censured for.”

Ms Willis said that the law was clear: Having sex with someone who was unconscious was against the law.

A Liberian man whose 8-year-old daughter allegedly was raped by four boys, and then reportedly shunned by her family, must wait at least three months before possibly regaining custody of the girl.

The father, who is not being named to protect the girl’s identity, met with Child Protective Services on Monday.

The girl was taken into state custody after officials said they heard the victim’s parents blame her and didn’t want her anymore. But the father denied Monday that he ever blamed her or said that his daughter brought shame to the family.

“That is not true,” the father told The Associated Press.

The family’s pastor, who accompanied him to the meeting, said it will be 90 days until CPS officials reassess the situation. No arrangements for visitation have been made.

The incident has ignited an international outcry, including comments from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

James Nyemah said the father was upset at having to go for such a long time without his daughter.

“He is troubled about the situation, that his daughter has been a victim of a horrible crime. This little girl that he raised … knowing that the child might still be separated up to 90 days, that is troubling him,” Nyemah said.

CPS officials said a three-month wait was not uncommon.

“Our primary goal in almost every case is to try to get a family unification. Whether it’s going to recur in this case I can’t say,” said CPS spokesman Steve Meissner.

Prosecutors have charged a 14-year-old Liberian refugee as an adult. Three other boys — ages 9, 10 and 13 — have been charged in juvenile court.

Police said the boys lured the girl to an empty storage shed with the promise of chewing gum. Then they restrained her while taking turns assaulting her.

Nyemah said community officials also want to find out if there was any miscommunication between authorities and the girl’s father. They also want to make sure families of the suspects and the victim get counselling.

The Supreme Court has allowed a mentally challenged rape victim who doctors said had a maximum IQ of a nine-year-old to give birth to her baby, saying nature will “take care” of the orphan mother and child.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan brushed aside every argument in favour of aborting the foetus, adopting a pro-life stand in a courtroom packed with activists, foreign journalists and young lawyers eager to gauge the outcome of the controversial case that is certain to generate in India a debate usually seen in the West.

“We are not in favour of termination of pregnancy,” the bench said, as it “stayed” a Punjab and Haryana High Court order.

The lower court had directed termination of the pregnancy, now in its 19th week, based on reports of an expert committee of doctors.

Under Indian law, medical termination of pregnancy is prohibited after the 20th week, though an appeal for a review of the 1971 act is pending before the Supreme Court.

In this case, the matter reached the apex court because the girl wanted to keep the baby but the Chandigarh administration was against it and the high court directed immediate termination.

The apex court acknowledged that time was “very less” for the 19-year-old, raped by two security guards at a home run by the Chandigarh administration, but took note of the statement of doctors that the woman had to be under constant supervision.

“If that is guaranteed, why terminate the pregnancy,” the bench said after a two-hour-long emotionally charged debate on the wisdom of allowing someone who didn’t “understand” conception and pregnancy to keep her child.

“Nature will take care on its own,” the Chief Justice added.

Two years ago, Bombay High Court had denied a couple permission to abort their unborn child. Doctors had told the couple in the 24th week of pregnancy that the foetus had a congenital heart block. But a report by an expert panel did not indicate that the child would “definitely have abnormalities”.

The child was delivered stillborn, just over a week after the August 2008 high court order.

Today, the apex court listed a reason for ruling against abortion in the Chandigarh case.

“We know that she will not be able to rear the child…. Someone else can take care of the child,” Balakrishnan said. Representatives of several non-government organisations offered to do so.

The rape victim’s lawyer, Tanu Bedi, said there was no “physical danger” to the girl. “She’s very happy about the child… and is looking forward to it.”

But the Union territory of Chandigarh, which runs the Nari Niketan where the girl was repeatedly raped by the security guards, made a passionate plea for abortion. “Her keenness to keep the child is not a reflection of her consent but that of a child who needs a toy…. She can only physically deliver a child and that’s all,” said counsel Anupam Gupta.

She doesn’t understand conception and pregnancy, the counsel insisted, urging the court not to get swayed by emotion. “Continued pregnancy is a threat to her mental health which can get worse.”

A psychiatrist present in the court also averred that the girl wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of motherhood. “She will have to be under constant medical supervision…. Even then she will have to stay up nights to feed the child…. All this will put additional emotional strain on her and she may turn her anger at the child,” she said.

But the court rejected the argument, saying “maternal instincts” might take over. “Nature has a way of taking care of it.”

Balakrishnan said the bench would explain its decision in a detailed order later.

“We have saved a life,” the victim’s lawyer said after the order. Since the girl had consented to keep the child, the high court had no right to take a decision on her behalf to terminate it, Bedi said.

The medical community expressed surprise at the apex court’s decision. Dilip D. Walke, chairman of the ethics and medico-legal committee of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, described the judgment as a “little surprising” and “very unfortunate”.

“How will she cope with the trauma of carrying the pregnancy through a full term, the labour, the delivery?” The decision should have been based on psychiatric evaluation, he said.

“The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy will only add fuel to the fire,” he said hinting at the higher rate of post-partum psychosis in such cases.

Following changes to the Dutch abortion law, the organisation Women on Waves has decided to cancel all upcoming trips of its so-called abortion boat. Opposition to abortion is growing, says director Rebecca Gomperts.

A decade ago, Rebecca Gomperts (1966) had a vision. With her organisation Women on Waves (WoW) she would run a floating clinic that women with unwanted pregnancies all over the world could turn to for help. Gomperts saw herself as the “abortion captain”. “I figured we would sail from country to country and help x number of women per day.”

At one point Gomperts envisaged an entire fleet of abortion boats registered in the Netherlands. They would anchor in international waters and carry out abortions, distribute medication and train local staff. For Gomperts it was her way to right an enormous wrong: the 20 million women who undergo illegal abortions every year worldwide, and especially the 68,000 women who die as a result each year – a plane crash a day.

Ten years later, as WoW prepares to celebrate its anniversary on September 4 in Amsterdam, expectations have been much lowered. Following recent changes to the Dutch abortion law, WoW has cancelled all upcoming trips of its abortion boat.

On May 18, the Dutch government decided to limit the distribution of abortion pills to specially approved clinics only, including for early abortions (up to 16 days after the last menstruation). Until now, WoW was allowed to provide the pill for early abortions based on a written permission from then Dutch health minister Els Borst.

Gomperts: “We had planned to campaign this year with a yacht off the coasts of Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Our legal system states that what is allowed under Dutch law is also allowed in international waters. So women boarding our ship did not have to fear prosecution. Now they risk prosecution in their own country if the Dutch health inspection rules that we are working outside the law. That’s a risk we couldn’t take, so we had to call off the campaign.”
Campaign t-shirt. Photo Women on Waves

[Editor’s note: On Monday July 27, the Dutch health inspection asked the public prosecutor’s office to prosecute Women on Waves for distributing abortion pills off the coast of Spain in October 2008.]

WoW is preparing a lawsuit challenging the the government decision. ” Under the influence of the Christian democrats and the [orthodox Christian party] ChristenUnie everything is getting more restrictive,” says Gomperts.

Gomperts’ dream of a fleet of abortion boats never materialised. It took until October 2008 for the organisation to get permission to use a converted sea container to perform curettages under certain conditions (up to 12 weeks pregnancy). Boats were used for campaign purposes, but no abortions were ever carried out there.

“The abortion boat is a myth,” says Gomperts. “There are people who think we provide practical help all over the world. Of course it’s a pretty sight: a ship entering a harbour full of women saying: abortion is a right. And then there will always be people wanting to stop the boat. The result is a symbolic fight that speaks to the imagination.”

Reality is more prosaic. “Our only real strategy is letting women know that there is such a thing as the abortion pill. They have to know that there is medication available for pregnancy termination.”

Even the mobile abortion clinic, set up in a container by the artist Joep van Lieshout ten years ago, will no longer be used. “It is not up to modern standards anymore. We need something lighter that will allow us to move around faster.”

The mobile clinic has been lent to the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam where it will possibly serve as an exhibit. “It is a unique part of Van Lieshout’s oeuvre – feminist art.”

On the surface Rebecca Gomperts hasn’t changed: she is still the slender woman with the penetrating eyes and a passion to defend women’s right to abortion. “I still get upset by the fact that a woman’s right to self-determination is not respected when it comes to abortion. It is a great wrong and it is responsible for women being oppressed and dying unnecessarily.”

But in her personal life there has been a drastic change. The woman who ten years ago said she had made a conscious decision to remain childless, is now the single mother of a three-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl.

“Motherhood has made me realise even more that raising children should be a choice. It demand everything of you, and that’s fine as long as you really want it.”

Gomperts became an activist when she joined Greenpeace in the late nineties. As the ship doctor on the Rainbow Warrior II she was touched by what Latin-American women told her about the unwanted pregnancies, the prostitution and the abuse that resulted from the ban against abortion. It was the seed for her later career.

What have been the biggest successes in ten years of Women on Waves?

“That Portugal, following our campaign, organised a referendum which led to abortion being legalised there.”

But the single-most important achievement, she says, was the founding of Women on Web. Through the organisation’s website women in countries where abortion is illegal can now order the abortion pill online. A doctor asks 25 questions and checks for contraindications before writing out a prescription. The pills are then mailed in a discreet envelope. For legal reasons, Women on Web is registered in Canada, but the pills themselves come from a variety of countries.
Rebecca Gomperts. Photo Women on Waves

Gomperts: “For many women this is huge progress. It is innovative, it really helps women. Women in countries where abortion is illegal live under tremendous stress. They go to unreliable websites where they are offered fake pills. There is also have a help desk where women can talk about their worries. These women need help. And anonymous support over the internet is quite effective. There are no taboos online; there is no shame to talk.”

Do these women have to pay for these pills?

“There is a voluntary contribution of 70 euros. But many women can’t afford that, so about 15 percent is sent the pills free of charge.”

How many pills are sent out each month?

“It was about 150 per month in early 2007. It must be up to several hundred by now.”

She is reluctant to talk about Women on Web, and she stresses that she is not the organisation’s spokesperson.

“It is such an important project, helping women in more than a hundred countries. I don’t want to say anything that could jeopardise the project. A lot of people want to thwart its efforts.”

Is it true that Ireland is blocking the pills?

“Women on Web has determined that the pill is being stopped by Irish customs. Apparently they screen all packages. I don’t know how they do it, but it has become too pervasive to ensure safe distribution.”

Wouldn’t it serve your work better if the media talked about Women on Web more?

“No, because Women on the Web works through the internet, not through the traditional media.”

She gets out her laptop to demonstrate. “What would you type if you were pregnant in, say, South America? Aborto ayuda [abortion help]?” Google returns a list consisting only of anti-abortion websites. ” Aborto pastilla? [abortion pill]?” The second website returned by Google is Women on Web. “You see? It works.”

Did you know George Tiller, the abortion doctor who was murdered in Kansas this year?

“Yes, I knew him fairly well. I had dinner with him several times. In the US, anti-abortion groups have multiplied their activity since Obama became president. Before Bush was their good friend and they were able to do much the legal way. Now that Obama is protecting women’s right to chose the number of threats and cases of harassment has tripled. And those American clubs are training their allies in Europe. We see a lot of aggression now at protests in countries like Poland and Ireland.”

Do you feel threatened here in the Netherlands?

“No, I’m not afraid here. I never look over my shoulder. But the anti-abortion activists are becoming stronger here as well. They copy tactics from the US, like distributing little foetus dolls. They also have more money than ten years ago. The foundation for the protection of the unborn child is subsidised by the Dutch state. They’re always ticking up posters and they’re very active in theschools. They have more money to influence public opinion than we do. That’s worrisome.

“The other day I was giving a lecture at a school in the Bijlmer [a heavily immigrant part of Amsterdam, Ed.] I was shocked by the anti-abortion sentiment among young immigrant girls there. And the youth activities of the Evangelical broadcasting corporation draw tens of thousands of visitors. These are signs that lots of things are changing in our society. Opposition to abortion is growing.”

You are especially controversial abroad?

“Yes, in 2007 a mass prayer was said for me in Malta. I had been invited by a political group to give a talk in a hotel in the capital. The public could hardly get inside because of the hundreds of anti-abortion activists praying outside the hotel holding candles. They were verypersevering: when I went to bed they were still there.”

Have you become more understanding towards your opponents over the years?

“If you believe that every life has to be protected I can imagine that you would be very passionate about that. Uncompromising. But it bothers me that they have no respect for people who thinkdifferently. Anti-abortion activists feel that everybody should act the way they think they should.”

Is a rapprochement even imaginable?

“No, I think it is impossible for proponents and opponents of abortion to ever come together. We’re talking about two entirely different philosophies here. There is no room for discussion. To me, the fact that they want to limit other people’s ability to make their own decisions will always be unacceptable.”

Spain’s Socialist prime minister has irked his natural enemies on the right and in the Catholic church by legalizing gay marriage and instituting fast-track divorce. Now he has hit a raw nerve even among his supporters with a proposal to let 16-year-olds get abortions without parental consent.

The debate is harsh and emotional, showing that for all the changes Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has introduced with his trailblazing social agenda since taking power in 2004, abortion remains sensitive in a country where most people call themselves Catholic, even if few churches are full on Sundays.

Liberalizing teen abortion is part of a broader change proposed for Spain’s abortion law, the main thrust of which is to allow the procedure with no restrictions up to 14 weeks into a pregnancy.

The government gave the bill preliminary approval in May and Parliament is expected to take it up in the fall. Zapatero probably has the votes to get it passed. However, the outcry over teenagers may force him to backtrack.

Under the current law, Spanish women can in theory go to jail for getting an abortion outside certain strict limits — up to week 12 in case of rape and week 22 if the fetus is malformed. But abortion is in effect widely available because women can assert mental distress as sole grounds for having an abortion, regardless of how late the pregnancy is.

Now Zapatero is seeking to deepen his mark on Spanish society. What he’s proposing wipes away the threat of imprisonment and declares abortion to be a woman’s right.

“That is a qualitative change in Spanish culture and politics,” said Javier del Rey, a professor of political communications at Complutense University in Madrid. “Something that had been a crime is transformed into a right.”

Britain, France and Germany already allow minors to get abortions without parental permission. But here it’s the issue that is dominating the debate.

The conservative opposition Popular Party asks why a girl who cannot legally buy alcohol can have an abortion without asking her parents. “The inconsistency is crushing,” lawmaker Sandra Moneo wrote in the newspaper El Pais.

“No father or mother can understand the idea of a minor going through that trauma without the advice, support and opinion of her parents,” Moneo said.

Zapatero’s camp counters by noting that 16-year-old Spaniards can choose to have open-heart surgery or chemotherapy without parental consent, but not an abortion.

Tempers have flared on both sides. Conservatives were enraged when Bibiana Aido, the minister of equality, suggested abortion was no bigger an issue than breast enlargement.

Socialists saw red when Antonio Canizares, a Spanish cardinal who holds a key position at the Vatican, seemed to play down a report detailing decades of sexual and other abuse of children by religious orders in Ireland and said abortion was worse.

Zapatero himself was asked in a radio interview how he would feel if his daughter, after she turned 16, had an abortion without telling him.

Zapatero said he would rather she tell him, and that it was up to parents to instill that kind of trust in their kids.

“But in the end, the decision is up to the person deciding whether to voluntarily interrupt a pregnancy,” the premier said.

Polling numbers are against him: A survey published last month by the newspaper La Vanguardia said 71 percent oppose the teenage abortion reform, and the proportion among Socialist voters was 60 percent. A poll in El Pais put the figures at 64 and 56 percent, respectively. Both surveys gave a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Lawmaker Carmen Monton, the Socialists’ point woman on the abortion bill, said it was designed to help girls from troubled families who need an abortion and cannot tell their parents.

“We are not legislating for model families with fantastic relations between parents and children. We are legislating for all of society,” Monton said in an interview.

Josefina Elias, president of the polling firm Instituto Opina, said she would not be surprised if Zapatero withdraws or tones down the proposal, and some suspect he put it forward to serve as something he can concede if necessary to win passage of the broader change.

One idea already being floated is to oblige teens to tell their parents they plan to have an abortion, although not to obtain permission.

Elias said Zapatero’s mistake was to forgo prior social debate about teen abortion.

“It has all been done like an elephant charging into a china shop,” she said.

Italy’s drug regulation agency has authorized the use of the abortion pill despite protests from the Roman Catholic church which threatens to excommunicate doctors who prescribe the drug and patients who use it.

The Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) announced its decision late on Thursday after a long meeting during which it was lobbied intensely by the church and Catholic politicians, including many from Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right government.

Since 1978 abortion has been legal in Italy on demand in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the fetus is malformed. By law, all abortions must take place in a hospital.

Developed in the early 1980s in France, mifepristone or RU-486 is approved as a prescription drug in the United States and almost all the European Union except some of the most Catholic countries like Portugal, Ireland and hitherto Italy.

Used to terminate pregnancies of up to 49 days, the drug is marketed in the United States by Danco Laboratories as Mifeprex and outside the U.S. by French firm Exelgyn as Mifegyne.

Its supporters in Italy say there is no contradiction with current Italian law.

“If a woman can’t be convinced to avoid an abortion, we should accept a less invasive and painful method,” 32-year-old Youth Minister Giorgia Meloni said, adding however that she personally “would never have an abortion.”

Critics say that, despite the AIFA stipulating that the pill could only be given in hospital in accordance with the law, some women were bound to abort at home without medical assistance.

“It intrinsically means women will have abortions at home, because the moment of expulsion is not predictable,” said senior health ministry official Eugenia Roccella, presenting an annual report on abortion this week ahead of the AIFA’s decision.

She said authorization of the RU-486 pill had been “heavily sponsored by politicians” and questioned its safety record.

After five women died in the United States and Canada from a rare bacterial infection after taking the abortion pill in 2005, U.S. researchers recently reported that giving it orally rather than vaginally, with antibiotics, reduced the risk of infection.

The Vatican, which opposes all forms of abortion in the belief that human life is sacred from the point of conception, says the pill is no different from surgical abortion.

“There will be excommunication for the doctor, the woman and anyone who encourages its use,” said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, emeritus president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the pope’s top expert on bioethical issues.

“First abortion was legalized to stop it being clandestine, but now doctors are washing their hands of it and transferring the burden of conscience to women,” he told reporters.

The abortion pill has already been given experimentally in some Italian regions but the AIFA ruling means it will now be legally available throughout the country.

It remains to be seen how many doctors will prescribe it since, according to the health ministry report, about 70 percent of Italian doctors are “conscientious objectors” who refuse to carry out abortions in their clinics or hospitals.

Italy has a low abortion rate compared to Britain, France and the United States and it has fallen steadily for decades. In 2008 there were 121,406 terminations, down 4.1 percent on the previous year and 48.3 percent less than the 1982 peak.

Silvio Viale, a Turin gynecologist who has campaigned for the pill to be authorized, said the AIFA decision was “a victory for Italian women, who from today have more freedom and choice.”

“But I am sorry it has come 20 years late. If such there had been such an innovative drug for something like the prostate I doubt we would have had to wait so long,” said Viale. (Reporting by Stephen Brown; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

In a backlash to Mexico City’s move to decriminalize abortion two years ago, states across Mexico have been rewriting their constitutions to grant embryos legal rights. So far 13 states out of 32 have approved the changes and six are debating it.

When Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in August 2008 that any state could legalize abortion, reproductive rights groups thought a tide would turn in this deeply Catholic nation in favor of a woman’s right to choose.

Instead, the states have become the next abortion battleground and the Supreme Court has been called in once more to intervene.

Last year, weeks after the court handed down the landmark ruling that allowed Mexico City to continue practicing legal abortions, state legislatures across Mexico began passing changes to their constitutions granting embryos the “right to life.”

The rewrite swept local legislatures with little resistance, some passing by unanimous votes. Many of the reforms include language that protects the embryo from the moment of conception with the same legal rights as a person.

Others, such as the reform that Jalisco state passed in March, specify that rights be granted to a fertilized egg. Thirteen out of 32 states have already approved the reform and as many as six more states are debating it.

Lawmakers say the changes are meant to head off any attempt by state governments to legalize abortions on demand after the Supreme Court’s decision. But pro-choice groups warn that the backlash from the states threatens to roll back the few reproductive rights Mexican women have won in recent years.

“The state congresses have put aside scientific arguments, the reasoning of the (Supreme) Court, moral dilemmas and the rights of women in order to ‘resolve’ a health problem through punitive measures,” Jose Woldenberg, a human rights expert and former electoral institute president, wrote in a May 14 column for the daily newspaper Reforma.

Overriding Rape Exception
The reforms could override a woman’s access to legal abortions in cases of rape, which all Mexican states have allowed for decades, activists warn. The human rights prosecutor’s office in Baja California was so convinced that this was the case, it sued the border state before the Supreme Court in January to overturn the reform. By granting all “conceived individuals” legal protection “as if they have been born,” the state is forbidding a rape victim from seeking an abortion and ignoring a woman’s fundamental liberties, the prosecutor’s office said in its brief.

The Supreme Court accepted the case and has yet to set a date for hearings.

The changes may even be used by health officials to prevent women from using emergency contraceptives, intrauterine devices, in vitro fertilization and any other method that some argue manipulates the fertilized egg, the prosecutor’s office and activists say.

For the same reason, the changes could put an end to stem cell research–which is permitted in Mexico.

“Our greatest concern is that women’s rights and their access to necessary health services will be reversed, abortions will be subject to greater judicial process and more women will end up in jail,” said Maria Luisa Sanchez, director of the abortion-rights group GIRE, which is based in Mexico City. Sanchez is a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century 2009.

GIRE representatives have filed a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and have helped hundreds of women file court injunctions and a lawsuit against the new constitutions.

Lawmakers who back the changes say that they do not reverse legal abortions in cases of rape, nor do they cancel exceptions granted for fetal defects in some states. Those exceptions remain in each state’s penal code and emergency contraceptives are integral to federal family planning programs, they argue. Some, however, acknowledge that further rewrites may be needed to clarify that the exceptions still stand.

“We need to make certain revisions, otherwise we will have a lot of (lawsuits) on our hands,” said Maria de la Paz Quinones, a Mexico City lawmaker who has been elected federal legislator for the conservative National Action Party. Lawmakers of this party, loyal to President Felipe Calderon, have strongly promoted the “right to life” reforms.

The main impetus for the reforms, the lawmakers say, is to prevent any other state from legalizing abortions in the first trimester the way Mexico City did in April 2007.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last August overturned a case brought by the federal government against Mexico City that argued the federal Constitution protects life from conception. The court found the Constitution did not do so and allowed the Mexican capital to keep abortions legal.

“It wasn’t clear that the Constitution protected life from conception. What we are doing is making sure it becomes very clear,” said Armando Martinez, president of the Catholic Lawyers’ College of Mexico. “You can’t have any young woman decide over the life of another person without consequences.”

The next step for the anti-choice movement is to pass a constitutional amendment at the federal level, which has already been introduced to Congress.

Nicaragua’s ban on all abortions, even when a woman’s life is at risk, is compelling incest and rape victims to give birth and contributing to an increase in maternal deaths, according to a report from Amnesty International.

Delegates from the human rights charity, who recently visited the predominantly Catholic country, say young girls subjected to sexual violence by family or friends are forced to give birth even when they are carrying their own brothers and sisters.

The report also says the law has led to a recorded rise in pregnant teenagers committing suicide by consuming poison.

Official figures show 33 girls and women died in pregnancy in the past year, compared to 20 in the previous year, it says. But the numbers are feared to be greater as the government itself has acknowledged incidents of maternal deaths are under-recorded.

Abortion was a key issue for the 2006 presidential election, won by former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. The former revolutionary, who once supported abortion rights, mobilised his supporters behind a campaign for a blanket ban on terminations, which was signed into law just before he took office.

Previous to that, “therapeutic” abortions were allowed in certain circumstances where continuation of the pregnancy was life-threatening.

The new penal code, introduced in July last year, enshrined the criminalisation of abortion, regardless of circumstance, with prison sentences for women who undergo abortions, and the medical staff who help them.

It also introduced criminal sanctions for doctors and nurses who treat a pregnant woman or girl for illnesses such as cancer, malaria, HIV/Aids or cardiac emergencies if such treatment could cause injury to or lead to the death of the embryo or foetus.

“There is only one way to describe what we have seen in Nicaragua ‑ sheer horror,” Kate Gilmore, Amnesty International’s executive deputy secretary general, told a press conference in Mexico City. “Children are being compelled to bear children. Pregnant women are being denied essential life saving medical care.”

She added: “What alternatives is this government offering a 10-year-old pregnant as a result of rape? And a cancer sufferer who is denied life-saving treatment just because she is pregnant, while she has other children waiting at home?”

Amnesty said the law goes as far as punishing girls and women who have suffered a miscarriage, as in many cases it is impossible to distinguish spontaneous from induced abortions.

The charity is calling for the immediate repeal of the penal code, and a guarantee of safe and accessible abortion services for rape victims and women whose lives or health would be at risk from the continuation of pregnancy. It also wants protection for those who speak out against the law, and “comprehensive” support to be given to women and girls affected by it.

The report, The total abortion ban in Nicaragua: Women’s lives and health endangered, medical professionals criminalised claims the law is in conflict with the Nicaraguan obstetric rules and protocols issued by the ministry of health, which mandates therapeutic abortions in specific cases.

The church has been seen as a powerful force behind the ban in a country where an estimated 85% of the population is Catholic. Just 3% of the world’s countries, including El Salvador and Chile, have such an absolute ban in place.

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) International solidarity network is gravely concerned to hear that on Wednesday 29 July, at 10:00 am, Sudanese time, the court will hear the case brought against Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmad Hussein for ‘inappropriate dress and conduct’.

Hussein and 12 other women were arrested in Khartoum on July 3, 2009, for wearing trousers. Ten of the women have already received punishments of 10 lashes each, and charges were brought against three others, including Hussein, under Clause 152 of Sudanese criminal law that mandates up to 40 lashes and/or a fine for ‘inappropriate dress’ as well as for conduct that is considered to contravene accepted norms. These actions of the public order police (similar to the the religious police in Saudi Arabia) systematically violate the human rights of Sudanese women.

The WLUML network calls for a halt to the court proceedings under article 58 in the Sudanese Criminal Proceeding Act that gives the minister of Justice the authority to stop the trial. WLUML further demands that article 152 be abolished or reformed because it is in violation of fundamental human rights as enshrined in international law, as well as being in breach of The Bill of Rights in the Sudanese Interim Constitution 2005.

Hussein has brought the issue to the attention of the public, and distributed 500 invitations to journalists and friends to her court proceedings and to the flogging to which she is likely be sentenced, explaining in an interview with Al-Arabiyya TV, that she had given out the invitations because otherwise no one would believe that she was to be flogged for wearing ordinary clothes: “I wanted the punishment to be executed in the presence of observers, so that they see for themselves why I was being flogged.”

Imposed dress-codes upon women, whether enforced by legal frameworks or non-state actors, are not only about clothing. Dress-codes speak to an underlying desire to control women’s bodies and autonomy, examples of which can be seen across regions and cultures. We urge your immediate attention to this extreme manifestation of controlling women’s bodies and autonomy through their clothing.[136]=i-136-288408a2975aff7121e87f74893cd35c

UPDATE: Sudan: Lubna Hussein’s case postponed to 4th August

As Lubna Ahmad Hussein works for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), the judge today (29/07/2009) said that she has immunity so the case could be cancelled. Hussein refused, however, and said that she will resign from UNMIS so she will be dealt with as a Sudanese citizen. The decision was reached to postpone the case to another session on Tuesday 4th of August.

“The court gave Lubna the choice either to accept immunity from the UN or to waive that and go on with the trial,” her lawyer Nabil Adeeb told AFP.

“I wish to resign from the UN, I wish this court case to continue,” Hussein told a packed courtroom before the judge adjourned the case to August 4.

“First of all she wants to show she is totally innocent, and using her immunity will not prove that,” Abdalla told reporters. “Second she wants to fight the law. The law is too wide. It needs to be reformed … This is turning into a test case. Human rights groups will be watching this closely.”

She wore the same clothes to court as when she was arrested — moss-green slacks with a loose floral top and green headscarf, and waved defiantly to crowds as she left the court.

Scores of people crammed into the courthouse to hear the ruling, many of them female supporters — some of them also wearing trousers out of solidarity.

Some held up placards on the street outside. “A woman is not for flogging,” read one in Arabic.

“We are here to support Lubna, because this treatment of women is arbitrary and not correct,” said Zuhal Mohammed Elamin, a law professor in Khartoum. “Women should not be humiliated in this manner.”

After the end of the court sessions outside the court building, there were some clashes between police forces armed with batons and the journalists who were documenting the event using video cameras. Some reporters, who were briefly detained, had tapes and equipment confiscated.


The WLUML network calls for article 152 be repealed because it is in violation of fundamental human rights as enshrined in international law, as well as being in breach of The Bill of Rights in the Sudanese Interim Constitution 2005.

The journalist Lubna Ahmad Hussein has chosen to courageously use her particular case to challenge the constitutionality of the law and to highlight the growing number of cases of floggings of girls and women with no public profile or international standing. These women are guilty of nothing more that dressing as they think appropriate. Imposed dress-codes upon women, whether enforced by legal frameworks or non-state actors, are not only about clothing. Dress-codes speak to an underlying desire to control women’s bodies and autonomy, examples of which can be seen across regions and cultures. We urge your immediate attention to this extreme manifestation of controlling women’s bodies and autonomy through their clothing.

Please continue to put pressure on the Sudanese authorities to repeal this unconstitutional law by writing to the Sudanese Minister of Justice and to UN Special Rapporteurs:


The Sudanese Minister of Justice,
Mr. Abdul-Basit Sabdarat.
P.O. Box 302 – Zip Code: 11111
Nile St. Khartoum – Sudan
Tel: 00249912287609 (The mobile number of the admin of their website)
Fax: 00249183764168

Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
Rashida Manjoo
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10,
Fax: 00 41 22 917 9006

Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
Manfred Nowak
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10,

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
Margaret Sekaggya
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (Geneva, Switzerland)
Telephone: +41 22 917 1234.
E-mail: The text of the e-mail should refer to the human rights defenders mandate.


On Facebook, Hussein posted a letter to her supporters in which she clarified that her aim was to stir up a scandal around her case, in order to expose the insufferable reality faced by Sudanese women due to the country’s criminal law. She wrote:(4) “I am very grateful to you all, and want to let you know how happy I am to have your solidarity. I hope that [this case] will shed light on Clause 152 of Sudan’s 1991 criminal law.

“This is not a matter of a personal attack against me as a journalist, nor of preserving my personal dignity. Far from it. The issue has taken on a different character, [and I call] on the public to be [my] witness and [to judge for themselves whether this incident] is a disgrace for me or for the public order police. You will decide after hearing the charges and the prosecution witnesses, rather than [only] my side of the story.

“My case is the same as that of 10 young women flogged that day, as well as of dozens, hundreds, and maybe thousands others flogged in the public order courts because of their dress, day after day, month after month, and year after year. They emerge from there dejected, because society does not believe them – indeed, it will never believe that a girl can be flogged only because of the way she dresses.

“The result [of this punishment] is [society’s] death sentence against the girl’s family; for her parents it means an attack of diabetes, hypertension, or heart failure. [Just think of] the girl’s emotional state, and the disgrace that will follow her for the rest of her life – and all because [she wore] trousers. The number [of victims] will keep growing, because society refuses to believe that a girl or woman can be flogged because of what she wears.”

A Malaysian woman sentenced to flogging for drinking beer has accepted the Islamic court’s order, saying she wants the punishment to be carried out soon, news reports said Thursday.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year-old model, was arrested on charges of drinking beer after Islamic authorities raided a hotel nightclub last year. She was sentenced Monday to six lashes with a rattan cane after pleading guilty in the Shariah High Court.

Consuming alcohol is a religious offence in Malaysia only for Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population. Offenders are prosecuted in Shariah courts, which handle cases mainly related to family and moral issues for Muslims. Most alcohol offenders are fined, but the law also provides for a three-year prison term and caning.

Some politicians and women’s rights activists have criticized the religious court’s sentence, calling it too harsh.

Caning is usually reserved for men in various crimes ranging from rape to bribery. But several Islamic lawyers have insisted that the penalty for Kartika is fair, saying she will be whipped with a thin rattan cane that does not cause severe pain.

Kartika told reporters in her northern home state of Perak on Wednesday that she wants authorities to carry out the penalty quickly so that she can resume her life with her husband and two children.

“I will accept this earthly punishment,” the national news agency Bernama quoted her as saying. “I want to advise youngsters to learn from my experience, not to repeat my mistake and cause shame to yourself and family.”

Kartika’s lawyer could not immediately be contacted Thursday.

Rattan canes are made from palm plants common in tropical parts of Asia. They have been used for decades for corporal punishment, but offenders in serious crimes are flogged with thicker canes that can cause bleeding and scars.

Kartika was the only Muslim caught in last year’s raid at the Pahang nightclub. Malaysian clubs and lounges typically serve alcohol and are not legally required to check if customers are Muslim before serving them, so the hotel nightclub operators were not charged with any offence.

The judge in Kartika’s case did not elaborate on why he imposed a relatively severe sentence, but local media noted that he had a history of being tough on alcohol offenders.

See also: Malaysia debates caning of woman

Amnesty International has learned that at least 180 people face being flogged in the Maldives as a punishment for extramarital sex.

The vast majority of those who are flogged in the Maldives are women, even though both men and women can be sentenced to flogging. The most up to date official statistics on flogging from the Department of Judicial Administration dates back to 2006 and shows that from a total of 184 people sentenced to flogging in 2006, 146 were women.

Amnesty International is calling on the government of the Maldives to immediately stop this inhuman and degrading punishment.

Amnesty International has received credible reports that an 18-year-old woman was flogged in public on 5 July this year. She received 100 lashes after being accused of having sex with two men outside of marriage. Local journalists reported the woman fainted after receiving the lashes and was taken to hospital to receive medical attention

The woman, who was pregnant at the time of sentencing, had her punishment deferred until after the birth of her child. The court ruled the woman’s pregnancy was proof of her guilt. The men involved in the case were acquitted.

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Maldives, said:

‘Amnesty International opposes flogging. It’s a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment which is banned by international human rights law. The practice is humiliating and leads to psychological as well as physical scars for those subjected to it. The severity of the pain and suffering often means that whipping is in fact a form of torture.

‘Under international law the government must ensure that nobody is sentenced to flogging and that the punishment isn’t carried out against anyone.’

The government of the Maldives is obliged to abolish flogging under the international human rights laws it has signed up to such, as the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol.

Amnesty international calls upon the government of the Maldives to impose an urgent moratorium on flogging and for the punishment to be ultimately abolished.

The Hamas-appointed chief justice in the Gaza Strip has ordered female lawyers to wear a head scarf in court, drawing criticism from human rights groups in the territory controlled by the Islamist group.

Hamdi Shaqoura of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said on Monday Chief Justice Abdel-Raouf al-Halabi’s edict “violated personal freedoms” and that it raised fears that Hamas intended to impose Islamic religious law.

Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in fighting in 2007, has denied such allegations.

Halabi ordered all attorneys to appear in Gaza courts in dark clothing and women to wear a scarf covering their hair.

Several human rights groups in the territory issued statements calling the edict, which goes into effect on Sept. 1, a violation of public and personal freedoms.

The Palestinian Lawyers Syndicate, representing attorneys in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, demanded the decision be reversed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has welcomed Syria’s move to enforce a minimum jail sentence of two years for honour killers but said it was not enough as all murders should be dealt with equally.

“Two years is better than nothing, but it is hardly enough for murder,” Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at the watchdog, said in a press release on 28 July. “The Syrian government should punish all murders alike – no exceptions.”

Article 548 of Syria’s Penal Code had previously allowed for a complete “exemption of penalty” for the killing of female family members who had been found committing “illegitimate sex acts”, and for the murder of wives having extramarital affairs.

On 1 June, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad replaced this Article with one reading: “He who catches his wife, sister, mother or daughter by surprise, engaging in an illegitimate sexual act and kills or injures them unintentionally must serve a minimum of two years in prison.”

Rights activists have welcomed the move but say the Article should be abolished altogether. They are also campaigning for the amendment of Article 192, which lets judges waive or reduce the punishment for any crime motivated by honour.

“You cannot abolish one penal code provision that protects these killers and leave others intact,” Khalife said. “Article 548 was a start. Now the government needs to reform all the articles in the criminal code that treat those who say they kill for ‘honour’ differently from other murderers.”

There are no official statistics on the number of victims of honour killings in Syria although the Syrian Women Observatory, an independent Syrian website for women’s rights, estimates there are nearly 200 such deaths a year.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women a year may be victims of honour killings. In the Arab world, Jordan, Lebanon, OPT, Egypt and Iraq have the highest number of reported cases, according to the Arab Human Development Report 2009.

In Jordan, rights activists continue to press the government to repeal Article 98 of its Penal Code, which mandates a lower penalty against someone who commits a crime when in a state of extreme fury over an unlawful or dangerous act committed by the victim.

In Lebanon, activists say Article 562 of the country’s Penal Code, which allows for reduced penalties for crimes intended to “preserve honour”, makes committing crimes against women easier and allows men to literally get away with murder.

See Syria Increases Minimum Sentence for Honor Killing

The debate over proposed changes to Israeli divorce laws has made its way to the Knesset, where interested parties are meeting to hash out a compromise in a dialogue that could stretch into the next legislative session.

Supported by a host of women’s rights groups, one plan seeks to eliminate the so-called “race to file,” where the first partner in a couple who files for divorce determines which jurisdiction will handle related issues such as alimony, child support and inheritance.

Jewish rabbinical courts maintain exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce cases, however the related issues can be decided in either civil or rabbinical court.

“As it happens there’s this race where the woman would want to file this alimony action in the civil court and the husband would like to file it in the rabbinical court because rabbinical court tends to favor the husband, whereas the civil court tends to be more generous for the woman,” said Michael Karayanni, a law professor at Hebrew University Faculty of Law.

A group of traditional and liberal Orthodox rabbis, women’s groups, lawyers and other parties are meeting at the Knesset to voice their opinions on the matter.

“In this process we will build together,” said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who is hosting the discussion. “It is much easier to be open, to change the atmosphere by giving support to both sides.”

Schneller, who is modern Orthodox, said he wants to serve as a bridge between the progressive and conservative wings of Israeli society in hopes of promoting reconciliation. Schneller was instrumental in 2007 in lobbying for a law adopted by the Knesset that allows religious and secular courts to automatically and equally divide the assets of couples whose divorce proceedings extend beyond nine months.

“We have a lot of tools, we need to choose what is the best,” Schneller said. “What is most important to me is the process and making sure that all perspectives are heard.”

The International Coalition for Aguna Rights, a coalition of nearly 30 women’s groups, is pushing for reforms to divorce policies, saying both parties in a divorce must consent to have the matters supplementary to a divorce brought before a rabbinical court.

Marc Luria, ICAR’s volunteer lobbyist in the Knesset and government, said their battle was an uphill one.

“Israel has something which is the status quo,” Luria said. “They’ve basically frozen things in place.” Luria said some 80 percent of current supplementary divorce cases in Israel land up in civil court and the remaining 20% involve predominantly Orthodox couples.

“It’ll be a big fight. Ultra-Orthodox fight anything that in any way hurts authority of religious courts,” said Luria, who pointed out that most of the women pushing for the reforms are religious themselves and see it rather as a matter of how much time should elapse between the filing date and the actual continuation of the case in either civil or rabbinical court.

The report “Out of Court Resolutions of Violence Against Women” has been written as a part of the project “Ending violence against Women”. The aim of the report is to convey an idea of the perceptions of domestic violence and resolution of domestic violence at the community level. In interviewing over 300 people in five very different communities, impressions reflecting actual realities of the different kinds of domestic violence and resolution processes that exist in these communities are presented.

“Ending violence against Women” began in Cambodia in 2007. The project is supported by DanChurchAid over a period of three years. It will be concluded in December 2009.

Domestic violence affects the whole society

It is clear that many people are affected by domestic violence – survivors who suffer violence and inept attempts at resolving their situations, authorities who would like to better assist domestic violence victims but are hampered by their low technical skills and traditional attitudes and community members who witness the violence, intervene and often assist parties in resolving the situation.

Lack of knowledge prevents resolutions It is also clear that many people within these groups do not have the necessary attitudes, skills and the knowledge to resolve these situations in order to prevent further violence and that cultural norms, traditional attitudes and discriminatory treatment of female domestic violence survivors continue to prevent meaningful and gender sensitive resolutions of domestic violence.

The communities in the report vary in size, population, socio-economic sectors, industries and job, age, sex, education, differing levels of NGO intervention, remoteness and isolation yet they have one thing in common. Across every community, perceptions of domestic violence are largely the same, resolution processes of domestic violence are much the same and the attitudes towards domestic violence survivors and towards domestic violence in general, discriminate against these people by placing value on cultural norms over the safety, wishes and well-being of the survivor.

Download report: Out of Court Resolutions of Violence Against Women 1.10 MB

It is interesting to see that in five very different communities in Cambodia women suffering domestic violence are not only suffering from the effects of violence but are suffering from the resolution process itself.

Partners in the project “Ending violence against Women”:
ADHOC, CDP, CWCC, Folkekirkens Nødhjælp/Christian Aid and other DanChurchAid/Christian Aid-partners, who focus on violence against women: LICADHO, TPO, NGO CEDAW, GAD-C, PK

Hundreds of people participated on Saturday in Luanda in a march against domestic violence, which was dubbed “Zero Tolerance”.

The march was held in the ambit of the commemorations of the African Women Day, to be marked on July 31.

During the event, which took place under the theme “Impact of the financial crisis in the life of families”, the participants walked past the Deolinda Rodrigues Avenue, the Independence Square, Ho Chi Min Avenue, Hoji-ya-Henda Avenue, culminating in Cidadela sports complex.

The march aimed to sensitise citizens about the various forms of violence, consequences, the advantages of being tolerant at home, in school, at work, and in the street, as well as the need to denounce all types of aggression.

The march, which was organised by the provincial department of family issues and promotion of women, was attended by the minister with this portfolio, Genoveva Lino, the Luanda governor, Francisca do Espírito Santo, and the vice-president of the ruling MPLA party, Roberto de Almeida, among other officials.,10c23959-2e0f-4786-be36-4e5a9b5de204.html

Since January, over twenty women have been murdered at the hands of men they knew, the most recent and horrific crimes involving a son allegedly locking his mother in a room and beating her to death and a spurned ex-lover allegedly setting in wait and killing the mother of the woman he wanted to marry. This week’s column comes from Guyanese Luke Daniels, a UK based social activist and domestic violence counsellor, whose work with men at London’s Everyman Centre received recognition in a 1995 television documentary “Pulling the Punches”. He is completing a book by the same title (see Next week’s column will continue this discussion by expanding on a point hinted at below, namely that we cannot abstract the brutality that is being manifested against women from the wider brutality and indifference that have come to characterise so many dimensions of contemporary Guyanese life. It is symptomatic of a profound disconnection that combines with underlying power differentials to result in women being regularly targeted for assault and murder. Without ever losing sight of the women, in fact because we must not lose sight of the women, it is important that we not reduce these horrific accounts simply to a private matter, a man-woman dynamic. In short, we need to ensure that we do not domesticate our discussions of domestic violence.

Stop This Slaughter
By Luke Daniels

Guyana must now be one of the most dangerous places for a woman to live with regular newspaper reports of women brutally murdered by their partners. It is time to put a stop to this senseless slaughter of women. Growing up in Guyana my father always cautioned me and my brothers not to hit girls as it was cowards who hit women. What has happened to our men that we think it is ok to abuse and even kill women?

For too long we have been encouraged to believe that what happens between a husband and wife is not our business. This attitude has left our sisters, aunts, mothers, daughters and friends vulnerable to abuse with no one to come to their rescue. It is time for a change in attitude, for all of us are affected when a life is destroyed by domestic violence.

Men have to learn that it is acceptable to intervene to stop the violence as when some men abuse it is all men that are tainted by their actions. If we feel unable to intervene alone we must get the support of family members and friends. We cannot afford to wait on the police to protect women, direct action is necessary to save lives.

The government has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens and ensure that they live lives free from fear of violence. The law has an important role to play in protecting women and the police force must be made accountable for its failings in upholding the law.

What is happening in Guyana? Why is the police force failing to protect women? Is it because too many of them are abusers themselves that they treat domestic violence as less serious a crime? The government has a responsibility to not only see that there are adequate laws to protect but that the police force is adequately trained and are accountable for their actions or inaction as the case might be.

The message has to be loud and clear that if anyone is abused the police will make an arrest. Instead of this we see the force failing to take action, often despite repeated desperate complaints. Too often even if action is taken the abuser is let off lightly. When we have government officials and members of the police force abusing women behind closed doors it will take a great deal of effort to bring about change in attitude and behaviour.

In the meantime women have to learn to protect themselves. For those not already trapped in a violent relationship having some sense of the type of man who will pose a future threat to their safety is important for their survival. From my experience of working with perpetrators of domestic violence I have observed that men who are extremely jealous, controlling and possessive are more likely to perpetrate. Of course at the beginning of a relationship these attributes can make a woman feel very special, but it is not long before the controlling behaviour creeps in –who were they talking to and what about? They are discouraged from having friends. This is especially dangerous as friends and family are cut off, leaving the victim dependent only on the partner. Woman need to check out the man’s attitude to women generally; is he disrespectful and abusive in his language to women? And of course in the early days of courting it is important to ask their opinion of domestic violence. Many perpetrators believe that women like men who beat them and some women have internalised the notion that ‘if my man don’ beat me he don’ love me’. Women must make it clear that they detest men who abuse women and taking action at the first instance of any violence is important or the violence can only get worse.

We must also teach our children that abuse of any kind is unacceptable. From my work I have learnt that hitting children is one of the root causes of domestic violence. When children are hit and told that ‘it is because we love them’, we confuse them about what loving is. It is not surprising that many grow up believing that abuse is a sign of love. We must teach our children that using violence is unacceptable, but we cannot do this if we continue to beat them as parents. Some argue that they have to ‘teach them a lesson’; the only lesson we teach is that violence is an acceptable way to control behaviour. These same boys grow up to be men who feel they can use violence to control their women.

If beating children did any good, as many believe, the Caribbean should have the most peaceful societies when you consider how much violence is done to children. Instead violence abounds, with shockingly high murder rates per capita in several countries in the region.

Women have to be aware that the most dangerous time for them is when they decide to leave a violent man. This is where state intervention is absolutely necessary. There are organisations like Red Thread that help women negotiate this difficult period and getting professional help is important. Providing protection for women escaping abusive situations – like enough safe houses and adequate resettlement arrangements – is an absolute responsibility and necessity of the government if women are to be protected.

Nothing will change until we get men to realise that hitting women is never acceptable. If a relationship is not working out it is time to move on –not abuse or kill.

(This is one of a series of fortnightly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

The landmark Sexual Offences Bill, which reforms and amalgamates various laws relating to rape, incest and other sexual offences, was finally passed by the Senate last Friday.

The Bill will repeal the Incest (Punishment) Act, as well as several provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act. It also provides for the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry, which will maintain a register of sex offenders.

It was passed in the House of Representatives on March 31, tabled in the Senate in April and the debate started in May. However, over a lengthy process in the Senate, 28 amendments were made before the Bill was passed.

These amendments cover a number of crucial provisions, including: violation of persons suffering from mental disorders; procuring violations by threats, fraud or administering drugs; abduction of children to have sexual intercourse; unlawful detention to have sexual intercourse; living on earnings from prostitution; and protecting the anonymity of complainants and witnesses.

The Bill also provides a statutory definition of rape, as well as provisions relating to marital rape, specifying the circumstances in which such rape may be committed.

It was piloted through the Senate by Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who is also the leader of Government business.

Lightbourne noted that the Bill was examined rigorously by the Senate and that the members had, in large part, made useful comments on the provisions.

Senator Navel Clarke who spoke on behalf of the Opposition members, welcomed its passage. He described the Bill as being “in the interest of the people”, and expressed the hope that the Senate will continue in that direction.

Gender experts weigh in

Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (BWA), Faith Webster, said the Bill would go a far way in protecting the women in society who are often times victimised.

“It has been a long time in coming, but we have reached there; and I think now in Jamaica we are even ahead of some of our other Caribbean counterparts. They have been watching closely too and commending us to know that we have reached this stage now, and now we are looking forward to the drafting now, and the finalisation of this Bill, so that it can be implemented,” she said.

She said she was especially pleased with the fact that consultations had taken place on all levels before the bill was passed and that parliamentarians were able to work with other stakeholders to ensure that it was okay.

“I was heartened to see the level of discussions, and the dialogue also that took place even at the parliamentary levels. That showed that there was keen interest in what was happening,” she said.

She said while there were reservations on some aspect of the bill, it was able to capture most of the essential issues that Jamaican’s had to grapple with.

“I can’t say that any piece of legislation is ever fool-proof or perfect and the laws to me are not static. This is why we have a mandate as a country at large to constantly review and to assess, and to analyse and to see what’s happening in the law, what’s happening in the courts with the piece of legislation, to ensure that if it is not working as it should, what it is that we need to amend,” she said.

Former president of Woman Inc and attorney-at-law Dundeen Ferguson, said she was especially pleased with the fact that the Bill dealt with the issue of marital rape, which has been a major concern for persons who worked in gender-related fields.

“In terms of our working with women and the increases in sexual assault against young girls and women who are being abused by their husbands, I think the legislation would work very well,” she said.

“We are very happy that it’s now coming into law. When you talk about almost 15 years of advocating for amendments to the Incest Punishment Act and amendments to various sections of the Offences against the Persons Act, looking at the central issues regarding women and sexual offences, we are very happy that it has passed,” she said of the bill.

Director of the “men’s desk” at the BWA, Dave Williams, said he too was in support of the Bill.

“Anything that protects the rights of women, we feel that it is a victory for men as well, because we believe in gender equality, and so if it protects one, then it will protect all. Anything that empowers women, we are happy for that and we welcome that,” he said.

Meanwhile, women’s activist and chairperson of the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), Linnette Vassell believes the legislation was gender neutral. Furthermore, she noted that, “When women’s rights are advanced, it provides a wake-up call to men on a whole to allow them to know about what is permissible within the law.

“It is a family law and healthy families mean healthier communities and nations on a whole,” she said.

Other reactions

“FINALLY! There are still a few provisions that could have been less restrictive/more liberal but perhaps on a next round when can expect (more) enlightenment. Big up to the Bureau, the women’s NGOs, the concerned ministries and individuals who really pushed this through from start to finish. Now for implementation and monitoring – and training of course – so the work will continue.”
– Taitu Heron, manager, Social Development & Gender Unit, Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ)

“Aaaaat laaaast! We have come a long way. Congrats are in order for all who truly hold on to the dream, that one day we will reach the mountain top.”
– Lana Finikin, SISTREN Theatre Collective

“Remember that several amendments were made to the Bill by the Senate which now need to be studied carefully. These amendments also mean that the Bill goes back to the House for approval before it is law, therefore the celebrations may be a little too soon.”
– Nancy Anderson, IJCHR

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog has demanded that the Finance Ministry immediately release some NIS 16 million in left-over funding for an already approved initiative aimed to both improve treatment for victims of rape and sexual assault and to assist those wanting to escape the sex industry.

Speaking at a session of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, he called to examine the achievements of the two-year-old program, which has been touted by the previous government as a “completely new way for treating rape victims.”

Herzog said a large portion of funds promised for the work had not yet been used and he urged the Treasury to immediately release the money so that his ministry could continue developing the initiative.

“We are talking about a program that is at the heart of our office and which offers all female victims the assistance they need,” said Herzog, highlighting that the program’s budget was only designed to last until 2010. “Releasing the funds for this program will allow us to create new methods to deal with this sensitive issue.”

Split into two sections, one dealing with victims of rape and sexual assault and the other designed to provide rehabilitation services for people who worked in prostitution, those who have been working on the project said great strides had been made in the past two years.

For rape victims, three new crisis centers are under development in Jerusalem, Beersheba and Nazareth, while three existing places in Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv have already been renovated and expanded.

In addition, the program aimed at assisting sex industry workers has established a successful mobile unit in Tel Aviv providing medical care and advice, as well as an emergency hot line, a daycare center and a hostel for those who want to break free.

“This program literally saves lives,” said Committee on the Status of Women chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud). “It is aimed at helping some of the weakest people in the population who in the past did not receive any kind of assistance.”

However, there was still a very long way to go in terms of improving the program’s overall results, she added.

Yael Ballas-Avni, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, Jerusalem branch, who was present at Monday’s hearing, said that even though she was buoyed by the dedication of government professionals to improve services for rape victims and former sex industry workers, greater investment was still needed.

“If one in three women in this country is a victim of sexual assault, then it is clear that six centers treating 100 women each is not enough,” she said, quoting her organization’s statistics.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said the budget for the program was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office and that left-over funds from the 2007 state budget had already been added to that of 2008.

He added that additional funding left over from 2008 had not yet been transferred to this year’s budget, because that was only approved by the Knesset last week.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) along with its Delhi wing urged the central government to address the grievances of rape victims with sensitivity.

Several advocates, NGO workers and the members of the NCW and the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) held a seminar to discuss the guidelines approved by the Delhi High Court a few months back to tackle sexual offences with more sensitivity.

Girija Vyas, chairperson of NCW, pointed out that there is lack of sensitivity in the country towards sexually assaulted women and children.

“The civil society needs to take care of rape and molestation victims. I feel that the government should be more sensitive. We have seen cases in Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh and the most recent case in Patna that just shows how careless and insensitive people and the police are towards the victims. There is a need for awareness and change in the mindset of the people,” Vyas said.

DCW chairperson Barkha Singh said: “There is a need for the authorities to tackle sexual offences with sensitivity and care. Of late, there has been an increase in the number of rape and molestation cases and we need to make sure that the victims are provided with proper counselling and also police should also be sensitised on how to handle such cases.”

Hoping that the scheme would be implemented soon, Singh added: “We have spoken to Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit and she assured us that the government will look into the matter soon.”

Several guidelines submitted by the DCW to the Delhi High Court suggest that the Delhi Police introduce a Crisis Intervention Centre.

It also recommends presence of policewomen in police stations round the clock and formation of a Sexual Assault Forsenic Evidence (SAFE) kit consisting of a set of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following a sexual assault.

The apex court in 1995 felt that it was necessary to set up a Criminal Injustice Compensation Board.

The women’s groups also sought the suggestions of advocates and police officers so as to improve the guidelines for relief and rehabilitation of victims of rape.

Ravi Kanth, advocate of Supreme Court, said: “There is no mention of the victims of gang rape in the scheme. The scheme says that the compensation to the victim will be provided within three weeks, which is too late. This needs to be reviewed.”