Archive for July, 2009

US teens are getting sex education, but most are not learning about birth control from their parents, new government data shows.

And rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases reflect this — the annual rate of AIDS diagnoses for boys aged 15 to 19 years has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and rates of syphilis are also up.

The numbers show that U.S. youth need better sex education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The new administration of President Barack Obama has been dropping some of the more controversial policies of the former Bush government, including an emphasis on abstinence-only education.

“The data presented in this report indicate that many young persons in the United States engage in sexual risk behavior and experience negative reproductive health outcomes,” the CDC wrote in its weekly report on death and disease.

For its report, the CDC compiled data from many different studies of hundreds of thousands of children and young adults aged 10 to 25. Some of the findings:

* Among 18 and 19-year-olds, 49.8 percent of girls and just 35 percent of boys had talked with a parent about methods of birth control.

* More than 80 percent of boys and girls said they had received formal instruction before age 18 on how to say no to sex.

* Nearly 70 percent of teen girls and 66 percent of boys had received instruction on methods of birth control.

* Thirty percent of girls aged 15 to 17 reported they had engaged in sex; this rose to 70.6 of girls aged 18 to 19.

* For boys, 31.6 of those aged 15 to 17 had ever had sex; 64.7 percent of those aged 18 to 19.

* Nearly 10 percent of young women aged 18 to 24 said their first intercourse was involuntary.

* Infections with the human immune deficiency virus that causes AIDS rose among boys aged 15 to 19 from from 1.3 cases per 100,000 in 1997 to 2.5 cases in 2006.

* Syphilis rates for females aged 15 to 19 rose from 1.5 cases per 100,000 in 2004 to 2.2 cases per 100,000 in 2006 after having plunged between 1997 and 2005.


Behind the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, there’s a seedy underworld.

“So how many dates tonight?” a vice investigative officer asks a girl. “Seven dates,” she said. “Seven dates – and you’re getting 100 bucks a date?” asks the agent. The girl nods.

“The reality is that a lot of people come to Las Vegas and they think that prostitution is legal,” said Lt. Karen Hughes with the Las Vegas vice squad. “So when they come here and it’s an adult playground they think that kids are for sale.”

Some of the kids are as young as 12 – part of a massive workforce of prostitutes, some 35,000 strong, who operate in casinos, clubs, hotels and the streets along the Vegas strip, reports CBS News anchor Katie Couric.

CBS News spent one night with an undercover vice squad from the city’s police department. Six women were arrested in five hours – two of them were under 18.

“How come you’re down on the strip this hour of the night?” asked an agent. “I was just walking,” said a girl, sobbing. “There are a lot of bad things that can happen out here to a girl your age,” the agent said.

Tina – who CBS News disguised for her own safety – used to be one of those girls. Raised by an absentee mother who worked as a call girl, she was lured into prostitution by a pimp posing as a rap star looking for girls to star in a music video.

“I remember turning my first trick at 12 years old, and after that it was kind of like a whatever thing,” Tina said. “I did it once, I might as well do it again.”

By 17, Tina was strung out on drugs, had been arrested several times, and was being abused by her pimp. She hit rock bottom.

“I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and I didn’t even recognize myself,” Tina said. “I just cried and said, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t want to live anymore.”

After her last arrest she was placed in a group home where a former prostitute helped her find a job and get off the streets.

Tina’s story is hardly unusual. Underage prostitution in Sin City is on the rise. In the last two years nearly 400 girls under the age of 18 have been arrested or detained by the Vegas vice squad. Half the pimps arrested this year had prostitutes who were underage. And these girls are not all from Nevada – 60 percent come from other states across the country.

“I believe now that children have become a commodity for these pimps no different than drugs and running guns,” Hughes said. “They’re just reusable.”

Reusable and caught in a vicious cycle. Because they’re underage, the girls aren’t jailed. Instead, they’re temporarily placed into detention centers or group homes where resources are limited. As a result, 80 percent run right back to the streets and into the arms of their pimps.

For Judge William Voy, this is unacceptable. For the past four years Voy is the only judge presiding over the “teen prostitution court” in Las Vegas. His frustration shows.

“How is the system failing these kids?” Couric asked. “We are failing these children because we’re failing to recognize the problem,” Voy said. “We get one jurisdiction that deals with the problem effectively, they just move them somewhere else. You need a concerted nationwide effort – you need national attention to this.”

A small plot of land on the outskirts of Las Vegas is where Voy hopes to build a model for the nation. He wants to establish a specialized safe house staffed by probation officers and social workers who can de-program girls who believe pimps are their protectors – a place where the girls are not permitted to leave.

He’s driven by faces he sees every day – part of a generation of young lives already destroyed before they’ve even had a chance to grow up.

“See that 12 year old, or 13 or 14 year old standing in front of you, and you look at that child and go, ‘Oh my God, this is what’s happening to you and been happening to you?’ I can’t let that persist,” Voy said.

The recession has put his vision on hold. So the lot sits empty. And in the city of bright lights, countless teens live in the shadows, with the odds against them and nowhere to turn.

Until public funds become available, Voy is looking to the private sector to fund his safe house. To learn more about the safe house, click here.

From CBS Evening News Katie Couric Reports: “The Lost Girls” which also has links to a video of the report.

Sex workers in Taiwan have cautiously welcomed a government plan to legalise prostitution, but the scheme is being opposed by an alliance of women’s groups who fear it will breed crime and violence.

A red-light area similar to Amsterdam’s famed canalside sex-for-sale district has been proposed for the capital Taipei, with legal and zoning measures due in place within six months.

Prostitutes and their supporters say they see a ray of hope after many years of campaigning for legalisation to protect them from both customers and police, but some are concerned about being moved into special zones.

“I hope the government will allow us to stay where we are and give us legal protection,” said one prostitute who wanted to be identified as Hsiao-feng. “I don’t want to move to a new place to start again.”

Hsiao-feng earns a living in Taipei’s Wanhua district, which is believed to be home to thousands of sex workers plying their trade illegally even though prostitution was outlawed in the city in 1997.

“Who wants to have red-light districts near homes?” she asks. “The government would have to put us in the mountains but then we can’t make a living because nobody wants to travel that far.”

Observers say paid-for sex remains big business and the ban has driven it underground, where brothels operate under euphemistic names such as tea houses, massage parlours, clubs and even skin-care salons.

There are also women known as “liu ying” or “floating orioles” — a metaphor for flirtatious and seductive women — who find patrons on the streets.

There is no official record on the scale of Taiwan’s sex industry but the advocacy group Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS) estimates that it involves 400,000 people and is worth 60 billion Taiwan dollars (1.8 billion US) a year.

“Right now we are helpless when customers don’t pay, or even rob or hurt us,” Hsiao-feng told AFP.

“We have to watch out for the police and their informants because we can end up in prison if caught.”

Prostitutes face three days in detention or a fine of up to 30,000 Taiwan dollars if arrested, while their clients go unpunished.

“The government should protect sex workers’ human rights and stop treating them like criminals,” says COSWAS chief Chung Chun-chu. “It should allow a blanket decriminalisation to regulate the sex trade.”

The public is divided on the issue, with 42.3 percent supporting the plan to legalise prostitution while 38.8 percent oppose it and the rest are undecided, according to a poll by the local China Times.

Arielle Su, an elementary school teacher in Taipei, says legalising the sex trade cuts both ways.

“I think it can help prevent sex crimes as some people have needs and they would prey on the general public if they are unsatisfied,” she said. “But as a mother and a teacher I am also concerned that it would corrupt morals.”

A dozen local women’s groups have formed an alliance against legalising prostitution, warning that it would encourage crime and injustice against women.

“We oppose making prostitution a legal industry because it fosters sexual violence and exploitation of women,” said Chi Hui-jung, head of The Garden of Hope Foundation.

Chi pointed out that the Dutch authorities were reducing the size of Amsterdam’s red-light district due to concern over criminal activities such as human smuggling and money laundering.

“The government should offer welfare programmes and job incentives to women so they won’t go into prostitution out of economic desperation,” Chi said.

Hsiao-feng, a 45-year-old divorcee, says it is difficult for street walkers like her, with little education or job skills, to find regular work.

“I don’t like what I do for a living but I have to raise my children and pay the bills. I don’t regret becoming a sex worker. I just hope the government will protect my safety so I am not always at the mercy of others,” she said.

Women are in the forefront of the protest against the military coup of 28 June in Honduras. In the last week of June, as the threat of a coup loomed, women’s organisations sprang into action, organising marches, mobilising women, writing and distributing bulletins, and sending information and eyewitness images around the world by email, text and social networking media.

Honduran women’s organisations and individual women from rural and urban areas have come together to resist and protest peacefully in response to the coup and the events that followed. On 29 June they released a public statement calling for the return of the rule of law and respect for human rights by peaceful means, and they have not stopped their communications, despite frequent power cuts. The mainstream news channels are strictly controlled, so their reports provide crucial information by their immediacy and by giving a voice to ordinary people, especially women.

Nearly two weeks after the coup, fear of detention and disappearance by the security forces, fear of violence in the demonstrations, fear that their houses will be raided and their families harmed, is currently a daily reality for women. Women in poverty-stricken country villages report that the army is forcing their young sons – many of them minors – into military service.

The lives of both women and men are being made difficult and dangerous by the daily curfew between the early hours of the evening and the early morning, and by the suspension of the rights of association and organisation, freedom of movement, of speech and to protest.

Mirta Kennedy, director of one women’s organisation, the Honduran Women’s Studies Centre (CEM-H), reports:

‘Our office is under surveillance every day by police or civilian operatives in vehicles with tinted windows … We are taking part in demonstrations hemmed in by heavily-armed soldiers and police with riot shields, there are tanks and cannon, and there are snipers on the roofs.’

The curfew is destroying many women’s livelihoods. Women workers are afraid of being arrested or worse if they have to go home from work after the curfew, so they are forced to abandon their jobs. Street vendors, most of them women, cannot work at all. We have learned that workers in the many export processing factories, also mostly women, are being made to go on marches supporting the de facto government.

Public servants who worked for the Zelaya government have lost their jobs and are being pursued by the de facto government. Even the national Minister for Women is in hiding from the de facto government’s judiciary, guilty of nothing more than having been appointed by Zelaya.

The coup also has particular implications for women because of the active involvement and support of the conservative Catholic Church and some evangelical Christian churches. Although Honduras has Latin America’s highest annual birth rate and a very high incidence of HIV and AIDS, the disproportionate influence of these churches makes women’s reproductive and health rights extremely limited and difficult and dangerous to access. In 2008 the National Congress, under pressure from the Church and conservative politicians, proposed a law prohibiting the emergency contraceptive pill (the ‘morning-after’ pill). It was vetoed by President Zelaya after lobbying from feminist organisations and discussions with the National Women’s Institute (INAM) and the Minister for Women. However, there are now fears that Roberto Micheletti’s de facto government – effectively the same people who put forward the bill – will resuscitate it and push it through.

Zelaya’s ‘modest but real new domestic initiatives’ (Washington Office on Latin America, 3 July 09) included raising the minimum wage, abolishing fees for primary education, introducing school meals (thus ensuring that poor kids in school got at least one square meal a day), expanding the government’s programme of child immunisations, and bringing electricity to more rural and urban homes. While not directly aimed at promoting women’s rights, such measures have clearly been good for women. But these advances are all put at risk by the coup.

Honduran women’s organisations do not deny that Zelaya’s government leaves plenty of room for change. They emphasise that they oppose the coup and the de facto government not because they totally approve of President Zelaya, but because the coup is illegal and undemocratic and the de facto government illegitimate. In the analysis of the ‘feminists in resistance’, the president’s abduction and deportation by the military represents a breakdown in the rule of law in which women are suffering as workers, family carers and victims of violence.

Says Gilda Rivera of the Honduran Centre for Women’s Rights (CDM),

‘We’re not followers of Mel [Zelaya], but we are against military coups, and … against the religious fundamentalists who have enthroned themselves in this de facto government and who have taken measures in the National Congress against the most fundamental rights of women.’

The Honduran constitution is weak on women’s rights, the conservative church has an undue influence on national policy-making, and no Honduran government has ever done much for women or gender equality. What feminists are demanding is change within the boundaries of the rule of law, in which all citizens, men and women, can participate fully and on equal terms.

On 7 July, Honduras’ first lady, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, left the mountain hideout where she had been since the day of the coup to lead a large rally against the coup outside the Pedagogic University in Tegucigalpa. She demanded:

‘How can there be peace where people cannot go about after a certain hour … if buses are held up … if the media are controlled … if demonstrations are repressed? How can there be peace at bayonet point? … For the people – not for those ladies swanning out of the beauty salons with security, with protection, but for the workers and peasants who struggle every day to make ends meet – this is not peace.’

The information provided in the Press Release is largely based on news received from Honduran women’s organisations by CAWN. Based in London, the Central America Women’s Network (CAWN) works in partnership with women’s organisations in Central America, including the Honduran Women’s Studies Centre (CEM-H). For the past three years they have been working on a joint project aimed at ending violence against women (VAW), which is endemic throughout the country. VAW takes different forms in Honduras, from psychological and physical violence to the extremes of femicide. According to CEM-H research (2006), the number of femicides (violent killings of women) rose from 11 in 2003 to 138 in 2004 and 171 in 2005. CDM recorded (2007) that 155 women were killed in 2006. CEM-H will be launching a new research report in September this year with up to date figures.

Even before the coup, on 28 June, CAWN received news that a young girl had been killed and her body placed in a box, tied up with a ribbon in a parody of gift-wrapping, and sent to the police. Although the Honduran media presented this as a gang killing, its timing is suggestive: the coup was already in preparation, and this femicide illustrates the ways in which the murder of women becomes a weapon and a message to the killers’ enemies.

In the light of these events CAWN, among other UK-based solidarity groups and non-governmental organisations, has sent a letter to the UK government, requesting its intervention at the diplomatic level to ensure the peaceful withdrawal of the soldiers and the safety and protection of civilians from any reprisals, and the freezing of all trade and aid from the UK to the government of Honduras until the crisis is resolved, among other political requests.

See also: Honduran women’s organisations and feminist networks: public statement to the international community, human rights bodies, aid donor agencies and States of the world in protest against the military coup d’état –

The Brazilian government is congratulating itself on the first-stage approval of a draft electoral law that increases women’s participation in party politics. However, the women’s movement says it introduces no changes to a power structure that excludes women from politics.

Changes to electoral law 9,504-97, approved Wednesday by the lower house of Congress, must be confirmed by the senate, and could enter into force in time for the October 2010 presidential, parliamentary and state elections.

The draft law requires five percent of party funds to be set aside for promoting women’s political participation, and ten percent of campaign advertising purchased by each party to be used for women candidates.

Celebrated as “a victory” by the governmental Special Secretariat of Policies for Women (SEPM), the draft law also obliges parties to nominate women candidates for at least 30 percent of elected positions. Failure to do so will incur a fine equivalent to a further 2.5 percent of party funds to go towards the promotion of women’s participation.

The SEPM, a department of the presidency, said in a communiqué that these changes were made possible thanks to the work of a tripartite commission made up of representatives of the executive and legislative branches and civil society.

But some organisations belonging to this commission, like the Feminist Centre for Studies and Advisory Services (CFEMEA), said the changes struck “another blow against women.”

“The electoral reform does not change the elitist, racist and patriarchal power structure of the Brazilian political system,” a CFEMEA communiqué said.

CFEMEA held a protest at the Congress Wednesday after the result had been announced, under the slogan “A woman’s place is in politics.”

The demonstration was convened by the Brazilian Women’s Network (AMB), and was supported by the National Commission of Women Rural Workers and SOS Corpo, a local NGO.

In an interview with IPS, Patricia Rangel of CFEMEA said the changes to the law were like “a minor patch-up job with no power to substantially alter the political exclusion of women,” although she said any step toward stimulating women’s participation is “welcome.”

“It’s not a victory, it’s just a sop,” said Rangel, a political scientist and adviser to CFEMEA.

Like other civil society and women’s organisations, CFEMEA wanted the new electoral law to impose “closed list” voting, in which political parties determine beforehand the order in which candidates are elected.

It also pressed for racial, ethnic and gender equality criteria to be adopted in deciding the order of candidates, as well as government financing of electoral campaigns.

According to Rangel, the “open list” voting system in force in Brazil is “very negative” because it allows voters to choose candidates directly from the list. This “personalises politics” and unfairly favours wealthier candidates, in other words “white, middle-aged men,” she said.

“They are more likely to be elected because they tend to be in a better economic position than women and black people,” Rangel said.

In the absence of structural changes, there will be “essentially no change to the political exclusion that has lasted for centuries in Brazil,” she added.

The NGOs also say the amendments to the percentages that were approved were “a stratagem by party leaders to keep women out of politics.”

The original proposal for electoral reform stipulated 10 percent of party funds were to be devoted to programmes encouraging women’s participation, and 20 percent of campaign advertising would have gone to women candidates.

“They slashed the percentages that we considered to be minimal in the first place,” said Joana Santos, who works in informal education at SOS Corpo and is also a member of the AMB.

Santos told IPS she blames the disappointing results in the lower house on the fact that “98 percent of the lawmakers there are men.”

“For women to have access to truly democratic participation on equal terms, there has to be a broader reform of the political system itself, not just the electoral rules,” she said.

The SEPM emphasised that “in keeping with the global trend,” countries must “not only recognise, but actively promote women’s right to political participation.”

This is an “unpaid debt,” said the SEPM, which cited a February 2009 survey by the Brazilian Institute of Statistics and Geography and the Patricia Galvao Institute.

The survey found that 75 percent of respondents were in favour of quotas to ensure political participation by women, and 86 percent approved of penalties for political parties that failed to comply.

Another study cited by the SEPM, carried out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in September 2008, found that women held only nine percent of seats in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, placing the country 142nd out of 188 countries studied.

The SEPM compared Brazil’s low proportion of women with Cuba, where 43.2 percent of lawmakers were women, Argentina with 40 percent, Peru with 29 percent, Ecuador with 25 percent, Venezuela with 18.6 percent, Bolivia with 16.9 percent, Chile with 15 percent and Paraguay with 12.5 percent women in lower houses of parliaments (or single chambers, where applicable).

“In the Americas, Brazil is only ahead of Colombia, Haiti and Belize,” the SEPM concluded.

In Santos’ view, such low participation by women in the corridors of political power is due to “a sexist, patriarchal culture.”

She said that politicians in Brazil evidently “use women to fill the quotas, but do not give them real opportunities to compete on equal terms with men.”

Government wants to help women bereaved by 10-year civil war but human rights groups say plan is humiliating

Women’s groups have condemned a Nepalese government plan to pay men for marrying widows, describing it as contrary to human rights law and humiliating for single women.

Under the proposal, contained in the government’s annual budget last week, a lump sum of 50,000 Nepali rupees (£388) would be given to men who marry widows.

The government is hoping to better the condition of women bereaved by a 10-year civil war after more than 12,800 people were killed by either Maoist insurgents or the government in the conflict that ended in 2006. But the plan has sparked a furious response from human rights groups who are campaigning to make sure it does not reach the statute books.

“It is offensive and blinkered,” says Lily Thapa, 39, the founder of Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR). “The offer turns widows into commodities and paves the way for their further exploitation.”

Thapa, who founded WHR after her husband, an army doctor, died in the Gulf war, has attracted support from women’s groups around the world, including the British group, Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPDP). Its director, Margaret Owen, has written to the British embassy in Nepal urging it to block the proposal.

“Such a law would be contrary to all human rights laws,” said Owen. “The proposed law supports forced marriage, rape, and the view that women are mere chattels.”

Owen said a similar move had been proposed in Sri Lanka, by groups led by men and that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, propagated such a law to avoid paying pensions to widows of the Iran-Iraq war. Women’s groups say instead of offering monetary incentives for men to marry widows, the government should provide social security payments, health care and education to the women, who are treated as second-class citizens in traditional Nepalese society.

Dama Sharma, a Maoist MP whose husband was killed during the insurgency, says her party also opposed the offer. “What about the children of a widowed woman?” she told the Times of India. “How many men in Nepal are broad minded enough to accept a widow along with her children? Instead of advocating remarriage as a panacea, the state should provide her vocational training and a job so that she can stand on her own feet.”

The government appears to have taken the protests on board and officials from the ministry of finance have agreed to meet Thapa and other representatives from women’s organisations.

“We believe that marriage should be based on love, understanding and commitment between two people but this incentive may encourage people to marry for money’s sake and such marriages are likely to be disastrous,” Thapa said. “The current incentive also implies that widows are helpless and that whoever takes them gets money as a reward”.

Displaced Iraqi women are reluctant to return home, despite relatively improved security in the country and the tough conditions in camps, because of continuing uncertainties, says an NGO advocating for displaced people.

“Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families’ well-being,” the Washington-based Refugees International (RI) stated in a field report released on 15 July.

The RI report covered internally displaced women in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and female refugees in Syria and concluded: “Not one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return.”

According to the report, some women said they would not return because they belonged to targeted minority groups, or because of injuries. Many widows told RI they feared returning to homes where their husbands had been killed, and where they now had no means of economic survival. Some feared rising conservatism would restrict their ability to participate in civic and professional life.

“This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here,” a displaced women in northern Iraq told RI.

A 2 July report by Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement on the prospects of mass returns of Iraqis, said more than four million people are estimated to have been displaced, including approximately 2.8 million internally in 2008 and the balance living as refugees mainly in neighbouring countries.

Yanar Mohammed, head of the Baghdad-based Organization of Women’s Freedom NGO, said real protection guarantees from the government were needed to persuade displaced women to return home.

“There are still no real guarantees offered to these women to protect their rights and their children alike,” Mohammed told IRIN. “In these conditions, it is impossible that these women will return to the death and humiliation they have left behind.”

She said militant groups that were largely responsible for anti-female violence “are only in dormancy and are hiding behind different political forms because of the forthcoming [30 January] national elections”.

Meanwhile, Ferris said the experience of return was often different for men and women as well as for young people and their elders. However, “most refugees and especially IDPs return spontaneously – without international assistance – when they judge that the situation back home is secure enough or when conditions in exile become unbearable”.

Ferris also said returns to areas where individuals would be in a minority were much slower than to places where they would be part of a majority.

Since fighting intensified in eastern Congo in August 2008 between government troops and armed opposition groups, the number of cases of rape and other sexual abuse against civilians is has been increasing.

According to a recent independent survey* commissioned by the ICRC, 28% of the people interviewed in the DRC know someone who has fallen victim to sexual violence.

76% of the population has been affected in some way by the armed conflict, .
58% of those with personal experience of the conflict,
58% have been displaced from their homes at some point,
47% have lost contact with a close relative.

In North and South Kivu there continue to be reports of numerous crimes against civilians, including rape, murder, and the looting and destruction of homes, continue to be reported.

It is estimated that in North Kivu alone, since the beginning of the year, over 300,000 people have been displaced due to armed violence since the beginning of the year.

Most rape victims are women, but the number of men and boys affected victims is on the increase.

According to counsellors in the area, men are often brutally raped when the perpetrators can not find any women to sexually abuse.

These men are frequently so traumatised traumatized that they no longer have the strength to work.

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons often results in an increased risk of sexual violence.

But women and men are also being raped even in areas where there is no longer is any fighting.

The sheer presence of men with guns represents a danger for tens of thousands of people who live in fear of physical and sexual violence and other forms of physical violence.

Sexual violence is rooted in a variety of factors, amongst them: a weak chain of command leaving fighters without clear instructions to follow; a widespread culture of impunity, meaning that most perpetrators of rape are never held to account, and this despite the fact that both Congolese law and international humanitarian law clearly prohibit all forms of sexual violence; as the fact that fighters do not receive regular salaries or food supplies – they often steal from the population, and rape the villagers, as a form of payment; a tendency to terrorize civilians and exert control over them, or to punish them for perceived collaboration with the “enemy”.

Though international humanitarian law and the Congolese Constitution clearly prohibit all forms of sexual violence, this culture of impunity prevents justice to be done.

Since 2005 the ICRC has been supporting “maisons d’écoute”, (counselling centres – which literally, translate as “houses for listening”), where victims of sexual violence receive counselling.

Today it provides support for 37 listening houses such centres, which are run by local associations in North and South Kivu.

Psycho-Social workers listen to the victims, counsel them, direct them to health centres and, if needed, mediate between them and their families.

The health centres provide victims with a kit that contains, among others other things, medication against sexually transmitted infections.

In order not to expose women to the risk of rape when gathering firewood in remote areas, the counselling centres / listening houses also show them how to make bricks from wood pulp that can be used as fuel for low low-energy cooking stoves.

In addition to the physical and psychological pain they suffer, rape victims are often rejected by their families and neighbours, and become vulnerable to further abuse.

The stigma is compounded by the climate of insecurity and the collapse of public services, that curtails victims’ ability to obtain access to much-needed medical and psychological care.

In addition to the exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, victims suffer from psychological trauma and injury which may take much more time to heal than purely physical ones.

Psycho-Social workers also run community community-awareness campaigns to combat rejection and stigma and contribute to creating an environment where the needs of victims of sexual violence are acknowledged.

Says counsellor Micheline Mupenzi: “There is much suffering around, and psychological wounds are not given sufficient enough attention.

You can treat victims of sexual violence from a strictly medical point of view, but they can die if their “‘inner wounds”‘ are not taken into account.

Some women would go back home and stop eating, –they do nothing but crying, and eventually die from mental and physical exhaustion.”

* Consult this survey on our website$File/Our-World-Views-from-DRC-I-ICRC.pdf

Published at

TV news footage transmitted worldwide 24th July 2009 on Associated Press Global Newswire at 09:15 – 09:30 GMT Repeated 14:15 – 14:30 GMT and on Eurovision News Service (to be confirmed)


Rape Crisis hopes that the victims of sexual violence and rape report their attacks in order to effect change.

The Government believes complainants in sex offence trials should receive greater protection. It is looking at the introduction of a positive definition of sexual consent, allowing the complainant’s sexual history to be heard only at the judge’s discretion and making court processes inquisitorial rather than adversarial.

Rape Crisis spokeswoman Sands Peipi hopes victims of sex crimes will have more courage to speak out once they are given greater protection. She says often the biggest crime around sexual violence is that it is not talked about.

Ms Peipi says the proposals will increase discussion about sexual violence. She says changes to the consent law will bring New Zealand into line with what is happening in similar countries such as the UK and Australia.,nrhl

Calls from rape and sexual assault victims seeking help and counselling from a NSW crisis centre have more than doubled in three years.

The State Government will now provide an extra $616,000 to expand the NSW Rape Crisis Centre after calls jumped from 2927 in 2004/05 to 6730 in 2008/09.

It provides 24-hour, seven days a week crisis intervention, counselling, information, referral and support for adult and child victims of sexual assault and their supporters.

“Sexual assault is an extremely distressing crime against women and it is important victims get the appropriate support and professional counselling services they need to help rebuild their lives after such a traumatic experience,’’ Health Minister John Della Bosca said.

The funding will help to expand the service which will now will be able to provide services for adult survivors of child sexual assault.

Details: 1800 424 017 or visit

See press release at

When the rapist’s aunt tried to settle the matter in the traditional way by offering two cows to the victim’s mother, it was already too late to stop the women activists of Lusikisiki.

They had mobilized, and they were hunting for justice. They took to the streets with loudspeakers, placards and pamphlets. They went to the police station, the hospital, the courtrooms and the school.

They insisted on a police investigation, and they forced the police to bring in special rape kits to gather forensic evidence from the victim. They kept up the pressure in the courts.

It took almost two years, but the women won. On March 25, the rapist was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison – the toughest prison sentence ever imposed for rape in this region.

South Africa’s epidemic of rape, which has raged for decades with near impunity for the attackers, has finally triggered a revolt. Sexual assaults, often dismissed as a ritual of manhood, are no longer ignored so routinely. Women’s groups and other activists are breaking the code of silence and insisting on police investigations and convictions.

With more than 50,000 rapes reported annually – nearly 150 every day – and many more cases that are never reported, South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. The incidence of rape in South Africa is the highest of any of Interpol’s member states, yet only half of the rapes lead to arrests, and only 7 per cent result in convictions.

In a recent survey, 28 per cent of South African men admitted they had raped someone at least once in their lives. Almost three-quarters of them had committed their first rape before the age of 20.

The study, which surveyed a representative sample of men from 1,700 households in two South African provinces, concluded that sexual assault is linked to South Africa’s strongly patriarchal society and is “deeply embedded in ideas about manhood.”

The study shocked many people in this country and around the world, but it was no surprise to those who lived in Lusikisiki and similar towns across South Africa.

For years, the police here were taking these cases lightly, making little effort to punish the rapists, often accepting bribes and dropping cases before they went to court.

“Corruption is too high here,” said Nombeko Gqamane, administrator of the Lusikisiki office of Treatment Action Campaign, an advocacy group on HIV/AIDS and other health issues that fought hard to force the police to prosecute the rapist.

“When we analyze why the police are dragging their legs on rape cases, it’s often because someone gave them 1,000 rand [about $140 Canadian],” she said. “Most of the dockets are lost. When we put pressure on them, they find the docket again.”

Until TAC opened its office in Lusikisiki in 2003, many rape cases were routinely ignored by the police. “People were just paying with sheep or goats, thinking that they could just keep it within the community,” Ms. Gqamane said. “We want to change this culture. We say to people, ‘You have to go to the police with these cases.’“ The turning point came on June 12, 2007, in the Eastern Cape town of Lusikisiki, located in an impoverished swath of hillside farms near the birthplace of Nelson Mandela.

As darkness fell that day, a soft-spoken high-school student named Nomthandazo Radebe was walking to a shop to buy paraffin. She was a shy, bespectacled 18-year-old.

A teenage boy – someone she knew from school – grabbed her and held a knife to her throat. He forced her into his house, wrapped a scarf around her mouth and, for the next eight hours, raped her repeatedly.

When the terrifying ordeal was over, Ms. Radebe called a friend who happened to be a TAC leader in the town. Together they went to the police station and to the hospital so that Ms. Radebe could be examined.

“The police were friendly and they took me to a separate room,” she recalled. “I thought they would investigate. But they didn’t take it seriously. They didn’t even want to get the evidence from the hospital.”

The women soon discovered the police did not have any rape kits. The kits, which provide the forensic instruments and legal documents necessary for a proper rape investigation, are supposed to be stocked at every police station in the country.

“The doctor at the hospital said he couldn’t do anything without the rape kit,” Ms. Gqamane said. “So it was our duty to put pressure on the police.”

At the urging of TAC, the police agreed to get a supply of the kits from another town, and the kits arrived the next day. The problems, however, were just beginning.

“After six days, the TAC people came to me at home and asked if the police had visited me yet,” Ms. Radebe said. “But they hadn’t come yet.”

The TAC volunteers went back to the police and insisted they investigate. But after two months, the first investigator in the case was transferred to another town. The second investigator went on vacation, and then on a training course, and nobody replaced him.

The police claimed they didn’t have enough resources to investigate all rape cases. Court appearances in the Radebe case were repeatedly postponed because of the investigator’s absence. The TAC activists went to the police station repeatedly to look for the investigator, but he was never there. They spoke to his supervisor and warned him that they would publicize the inaction.

“One policeman came to see me, and then they disappeared,” Ms. Radebe said. “The investigator said he would look into the case, but he didn’t. They didn’t tell me anything. It was so sad. Only the TAC people kept visiting me.”

Meanwhile, the TAC activists were holding rallies – known as “mobilization days” – in the neighbourhood where Ms. Radebe and her rapist both lived. With loudspeakers, they urged the residents to break their silence and report any evidence of rape. They handed out leaflets and talked to anyone who came out to the street.

In her neighbourhood and at her school, Ms. Radebe was facing harassment and intimidation. “The friends of that boy kept calling me names and fighting with me,” she said. “They were saying, ‘She is lying, she was his lover, she has AIDS’ – everything. Sometimes they came to school to try to beat me up. I had to stay in the classroom until they had gone home. It made me cry every time, but I never gave up.”

The TAC activists went to the school and spoke to the principal, who called in the rapist, who was still in school at that point. “We told him that he could be jailed for threatening her,” Ms. Gqamane said.

The student and his friends stopped harassing Ms. Radebe at school, but they continued to hurl insults at her in her neighbourhood, so TAC organized more rallies to defend her.

For each court appearance, TAC sent a dozen or more of its volunteers into the courtroom to provide moral support for Ms. Radebe, and to ensure that the case stayed alive, despite the long delays and despite the offers from the rapist’s family to settle the case in the traditional manner.

“His family kept saying, ‘You can’t take this to the police, it would be shameful, keep it in the family,” said Ms. Radebe’s aunt, Queen Nonhlanhla. “In many cases, girls do not report a rape. But when your child is raped and harassed, you can’t just accept a cow. These boys destroyed her life.”

The verdict finally came on March 25, when the court imposed the unprecedented 13-year prison sentence on the rapist, Sonwabo Mangcongoza. “Such an offence can never be tolerated by any community,” the judge said.

Ms. Radebe is convinced the rapist would never have been convicted if the TAC activists had not become involved in the case.

After the trial, she moved to the city of Durban to live with her aunt and attend a new school. Despite losing a full year of school because of the rape ordeal and its aftermath, she is earning B grades. She hopes to go to university and become a mechanical engineer.

“I don’t want to go back home,” she says. “That boy says he will come out of jail and catch me.”

Six years after opening their office here, the TAC activists – six staff members, 27 paid volunteers and 900 active members who join the rallies and pickets – have begun to cure the rape epidemic in Lusikisiki.

“We’ve forced the police to be more visible, in daytime and at night,” Ms. Gqamane said. “If we weren’t here, more people would be victims of these crimes. We can see the difference. It’s working. People see the light now.”

Shockingly high levels of violence against women in Haiti forced the U.N. to send peacekeepers to the Caribbean country in 2004.

The country while not in a state of war is one of the world’s most unstable. Kidnappings, criminal violence, gang warfare and violent armed confrontation with the U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has increased the number of reported cases of sexual violence against women and girls.

Data collected informally by local non-governmental organisations, and the humanitarian Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) has revealed an alarming spike in sexual violence last year. The number of cases of raped women and girls has increased 40 percent from 1,100 cases in 2007 to 1,600 in 2008.

The big difference, according to the executive secretary of the Haitian Violence Against Women National Group, Nicole Magloire, is that women now feel “more protected to report”, she told IPS.

“Before it was more difficult for women to denounce violence and sexual abuse, because of the taboos that still surrounded this issue and the fear of persecution by the perpetrators. Now, women feel more protected to report/denounce cases of violence and partially for this reason we are receiving more cases,” she explains.

Women are urged to report rape and sexual abuse to the police, public and private hospitals, non-governmental organisations and the International Tribunal for Violence Against Women in Haiti.

Since 2006, Haiti’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Women’s Rights and the gender unit of MINUSTAH, has been implementing a five-year National Plan to Combat Violence against Women and implement CEDAW.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission of 7,000 military and 2,050 police personnel in Haiti is tasked to combat violence against women. Its gender unit is focused on capacity building and protection of women.

“One of our main objectives is to provide assistance and ensure participation of Haitian women in political decision making and the electoral processes. With a stronger presence in the political arena, women could help to reduce gender violence by promoting gender-sensitive policies and advocacy activities,” Natalie Ben Zakour Man, gender affairs officer at MINUSTAH told IPS.

Gender training and awareness of women’s rights are part of the instruction for MINUSTAH personnel before deployment in Haiti. In November 2007, the U.N. was mired in a scandal of sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by the Sri Lankan battalion of MINUSTAH. Some 108 Sri Lankan soldiers were repatriated for alleged sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

The U.N. reckons a better way to address gender violence in a mission country would be to deploy more female civilian, military and police. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to send more women peacekeepers on the occasion of the International Day of Peacekeepers, May 29.

According to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, worldwide women make up only 8 percent of the UN police and 2 percent of its military personnel.

Among the 18 countries that the peacekeepers are deployed in, Haiti has one of the lowest percentages of women blue helmets. Here 21 percent of all civilian U.N. staff are women, but women soldiers in MINUSTAH are a mere 1.5 percent while women in the police are 5.5 percent.

U.N. Police (UNPOL) Gender Officer, Solange Guilavogui, who has years of experience working on gender violence in Guinea, told IPS that member states should send more policewomen to the mission.

“It is essential to work for increasing the number of policewomen and military within the U.N. mission in Haiti by creating and promoting polices and encouraging more women to apply for the available positions,” she said.

Part of UNPOL mission is to support and provide training to Haitian police to respond better to violence against women and girls and to increase the number of specially trained female personnel.

As a result of these efforts, Haitian policewomen are now roughly 14 percent of the country’s 8,000 strong police.

Collective sexual violence is endemic in Haiti. “When I was in charge of the sexual crimes unit at MINUSTAH, I was involved in a case of sexual violence against a girl of 14 years. Fifteen men abused her,” says Guilavogui. Sixty percent of rapes reported in 2008 were girls under 18.

Official figures indicate that the majority of sexual abuses last year were against girls between four and 12 years. They now represent the main target of the new wave of sexual violence and rape in one of the poorest country in the world.

Local women rights activists hope now that the 324 million-dollar loan for 2009-2010, announced last April by the International Monetary Found (IMF) and the World Bank, will be used also to reduce the gender-based violence by empowering local organisations, hospitals and police to better address this horrifying problem that continues to impoverish this threatened country (END/2009)


Women have been the target of violence for nearly two decades in Haiti. For three years following the military coup that ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, rape was part of the repressive tactics used by the military and paramilitary forces to crush all opposition.

The report of the National Commission of Truth and Justice (1996), admitted that “rape became a political weapon used systematically to instill fear and to punish those sectors of society which were believed to have supported the democratic government.”

“During the armed rebellion that ousted Aristide for a second time in February 2004, and in its aftermath, rape was used as a weapon by numerous gangs throughout the country to terrorise the population,” observed the 2008 Amnesty International report, ‘Don’t turn your back on Girls – Sexual Violence Against Girls in Haiti’.

“Being raped, it makes you … a person without rights, a person rejected from society and now, in the neighbourhood I live in, it’s as though I am raped every day because every day someone reminds me that I’ve been raped … that I shouldn’t speak, I should say nothing,” is one of the testimonies in the report.

The state of lawlessness and lack of public security of the transitional government of Haiti (March 2004 to May 2006) contributed to increasing the high incidence of sexual abuse by armed groups.

The medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that between February 2004 and December 2005 almost 19,000 per 100,000 girls were raped in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has a population of two million.

Who can you turn to when doors suddenly close in your face; when your boyfriend is nowhere to be seen, and your own family can’t look you in the eye? For young women who find themselves victims of unfortunate circumstances and bad choices, three shelters provide a safe haven no matter how bad things get.

When the doors of your own home are closed to you, whose doors will open to take you in? When all is forlorn, and those closest to you, distance themselves, who can you turn to for a bit of caring?

If a young woman found herself pregnant with no boyfriend in sight, or stuck in an abusive relationship that wouldn’t go away, or suddenly find herself all alone because for some reason or other, her parents kicked her out of their home.

Who can she seek out?

When all seems lost, the Rose Virginie Good Shepherd Centre, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Birthright (under Grace Community Services) will be open to those who need them most: non judgmental, always a willing hand ready to pull you out of the dark.

The Rose Virginie centre in Perak accepts young women of all ages, backgrounds and religions who seek solace and refuge – unwed mothers, women and their children who are experiencing domestic violence and recovering survivors of rape and assault.

“The girls who come in usually call in, or are brought here on the recommendation of a friend or relative,” says Helena Vytialingam, who manages the shelter. “Some of the girls are very young – as young as 15 or 16. What we do is to explore the relationship between parent and child, and discuss the options available to her. ” This is especially important when it comes to young unwed mothers.

“What we do here at Rose Virginie is to provide support to the girl, and to protect her privacy and anonymity so that she can take her time to make a decision on what she can do,” explains Helena. “But first and foremost, we try to get some form of family support – we talk to the family members to see if they can give their daughter the support she needs.”

More often than not, especially in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, the father of the child is simply not there as for these young girls, it is a hard path to tread.

“This is not a road they can walk alone and they need help,” says Vytialingam. “For many parents, the initial shame, rejection and anger are perfectly normal, and almost all start by saying no, they want nothing to do with their daughter or her unwanted child – but almost all also have a complete reversal and change their minds.”

Every effort is made to help negotiate family shelter and support for the girl, but in the case where the family refuses to provide refuge, Rose Virginie steps in and gives the girl a temporary place to stay and medical support.

“The girls stay here for the length of time they need to try and sort out what to do – with counseling, of course,” says Helena. “The girls are always encouraged to go on with their lives, and are urged to continue to pursue whatever dreams and ambitions they had prior to their pregnancy.”

It is also during this period of time that the staff at Rose Virginie tries to help the girls reconnect with their families. “Time is basically all that is needed; time to think of what they want to do, so that they do not rush into a decision they will regret later in their lives, such as abortion. Coming here gives the girl time to settle her emotions and sort out her thoughts. It also gives their parents time to calm down.”

When it comes to unwanted pregnancies, no parent ever imagines it happening to their daughter, but Helena is firm when she says that in the end, it is all about the girl herself, and not about the stigma of having a child out of wedlock.

“You grieve,” she says, “but you move on and you’ve got to build resilience.” Not a lot of people can accept the responsibility of what they have done and move on, she explains. “It truly doesn’t have to be the end of the world.”

“I am not minimising the issue – a mistake was made, but now you need to move on and find the best course of action.”

Most of the time, the best option open to young unwed mothers is to give their babies up for adoption, or for a relative to adopt the baby legally. This usually takes anything from six months to a year. “Of course,” she stresses, “this is done only with the consent of the mother.”

“The girls are welcome to stay as long as they need to, but eventually, they must leave and resume their lives normally as possible. They may not be able to face the world so soon, but time will bring healing and acceptance.”

At Rose Virginie, all efforts are also made to help these women get back on their feet, and gain their self-esteem and self-worth again through attending classes (in various life skills) and by small home enterprises such as making sandwiches and curry puffs to sell for a small amount of pocket money.

“It is so important to teach them some life-skills, so that they can provide for themselves and regain their confidence,” explains Helena. “Here, the girls live as a family, take turns to do their chores, as they try to find themselves.”

This is especially true for women who have been in abusive relationships, or are facing immense emotional and familial turmoil.

“In cases where the woman is running from an abusive relationship, the first step we take is to ensure everyone is safe – the mother, and the children, if any. We then ensure that medical help is provided if needed, and a police report is lodged.”

“There have been girls in broken relationships, who have attempted suicide, or whose parents have objected to their boyfriends and threw them out of their own homes,” shares Helena. “Sometimes, all they need for the moment is a safe place – a place of solace where they can find a haven of support, non-judgmental understanding and security.”

“So many women have come through the doors of Rose Virginie, and have left to find their own lives again.”

Helping them find solid ground again is also the goal of the WAO shelter, located in Petaling Jaya. Although initially a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, the WAO has, over the years, extended its protection to women facing family or financial problems.

Wong Su Zane, the Social Works Manager at WAO, says they also provide housing for young unwed mothers. The shelter also functions as a temporary protection safe house for women and children.

“We provide counselling, and we guide them through their options – for example, we link them to the police, hospital, or in some cases that include foreigners, the immigration department,” explains Wong. “As for unwed mothers, we usually only accept those who are very far along, somewhere around the seventh month of pregnancy.”

In this, she elaborates, sometimes, the girls who seek help are very young, and staying the long duration of their pregnancy will often lead to severe depression – though it also largely depends on whether these girls are able to get family support at all.

“If there is no family support, or they have been thrown out of their homes, we provide shelter for the girls who are in their fifth month of pregnancy onward. In the case of abusive boyfriends or husbands, we provide any shelter we can.”

Basically, what they do is to help them plan what to do with their child. “Whatever they decide, whether to keep the child or give her/him up for adoption, we help them weigh the pros and cons,” says Wong.

At the shelter, the WAO also helps prepare them for the delivery, by taking them to clinics for registration and check-ups.

If in the case where the mother decides to let go of the child, the WAO guides her through the pain of separation, and help her move on and adapt to society again.

“But should the mother decide to keep the child, we will then extend her stay for a few weeks while we teach her how to care for herself and for her baby.”

In some cases, though, shares Wong, the young mother will not want her family to know – and the WAO respects that. “It is all about the girl herself and what she decides. We definitely want her to gain family support, but in the end, it is about what she wants or doesn’t want. But we will be at hand to support her through her decisions.” Some parents, Wong says, have also brought their pregnant daughters to the WAO, only to change their mind and reject them completely later.

But no matter what the case, Wong says that the WAO is there to offer advice and counsel in their times of trouble.

Many shelters have made it their mission to help women weather through the worst of their turbulent times, and Birthright is no different. As a community service organisation, Birthright helps young unwed mothers, giving them a safe place to give birth to their babies and get back on their feet. Mary Anne Chai, a community worker with Birthright and Grace Community Services has worked closely with Birthright since its official launch in 2002 and has counseled numerous young girls who have come through the doors of Birthright –distraught, disturbed and unsure of their futures.

This shelter believes in the sanctity of life, and functions as a place for unwed mothers to stay and get the help, advice and security they need. With a ‘no-abortion’ concept, Birthright focuses on assisting these young women through their pregnancy, medically and emotionally, and also provide food and lodging throughout their stay.

Each shelter, in the end, has but one aim in mind: to be a safe haven for women when they become victims of both unfortunate circumstances and bad personal choices.

Female immigrants who have experienced domestic violence can now seek asylum in the United States, thanks to a decision made by the Obama administration in a recent immigration appeals court filing, the New York Times reported July 16.

The case involved a Mexican woman who said her husband had repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her prisoner and once tried to burn her alive while she was pregnant in Mexico. She escaped with her children and came to the U.S. in 2004, the Associated Press reported.

Just last year, the Bush administration insisted in the same case that the woman did not meet U.S. asylum standards.

The new standards set forth by this decision require women to prove that they were abused, treated as subordinates or property and that they could not find help or safety in their own country, the New York Times reported.

Mumbai Victims of domestic violence incidents that have happened even before the Act came into force can now heave a sigh of relief as the Bombay High Court on Saturday held that provisions of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence (DV) Act, 2005, will apply retrospectively.

This order means that women can seek benefit of the welfare provisions provided in the new Act even though they have faced violence even before the Act came into effect in October 2006.

The order has been passed on a petition filed by a 60-year-old Pune-based former government servant, who had challenged an order passed by a magistrate in September 2008 favouring his 58-year-old wife under the new DV Act. Justice Abhay Oka has upheld the magistrate’s order that had held the Act to be treated retrospectively. The husband’s contention was that he had been living separately since 2001 and hence the Act cannot be invoked in his case.

He claimed that his wife had been residing separately and she had filed for divorce on grounds of cruelty and adultery. He contented that as they have been living seperately since 2001, there was no question of the husband committing any act of domestic violence after October 17, 2006, the date when the DV Act came into effect.

In February 2008, the wife filed an application under the DV Act seeking relief with regard to residence. The husband opposed the plea stating the DV Act would not apply retrospectively. The magistrate rejected the contention and allowed the wife’s application.

The DV Act, 2005, provides protection against abuse to women including wives, live-in partners, widows, sisters and mothers.

Domestic violence cases of the rich and famous have made the front page recently, with cases like that of Manohara, the model-turned-Malaysian-princess who was allegedly assaulted by her husband. A sadder picture of dangdut singer Cici Paramida with an apparent broken jaw, who claims her violent husband tried to run her over, added to the celebrities-in-distress picture. Every form of media has joined the stampede to cover these cases and their surrounding dramas, turning them into an incessant flow of news.

Some dramas however are left unnoticed, some buried for years and some still loom large in the shadows despite their actors’ fervent wishes to forget the scenarios.

“I am still traumatized until this day,” Gita Ayu, a victim of domestic violence during her childhood, told The Jakarta Post. Gita’s father beat her and her mother up since she could remember, sometimes using scissors. The abuse went on until her college days and only ended when she left home permanently to get married. “I learned to fight back since I was in the third grade,” she said, “I would fight and kick back when my drunk father came home to beat me and my mother up, but I didn’t take any legal action because I didn’t know where to go.”

Gita’s father is now sober and much less violent, especially since she bore him a grandson. “I told him to change his ways or I will not have anything to do with him anymore,” she said, “It’s amazing how quitting drinking changed him enormously.” However, the years of abuse have made their mark. “I was afraid of getting married at first, because I thought it would turn out badly like in my family.” Memories of her violent childhood resurface frequently, causing her to experience depression and mood swings.

“During the first years of my marriage I would often be angry. Like my father, I would punch and kick my husband,” Gita said, “Perhaps *the violent trait* is hereditary, or it has rub off on me.” Andre, not his real name, said he too absorbed his father’s aggressiveness, having gone through years of harsh words and beatings. “I have a tendency to be hotheaded, and get easily upset when someone disagrees with me,” he said, adding that such traits were the very ones he despised in his father.

Andre’s father, a religious man and a recognized figure in the legal and political world, often punched him and his younger brothers during their primary school years and teenage years. As in Gita’s case, Andre’s father has become much less violent these last few years, but his children’s memories of him are already tainted.

Andre said his mother, who is his father’s second wife, refrained from reporting his father to the police or legal bodies for fear of tarnishing the family’s reputation. “She always told us to be patient and tolerate his behavior.”

Tolerance and the desire to keep a family together are reasons that are keeping Rena, not her real name, from divorcing her husband, who, according to her, has been rude and neglectful toward her for years. “Once in 2003, he slapped me and held my head underwater in our bathroom,” Rena recalled with a bitter smile. “I told his mother about the incident and he never attacked me physically since then.”

What followed, however, was a mix of dishonesty, negligence and unkind words. “He started having an affair and would be oblivious to his surroundings at home, even to his own two children,” Rena said.

She went to LBH APIK, a Jakarta-based NGO that handles cases of domestic violence, and was told to bring her husband for a counselling session or divorce him altogether, but she said both were almost impossible for her.

“My husband will not get counseling. He was offended for being called a domestic violence perpetrator because he thinks that his swearing and negligence cannot be categorized as acts of violence,” Rena said. As for divorce, the thought of her two children, now aged 2 and 4 years old, growing up without a father makes her uneasy.

Siska Christanty from Mitra Perempuan, a women’s crisis center, said the fear of losing a father figure for one’s children was a common reason for women to refrain from reporting domestic violence or separating from their husband. “Some fear what their neighbors, friends and family will think of them, and some depend financially on their husbands,” she said.

Mitra Perempuan’s 2008 statistics showed around 279 cases of reported domestic violence in Jakarta, Bogor and Tangerang. Recently, LBH APIK’s director, Estu Rahmi Fanani said the NGO had received approximately 300 domestic violence cases as of June this year.

Siska said the number had increased from the past years because more and more victims were speaking up. “The government and NGOs have been educating the people about domestic violence, thus they have become more aware of what constitutes it and that there’s a law against it,” she said.

The 2004 law on domestic violence stipulates that physical and mental abuse directed to someone in the household is illegal, thus victims are entitled to sue the perpetrators. The increasing number of reports was a good sign, but it was still the tip of the iceberg, Siska said. “The actual number of cases might be ten times more than that.”

Tribute paid to ‘courageous and inspiring woman’

Amnesty International has strongly condemned today’s murder of Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights activist working in the North Caucasus region.

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said:

‘Natalia Estemirova’s murder is a consequence of the impunity that has been allowed to persist by the Russian and Chechen authorities.

‘Human rights violations in Russia, and especially in the North Caucasus, can no longer be ignored. And those who stand up for human rights need protection.

‘The terrible tragedy of the killing of Natalia Estemirova is a crime that should be denounced by the authorities and every effort must be made to bring those responsible to justice. It is yet another attempt to try to gag civil society in Russia and highlights the instability in the region.

‘Natalia Estemirova was a most courageous and inspiring woman who never tired of defending the human rights of others. She was a truly exceptional person and a friend to many of us.

‘We are shocked and saddened by the news of her death and wish to express our deepest sympathy for the family of Natalia Estemirova, for her friends and for her colleagues.’

Natalia Estemirova, one of the leading members of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial in Grozny, Chechnya, was abducted this morning (15th July 2009) at around 8.30am local time. She was dragged into a white car (VAZ-2107) and driven off in an unknown direction. According to witnesses, Ms Estemirova managed to shout out that she was being abducted. Later in the day the Russian news agency Itar-TASS reported that her body had been found in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia with gunshot wounds.

Natalia Estemirova’s work was crucial in documenting human rights violations in the region, such as torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances, since the start of the second Chechnya war in 2000. She also devoted herself to providing assistance to displaced people and other socially disadvantaged groups. No one has claimed responsibility, but colleagues believe she was killed for her human rights activities.

Her work has been recognised both at home and internationally by numerous awards, including the Robert Schuman medal of the European Parliament (2005), the Right Livelihood Award of the Swedish Parliament (2004 – the so-called Alternative Nobel Peace Prize), and she was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award (2007).

The murder of Natalia Estemirova sheds further light on the precarious circumstances in which human rights defenders work in Russia. It follows the killings earlier this year of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, and of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in 2006. Both Stanislav Markelov and Anna Politkovskaya were friends and colleagues of Natalia Estemirova

Amnesty International calls for an end to impunity for the murder of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers in Russia.


In April this year the Russian authorities announced the end of the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Chechnya. However, in the North Caucasus in recent months there have been a number of high-profile killings amid signs that tensions in the region are on the rise.

In a report published earlier this month, Rule without law: Human rights violations in the North Caucasus, Amnesty called for full accountability for the human rights violations that have taken place as the only way to bring about real stability and a return to civil peace in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

Please post your condolence messages on our Blog. We hope to collect them in a book and pass them on.

Write a few words to honour courageous Natalia, shot dead in the North Caucasus

See also:
* A farewell ceremony was held in the Chechen capital of Grozny on Thursday for murdered human rights activist Natalya Estemirova.
* The murder of Natalia Estemirova is a dire warning. In the space of less than three years, the three key people uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya have been murdered, writes Kate Allen UK Director of Amnesty International.
* Remembering Natalia by Lucy Ash from BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women who took part in a conference Monday organized by Kolech, an Orthodox feminist movement, were asked precisely that question.

The vote is a milestone. The very fact that women self-defined as committed to Orthodox Jewish law are deliberating the proper title for a female rabbi – the most powerful figure in the traditional Jewish hierarchy – is proof that the Orthodox feminist movement has come a long way since it first began women’s prayer groups and Torah and Megillah readings in Israel over three decades ago.

“I’d estimate that within five years, we will be seeing women making groundbreaking decisions on Halacha,” predicted Dr. Chana Kehat, a former chairwoman of Kolech and an Israeli trailblazer in a movement previously dominated by Americans but now spreading to a wider range of Orthodox Israeli women – both Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

“It will take a few more years for people to get used to the idea,” Kehat added, “but it will happen soon.”

The excitement was palpable as women with hair coverings of various sizes, shapes and styles, dressed in long sleeves and short sleeves, wearing slacks, skirts and dresses, packed into the sessions offered throughout the day and thronged the hallways and classrooms of Jerusalem’s Keshet school.

The afternoon Mincha prayer organized by the few men who came to the conference included a handful of women standing at the back of the classroom-turned-prayer-house. These women represented just a tiny fraction of the many hundreds who relaxed in the main hall during the lunch break. At the end of the prayer, three of the women joined a man in reciting the mourner’s Kaddish.

Though uncommon in most modern Orthodox circles, women’s participation in prayer sessions – including the reciting of the Kaddish along with men – is within the boundaries of Orthodox Halacha.

Nor was there an atmosphere of feminist revolution – no burning of head coverings or skirts, à la the bra-burning rallies that supposedly marked 1960s American feminism. And women came with infants slung across their stomachs or strapped into strollers, which immediately raised the question: Where is dad? Answer: Infant-free at work. Not exactly radical feminism in action.

Nevertheless, in the weeks that led up to the conference, several religious Zionist rabbis launched an attack on what they called “neo-reformers” that included Kolech, comparing them to the German Jewish Reform Movement of the 19th century.

In fact, the conference, entitled “The Woman and Her Judaism,” was conducted under the shadow of these allegations that Kolech was a “neo-Reform” organization. In many of the sessions, speakers referred to themselves tongue-in-cheek as “proud neo-reformers,” convinced that any changes in practice or approach could be fully justified in Orthodox Jewish law.

Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the Ramat Gan Hesder Yeshiva and one of several religious Zionist rabbis who lean toward a quasi-haredi approach to Orthodoxy, was perhaps the most prominent figure to attack changes in Jewish tradition. In a speech before members of the Bnei Akiva youth movement that took place several weeks ago and that received media coverage last week, Shapira was recorded as saying that this “neo-Reform” in Orthodoxy was motivated by two factors – romantic notions and undermining the limits of Halacha.

Shapira specifically mentioned as a type of “neo-Reform” Bnei Akiva’s coed educational policy. But he also attacked the activities of Kolech, which he claimed gave legitimacy to “birth without marriage.”

Shapira was referring to Kolech’s support for artificial insemination for women who have remained single until late in life and whose biological clocks are signaling the end of fertility.

One can only imagine what Shapira or other conservative-minded religious Zionist rabbis would have thought of the call during the conference by Malka Puterkovsky, a noted female Torah scholar and teacher at Midreshet Lindenbaum (Beruria), to allow married women to use birth control more freely, and her rejection of the trend in religious Zionist circles to marry early and bear many children.

Shapira warned in his speech that members of Kolech were misleading because they were often “more scrupulous about their adherence to mitzvot than their opponents.” But, he added, these reformers “undermine the Godliness of the Torah and its continuity today, both of which are based on contemporary rabbinic authority.”

Rachel Keren, Kolech’s chairwoman, said that Monday’s conference was probably the motivation for various comments by Shapira and other rabbis, such as Technion Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Rachamim Zini.

“The Kolech conference raises many issues that demonstrate so clearly the need for change in the Orthodox world,” said Keren. “One of these issues is leadership. Suggesting that women can also be spiritual and community leaders undermines the existing hierarchies and frameworks.

“But,” she added, “Kolech also breaks other taboos, such as our demand to confront domestic sexual abuse and fight denial of this phenomenon. And for many rabbis, this is not easy to accept.”

The confrontation between Orthodox feminists and the rabbinical establishment has escalated in recent years as the increasing integration of women into serious Torah scholarship programs, senior community leadership positions, and more involvement in the synagogue has sparked a reaction among more traditional-minded rabbis.

But the vying sides are not necessarily drawn along gender lines. Rabbis, who in the present context need to be defined as “male,” as opposed to female, spoke at the conference as well.

Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva spoke in favor of transferring more authority to female spiritual leaders.

Rabbi Benny Lau, head of the Center for Judaism and Society and the Institute for Social Justice at Beit Morasha, talked about how gender segregation and messages in traditional Jewish texts that were not explained properly had a negative impact on young men’s perception of women.

“The female image is often portrayed as demonic, a source of sin, of prohibition – ideas which are in many ways Christian and foreign to Judaism,” said Lau.

But perhaps the most controversial talk was given by Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of the Religious Kibbutz Movement’s yeshiva in Ma’aleh Gilboa, who said that ordination of female rabbis was inevitable and that women had a special contribution to make to the development of Halacha.

“Obviously, in intimate areas such as laws dealing with family purity, women are much better suited to make halachic decisions,” said Gilad, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post a day after the conference by phone. “But women can also bring more empathy and understanding to fertility issues. As a man, I can never understand a woman’s need to bring into the world a child of her own.”

Gilad said that since women were unfettered by male prejudices, they were in a special position to issue novel halachic decisions.

“But there are also dangers,” he said. “For instance, if women become rabbis out of a desire to prove something or out of an angry desire to right past wrongs, they are liable to distort justice. There is also the phenomenon of being overly cautious. Women might end up being more conservative than men.”

In the vote for the title of female rabbis, participants were given seven options which included also hachama (sage), talmidat hachamim (a student of sages) and maharat (an abbreviated form of Halacha teacher and Torah rabbi).The voting results will be revealed Wednesday.

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, considered more haredi in his approach and known to be opposed to feminism, said in response to the vote that “if women’s motivation is truly pure, then they should be encouraged to learn Halacha and be able to answer questions that come up. But if this is an attempt to attack the rabbinic establishment, then the initiative should be strongly opposed.”

Asked if he would support women as chief rabbis of cities, Eliyahu – the son of former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu – answered that the public should be allowed to decide.

“But how many female prime ministers have we had?” he asked. “How many female chiefs of General Staff have we had? Why has there not been a feminist initiative to appoint a woman to the post of chief of General Staff?”

A senior Sudanese politician called on Tuesday for an enquiry into reports young women from Sudan’s Christian south had been flogged for defying Islamic law by wearing trousers in Khartoum.

Police arrested 13 young women earlier this month, accusing them of wearing indecent clothes in a Khartoum cafe, and later flogged 10 of them, one of the arrested women told journalists.

Lubna Hussein, who works as an information officer for the U.N. mission in Khartoum, said some of the women detained with her were from southern Sudan, where most of the population is Christian.

Khartoum, along with all of Sudan’s Muslim north, operates under Islamic sharia law, but the punishment of residents of the capital originating from the south remains a sensitive issue.

Sudan is supposed to be working to soften the impact of sharia for southerners living in Khartoum under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war. Sharia law was lifted in the south by the deal.

Yasir Arman, a senior member of the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), told Reuters he was calling for an investigation into the case to see why the southern women were not given greater protection.

“We condemn this in the strongest terms. It is an infringement of the rights of women and youths. I believe Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in the National Capital should look into it,” he said, referring to a body set up under the 2005 accord.

Arman said hundreds of southern women were also regularly punished for brewing alcohol in Khartoum.

“They are being punished for something that is acceptable in the south. This is one of the paradoxes that is undermining the chances of unity of Sudan.”

Southerners have been promised a referendum on whether to split off from northern Sudan in January 2011. The SPLM has repeatedly complained that problems in the roll out of the peace deal have made it difficult for them to make the case for unity.

Lubna Hussein, who is from north Sudan, told Reuters on Tuesday she was still waiting for her case to be heard after the arrest. “The police called me in for questioning again yesterday to ask about the shirt I was wearing at the time. They said it was too short and the material too thin,” she said.

Many more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed.

A public presentation of the “Progress of the World’s Women” report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Pretoria, South Africa this week suggests that one of the most powerful constraints on realising women’s rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a lack of accountability to women’s needs.

The report sets out a gender-responsive definition for accountability: the capacity of women to get information and explanations of government actions, initiate investigations or be compensated where necessary, and to see officials sanctioned where women’s needs are ignored or women’s rights not protected.

Poor women in particular are affected by weak accountability, and if they are to gain a voice in corporate and civic governance in spite of unequal gender relations, the report recommends that the number of women in decision-making posts be increased and, equally importantly, institutions be transformed to be more responsive to women’s needs.

The Pretoria presentation focused on women’s rights in the context of powerful global market forces.

“We see the economic and financial crisis as an opportunity to reconsider our economic models in terms of gender equality and achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” said UNIFEM’s deputy executive director, Joanne Sandler, at the launch Monday.

Drawing on figures produced by the International Labour Organisation, UNIFEM’s Progress report shows how more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed. Over 60 percent of unpaid family workers are women.

In formal employment, hundreds of thousands of the jobs created in Africa during the economic growth period following the turn of the millennium – many of which were filled by women – are proving to be extremely vulnerable in the downturn.

UNIFEM Executive Director Ines Alberdi, who was addressing the Fifth Annual Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament in Vienna on Monday, said that in Africa, where a booming export apparel industry has provided thousands of new jobs for poor women since 2002, including over 100,000 in Kenya, Lesotho and Swaziland, falling holiday sales are destroying the industry’s viability.

Morocco’s textile industry, including carpets, knitwear and garment manufacturing, where women constitute up to 79 percent of workers, has already lost 10,000 jobs due to the crisis.

According to Alberdi, statistics from the 1997 Asian financial crisis show that increased violence and abuse against women and a rise in infant and child deaths are some of the possible detrimental effects of the present crisis.

She added that girls in poor countries with low education attainment rates are more likely to be pulled out of school as households cope with declining resources; by 2007, girls already accounted for 54 percent of the world’s out-of-school population, a percentage likely to rise higher.

“…it is now a truism that in every crisis there is an opportunity. Global crises such as this one, which can define a generation, can upset the business-as-usual way the world operates, which makes it so hard to bring about change,” said Alberdi.

Business-as-usual, according to the report, has seen governments try to attract investment by, for example, weakening labour and environmental standards in special Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

UNIFEM is sharply critical of this approach in terms of accountability, pointing out that what attracts investment to these zones is the low cost of labour – mostly female. The often-secret deals reached between governments and companies in these zones place huge obstacles in the way of millions of women demanding fair wages and working conditions.

The report evaluates several voluntary or consumer-driven corporate social responsibility initiatives, before making recommendations which may not be welcome reading for transnational business owners: gender equality must become an explicit part of national legislation and international trade policy (and gender disaggregated data will be needed to guide this); women should be involved in national economic planning and the negotiation of trade agreements; and special – though temporary – measures to increase the number of women in decision-making are needed, including quotas for women on the boards of publicly-listed companies.

In a nutshell, governments must hold market institutions accountable.

This will require powerful mobilisation of women. Pointing to the role played by women’s movements around the world in challenging authoritarian governments, pressing for peace, and promoting legislative changes to laws governing marriage, inheritance and harmful traditional customs, the UNIFEM report’s authors are optimistic that governments can be made to answer to women.

World Bank: plus ça change

Contrast UNIFEM’s recommendations with those found in a recent policy document written by the World Bank’s senior spokesperson on gender and development issues, Mayra Buvinic.

Buvinic believes that women and girls in the developing world will be disproportionally affected by the global economic crisis. She suggests that responses that build on women’s roles as economic agents can go a long way towards mitigating negative effects.

“In Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa, among other countries, rigorous studies unequivocally show that children’s welfare (nutritional status, schooling attendance) in poor households improves more when income is in women’s hands rather than in men’s,” she writes.

So economic opportunities for poor women should be at the heart of designing safety nets, employment creation projects and financial sector operations.

“In particular, micro-finance institutions should be capitalised so that they continue to offer credit and other financial services to poor borrowers, the majority of whom are women. The development payoffs of these investments should be large – both in terms of mitigating current hardships and preventing future ones, and are a smart use of development assistance.”

Public works programmes targeting women are praised; limited fiscal ability to provide social safety nets by governments deplored.

But no mention of a role for improved regulation of the market forces which have delivered food and financial crises or the vulnerable employment that is evaporating so rapidly.

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