Archive for August 2nd, 2009

Two people died and at least 11 were hurt when the gunman opened fire at the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association before fleeing.

The city’s Mayor, Ron Huldai, said the motive was unclear and police declined to comment except to say a Palestinian link was not suspected.

But the protesters condemned the attack as Israel’s worst hate crime.

“I fear that if the man who did this is not found, the consequences to the gay community might be far-reaching – they might live in fear,” said 47-year-old lawyer Arnon Hirsch.

The attacker, wearing a mask, opened fire indiscriminately with a pistol inside the centre on Nachmani Street.

The two people he killed were a man aged 26 and a 17-year-old girl.

Survivors described how the attacker kept firing as visitors to the centre dived for cover.

“I took cover with someone under a table, and he kept firing,” said one injured teenager, Or Gil.

“When I got up it was horrifying, I just saw blood.”

Gay rights activist Mike Hamel criticised religiously-driven hatred of homosexuals.

“Beyond the pain, the frustration and the anger, we are facing a situation in which the incitement to hate creates an environment that allows this to happen,” he said.

One worker at the centre said some parents of the teenagers did not know their children were gay until they received phone calls telling them their children had been injured.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring the killer to justice.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who attended the rally, said the attack should strengthen young people who wanted to come out of the closet.

People from the gay community are allowed to serve openly in the military, and couples are given a measure of legal recognition.


Community Members Speak Out Against New Law Criminalizing Homosexual Behavior

An April 2009 law that criminalizes homosexual conduct threatens to exacerbate the deplorable treatment of gays and lesbians in Burundi, Human Rights Watch has said in a multimedia project published.

The project, “Forbidden: Institutionalizing Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians in Burundi,” consists of printed and online narratives, photos, and voice-recorded testimonies of Burundian gays and lesbians that bring to life the daily struggles faced by the small lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Burundi. Members of the community talk about how they have been fired from their jobs, beaten by parents and neighbourhood youth, and evicted from their homes.

The LGBT population had just begun to speak up and organize – demanding an end to discriminatory treatment in workplaces, schools, and homes – when the Burundian government struck back, adding to the criminal code in April a provision that institutionalizes such discrimination by criminalizing “sexual relations with persons of the same sex.” Individuals convicted under the new law can be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

“The government needs to listen to these voices to understand the harm it is doing to Burundians with its state-sanctioned discrimination,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should rescind this law and instead work to promote equality and understanding.”

The testimonies presented in “Forbidden,” alongside Martina Bacigalupo’s powerful photographs, give a public platform to a population in Burundi that has long been silenced.

The individuals interviewed for “Forbidden” described Burundi’s new law as a huge step backward. (Some names have been changed in the report for reasons of privacy and protection.) Cynthia, a 25-year-old waitress, told Human Rights Watch: “I was shocked when I heard about the new law against homosexuality. I want them to give us liberty. We are people like everyone else. It’s God who created us. The law won’t change us.”

Even before the law was passed, Burundian LGBT people faced significant obstacles to acceptance by society, as recounted by the 10 people interviewed for this project. Carine, for example, a 37-year-old lesbian from a small town in Burundi’s interior, describes how she lost a teaching job when her sexual orientation was discovered. She was harassed at another job by a male colleague, who on one occasion locked her in a room and threatened to kill her.

Pascal, starting when he was 5 years old, was beaten regularly by his parents, who considered him effeminate. As he said: “They thought that by beating me, they could change me.” Many of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, most of them young, had been kicked out of their homes or disowned by their parents.

Human Rights Watch called upon the government of Burundi to listen to the voices of Burundi’s gays and lesbians, and to urgently reform the criminal code so as to end state discrimination against this group of Burundian citizens.

Lesbians in China have set up an online petition to be allowed to donate blood.

According to state-run China Daily, the petition asks the government to repeal the 1998 ban.

The law means that anyone who states they are gay or lesbian on a blood donation form is automatically disqualified from donating. However, the is no penalty for lying on the forms.

So far, the petition has 540 signatures. Organisers are hoping the number will reach 1,000.

Shi Weiwei, deputy director of the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center, said that the law stemmed for safety concerns.

“As we all know, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including the deadly HIV/AIDS, is much higher among groups such as drug users and homosexuals, particularly gay men, who tend to have multiple sex partners,” she said.

China Daily estimated that there are 30 million gays and lesbians in the country out of 1.3 billion people. It did not say how many of these are thought to have HIV.

Many gay and lesbian websites are blocked in China, although it was recently found that new software designed to filter out pornography also blocks images of pigs, as it mistakes the image for naked human skin.

China performs about 13 million abortions every year, mostly for single young women who experts say know little about contraception, state media said Thursday in a rare disclosure of sensitive family planning statistics.

The China Daily newspaper said the real number of abortions is believed to be even higher since the 13 million accounts for procedures in hospitals but many more are known to be carried out in unregistered rural clinics. Also, about 10 million abortion pills are sold every year in China, the paper said.

It quoted Wu Shangchun, a government official with the National Population and Family Planning Commission, as saying that nearly half of the women seeking abortions in China had used no form of contraception.

China imposed strict birth controls in the 1970s, limiting most couples to just one child. Sterilization and the use of intrauterine devices, or IUDs, for women are widely promoted — and subsidized — forms of contraception for married women. However, the policy tends to overlook the contraception needs of unmarried women even as attitudes toward casual sex have dramatically liberalized.

The report said around 62 percent of the women undergoing abortions were single and aged between 20 and 29 years old.

It called the widespread use of abortions “an unfortunate situation” but did not directly say whether abortions were on the rise. No year to year statistics were given.

Wu told the paper that reducing the number of abortions was a tough challenge facing the country.

Peking University professor, Li Ying, was quoted as saying that sex education needed to be improved at the university level and that Chinese parents also needed to teach their kids more about sex.

The government says its family planning controls since the 1970s — including contraception, sterilization and abortion procedures — have prevented an additional 400 million births in the world’s most populous country of 1.3 billion.

About 1.2 million women have abortions each year in the United States, which has a population of just more than 300 million people.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) State of the World’s Children 2009 report, more than 64 percent of girls marry before they are 18. But with early marriage comes early pregnancy. One-third of teenage girls aged 15 to 19 are mothers or pregnant in Bangladesh today, with adolescent mothers more likely to suffer birth complications than adult women, the British Medical Journal reports. Teenage mothers are twice as likely as older mothers to die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, with mothers younger than 14 facing the greatest risks. In fact, research shows that the risk of maternal mortality could be five times higher for mothers aged 10 to 14 than for those aged 20 to 24, while babies born to mothers younger than 14 were 50 percent more likely to die than babies born to mothers older than 20. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer from obstructed delivery and other severe childbirth- and pregnancy-related complications, say health experts. This results in higher morbidity and mortality for them and their children, according to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2007, released in March 2009.

A third of women are either pregnant or mothers by age 20, and this proportion is not declining, the report observed. The BDHS 2007 shows that the median age at marriage for women is 16.4 years, against 16.0 in the previous DHS (2004), but still 18 months below the legal minimum age, indicating that laws or policies alone do not guarantee implementation. The legal age is 21 for boys and 18 for girls. Parents encourage early marriage out of fear that the dowry price will increase as their daughter ages. Young girls are often regarded as an economic burden to their families; marrying them off at a very early age is seen as reducing that burden. It is also a way to ensure that their daughters are “protected” from sexual abuse or illicit sexual contact, and making them financially more secure.

But with early marriage, many girls drop out of school. Studies show that girls who marry as adolescents attain lower schooling levels, have lower social status in their husband’s families, report less reproductive control, and suffer higher rates of maternal mortality and domestic violence. Moreover, early marriage extends a woman’s reproductive span, thereby contributing to larger family sizes, especially in the absence of contraception. According to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research, Bangladesh, these individual outcomes suggest larger social consequences, including higher population growth, higher rates of maternal mortality and a higher number of orphans.

Raising awareness To counteract this, several NGOs are working to raise awareness of the risks of early marriage. In February, a conference of social workers and women in Dhaka underlined that 70 percent of girls in Bangladesh were forced into marriage while still in their teens. “The burden breaks the health of young mothers. Many die at delivery, or at least suffer untold health problems. The major casualty is the education of teenage girls. It denies them the awareness they need for taking the decision that affects their life most – marriage,” according to one of the papers presented. “The young brides, lacking education, become the malnourished mothers of undernourished children and little else,” Rahela Rahmatullah, an anti-child marriage activist, told IRIN. Working in 45 of the country’s 481 sub-districts, Rahmatullah’s volunteers seek out cases of child marriage in local communities and discuss the problems facing the underage mother with the young mother and her family. “We persuade and train her to tell her story to adolescent girls and their families. We organise courtyard meetings where the trained mother describes the problems she faces as an adolescent wife or mother and advises others not to accept any marriage proposal before they are at least 20,” she said. But in most cases, the issue is not so simple. “In most rural families girls are never consulted on their marriage. The parents and the family seniors choose the groom, fix the date and manage the wedding ceremony. Seeking a girl’s consent on marriage is still considered a taboo in most families,” Rahmatullah said.

Women activists from over 50 women’s organisations from eight states in the country have suggested amendments to the Women’s Reservation Bill, including doubling of existing seats by converting all seats of the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies into dual-member constituencies to elect one man and one woman each.

“A force needs to be created to address this issue and build a consensus campaign for women’s reservation,” said Medha Nanivadekar, national president of Bharatiya Stree Shakti, the women’s organisation that is spearheading this movement. Speaking at a news conference she said, “We are going to start a campaign with fellow activists in different cities.”

The women’s organisations and NGOs have proposed dual-member constituencies that would elect 543 men and 543 women to the Lok Sabha without changing the number or boundaries of existing constituencies.

The Women’s Reservation Bill hasn’t been passed by the parliament for the last 13-odd years. “Fact is, there are several lacunae in this Bill. Unless these are taken care of, it won’t do justice to women’s reservation in Parliament,” pointed out Smrutika Patil, who consults at the Kolhapur-based women’s organisation Saad-Sanvad.

Speaking about the morcha held by women protestors in Delhi on Thursday, Nanivadekar said, “There was a broad range of political ideologies of the women protesting. But we all felt that women should be represented in equal numbers in parliament. Our country’s population has increased manifold since the first general election. So it’s high time we had many more women representatives in parliament. A mere right to vote does not allow a woman political participation,” she added.

The biggest lacuna in the current Women’s Reservation Bill is rotational reservation that intends to ensure 33 per cent representation of women by removing these many men from the Lok Sabha, she said. “Male members in parliament feel threatened by rotational reservation. Actually, rotational reservation is damaging to both men and women. That’s why we are suggesting a win-win situation through our proposal.”

Women’s groups panned the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) for a new household registration certificate system — which provides the complete details of a woman’s birth record on copies of the certificate — as a violation of privacy.

“Since March, we’ve noticed that the new system used by Household Registration Offices across the country prints out everything about a person — including all childbirths for a woman — when a copy of a household registration record is applied for,” said Wu Wei-ting, research and development director-general at the Garden of Hope Foundation.

She said that the new system has caused problems for women who did not want others to know that they had borne a child.

“We’ve sheltered women who have had children born out of wedlock, or who have borne children after being raped, and given the children away,” Wu said. “They don’t want anyone — especially future husbands — to know about these children.”

Although such information has always been kept in the ministry’s population database, it had not been included on household registration certificates.

“The new measure not only violates privacy, it can also damage a woman’s name, and affect a young girl’s future,” said Cheng Kai-jung, deputy secretary-general of the Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights.

Wu said that women’s groups have met with ministry officials about the issue several times.

Officials initially insisted that including all births on certificates could help resolve inheritance controversies, because unlisted children sometimes appear after the death of their parents seeking to inherit property, Wu said.

“I don’t think it’s a valid reason to invade someone’s privacy,” she said.

Department of Population Director Hsieh Ai-ling told the Taipei Times that the ministry was dealing with the issue, but declined to elaborate.

However, Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Join-sane said the ministry had reached an agreement with women’s groups.

“We will still store the information in our database, but we will keep it confidential unless the person concerned authorizes its release,” he said.

IPS wants to redress a huge imbalance that exists today: only 22% of the voices you hear and read in the news are women’s. Elections, health, education, armed conflicts, corruption, laws, trade, climate change, the global financial and food crises, and natural disasters. IPS covers these frontline issues asking an often forgotten question: What does this mean for women and girls?

NICARAGUA: Therapeutic Abortion Ban a “Disgrace” Says Rights Group – Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY – “What happened to me shattered my dreams, my hopes – I wanted to be someone who worked outside the home but I spend all day at home looking after the baby…I can’t even sleep and I feel very unsafe, many of my days are a nightmare, it’s very hard to carry on and I feel very sad and very tired,” said “M”, who was raped at age 17 by a relative.

RIGHTS-KENYA: Justice Waits While Debate Rages Over Tribunal – Joyce Mulama
NAIROBI – Kenya’s cabinet is expected to meet Monday to review a bill establishing how the masterminds of the country’s post-election violence will be punished.

EGYPT: Disputes Rise Over Quotas for Women MPs – Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani
CAIRO – Disputes have arisen over new legislation setting a quota for female representatives in parliament. Spokesmen for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak describe the quotas as a milestone for women’s rights, but some critics say the move threatens to create more problems than it solves.

CULTURE-AUSTRALIA: Film on ‘Slavery’ Ignites Controversy – Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY – ‘Stolen’, an Australian documentary film that premiered at the Sydney Film Festival last month, has ignited a controversy with its claims on slavery in the refugee camps of Western Sahara. The main protagonist has denounced the film for her portrayal as a ‘slave’, but the filmmakers say they stand by their version of the story “one hundred per cent”.

HAITI: Women “More Protected” to Report Sexual Violence – Valeria Vilardo
PORT-AU-PRINCE – It has been five years since the U.N. sent peacekeepers to Haiti following the forced departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the country, while not in a state of war, remains one of the world’s most unstable.

AUSTRALIA: Male Job Losses Rise as Families Count Costs – Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE – Despite concerns that female workers would bear the brunt of Australian job losses due to the global economic downturn, employees in the male-dominated manufacturing industry have so far been the hardest hit.

POLITICS-MAURITANIA: Election Results Challenged – Ebrima Sillah
DAKAR – Coup leader-turned-politician General Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz has been declared winner of Saturday’s presidential elections by Mauritania’s Interior Ministry.


COMMUNICATING FOR CHANGE: Voice, Visibility and Impact for Gender Equality: A new IPS programme to speak up about the third development goal.

GENDER MASALA: Notes on gender – A spicy mix by Mercedes Sayagues.

Latest blog posting: Taboo word out in the open
Sometime in this century, a taboo word crept out of the dark, dusty basement of journalists’ lexicon and acquired legitimacy and visibility, both as a word and an issue: menstruation.

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In 2007 Sierra Leone passed innovative laws aimed at reinforcing women’s rights and clamping down on sexual violence, but as the government and social services struggle to implement the laws crimes against women remain rampant, officials say.

Up to 67 percent of urban Sierra Leonean women were victims of domestic violence in 2008, Fatu Kargbo, a director in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWBCA) told IRIN.

Isha Bangura, director of the police Family Support Unit (FSU) – which receives most domestic abuse reports – said the most common domestic complaint they receive is physical violence.

“Most of the time women and girls are abused by people they know…[The perpetrators] are rarely strangers,” said Eunice Whenzle, who heads the Rainbo Centre, a counseling and treatment clinic for raped and battered women in the capital Freetown. “We also see cases of incest,” she said.

Rainbo Centre staff in the capital Freetown and in Koidu, Kailahun and Kenema are also seeing an increase in the number of teenage girls pregnant from rape on the rise, Whenzle said.

The 2007 Gender Act included a bill making violence or sexual abuse against women, including within marriage, a criminal act. Government officials and NGOs IRIN spoke with agree the act marks progress, but they could cite no cases where it has been used to successfully prosecute violators.

This is partly because there are so few lawyers or judges. In eastern Sierra Leone’s Kailahun district, one magistrate services 360,000 people. He processes eight cases a day and often has to gather his own evidence when police evidence is insufficient, according to Rainbo’s annual report.

Too often cases are dismissed before they enter a court at all, says the FSU’s Bangura. Rape cases require a medical certificate but this is difficult to obtain in a country with one doctor for every 18,000 people according to the World Health Organization. Referral systems between the police, health services and the courts are often unclear or not standardized, leaving many women confused, according Bangura.

The FSU cannot cope. “My unit is seriously under-resourced to cope with all the gender-based violence,” Bangura said. “The basic structures, including equipment to collect accurate data, are insufficient.”

Freetown’s Rainbo Centre clinic treats and follows up on 70 sexual abuse cases each day, according to Whenzle.

Families usually dissuade women and girls from reporting sexual violence, urging them to settle out of court or turn to “traditional justice”, said the MSWBCA’s Kargbo; this usually involves a discussion, payment and a ban on future contact.

This fosters impunity, she said. “If punitive action is not taken against violators of the gender act, incidences will continue unchecked.”

Though lack of capacity remains a barrier, political will is mounting to reduce sexual violence, said FSU director Bangura.

The MSWBCA in 2008 set up a national committee, with NGO and UN agencies participating, to coordinate the fight against sexual violence.

“It [the committee] has been instrumental because it has brought all the other agencies working on gender-based violence together to make sure we’re all focusing in the same direction,” said the Rainbo Centre’s Whenzle.

To date committee members such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rainbo Centre and other NGOs have helped facilitate referrals among police, doctors, lawyers and counselors and trained health workers in examinations for sexual violence and police in how to prosecute cases, said UNICEF’s child protection officer in Sierra Leone Rosina Conteh.

But real improvement requires a change in attitudes toward women, who have low status in Sierra Leone society, Whenzle said. With just one in four women able to read or write, many are unaware of their rights, she said. “The traditional perception in domestic [abuse] cases is that women should accept what is happening to them. We are trying to change that.”

Many blame violence on the civil war, which was notorious for its rape and attacks on civilians. But the government’s Kargbo said it goes back further. “Long before the war, violence [against women] has been the order of the day in both urban and rural areas.”

The media, traditional leaders, women’s activists, human rights groups and NGOs must work together to change attitudes, she said. “Making the gender law effective cannot happen overnight…it requires a long-term investment to change culturally-engrained practices.” She added: “The act took four years to pass through parliament, now we need more time to popularize it.”

Global AIDS Alliance executive director Dr. Paul Zeitz issued the following statement today on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s departure for a seven-nation tour of Africa:

“We applaud Secretary Clinton’s decision to visit Africa next week and her decision to focus attention during her visit on preventing conflict and violence, including gender-based violence, on the African continent. Violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC) are issues in each of the countries she is visiting; for example:

Tens of thousands of women and girls have suffered systematic rape and torture in Democratic Republic of the Congo since conflict there began in 1998.
Liberia has a culture of sexual violence that is a carry-over from years of conflict there.

South Africa has one of the highest reported rates of rape in the world, coupled with one of the highest HIV rates in the world.

As a U.S. Senator, Secretary Clinton was a co-sponsor of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in the last session of Congress, and she is thus well aware that gender-based violence occurs even in countries where there is no current conflict or war. Her trip is an opportunity to highlight the need for the U.S. government to coordinate all of its programs to address VAW and VAC, as well as to emphasize the responsibilities of African governments to address the scourge of violence,” said Zeitz.

Worldwide, one in three women will survive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in her lifetime. One in five will survive rape or attempted rape, and around 50% of female sexual assault survivors are 15 years or younger at the time of their attack. In addition, 10% of boys worldwide are sexually abused before they turn 18. In some countries, up to 50% of school children report having been physically or sexually abused while at school.

Violence against women and violence against children is a public health and human rights crisis of epidemic proportions. VAW/VAC also fuels the HIV/AIDS pandemic, both by hindering prevention efforts, including access to education, and by creating barriers to counseling, testing, and treatment services.

“We urge Secretary Clinton to speak out on these issues in all of her meetings with African leaders, and to impress on them the importance of immediately taking steps to protect the health, well-being, and safety of women and children in their countries,” said Zeitz.

Download fact sheet from GAA

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week lauded the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for classifying rape as a form of genocide.

In his latest report on the scourge to the UN Security Council, Ban said the tribunal in Rwanda recognised sexual violence was a step in the process of group destruction “of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself”.

He warned that sexual violence was being “perpetrated mainly against civilians in direct violation of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law”.

Systematic sexual violence as a weapon, mainly against women, was rife in armed conflict in Africa, Asia and Europe. He called on countries concerned “to strengthen prevention and protection measures against the crime”.

“In a number of contemporary conflicts, sexual violence has taken on particularly brutal dimensions, sometimes as a means of pursuing military, political, social and economic objectives,” Ban wrote.

While women and girls made up the majority of victims of such violence, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone had heard testimony about male victims.

“In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, at least 200000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since hostilities began in 1996,” Ban said. That was a conservative estimate with gross underreporting as many victims do not survive their attack.

“In eastern Chad, cases of rape and gang rape committed by officers and soldiers of the Armée Nationale Tchadienne have been documented. In Nepal, in the Tarai region, an estimated 15 to 20 armed groups are reportedly participating in violent activities, including sexual violence against women and girls,” the report said.

Ban expressed concern at the inadequacy of measures to prevent sexual violence and protect civilians, and lack of action on discrimination against women and girls.

He called for the ratification of and implementation of human rights treaties; strengthening of capacity to hold all perpetrators of sexual violence accountable; and exclusion from amnesties and immunities of those who committed or commissioned sexual violence.