Archive for August 18th, 2009

Campaigners say practice of detaining people for unpaid medical bills is widespread

Cash-strapped state and private hospitals in Kenya are routinely locking up patients to press family members and friends to pay up – and to send a message to poor people to stay away.

In May, the scandal received national prominence when a local television station used a hidden camera to show how 44 new mothers were being held in a locked room at the Kenyatta National hospital. A shocked viewer paid nearly £10,000 to clear their bills, but the exposé did little to change practices. While Pumwani publicly denies detaining patients, the Kenya Network of Grassroots Organisations (Kengo) found 34 mothers being held there against their will on Monday in “inhuman” conditions.

In government and council-run hospitals social workers are meant to waive the bills for the poorest patients, but the policy is rarely applied properly – even in the case of a child dying. A recently detained mother, Aisha Munyira, 25, said she was held in a guarded ward at Pumwani with about 60 other women and their babies for more than a month after her child died soon after birth in March. She said that she had no choice but to allow the hospital to bury the body anonymously.

“These detentions are a form of psychological torture,” said Evelyn Opondo, senior programme officer at the Federation of Women Lawyers, in Nairobi, who has documented a case of a mother being held with her baby at a private hospital in western Kenya for more than two years due to non-payment. The hospitals do not publicly declare it, but the practice is widespread.”

Despite pledges by the main political parties before the last election to introduce free maternity care, state hospitals have continued a 20-year policy, originally pushed by the World Bank, that requires “cost-sharing” for all public services.

In Nairobi’s slums, where the majority of people live below the poverty line, most mothers give birth at home in potentially dangerous conditions, or, if they can afford the transport, in cheap government clinics, where the delivery fee is less than 20p. But pregnant women with complications have little choice but to seek hospital admission.

According to mothers who have been locked up, the security is tight – guards control access to the wards, the patients’ civilian clothes are taken away and visitors are discouraged. The food is poor – mostly rice and cabbage and one portion of fruit a week. Sending babies home with relatives is forbidden. Even those who manage to clear their original bills are not released if they cannot also pay the additional charges of up to £3.60 a day.

Wangui Mbatia, the executive director of the Kengo, said her organisation was going to ask western donors to stop funding health programmes in Kenya until the hospitals changed their practices. She is also exploring ways to help patients who have been detained to sue for compensation.

“This policy is illegal, unnecessary and nonsensical because there’s no way that most of these women can settle their bills. It’s a government working against its people,” she said.

When asked about the detentions, Dr Charles Wanyonyi, medical superintendent of Pumwani hospital, said: “I am not aware of any of these cases. We have a very nice waiver committee, so I don’t think it is possible that people have been detained.”

A spokesman for Kenyatta National hospital, which is currently holding about 400 patients – not only women – for non-payment of bills, defended the policy and said that all of the people detained had the ability to pay.

“We are unable to procure new equipment and drugs because of the problems of bad debt,” said Simon Githai, chief public relations officer for the hospital. “The culture of not planning for unforeseen circumstances in this country needs to change.”

Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, the medical services minister, has announced plans for a national heath insurance scheme, funded by a new tax on workers, to help the poor get access to hospital care. During a parliamentary debate he expressed sympathy for the detained patients – but also for the hospitals.

He said it was an “inhuman situation” for mothers to be locked up “but also absolutely out of order for a patient to be treated and expect not to pay his medical bill”.

Extracts from a longer article at


India’s capital, Delhi, recorded more female than male births during 2008, for the first time in many decades.

Latest government data shows for every 1,000 males, 1,004 girls were born in Delhi in 2008.

One of the main reasons for the earlier skewed male-female ratios was seen to be the greater number of abortions of female foetuses.

The news has been hailed as a gender revolution in a country that has been struggling to get the balance right.

Delhi is now second only to the southern state of Kerala, which has the highest number of female births.

Now activists hope that those days have been consigned to history.

They say that it is the news that they have been waiting for.

Although the government made scanning pregnant mothers to determine the sex of foetuses illegal, the practice continued.

Dr Dharm Prakash of the Indian Medical Association, which ran a campaign against aborting girl foetuses, welcomed the report.

“The community has responded to our request that girls should be born,” he said.

His organisation started a “Say No To Sex Selective Abortions” campaign and urged doctors to refrain from doing so.

“Our own colleagues have stopped especially after the implementation of the law against it,” Dr Prakash said.

Officials also put the turnaround down to a number of schemes started by the Delhi government, including financial incentives for parents to register the births of female children.

Women’s groups say more time is needed to analyse the data to know if it really indicates a favourable trend towards girls.

At the last count in 2001 the figure for females stood at 933 per 1,000 males.

Experts say achieving a normal sex ratio remains an uphill task but the latest figures show that it is not impossible.

The real challenge, they say, is changing the attitude towards daughters given the preference for boys in Indian society.

When the first and only midwifery school was opened in 2004 in Bamyan city, central Afghanistan, not a single application was received for the 18-month course. Today, the school has to turn down dozens of applications from women all over the province because it cannot accommodate more than 25 students at a time.

“We have earned the peoples’ trust in our work,” Saleha Hamnavazada, coordinator of Bamyan Midwifery School, told IRIN. “We have created a reliable learning environment for women and have assured their men that women are totally safe and protected here.”

Conservative traditions in Afghanistan have restricted women’s and girls’ access to education, work, healthcare and other social activities across the country, albeit in varying degrees.

Women and girls are often stopped from going to health centres or schools because of a lack of female health workers and teachers.

The consequences are severe: annually, 24,000 women die before, during or just after childbirth because of a lack of healthcare; and the female illiteracy rate is one of the highest in the world at more than 85 percent, according to UN agencies.

“I want to break superstitious taboos in our society which impede women’s education and work,” Masooma, a midwifery student from Daikundi Province, told IRIN. “I saw the deaths of my two sisters-in-law during childbirth because there was no midwife or doctor to save them.”

However, the midwifery profession is starting to be considered both decent and lucrative for women, particularly in rural areas.

“A midwife works only for women so it is acceptable,” said one man in Bamyan city, who requested anonymity.

The number of midwifery schools in the country has increased from six in 2002 to 31 in 2009, according to Pashtoon Azfar, director of the National Association of Midwives (NAM). Since 2002, more than 2,000 midwives have been trained and employed by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and NGOs in health centres across the country, Azfar told IRIN.

Midwives are believed to have improved women’s access to essential health services and have reduced maternal mortality in some parts of the country.

“Maternal death during child delivery has decreased by about 50 percent,” Zainab Rezayee, an obstetrician in Bamyan City Hospital, told IRIN, referring to her hospital.

In 2004, two to four babies were born every month at health centres in rural Bamyan. Today, more than 35 are born in medical centres every month thanks to 41 graduated midwives in the province. Deliveries at Bamyan City Hospital have increased from 30 a month in 2004 to more than 130 in 2009, Rezayee said.

Across the country, the percentage of women receiving antenatal care increased from 4.6 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2006, while the rate of child deliveries attended by a skilled health worker increased from 8 percent to over 19 percent in the same period, according to NAM.

In addition to facilitating childbirth, midwives increase women’s awareness about family planning, HIV/AIDS and transmittable sexual diseases.

Officials in the health ministry say it is time to re-assess Afghanistan’s poor maternal mortality record – rated the second-worst in the world after Sierra Leone, with 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, in a 2006 nationwide assessment.

“We need a new assessment to gauge how much the ratio has dropped,” said Azfar, who also heads the main midwifery school in Kabul.

Afghanistan has one of the highest fertility rates in Asia and the average Afghan woman gives birth to six to seven children in her life, according to the UN Population Fund.

There are about 2,400 midwives in the country but about 8,000 are required to provide basic obstetric services for all Afghan women, NAM said.

“We train 300-400 midwives every year at 31 midwifery schools in the country,” said Azfar, adding that one school would be opened by the end of 2009 in the Paktika Province where women have very little access to basic healthcare.

At this rate, it will take at least 14 years to train the needed 5,600 extra midwives. Until then, thousands of women will continue to die from preventable deaths.

Tired of calling for the decriminalisation of abortion – the leading cause of maternal death in Argentina – a network of women’s rights activists launched a telephone hotline to inform women on a safe abortion method that requires no medical intervention: the use of a pill to terminate pregnancy.

“We make information approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Latin American Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics Societies available to women,” Verónica Marsano, a member of Lesbians and Feminists for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, the organisation spearheading the initiative, explained to IPS.

According to this information, a drug called misoprostol – also known as RU486 or medication abortion – can be used by women to safely interrupt an unwanted pregnancy up to the ninth week of gestation. The medicine, which works by causing contractions of the womb that result in the body expelling the pregnancy, has an effectiveness rate of more than 80 percent. “The associated risk is one percent and is never mortal,” said Marsano, who received special training for the initiative.

Since it was launched in late July, the phone line, which operates seven days a week, has received an average of 15 calls a day from women around the country.

The experience, backed by the Dutch-based international organisation Women on Waves, was first introduced in Ecuador in June 2008, where a hotline is run by the Youth Organisation for Gender Equity. Despite the fact that abortion is illegal in Ecuador, an estimated 95,000 abortions are performed every year in that country.

In view of the good results obtained through the dissemination of information on misotropol in Ecuador, the Women’s Health Network of Chile decided to implement a similar initiative in May 2009. Chile is one of the few nations in the world where abortion is illegal under all circumstances, but estimates place the number of interrupted pregnancies in that country at 120,000 to 160,000 a year.

In Uruguay, guidance in the use of misoprostol is in place since 2001 in the pre and post abortion counselling clinic in Montevideo’s Pereira Rossell Hospital, the state maternity health facility. In Argentina, medical counselling on this medicine-based option is also available, in this case through the adolescents clinic at the state Argerich Hospital, in Buenos Aires.

But the idea of the network of women’s activists for starting a telephone assistance service was aimed at making information available to women around the country, enabling them to make an informed decision without having to go to a hospital. “We don’t give advice, we provide information,” Marsano explained.

Nevertheless, they work with a protocol designed by specialists and are advised by a committee of doctors.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Mabel Bianco, president of the Women’s Studies and Research Foundation, said that “medication abortion is a significant advance. It’s a less bloody and invasive method, which requires no surgical intervention or anaesthesia.”

According to Bianco, “it has proved very useful in countries around the world in reducing the risk of death and complications for women.” She also underlined that it has the advantage of giving women the possibility of using it “privately and without having to ask for professional assistance.”

The network’s activists were trained by doctors with Women on Waves, whose members travel around the world performing abortions in international waters, near countries that ban the practice.

The women trained to answer the phone service tell callers how to obtain the drug – which was originally developed to treat gastric ulcers – without a medical prescription, the dose that must be administered to obtain the desired result, the effects of misoprostol on their bodies, and possible complications.

The risks and experience are similar to those of a miscarriage, they say: cramps, bleeding and possible nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The network advises women to have a sonogram before they take the drug, to determine how far into the pregnancy they are and to rule out an extra-uterine (or ectopic) pregnancy.

“Our ultimate goal is to influence the debate on the need to decriminalise abortion, but meanwhile we offer information on this widespread method, because part of the goal of reducing maternal mortality is to give women access to information,” Marsano explained.

In Argentina, abortion is a crime punishable by imprisonment, except in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger or when she is mentally ill or disabled.

But every year some 460,000 to 600,000 women resort to abortion, according to the report “Estimate of the Extent of the Practice of Induced Abortion in Argentina,” prepared by experts from the University of Buenos Aires and the Centre for Population Studies.

In the book “Abortion under Debate,” Mariana Carbajal, a journalist who specialises in women’s issues, writes that every hour seven women are discharged from a public hospital in Argentina after being treated for abortion-related complications.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, Carbajal says.

Complications resulting from abortions have been the leading cause of maternal death in this country for the past 25 years. According to the latest Ministry of Health figure, from 2007, the maternal mortality rate stands at 44 deaths for every 100,000 live births.

This falls far short of meeting the target set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed by 189 heads of state at the United Nations’ Development Summit in 2000 to address major development issues.

Under Goal 5 – the MDG that relates specifically to maternal health – signatory nations undertook to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015.

“The State has to meet this target because deaths from abortion are avoidable. We are merely fulfilling the role that the State should be playing if it really intends to fulfill the target,” Marsano said.

According to the 2009 Millennium Development Goals Report, issued on Jul 6. by the United Nations as part of its assessment of the progress made, obstetric complications and complications from unsafe abortion account for the majority of maternal deaths.

But in spite of the lack of public policies, doctors note that the number of hospitalisations for abortion-related complications has gone down in recent years due to the use of misoprostol, which women learn about by word-of-mouth from other women, Dr. Estela Acosta of the Ana Goitía de Avellaneda Maternity Clinic, on the south side of Buenos Aires, told Carbajal.

“For us, it’s truly a relief. They used to come in with infections, facing the risk of death or loss of their uterus or ovaries. Access to these drugs that interrupt pregnancies has pushed hospitalisations and risks down,” said Acosta.

A similar assessment was made by Dr. Ricardo Cuevas, of the Gynaecology Service of Soria Hospital, in the north-west province of Jujuy. The number of hospitalisations as a result of abortions dropped 50 percent since 2002 due to misoprostol and also to the dissemination of and better access to birth control, Cuevas is quoted as saying in the book.

Still this is only a shortcut for achieving safe abortion. Both Bianco and Marsano said that the women’s movement needs to continue fighting for the decriminalisation of abortion.

Or at the very least, women must organise to demand real access to abortion in hospitals in those circumstances under which it is deemed legal, because in practice rape victims and others have had to bring legal action to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy.

Australia’s drug regulator has accepted that it is safer for women to terminate pregnancy than to give birth, clearing the way for dramatically wider use of the abortion pill, RU486.

Abortion provider Marie Stopes International last month began offering women the choice of medical and standard surgical abortions at its nine clinics in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration authorised the service to use RU486 under special licensing to give desperately ill people access to drugs not available in this country. The only provisos were that women had to be less than nine weeks pregnant and meet eligibility criteria covering standard surgical abortions, the group said.

The TGA denied it had watered down controls on RU486 — effectively banned in Australia until three years ago — but Marie Stopes said the federal regulator had agreed to broaden its definition of the “life-threatening or otherwise serious” illnesses that could be treated with foreign drugs under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme.

“We argued that pregnancy is a condition that may be both serious and life-threatening in particular circumstances,” said Jill Michelson, the organisation’s national clinical adviser.

“What is undeniable is the fact that the risk to a pregnant woman of induced abortion is much less than the risk of continuing a pregnancy through to delivery at term.

“And we argued that continuance of pregnancy would … also involve greater risk of injury to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman, and a substantial risk that if pregnancy were not terminated and a child were born, the child would suffer from such physical and mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

Anti-abortion groups slammed the move, with Right to Life Australia attacking both the TGA and Marie Stopes for making RU486 more widely available. Queensland GP David van Gend, who campaigned against RU486 for a group known as the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life, disputed the scientific basis of the argument advanced by Marie Stopes.

“For an abortion clinic to argue that having a baby is so dangerous that you need to save women from that … is medically highly suspect,” Dr van Gend said yesterday from his surgery in Toowoomba. “Instead, you are at a far higher risk of suiciding after aborting a baby … I suspect only selective data has been looked at to make such a puzzling conclusion on abortion.”

Cairns obstetrician Caroline de Costa, who was at the forefront of the campaign to bring RU486 into the country, culminating in historic conscience votes of federal parliament in 2005 and 2006, questioned whether Marie Stopes’ expanded use of the drug was legal under Queensland law.

Professor de Costa suspended her own RU486 program, the country’s first, after a Cairns couple was charged with criminal offences in March for allegedly procuring contraband abortion drugs in Ukraine, which police say were used by 19-year-old Tegan Simone Leach to terminate her own pregnancy. No pleas have been entered in court proceedings.

Professor de Costa said the terms of her authorised prescriber licence from the TGA restricted her to treating women with existing medical conditions or a history of serious complications during the first trimester of pregnancy. She was yesterday seeking clarification from the agency and Marie Stopes on how RU486 could be provided more generally.

“It’s all very annoying, to put it mildly,” Professor de Costa said. “If they … are able to offer it to women using another variation of law, why can’t they share it with us? We all want the same thing in terms of helping women.”

Ms Michelson agreed her organisation’s legal advice differed from that of Professor de Costa, but said the TGA had done no more than respond to the case Marie Stopes had made that pregnancy could be “both a serious and life-threatening condition, and the risk of doing an abortion is much less than providing a full-term pregnancy”.,25197,25911736-5006786,00.html

Around 229,000 Nepali women have received abortion services till 2009 since the operation is legalized, said Nepali official.

Nepali government have said that legalization of abortion helped Nepal reduce the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) immensely and that a six-month pilot project, which ran this year to implement Medical Abortion (MA) has shown signs that it will help decrease the rate further.

Abortion was legalized in Nepal in March, 2002. The immediate effect was reduction of MMR from 539 per 100,000 live births in 1996 to 289 in 2006. Nepal aims to bring down MMR to 134 by 2015, local newspaper The Kathmandu Post reported on Saturday.

The safe abortion procedural order 2060 (2003/2004) of the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) approved medical abortion (pharmacological) as one of the alternative technologies for safe abortion.

Presenting the key findings of the pilot project and recommendations to scale up safe MA services, Chairperson of the government MA task force Meera Ojha said, “The service has already been expanded to all the districts of the country with 245 listed certified abortion care centers, 610 doctors and 94 trained nurses.”

According to Ojha, 229,000 women have received abortion services till 2009.

In 2008, MoHP developed a strategic guideline to expand safe abortion services through MA and a six-month-long pilot study was implemented in six districts covering all five development regions of the country.

The pilot project was conducted in 32 listed service sites in the districts. “A total of 26,620 women received safe abortion services while 1,718 women received the same through MA,” said Ojha.

The root causes of women’s oppression
– Helen Zille, the DA leader on the real obstacles to female advancement in SA

Failing our women: A tragic loss of human potential

On Women’s Day it is important to look beyond the symbolism of this public holiday, and address the root causes of women’s oppression.

The risk of trinkets, cards and gifts on such occasions is that they disguise (rather than address) the substantive issues.

The vision of an “open, opportunity society for all” faces major obstacles, none greater than the situation facing most women (not only in South Africa, but in many other countries).

The reason is that most women forfeit their opportunities before they begin to use them. Their careers end before they begin.

On Women’s Day, we should look hard at the catastrophic loss of human potential among South African women. For far too many, life’s opportunities have been shut down well before their 20th birthday. Multitudes have dropped out of school. Large numbers have become pregnant by fathers who will never support them or their children, so that both they and their babies are doomed to stunted, impoverished lives.

The South African Institute of Race Relations has recently published statistics on the state of the South African family. They are frightening. By 2007, only 34% of children in South Africa were living with both biological parents. 23% were living with neither. There were 148,000 households headed by a child of 17 years or younger. In 2006, more than 72,000 girls between the age of 13 and 19 did not attend school because they were pregnant. A pupil at a school in Mpumalanga claimed that 34 babies born to school girls were fathered by teachers.

Apartheid bears much of the blame for the disintegration of African family life. But the problem has actually been getting worse in recent years. From 2002 to 2007, there was an increase in the number of children living without a father, and in child-headed families. AIDS explains a large loss of life among young women but does not explain why fewer living men are staying with, and taking responsibility for, the children they fathered.

Helen Zille’s article continues at
A Message From the African National Congress Women’s League
Working together to empower women for development and gender equality

This year we commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the heroic march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on the 9th of August 1956. This year’s commemoration will take place under the theme “Working together to empower women for development and gender equality”.

Every year on this day, as South African women we remember the sacrifice, the commitment, the dedication and the unity in action of the women of the 1950s. They demonstrated that as women, we are strong, powerful, special and valuable.

This day marks the culmination and continuation of the great and heroic struggle of South African women. This is a history that not only demonstrated to the apartheid regime (and our men) that tempering with women could be dangerous, but also demonstrated to women themselves that they could be as hard as rock. As the women called out on the steps of the Union Buildings that day, “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo. Strijdom uzakufa” (You touch the women, you touch the rock. Strijdom you will die.)

The 9th of August always gives us an opportunity to critically re- examine the history of the march and the foundations of the women’s movement in South Africa, but this day also offers the appropriate occasion to reflect on the current situation of women in the country in relation to progress made since the installation of the first democratic government in 1994. How do we assess our successes and achievements since 1994 and what do we need to do to ensure that we speed up the advancement of women’s empowerment and gender equality in South Africa?

The history of the South African women’s movement to a very large extent is the history of the ANCWL. It is befitting that as we celebrate 53 years of the Women’s march that we do so against the backdrop of the 91 and 61 years of the founding of both the Bantu Women’s League and the African National Congress Women’s League respectively. As members of the League this day reminds us of the glorious past of this great organization we are privileged to be members of.

Lillian Ngoyi who led the representatives of the 20 000 women together with Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Helen Joseph to the office of Prime Minister Strijdom later recalled how she saw her own daughter cry as she led the delegation away, and how she thought that it would probably be the last time they saw each other. When Lillian knocked and a voice from behind the door shouted that she was not allowed to be there she responded as follows, “The women of Africa are outside. They built this place and their husbands died for this.”

Helen Joseph told the story from here: “When it was over women walked back to the bus terminus in two’s and three’s, singing now, never forming a procession, babies on backs, and baskets on heads. They reached the buses as African men queued after work for their transport home, but when they saw the women coming, in their green blouses and skirts, they stood back. “Let the women go first. It was a great tribute from weary men,” they said.

It is also important to contextualize the Women’s March of 1956 within the historical development of the women’s movement in South Africa. It is worthwhile to note that the women’s anti-pass march of 1913 in Bloemfontein stands out as the beginnings of the women’s movement in South Africa with the formation of formation of the Bantu Women’s League in 1918, led by Charlotte Maxeke.

It is also worth noting that in those days women were only granted auxiliary status by the ANC and had no voting rights in the organization. It was only in 1943 that women were eventually allowed to become full members of the ANC and the Bantu Women’s League became the ANCWL.

ANC article continues at
Token day for South Africa women

We celebrate Women’s Day to recognise the contribution women made to the fight against apartheid. On 9 August 1956 over 20 000 women marched on Parliament to protest against the ‘pass books’ law.

The words: “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo uzokufa!” (when you strike the women, you strike a rock, you will be crushed), have come to symbolise the courage of South African women.

However, the fact that we celebrate Women’s Day is a sign of both how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. For while it recognises that women ought to be celebrated for their contribution to society; it simultaneously demonstrates how far we have to go before we can truly be regarded as an egalitarian society.

Women’s Day might be a step in the right direction, but it is also simply a token of recognition in a country where the incidence of rape increased by 17.8 percent between 1994 and 2004. It is one day on which the rights and achievements of women are recognised. To whom, one is forced to ask, do the remaining 364 belong?

The answer, unfortunately, is not humankind.

Laws lacking conviction

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, in which all citizens are protected and entitled to basic necessities as well as the freedom of movement, expression and religious or sexual orientation.

Enshrined in this Constitution are laws which provide pregnant women with free health care and the right to terminate a pregnancy (Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act); laws which make marital rape and violence in both marital and non-marital relationships illegal (Domestic Violence Act); and laws which amend patriarchal customary traditions to ensure that women do not become property in marriage (Customary Marriages Act).

There are even bodies in place to ensure that these laws are observed. The Commission on Gender Equality is a statutory body which was established with the Constitution to ensure that gender-related laws are upheld. It is an independent body which is subject only to the Constitution and law.

The Office on the State of Women is meant to ensure that the gender equality envisaged by the Constitution becomes manifest in government programmes. This year, President Jacob Zuma introduced a new ministry for Women, Youth, Children and People with Disability. While this may have been done with the intention of furthering the cause of women, its very existence (particularly the grouping with children and people with disabilities) indicates the marginalised position which women hold in South African society.

And yet, our fledgling democracy is failing its women dismally.

Rebekah Kendal’s article continues at

Lawmakers and rights groups in Senegal are calling for tougher legislation to tackle what they say is a massive rise in the number of rapes — many involving children.

Adama Sow, president of the Research and Action Group on Violence against Children, said that between September 2006 and December 2007, his organisation had reported nearly 400 cases of rape.

But last year the figure had climbed to almost 600 cases, “98 percent of which involved minors,” he said. “There is a code of silence surrounding rape in Senegal, with many cases going unreported,” said Omar Ndoye, a lawmaker who is president of a parliamentary committee for the protection of children.

Ndoye said more and more children were becoming victims of rape, with boys as well as girls affected.

“The Kolda region had 211 cases in 2008, of which half were rapes of pupils by teachers and resulting in pregnancies,” said Sow, citing figures from the police, courts and non-governmental organisations.

Ndoye blamed the rise on greater promiscuity and a shortage of housing, adding that foreign television programmes and the Internet may also have a role to play.

But Sow said “the root cause” is poverty.

Kolda, one of the poorest regions, would have had more than a third of the cases in 2008, he said.

Moustapha Ka, deputy director for criminal cases at the Justice Ministry, said incest was also a key factor.

“Rape by family members plays a big part but the families prefer secrecy and don’t bring it before the courts,” he said

Interviewed by the private weekly Nouvel Horizon, clinical psychologist Mamadou Mbodj said the problem has always been around but not discussed.

“Depravity has no race, colour, age or religion… It has always existed. We just weren’t talking about it,” he said. “As we have become more immoral, society is just less and less inclined to stay silent.”

In Senegal rape carries a penalty of 10 years in prison. This can, however, be doubled in extreme cases such as incest or if it involves a repeat offender.

Sow called for rapists to be chemically castrated but Fatoumata Sy, president of a group that tackles violence against women, said prevention was the key.

“We must pay particular attention to prevention, detecting people who are disturbed and providing better training for investigators,” Sy said.

At the Justice Ministry, Ka said the government is planning to improve the court system because many rape cases end up being dropped and the perpetrators discharged as a result of badly prepared cases.

He said the reforms would allow victims’ medical certificates to be produced in court and strengthen the ability of forensic police to carry out DNA tests.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the problem of sexual violence against women and children during her tour of Africa this past week.

While in the Democratic Republic of Congo she called for punishing soldiers who use rape as a weapon of conflict.

Clinton said she pressed Congolese President Joseph Kabila to arrest officers behind an epidemic of sexual assault in the restive east of the country.

“We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence committed by so many and that there must be arrests, prosecutions and punishments,” she said.

She said Kabila agreed to allow a US team of legal and technical experts to make “specific” recommendations on how to combat the sexual attacks. mrb/lbx/nw/boc

Lawmakers are debating a bill that would make marital rape a crime in the Bahamas, overturning the current system in which consent to sexual intercourse is presumed in a legal marriage.

Legislator Loretta Butler-Turner, who drafted the bill, said the attitude that wives are subordinate to husbands has put some women at risk of violence in the socially conservative archipelago.

“There is a constituency of our community that is not protected against rape,” she said. “That is the bottom line.”

Under current Bahamian law, a man can be charged with raping his wife only if the two are in divorce proceedings or living apart.

The bill already has caused debate on radio talk shows, with some islanders saying women could file false rape charges as leverage for alimony, child support or custody. Others have said the bill contradicts traditional Christian values.

Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of a nonprofit group that provides services to victims of abuse, defended the proposal, saying such a law would be an important step forward.

“It says that our nation will no longer condone violence in the family. If you have to force your husband or your wife to be sexual, something is wrong with the relationship,” she said.

The government is organizing a series of forums to get comments from the public.

The proposed law would allow a judge to decide the penalty for marital rape. People currently convicted of rape face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Rehashed legislation allows husbands to deny wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands

Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

“It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her,” the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when the Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN.

Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women’s rights groups remain, including this one: “Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband’s permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient.”

The law has been backed by the hardline Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohseni, who is thought to have influence over the voting intentions of some of the country’s Shias, which make up around 20% of the population. Karzai has assiduously courted such minority leaders in the run up to next Thursday’s election, which is likely to be a close run thing, according to a poll released yesterday.

Human Rights Watch, which has obtained a copy of the final law, called on all candidates to pledge to repeal the law, which it says contradicts Afghanistan’s own constitution.

The group said that Karzai had “made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election”.

Brad Adams, the organisation’s Asia director, said: “The rights of Afghan women are being ripped up by powerful men who are using women as pawns in manoeuvres to gain power.

“These kinds of barbaric laws were supposed to have been relegated to the past with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet Karzai has revived them and given them his official stamp of approval.”

The latest opinion poll by US democracy group the International Republican Institute showed that although Karzai was up 13 points to 44% since the last survey in May, his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, had soared from 7% to 26%.

If those numbers prove accurate, it would mean the contest would have to go to a second round run-off vote in early October. In that scenario, 50% of voters said they would vote for Karzai and 29% for Abdullah.

The survey was conducted in mid to late July, so it is not known whether Abdullah has made further gains on Karzai.

He could further increase his chance of victory by joining forces with Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister who is also running on a platform fiercely critical of Karzai.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 2,400 people polled by IRI said they would like to see an alliance between Abdullah and Ghani, who is polling in fourth place.

US secretary of state visits Goma to draw attention to ‘one of mankind’s greatest atrocities’

The US secretary of state, who is in Goma to draw world attention to what she has described as “one of mankind’s greatest atrocities”, toured the Magunga camp.

The camp houses 18,000 men, women and children who have been uprooted by a conflict that has raged, on and off, for the past decade. More than five million people have died.

After meeting refugees, who told her women, girls and young boys faced the threat of rape when they went into the forest to gather wood for cooking, Clinton told a press conference: “We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many … that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment.”

She delivered the same message to the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, when they met in a tent at Goma, on the shore of Lake Kivu.

After the talks, Clinton said impunity for the perpetrators of sexual violence ran “counter to peace and stability for the Congolese people”.

She insisted on visiting Goma – described as the most dangerous place on earth for women and children – despite concerns over security, becoming the first US secretary of state to tour the city.

The UN has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the region since the conflict began in 1996.

Clinton urged university students in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, to mount a campaign against such abuses.

“The entire society needs to be speaking out against this,” she said. “It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country.

“I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country.”

Although fighting has eased since a peace deal was reached in 2003, the army and rebel groups are still attacking villages, killing civilians and committing atrocities as they scrap over eastern Congo’s vast mineral wealth.

Clinton has been urged by human rights groups to press the government to arrest and prosecute offenders.

Members of Kabila’s armed forces are accused of taking part in the brutality, including the gang rapes of tens of thousands of girls that have led to unwanted pregnancies and serious injuries or death.

In a report published last month, Human Rights Watch called on Kabila’s government to crack down on persistent sexual violence by its own soldiers.

It said the government should vet and remove abusive officers from the army, establish a strict chain of command, improve living conditions and salaries for soldiers and strengthen the military justice system.

Human rights groups say sexual violence in Congo has been widespread and systematic over the last 15 years, with more than a dozen armed groups using rape to terrorise, punish, and control civilians.

Because of its sheer size and geographical spread, the Congolese army is the single largest perpetrator of sexual violence.

The problem has worsened since January, when the army began a campaign against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – Hutu militias who escaped to Congo after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Rape cases have doubled or tripled in the north and South Kivu provinces of eastern Congo, with the perpetrators of sexual violence including the army, the FDLR, and Congolese rebel groups.

A UN special envoy has called countries in the Great Lakes Region (GRL) to make rape a punishable offense, ensuring that appropriate laws are enforced in national courts to prevent the vice, the Times of Zambia reported on Monday.

UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV and AIDS in Africa Elizabeth Mataka said in a statement in Lusaka that rape is still being perpetuated in a number of countries in the region despite the region being in a post-conflict situation, adding that “the governments should take ownership of efforts to prevent rape and conflict situations”.

The UN special envoy said this in a statement ahead of the third International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state and government summit which is scheduled to take place in Lusaka on Monday.

She said with the exception of Zambia and Tanzania, the rest of the countries in the region were scarred with conflicts, adding that the Human Rights Watch has identified a number of cases where razor blades are used to slice the genitalia of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

According to the envoy, other instances involved women being raped and then shot or being harmed with a knife, thereby mutilating and causing irreversible damage.

She said that these horrific acts have no space in the world and no efforts should be spared to end such atrocities.

The UN envoy further called on authorities in the region to compensate rape victims and pay for their medical and psychological treatment, saying that the fund could also foster support for women to play key role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts in their respective countries.

The ICGLR comprises African countries that share Lakes Kivu, Albert, Edward, Victoria, Mweru and Tanganyika which are commonly known as the Great Lakes. The countries include Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan, and Uganda.

This issue is available in HTML format online at

– Colloquium on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and Peace Negotiations: Implementing SCR 1820
– Financial and Economic Crisis Impacts Women and Men Differently
– Say NO to Violence against Women
o Speakers of 16 Parliaments and Chair of Bosnian Council of Ministers Say NO
o Thailand: Youth Say NO to Violence against Women
– UNIFEM around the World
o Call for Proposals: Fund for Gender Equality
o UN Trust Fund Alert: Drastic Shortfall in Resources Threatens Women’s Safety
o UNIFEM Joins “Seal the Deal” Campaign
o Global Programme on Safe Cities for Women and Girls
o EC and UNIFEM Partner to Support Gender Equality in the Context of HIV and AIDS
o 100/100 Campaign at Mid-Year
o Series of Training Workshops on Evaluation
o Central Africa: UNIFEM Executive Director on Official Visit
o Rwanda: Centre for Survivors of Violence to Open
o Zimbabwe: Gender Support Programme Launched
o Colombia: Campaigning against Violence at Music Festival
o Ecuador: Rural Women Trained in Information Technology
o Mexico: Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Women
o Pakistan: Consultation on Gender-Sensitive Responses to Humanitarian Crisis
o Timor-Leste: Delegation to Present Country’s First Report to CEDAW Committee
o The FYR of Macedonia: Parliamentary Hearing on Gender-Responsive Budgeting
– Other News
– Recent Speeches & Statements
– Upcoming Events
– Job Vacancies

UNIFEM Currents is the electronic news bulletin of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). It provides up-to-date information briefs on UNIFEM initiatives, successes, events, projects and activities worldwide. It is published several times per year and delivered by e-mail. Click here to subscribe to UNIFEM Currents

UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality. Placing the advancement of women’s human rights at the centre of all of its efforts, UNIFEM focuses its activities on reducing feminized poverty; ending violence against women; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war. For more information, visit

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After seven years languishing in the legislative mill, a landmark legislation on women’s rights has finally been enacted.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women, in a ceremony attended by lawmakers and women leaders at the Rizal Hall in Malacañang.

RA 9710 recognizes and protects women’s rights at home, at work and in all spheres of society toward developing all aspects of their well-being. Its most salient features include increasing the number of women personnel until they fill half of third-level positions in the government, setting up in every barangay (village) a “violence against women’s desk,” providing incentives to parties with women’s agenda and barring the derogatory portrayal of women in media and film.

The new law’s most “empowering provision” is its recognition that “women’s rights are human rights,” Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima told reporters after the 10 a.m. signing.

Section 8 of RA 9710 reads: “All rights in the Constitution and those rights recognized under international instruments duly signed and ratified by the Philippines, in consonance with Philippine law, shall be rights of women under this Act to be enjoyed without discrimination.”

“And therefore,” De Lima said, “the principles of human rights are there—non-discrimination, equality, participation, non-exclusion, etc.”

According to the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), legislative debates on two bills—Magna Carta for Women and Magna Carta of Women in Rural Development—began in 2002 during the 12th Congress.

The two bills were merged in the 13th Congress, and came to be called Magna Carta of Women.

Said NCRFW Chair Myrna Yao in a statement: “The Magna Carta of Women seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting all human rights and fundamental freedoms of Filipino women, particularly those in the marginalized sector.”

The NCRFW said women’s groups lobbied intensely for the approval of the measure in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but it was fast-tracked after Ms Arroyo declared it one of her priority bills.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza praised women’s groups for steering the measure until its approval by Congress.

“After all the attempts to block the passage of the Magna Carta of Women, the Filipino women have finally emerged victorious. This is a byproduct of women’s continuous struggle for equality and serves as a gateway in support of women’s legitimate concerns,” Maza said in a statement.

She said she skipped the ceremonial signing of the measure because of purported previous attempts by the administration to water it down, specifically its provisions on reproductive health.

But Speaker Prospero Nograles and Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, as well as other lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure, witnessed the signing.

Under Rights and Empowerment, RA 9710 mandates an incremental increase in the recruitment and training of women in the police force, forensics and medico-legal, legal services and social work services in the next five years until they make up half the number of the personnel.

With the goal of ensuring the equitable representation of women in all spheres of society, the Magna Carta also provides for the incremental increase of women personnel in third-level government positions in the next five years to achieve a “50-50 gender balance.”

It mandates that 40 percent of members of development councils in all government levels should be women, and that incentives be provided to political parties with women’s agenda.

RA 9710 clearly states in Section 12 that the State should amend or repeal within three years any law discriminatory to women.

It grants women the right to security in armed conflict, as well as protection from all forms of gender-based violence such as rape, and prohibits the State from forcing women, especially indigenous women, to abandon their land or relocating them in special centers for military purposes under any “discriminatory condition.”

The law mandates government personnel involved in the protection and defense of women to train in human rights and gender sensitivity.

It designates the CHR as the Gender and Development Ombudsman to ensure the promotion and protection of women’s rights.

The law also ensures women’s equal access to education and sports, and mandates the government to eliminate discrimination against women in the military and police, and bars the discriminatory portrayal of women in media and film.

It likewise ensures women’s rights to health, food security, housing, decent work, livelihood, social protection and preservation of cultural identity, among others, and spells out equal rights in marriage and family, including a joint decision on the number and spacing of children.

More important, RA 9710 guarantees the civil, political, social and economic rights of women in marginalized sectors.

While rights groups are celebrating a newly-adopted family code in Mali that changes marriage laws and expands girls’ rights, Muslim leaders and youths have vowed, even threatening violence, to block the code from becoming law.

The code – under discussion for 10 years before its adoption on 3 August – includes more than 1,100 new articles, including setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 18, abolishing the death penalty, recognizing only secular marriages and expanding inheritance rights to girls. The code must be approved by the president to become law.

The secretary of Mali’s highest ruling Islamic council, Mohamed Kimbiri, told IRIN the council will do all it can to block enforcement. “This code is a shame, treason [for Muslims]…We are not against the spirit of the code, but we want a code appropriate for Mali that is adapted to its societal values. We will fight with all our resources so that this code is not promulgated or enacted.”

He said despite consulting members of the religious community on the code’s wording, parliament members ignored religious leaders’ suggestions and bowed to donor wishes.

“We do not want a code imported from donors, notably the European Union, which conditions its aid on certain social reforms, including the adoption of this code,” Kimbiri said. “The assembly adopted it under pressure. But we will not be pressured [into accepting] a code that is not ours.”

From 2000 to 2007 the European Union gave some US$640 million for poverty reduction in Mali.

But the president of a national women’s association of NGOs, Oumou Touré, said the family code is a “constitutional and democratic demand” that promotes social justice. “Many girls married at 10, 11 or 12 have died in recent years in the region of Kayes [500km northeast of Bamako]… The new code will put the brakes [on this] because the guilty will from now on by punished and fined.”

Amnesty International estimated in 2005 that more than 60 percent of young women in Mali married before the age of 18.

At a meeting called by the Islamic council on 9 August at the largest mosque in the capital Bamako, hundreds of religious and village leaders gathered in opposition to the code.

“We cannot ban traditional marriages,” said one of Bamako’s district leaders, Bouramablen Traoré. The president of a Muslim youth group, Amadou Bah, asked followers to “curse government officials who voted yes to the family code”, calling them “anti-Islamists” who “will be sanctioned by the All-Powerful”.

Religious leader El Hadj Koké Kallé intervened to stop would-be arsonists from reaching the National Assembly 100m from mosque.

One of five parliament members who voted against the code, Abdoulaye Dembélé, said he could not risk upsetting his constituents. “I cannot go before my voters and tell them that religious marriages are not legal… that a woman should no longer obey her husband and that they should respect one another equally… If I do this, voters will punish me in the next elections.”

National Assembly President Dioncounda Traoré, one of 117 lawmakers who voted for the code, said all lawmakers must now educate their communities. “All representatives have the obligation to get information to their constituents about the advantages of this [proposed] law.”

The government has not yet indicated how it will enforce the proposed law.

Minister of Justice Maharafa Traoré told IRIN there will always be opposition to reform. “We cannot create change without triggering some noise; it is difficult to have unanimous agreement around any one reform. That is why we will educate citizens in order to…overcome all resistance.

“We never said the text [of the code] is perfect, far from it. But we will correct the gaps so that the law is enacted,” the Justice Minister said.

Bamako-based Muslim leader Daouda Dia told IRIN the code contains needed changes. “Women have always been considered second rank here, which is not normal. We are all equal. I do not see any problem with the article that women and men should have mutual respect. If women have the money to contribute to family finances, I would not be against that.”

The difficult part is to get the word out to women about the new code, said NGO association leader Touré. “We know there are sectors that oppose the code that will sow discord in the citizens’ spirits.”

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), comprising mostly clerics, has opposed the Law Commission’s report on bigamy. The board’s spokesman said that it would take up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next month.

The Law Commission had in its 277th report to the central government said, “We fully agree with the fact that traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law in letter and spirit.”

AIMPLB spokesman Qasim Rasool Ilyas told Hindustan Times that he and other board members held the view that Islam permits more than one marriage, up to four, under very stringent conditions.

“Justice is the base of bigamy. We will not tolerate any interference in personal law. The matter is outside the purview of the Law Commission,” Ilyas said.

Women’s groups have, however, supported the Law Commission report in view of the gross misuse of bigamy and polygamy.

Chairperson of the Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board Shaista Amber said, “Since the system is being misused, there should be some control over it.” She said rules permitting bigamy were extremely tight but were not being followed.

Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board member Rukhsana Lary said, “Islam has generally not permitted bigamy. It is permitted with conditions. The spirit of Islam doesn’t like it,” she said. Male clerics disagreed.

AIMPLB general secretary Maulana Nizamuddin said, “Bigamy or polygamy is not an order but permission with several riders.”

He said the Quran had laid down an “equal justice” formula with all the wives. “Even sexual justice is necessary,” said Shia Personal Law Board chairman Maulana Mirza Mohd Athar.

Shia cleric Agha Roohi Abaqati said, “The Law Commission should talk to clerics.” He claimed that no country, including Turkey and Tunisia, had outlawed bigamy or polygamy. “I know people in Turkey who are bigamists,” he said.

The jury deliberating on a most unusual trial – the first South East Asia Court of Women on HIV and Human Trafficking in South East Asia – here have urged the governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations and others to urgently address the vulnerabilities of women to trafficking and HIV.

However, these responses should be rights and gender-responsive and should not “re-victimise” the women who have been trafficked, they said. What is required are joint-efforts based on human rights principles rather than inappropriate law enforcement.

This was no typical court proceeding, but was instead a symbolic court held in connection with the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which opens here on August 9.

“The vulnerabilities of women to trafficking and HIV are rooted in the disproportionate human insecurity, poverty, illiteracy and disempowerment that they face in their daily lives,” the Jury said in a statement issued at the end of the Court. In several countries, women who are trafficked are chased by the same law that is meant to protect them. They are treated as “illegal migrants” and “criminals” and are often denied their rights and choices.

The jury of six eminent legal and human rights experts heard real-life testimonies in the Women’s Court, including harrowing stories of trafficking, violence and exploitation. The Court provided a forum for women across SE Asia to share their personal survival stories and to create further awareness about trafficking, sexual exploitation, bonded labour, and HIV in the region.

Alongside the powerful and poignant testimonies of women who suffered at the hands of traffickers, “expert witnesses” presented data and powerful analyses to highlight the intense violation of dignity and rights of thousands of other women from South East Asia. The Court brought together leaders, politicians, activists and communities who are working to make a difference to empower women and reduce their vulnerability to trafficking and HIV in the South East Asia region.

The event was organised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC), and Yakeba, a Balinese NGO , with financial support from the Japanese Government and in partnership with UNODC and others.

Opening the court, Ms. Meutia Hatta, Minister for Women’s Empowerment of Indonesia, said: “of the total number of people trafficked globally, one-third is from South East Asia and gender inequality and unequal power relations are the main fuelling factors for this phenomenon.” In view of the seriousness of the issue, the Government of Indonesia enacted the anti-trafficking law in 2008. The spread of HIV in the region is increasingly impacting women 2-3 times more at risk of contracting HIV than men in the same age group.

In her key note address, Dr. Nafis Sadik, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific region, said that trafficking was a matter of legislation alone, though laws were essential. They should be drafted with due respect for human rights and there must be even-handed enforcement. “Too often, we find double or triple standards at work.” She added: “the sex workers are endowed with the same rights as other human beings; and that coercion in all its forms, including trafficking, has no part to play.

The testimonies heard by the Court included:

*A young Cambodian woman selling sugar care juice on the streets of Phnom Penh couldn’t resist the lure of an overseas job that promised her a decent salary. Smuggled out of her country through the Cambodia-Thai border, she ended up in Malaysia as a bonded sex worker. After months in several brothels and a jail, she is now back in Phnom Penh, thanks to the intervention of an NGO. But with a battered past and HIV, life is a daunting struggle for her.

*One woman Indonesia took a job in the Middle East as a domestic worker, but faced extreme hardship and escaped, ending up in a detention centre in Jakarta. Unable to make both the ends meet, she tried for another job in another country. This time, the working conditions were worse. “They forced me to work without a break and withheld my pay frequently. I fell unconscious often. I was raped several times.”

The eminent jury included Hon. Mieke Komar Kantaatmadja (Supreme Court Justice, Indonesia), Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn (Prof. of Law and Former UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Thailand), Marina Mahathir (Steering Committee Member, Asia Pacific Leadership Forum on HIV/AIDS and Development, Malaysia), Annette Sykes (Lawyer, New Zealand), Sylvia Marcos (Director, Center for Psycho-ethnological Research, Mexico), and Esperanza I. Cabral (Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines).

Pakistan moved towards outlawing domestic violence when lawmakers approved a bill that will punish those found guilty of beating women or children with jail terms and fines.

The law was passed unanimously in the lower house of parliament or national assembly, Yasmi Rehman from the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party told AFP, hailing what she called a “big day” for Pakistani women.

It will come into effect after the senate, or upper house of parliament, approves the law and President Asif Ali Zardari signs it into legislation.

Those found guilty of beating women or children would face a minimum six months behind bars and a fine of at least 100,000 rupees (1,205 dollars).

“Domestic violence against women is not considered a major offence in our society. I hope this bill will provide protection to our women against all types of violence in their homes and living places,” Rehman said.

Besides children and women, the bill also provides protection to the adopted, employed and domestic associates in a household, she said.

The law classifies domestic violence as acts of physical, sexual or mental assault, force, criminal intimidation, harassment, hurt, confinement and deprivation of economic or financial resources.

“A magistrate will hear a case of domestic violence after its registration and a decision will be announced within 30 days,” said Rehman.

“This is a milestone in the history of Pakistan women’s freedom,” she added.

Marvi Memon, an MP from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, welcomed the bill and called on the government to ensure the law was implemented.

“We want to put pressure on the government to implement this legislation in the true letter and spirit, despite social, feudal and tribal norms which do not facilitate women’s empowerment,” she said.

Human rights groups say Pakistani women suffer severe discrimination, domestic violence and “honour” killings — when a victim is murdered for allegedly bringing dishonour upon her family.

The groups add that women are increasingly isolated by spreading Islamist fundamentalism in Pakistan, where the Taliban threaten parts of the northwest.

Rights activists hailed the bill, for which they lobbied for some time.

“This is a good news. Introducing a law against domestic violence was long a demand for this country’s women,” said Farzana Bari, a women’s activist who told AFP that as many as one in three women were subject to domestic violence.

“In our society, many women and children are not protected even inside their houses, this law will help them,” she added.

Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said it was a “positive” development.

“This is a much needed law for containing and eradicating the menace of domestic violence rampant in our society,” Haider told AFP.