Archive for September 25th, 2009

In 2003, the African nation of Liberia was in turmoil; its president Charles Taylor was involved in a vicious civil war with war lords who wanted to take his place. Caught in the middle were innocent civilians who bore the brunt of the violence.

One woman, Leymah Gbowee, had had enough and she and her fellow church members, soon to be joined by their female Muslim counterparts, began their protests.

Their plan was simple; every day they would gather in the central market of the capital of Monrovia wearing T-shirts and carrying placards simply asking for peace.

As their numbers swelled, Taylor reluctantly bowed to the pressure and peace talks were set up in Ghana. From their actions came Taylor’s exile and the election in 2005 of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman head of state.

    Leymah Gbowee joined the Woman in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and brought women of Christian Churches together into the Christian Women’s Initiative and then formed a coalition with the women in the Muslim organizations in Monrovia and eventually Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being.

    Etweda “Sugars” Cooper founded the Liberia Women Initiative to advocate for disarmament and free and fair elections, and also to bring pressure to bear on stakeholders for the inclusion of women in negotiating a settlement of the Liberian conflict. Liberia Women Initiative

    Asatu Bah Kenneth, a police officer for 25 years and president of the Liberia Female Law Enforcement Association, Asatu created the Liberian Muslim Women’s Organization. Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being when the two organizations joined.

    Vaiba Flomo, working with the Lutheran church’s trauma healing program brought the faith groups together with the message: “Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?”

    Etty Weah, was one of many women who wore white and sat on the field day in and day out. Rain or shine. Bullets or no bullets. She believed strength in numbers would make their voices heard.

    Janet Johnson Bryant, a journalist working for the Catholic radio station Radio Veritas, hosted a radio show about women’s issues and covered the Presidential Palace.


You can watch via 4oD (27 days left from 25/09/2009)

For more about the documentary – see

See also:
* Liberia breaks new ground for women, peace and security


Rioters attacked and stripped about 20 Ugandan women who were wearing trousers last week during deadly riots in Kampala. The humiliations were part of a major confrontation between a traditional kingdom and President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

Male rioters in a suburb here on September 11 attacked about 20 women wearing trousers.

The men, in Rubaga, a Kampala suburb, began detaining women during their protests, police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said at a press conference that took place that same day.

Women wearing skirts were allowed to pass, Nabakooba said, but those wearing trousers were forcibly undressed and left to walk home in their underwear.

The abuse occurred amid violence in the Ugandan capital, which officials say has claimed 14 lives and injured about 70.

Women’s rights advocate Jackie Asiimwe denounced the rioters for using the clash to abuse women and commit criminal acts in New Vision, a Kampala-based newspaper. “It is an invasion of women’s privacy,” the newspaper quoted Asiimwe as saying.

“Traditionally, trousers are not acceptable and are a Western thing,” Rizzan Nassuna, a writer and human rights advocate in Kampala told Women’s eNews. “In (the kingdom of) Buganda, you are supposed to wear long skirts. This is coming out of a local belief that women are not supposed to wear trousers, but this has never been formalized or really come out in the open. They violated their dignity as women, making them walk naked, because they are wearing trousers.”

In neighboring Sudan, journalist Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein was recently arrested for wearing trousers in Khartoum before being released on September 8.

Nassuna, however, said she doubted any direct connection between the two incidents. Instead, she viewed the attack on women wearing pants as a byproduct of a larger effort by protesters to assert the customs of their Buganda kingdom, a pre-colonial cultural and political structure that, with 5.5 million members in a country of 30.9 million, is the largest of Uganda’s traditional communities.

The riots were sparked on September 10 when the Ugandan government blocked an advance team for the Kabaka, the king of the Buganda kingdom, from entering Kayunga, a district in central Uganda.

The inspector general of police, Major General Kale Kayihura, said in a press conference on September 12 that the clashes spread from the city center to more than 11 suburbs of Kampala, a city of about 1.6 million people. He said that so far 14 people have died in the disturbances and more than 70 have been injured.

Kayihura said that the police had arrested 550 people since Thursday and charged 83. “Investigations are still on,” he said at the press conference.

Some Unnecessary Force Used
He said some police officers had used unnecessary force after they were instructed by their commanders and the Ugandan president to kill looters on sight. “I know that some police officers mistreated civilians during the riots,” said Kayihura. “This should stop immediately.”

Two minority ethnic groups in Kayunga, the Banyala and Baluuli, have been demanding this month to secede from the kingdom to establish cultural autonomy.

On September 9, President Yoweri Museveni, citing fears that the king’s visit might trigger violence in the district, said that the Kabaka could not visit Kayunga unless leaders from the minority groups, Buganda representatives and government officials met beforehand.

In the ensuing violent backlash to that decision, a mob burned two people to death in the suburb of Ndeeba on September 10. One woman was almost lynched by a mob in Namirembe, a neighborhood in Kampala, after youth declared her not to be a Muganda, or a member of the Baganda people. She was saved by police.

Justine Busulwa, an accountant who works in Kampala, gave Women’s eNews an account of barely surviving the riots.

She said in an interview that when news of the riots first broke last week her boss initially locked the office to protect the workers. She eventually left her office late and had a motorbike driver take her home to avoid using public transport. On her way home, she passed through Wandegaya, a Kampala neighborhood, and saw riots erupting.

A Ugandan soldier stopped her, but rather than protecting her, she said he asked her to lie down on the ground and began taunting her for not being a Muganda, or member of the kingdom, even though she belongs to that ethnic group.

Mob Begins Harassment
After begging for the release of her driver and herself, the soldier let her go. But then Busulwa said she was stopped by a mob that had formed in another section of the city, which began harassing her. She said she only got away by giving the rioters money.

“I was almost killed,” Busulwa said. “My son came home at midnight when the riots almost reached his university, too afraid to stay in his hostel.”

She waited until Sunday before entering town again.

The government called on the police, military and the Presidential Guard, raising hope that the violence would be curbed. But gunfire began in Kampala early on Friday, September 11. Public transport was paralyzed and rioters began humiliating women and attacking Indian merchants. Many Indian business owners closed their stores on that day to prevent attacks, and some Indian families took refuge at police stations.

Although the riots subsided somewhat on Saturday, gunshots were still audible throughout the city.

The crisis could be one of the biggest tests of Museveni’s career.

The president, an ethnic Ankole from southwestern Uganda, took power in 1986 and is up for re-election in 2011.

Although praised initially for his regime’s efforts to both empower women and reinstate the cultural kingdoms, his government has clashed with Buganda officials in recent years over land issues in Kampala, positioned at the heart of the traditional kingdom.

Museveni said he has tried to communicate with the Kabaka for the past two years, but the cultural leader refused to take his phone calls.

“Whenever any controversy came up, I would telephone His Highness, the Kabaka, but he would not answer my telephone as usual,” said Museveni, who took a hard line against rioters harassing and humiliating civilians, in a press statement. “The ring leaders are being hunted down and some have been arrested. Looters will be shot on sight, as will those who attack other civilians.”

Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. You can visit her Web site at

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Muslims who commit adultery in Indonesia’s semi-autonomous province of Aceh could be stoned to death after the provincial parliament last week passed laws expanding Islamic law.

The new laws, which also include multiple lashings in public for those caught having pre-marital sex, were opposed by women’s groups and the province’s governor, and were rammed through just weeks before a new, far more moderate parliament was to be convened.

The laws also include new punishments for consuming alcohol, rape, pedophilia and homosexuality, although none are as tough as the gruesome death penalty for adulterers.

Bustanul Arifin, a lawmaker from the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party who sits on the committee that oversaw the bill, said some local members of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party disagreed with measures such as the stoning to death, and wanted to reduce the number of lashes, which can be up to 100 for some offences.

”But it was not possible because we based the law on the Koran and the hadith. You cannot decrease it,” Mr Arifin said. The hadith are oral accounts of the prophet Muhammad’s life and times in Saudi Arabia in the 7th century.

Despite the passage of the laws, their future remains uncertain. Mr Arifin said they could be redrafted over the next three days before being handed to the Governor, Irwandi Yusuf.

Also, Indonesia’s home affairs minister and the national parliament could overturn them, if they judge they contravene national laws and Indonesia’s commitment to various international legal conventions.

Aceh, Indonesia’s most devoutly Islamic area, has had a form of sharia, or Islamic law, since 2002. It mandated women to wear headscarves, and public canings for those caught gambling. A sharia police force has been created but many of the provisions of the law have not been enforced due to widespread resentment among citizens.

Elections earlier this year saw Islamic hardliners perform poorly while the secular Partai Aceh, made up of former independence fighters, did well. But the Partai Aceh-dominated parliament will not convene until next month.

On 25 August the court of Al-Shamli, north of Hail, found Mrs Khamisa Sawadi guilty of the charge of “khilwa” (mingling with two young men to whom she was not immediately related), and the higher court in Riyadh ratified their verdict. One of the two young men who was tried alongside Sawadi may face additional charges for filing a law suit against the religious police. This is in spite of the fact that in May the Court of Cassation refused to ratify the verdict and returned the case to Al-Shamli court with several observations on the previous verdict, including the rejection of her breastfeeding claim and the fact that she is old.

Khamisa Sawadi had been sentenced to 4 months in prison and 40 lashes and will be deported and forbidden from entering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia again. One male defendant has been sentenced to 6 months in prison and 60 lashes. The court rejected the defendant’s explanation that one of the male defendants was her son because she breastfed him when he was a baby. The court also accused the defendants of attacking the ‘Committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’, and for insulting them.

In April 2008 Sawadi met two 24-year-old men after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread. The two men, Al-Anzi, Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew, and bin Zein, al-Anzi’s business partner, were also arrested by religious police and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and lashes. The court based its decision on ‘citizen information’ and testimony for al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. Furthermore, the verdict cited the fact that Sawadi is not a Saudi national – although she was married to a Saudi man – and that she was without a husband as evidence of her guilt. Following the implementation of her sentence, Sawadi will face deportation.


See also: Saudi Arabia: Imprisonment and Whipping of 75 year-old Woman[136]=i-136-34117db0605eb1cc770b1383f5d517fe

“I cried a lot, I couldn’t believe I was in prison. The day I was put in jail, I never thought I would be there for a long time,” an indigenous market vendor, Jacinta Francisco, said in Mexico after she was released from prison, where she spent three years for a crime she did not commit.

Francisco had been sentenced to 21 years in prison on charges of kidnapping six agents of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency. Her case sparked an outcry from local and international human rights groups, and she was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by the London-based Amnesty International.

The 46-year-old Otomí Indian was released from prison last week in the city of Querétaro, 200 km northwest of the Mexican capital, where she was held since August 2006. Her release was the result of an appeal that she won in April.

She was arrested more than four months after a March 2006 raid by the federal police agency on stalls selling pirate DVDs in a street market in the village of Santiago Mexquititlán in the central state of Querétaro, where agents claimed they had been held hostage by Francisco and other stall holders.

Luís Arriaga, director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre (PRODH), which defended and provided economic support for Francisco, said in a press conference in Mexico City that “with this act of justice, not only are the authorities admitting her innocence, but they are acknowledging that there were grave irregularities in the proceedings against her.”

The National Human Rights Commission, a government body, concluded in July that there were serious irregularities and fabricated evidence in the case.

In the March 2006 incident, angry street vendors surrounded six federal agents who were confiscating their counterfeit goods, briefly holding them hostage while demanding compensation for the loss of their merchandise. The protest apparently ended when the regional police chief brought money from a nearby town to compensate the stall holders for the damages.

But that evening, the federal agents filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, stating that they had been kidnapped for several hours by the protesters.

Because of the lack of formal sector jobs in Mexico, millions of people are forced to work in the informal economy, with many making a living selling counterfeit goods. Raids by the authorities frequently cause tension and even spark violence as merchandise is seized.

In Francisco’s case, the PRODH says the trial was riddled with irregularities. The human rights group says no evidence was presented to prove she was involved in the incident, and that the sentence was based exclusively on the testimony of the federal police agents, who were never even required to appear during the trial to confirm her identification, which was based on a photo in the local newspaper taken while she was walking behind the crowd of protesters.

Amnesty International reported that in their original statements, in late March 2006, the police agents did not refer to Francisco. They only accused her of involvement a month later, when shown the photo from the local paper.

In addition, the PRODH says she was denied the presumption of innocence, and that she had no access to an interpreter.

Francisco, who is illiterate and spoke little Spanish at the time – like many other speakers of native languages in Mexico – did not understand what was happening during the trial, as her state-appointed public defender did not speak to her to explain her rights.

“This has become a scandal, a symbol of how this country’s weak and ineffective justice system works,” Alberto Herrera, head of Amnesty International – Mexico, said in Thursday’s news briefing.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that a review of her case turned up “contradictions in the statements of federal agents…that created a reasonable doubt about her involvement.” It decided not to contest the appeal that Francisco won, although it did not acknowledge irregularities in the case.

Amnesty International is also demanding new trials for two other Otomí women – Teresa González and Alberta Alcántara – convicted in the case. But the Attorney General’s Office said there is strong evidence against the two.

Story continues at

See earlier posting: Indigenous Mexican woman accused of kidnapping six agents named Amnesty prisoner of conscience

A new White House Council on Women and Girls is assessing every government agency to see if its programs do enough to benefit women. The first senior adviser on domestic violence and the first ambassador for women’s issues around the globe are developing programs to prevent violence again women at home and abroad. First lady Michelle Obama is highlighting women’s achievements, helping families and pushing girls to succeed.

The prospect of a woman in the Oval Office ended more than a year ago when Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama. But the women’s groups who backed Clinton for president now say the man who vanquished her is running an administration more focused on women’s issues and equality than any before it.

“This has been the most open White House to women’s issues and groups,” says Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, a women’s rights activist for four decades. “In the first six months, we have been brought in more than ever before. & It’s very impressive.”

Says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW): “We clearly have a friend in the White House.”

Last November, 56% of female voters chose Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain at the polls. The Obama administration’s outreach to women more than 60% of the nation’s voters and now nearly half the nation’s workers started right away.

Just nine days into office, the president made a show of signing his first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

The law negated a ruling by the Supreme Court against a woman who had sued after discovering that her employer had paid her male colleagues more for years.

Signing the bill before the cameras in the White House’s East Room, Obama said he did it to honor “women like my grandmother who worked in a bank all her life” and to lay the groundwork for “my daughters, and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.”

Weeks later, he announced the creation of the new White House council to “ensure that American women are treated fairly in all matters of public policy.” He put his longtime friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in charge.

“Obama’s policies reflect the views of hard-core abortion and feminist groups,” says Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. “Considering the diversity of views among American women, it is insulting to assume that there is one ‘women’s view’ and it is represented by liberal feminist activists. & Obama’s choices reflect a stereotypical view of women who are abortion advocates who are dependent on government.”

His moves haven’t entirely pleased liberal groups either.

NOW and others had pushed for a Cabinet-level post dedicated to women’s issues, not a council, arguing that only the prestige of a Cabinet member would give women’s issues the attention and clout they deserved.

Despite that disappointment, these groups say they’ve been impressed with the work they’ve seen so far, on a host of fronts. Among them:

” Clinton, now secretary of State, is putting a spotlight on women’s rights internationally, including issues affecting women’s health, education and economic prospects.

“Investments in women are about creating a better world,” says Melanne Verveer, the new ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. She says societies such as Congo where women are degraded often “implode” and result in failed states. “These issues do not belong in some kind of box on the margins. There is a commitment in the administration. & It’s very gratifying.”

” Obama appointed the first White House senior adviser on violence against women, domestic violence expert Lynn Rosenthal. In her new job, Rosenthal will help develop policies and programs aimed at reducing domestic violence and sexual assault.

“She will be a leader in this White House in stopping the violence and sexual assault of women and will be an integral part of this administration,” Vice President Biden said in June when she was appointed to the post. As a senator, Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which imposed tougher penalties on abusers and expanded victims’ rights to sue. He called it his “proudest legislative achievement.”

” First lady Michelle Obama holds many events focused on women, including a Women’s History Month event in March in which she enlisted 21 of the nation’s most accomplished women from singer Sheryl Crow to four-star Gen. Ann Dunwoody to talk to kids in some of Washington, D.C.’s most beleaguered schools.

The first lady’s spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, says Michelle Obama’s ongoing work with military families also reflects her commitment to women’s issues.

” Tina Tchen, director of the new White House council, says there is “enthusiasm across the board for these issues” in the administration. She’s working on programs related to everything from child-labor laws to financial literacy for women.

Former NOW president Kim Gandy says women’s groups want the administration and Congress to approve paid family leave, pass anti-wage-discrimination laws and strengthen Title IX rules that prohibit discrimination in school athletics programs.

“There is a lot of policy work yet to be done,” she says. “But I believe they’re committed to doing it.”

Amnesty International has launched a new campaign to reduce maternal deaths in Sierra Leone.

The accompanying report Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone uses graphic and personal testimonies to show how women and girls are often unable to access life-saving treatment because they are too poor to pay for it.

In Sierra Leone one in eight women risks dying during pregnancy or childbirth. This is one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.

Thousands of women bleed to death after giving birth. Most die in their homes. Some die on the way to hospital: in taxis, on motorbikes or on foot. In Sierra Leone, less than half of deliveries are attended by a skilled birth attendant and less than one in five are carried out in health facilities.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Irene Khan launched the report in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. She said:

‘These grim statistics reveal that maternal deaths are a human rights emergency in Sierra Leone.

‘Women and girls are dying in their thousands because they are routinely denied their right to life and health, in spite of promises from the government to provide free healthcare to all pregnant women.’

At the United Nations General Assembly meeting on 23 September, access to healthcare in the developing world will be high on the agenda.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce a series of new finance packages devoted to improving healthcare in the developing world with particular focus on infant and maternal health. Sierra Leone is expected to be among the recipients of the fund.

Irene Khan said:

‘Additional money is desperately needed in Sierra Leone but will not reach women and children in remote areas who are at greatest risk. The lives of women and girls will only be saved when the health system is properly managed and the government is held to account.

‘Money alone will not solve the problem. In Sierra Leone severe discrimination and the low social status of women underlies the terrible tragedy of maternal deaths. This is a country where girls are forced into early marriage, excluded from schools and face sexual violence. Women’s health needs are given a low priority by their own families, community leaders and their government.’

The Secretary-General’s visit to Sierra Leone marks the start of Amnesty International’s action against maternal mortality in the country. A campaign caravan will tour Sierra Leone over the coming weeks acting as a vehicle for information and debate on the issue of maternal health.

Earlier this year Amnesty International launched a global campaign to Demand Dignity – which calls for an end to the human rights violations that drive and deepen poverty. Maternal mortality is a key strand of this campaign.

The campaign mobilises people all over the world to demand that governments and corporations listen to the voices of those living in poverty and respect their rights.

Read the report Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone

The poll of 800 voters, conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail, found 64 per cent believed abortion should be legalised, while 31 per cent disagreed. Five per cent were uncommitted.

Despite the results, Premier Anna Bligh has consistently refused to decriminalise abortion, saying she does not have enough parliamentary support.

The poll, conducted last week, comes as public hospital abortions in Queensland remain suspended, except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. Queensland Health obstetricians have been sending women requesting abortions at less than 18 weeks’ gestation to private clinics within the state.

Women seeking late terminations are being referred to centres in Darwin and Melbourne.

At least some of the terminations are being paid for by taxpayers, with Queensland Health agreeing to foot the bill.

Public hospital obstetricians may launch a test case in the Supreme Court as early as this week to force the establishment of a legal precedent regarding abortions which involve severe foetal abnormalities.

But legal advice suggests this could only be done if the doctors are unable to refer a woman elsewhere.

Obstetricians say this is a distinct possibility in the short-term, as private facilities become overloaded with public hospital patients who frequently request terminations late in a pregnancy.

About 300 of the estimated 14,000 abortions performed in Queensland each year are done in public hospitals.

Cairns obstetrician Caroline de Costa said the latest poll results were not surprising.

“Other surveys have shown a majority of Queenslanders believe that women should have access to safe, legal abortion,” Professor de Costa said.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ president Ted Weaver said the poll should prompt the Bligh Government to legislate to support the wishes of society.

“I think it’s really up to the government to work out a way forward,” Dr Weaver said. “The ball’s firmly in the government’s court.”

Queensland public hospital obstetricians say they are unlikely to resume performing terminations until they receive written assurances from the government that they are “supported and indemnified”.

Queensland Health did not comment.,27574,26072582-3102,00.html

Pro-choice supporters are outraged that a young couple in Cairns are facing trial under the state’s anti-abortion laws. The Pro-Choice Action Collective has declared that it will intensify its campaign to demand the Bligh government intervene in the case to have the charges dropped.

Pro-Choice Action Collective activist, Kathy Newnam stated “this young couple should never have been charged because the anti-abortion laws should not exist. Abortion should not be a crime. Women have the right to control their own bodies.

“The QLD government has tried to distract attention from the case. Anna Bligh has claimed the charges were brought because of the way that the abortion allegedly took place. This is untrue, as has been demonstrated by the nature of the prosecution’s case against the couple.

“The fact is that under the anti-abortion laws, any woman who has had an abortion and anyone who assisted her could potentially face the same situation.

“The anti-abortion laws are rotten. They are designed to control women and dictate what they can do with their bodies.

“This young couple have been targeted by the police as a test case.

“The widespread support for abortion rights has meant that it’s been 24 years since there has been a prosecution under these laws.

“Over 80% of people support a woman’s right to choose abortion. We are determined to mobilise this support to force the government to intervene in this case.

“The charges must be dropped. Furthermore, no-one should ever again have to go through the trauma that the young couple in Cairns are facing right now. The anti-abortion laws must be repealed immediately”.

See also: Abortion couple not aware they broke law

A Polish court has ordered a Roman Catholic magazine to pay a fine and apologize to a woman for likening her to a killer for wanting an abortion and equating the practice with Nazi crimes.

Judge Ewa Solecka ruled Wednesday that Catholics are free to express their moral disapproval of abortion — and even call it murder — but in a general way that stops short of vilifying an individual.

Solecka ordered the magazine, Gosc Niedzielny, which is published by the Katowice archdiocese, to pay Alicja Tysiac 30,000 zlotys (nearly $11,000) and issue her a written apology.

Solecka said the magazine’s language was “particularly contemptuous” of Tysiac.

It is the latest episode in an ongoing public debate over abortion in Poland, a mainly Roman Catholic country where it is illegal in most cases.

Tysiac has become a symbol for the abortion rights movement because she challenged Poland’s ban on abortion with the European Court of Human Rights. In 2007, that court ordered Poland to pay her damages of euro25,000 (nearly $37,000) because doctors refused to let her terminate her pregnancy despite serious risk to her eyesight.

After giving birth, her eyesight deteriorated considerably due to a retinal hemorrhage and doctors declared her significantly disabled.

Following the ruling, the editor of Gosc Niedzielny (Sunday Visitor), Rev. Marek Gancarczyk, wrote: “We live in a world where a mother receives an award for very much wanting to kill her child, but not being allowed to do so.”

Gancarczyk compared abortion to the ghastly medical experiments performed at Auschwitz by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele and others. “They had become accustomed to the murders being carried out behind the fence of the camp. And what is the case today? Different, but just as terrible,” he wrote.

The magazine denounced Wednesday’s ruling as an infringement on freedom of speech and said it planned an appeal.

Abortions were easily available under communism but with the transformation to democracy the once-marginalized Catholic church regained significant influence. Today Poland allows the termination of a pregnancy until the 12th week but only if the mother’s life is in danger, the fetus is irreparably damaged or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Women are well represented in newsrooms but struggle to find a place in senior management or on boards, said Business Day in a report on a study by Gender Links.

Women also still earn less than their male counterparts in the media, according to the survey conducted in South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa was at the top end of the scale (50 percent) beaten only by Lesotho (73 percent) when it came to the percentage of women in media for the region.

South Africa led when it came to top management positions but the results were low with only 39 percent of South African women on boards, 25 percent in top management and 35 percent in senior management.

The research took place in the context of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which urges the media and all institutions in the public and private sectors to achieve gender parity in decision making positions by 2015.

One-hundred-and-twenty-six media bodies representing 23,678 employees were reviewed while the South African study looked at 11 media, representing 11,700 employees, the Business Day report said.

More women (61 percent) then men (31 percent) were employed part-time and women were more likely to be employed in support departments like human resources, marketing or advertising, finance and administration.

There was also a gender division of labour with men covering “hard” beats like science and technology, in-depth or investigative reporting, disaster and conflict and agriculture.

Women dominated in education, gender violence, health, HIV and Aids, human rights, lifestyle, media and youth.

There was a gender balance in crime, entertainment, arts and culture.

None of the media in the South African sample had reached parity in earnings.

The Sunday Times, with annual salaries ranging from R309 949 for women and R373 419 for men, had the biggest gap in earnings.

The Mail & Guardian, with R344 080 for women and R357 159 for men, had the lowest gender gap.

Researchers said in South Africa a glass ceiling had been created by old-boy networks and gender insensitive work environments.

While there was a high level of commitment to gender equality in the media, there were no comprehensive and systematic policies to address the gender gap.

The Seychelles came third with gender parity in the media, with 49 percent women, followed by Mozambique (27 percent), Malawi (23 percent), Democratic Republic of Congo (22 percent) and Zimbabwe (13 percent). – Sapa

After a summer of sleaze in which Berlusconi has been variously accused of “frequenting minors”, sleeping with an escort girl and holding debauched parties at his Sardinian villa, a feminist backlash is gaining momentum. The target is not only Berlusconi but the wider culture of a country in which a prime minister could survive such allegations.

According to Chiara Volpato, an academic at Milan’s Bicocca University, matters hit rock bottom when Berlusconi’s lawyer said his client would never pay for sex with an escort because the prime minister is merely an “end user” of women: “The choice of language really summed up how far we have sunk.”

This summer a group of academics, including Volpato, persuaded 15,000 people to sign a petition asking the wives of world leaders to boycott the G8 conference in Italy in protest at the plight of women in Berlusconi’s Italy.

Female judges, senators, nuns, historians and businesswomen circulated two more petitions calling for an end to sexism on television, while the European court of human rights will decide if Berlusconi can be sanctioned for sexism after two politicians, Donata Gottardi and Anna Paola Concia, complained to the court about his “continuous and repeated disrespectful statements about the lives and the dignity of women”.

Last week, when journalist Maria Laura Rodotà published an open letter to Italian women in Corriere della Sera calling for a “New Feminism”, she was overwhelmed with responses. “It was like uncorking a bottle,” she said. Protest is also emerging on the right. An article damning Berlusconi for promoting beautiful young women to political positions has been written by academic Sofia Ventura and published by a think-tank run by Berlusconi’s ally Gianfranco Fini.

Times were not always so bad. Italian women can draw inspiration from a proud record of winning rights in the 1970s, when 20,000 feminists would fill Rome’s streets on protest marches. Despite fierce resistance from the Vatican, divorce was legalised in 1974 after a referendum, and parliament legalised abortion in 1978.

“In an Italy with no divorce, secret abortions and huge inequality in the home, feminism achieved nothing short of an earthquake,” said Miriam Mafai, a former parliamentarian and veteran journalist who helped to launch the Italian daily La Repubblica in 1976.

But in recent years the Vatican has been making up lost ground. Abortion may be legal, but women have reported Catholic doctors refusing to supply even morning-after pills. And in the prime minister the unreconstructed Italian male has found a 21st-century hero.

Zanardo said that television was playing a crucial role in demeaning women and damaging their self-esteem: “Eighty per cent of Italians who watch TV use it as their sole source of information and 80% of the women featured on TV are either sex objects or mere decoration.” As young girls bred on Italian TV increasingly dream of life as a velina, or showgirl, their mothers are often too tired to protest, she added. “Between jobs and housework, Italian women now work two hours a day longer than the European average.”

For now, the modern feminist revolt remains largely confined to universities and national newspapers. Despite the flurry of activity, Ventura said she was pessimistic about rank-and-file women joining the petition-signing intellectuals who are mobilising: “The alarm is sounding in universities but not elsewhere, this is not yet a political problem. Feminism achieved a lot first time round, but evidently it did not reach deep enough.”

Zanardo disagrees, claiming protest is growing outside university corridors, but people do not know where to look. “It’s happening on the internet. The proof was when the University of Bologna withdrew erotic images it used in advertising after a huge online protest.”

There are other signs. A risqué TV comedy show on a Berlusconi channel was moved to a later time slot after protests from a parents’ group. And when a blonde model on Berlusconi’s flagship football programme exposed a breast during a dance routine she was promptly sacked. “I don’t think that would have happened in the past,” said Zanardo.

Zanardo’s website is registering complaints about lewd images on TV and is planning courses in schools “to help children defend themselves from this television”. The response to Il Corpo delle Donne, she says, has been overwhelming: “People who watch Italian TV all the time have told me ‘Thanks, it’s the first time I really see what is going on’.”

Edited version of longer article at

See also:
* Women Are Not Wallpaper
* Videocracy
and earlier postings:
* The Body Of Women: Female Image In Italian Television
* In Italy, Feminism Out, Women As Sex Symbols In

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