Archive for November, 2009

25 Nov International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
01 Dec World AIDS Day
06 Dec Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre
10 Dec International Human Rights Day

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – 25th November

November 25 was declared International Day Against Violence Against Women at the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia, July 18-21, 1981. At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. November 25 was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa) on November 25, 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, the United Nations officially recognized November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The “feminist encuentros” are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women’s movement. Sexuality and violence in their wide ranging forms and contexts have always been included in the wide ranging themes of these gatherings. These encounters have stimulated the creation of regional networks, workshops, video and radio programs, women’s studies curricula, and a growing number of women’s documentation centers throughout the region which are dedicated to collecting and making available information about the history and priorities of the women’s movement. They have also provided a space for formulating and discussing the focus of a growing number of women’s magazines and newsletters, which contain articles, analysis and reports of the wide ranging actions being undertaken by women throughout the region.

Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé, were born in Ojo de Agua near the city of Salcedo, in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic to Enrique Mirabal and Maria Mercedes Reyes. The Mirabal sisters – “Las Mariposas (the Butterflies)” – were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were repeatedly jailed, along with their husbands, for their revolutionary activities toward democracy and justice. On November 25, 1960 three of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa were murdered along with Rufino de la Cruz by members of Trujillo’s secret police. The three women were being driven by Rufino to Puerto Plata to visit their imprisoned husbands. The bodies of the three sisters were found at the bottom of a precipe broken and strangled. The news of their murders shocked and outraged the nation. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement. Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961 and his regime fell soon after.

The sisters have become symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. In the years since their deaths, the Mirabal sisters have been commemorated in poems, songs and books. An exhibition of their belongings has been mounted at the National Museum of History and Geography, a stamp in their memory has been issued and a private foundation is raising money to renovate a family museum in their hometown. On March 8, 1997, International Women’s Day, a mural was unveiled on the 137-foot obelisk (that Trujillo had erected in his honor) in Santo Domingo. It depicts the images of the four sisters. The painting on the obelisk is entitled “Un Canto a la Libertad” (A Song to Liberty).

For more information see Julia Alvarez’s fictional account of the Mirabal sisters in her 1994 novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies;” Bernard Diederich’s book “Trujillo: The Death of the Dictator;” and “The Mirabal Sisters,” in Connexions, an International Women’s Quarterly, No. 39, 1992.

World Aids Day – 1st December

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1. This day marks the beginning of an annual campaign designed to encourage public support for and development of programs to prevent the spread of HIV infection and provide education and promote awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. It was first observed in 1988 after a summit of health ministers from around the world called for a spirit of social tolerance and a greater exchange of information on HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day serves to strengthen the global effort to face the challenges of the AIDS pandemic.

Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre – 6th December

On Wednesday, December 6, 1989 a 25 year-old man, Marc Lepine, walked into the University of Montreal’s School of Engineering Building at about five in the afternoon, with a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle. He began a shooting spree during which he murdered fourteen women and injured thirteen others: nine women and four men. Marc Lepine believed it was because of women students that he was not accepted to the engineering school. Before killing himself, he left an explanatory letter behind which contained a tirade against feminists as well as a list of nineteen prominent women, whom he particularly despised.

The fourteen women who were murdered in the massacre were: Anne-Marie Edward, Anne-Marie Lemay, Annie St. Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Maria Klueznick, Genevieve Bergeron, Helen Colgan, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Michele Richard, Natalie Croteau and Sonia Pelletier.

These women became symbols, tragic representatives, of the injustice against women. Women’s groups across the country organized vigils, marches and memorials. There was an increase in support for educational programs and resources to reduce violence against women. Both federal and provincial governments made commitments to end violence against women. In 1991, the Canadian government proclaimed December 6th National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 1993, an organization calling itself the Dec. 6 Coalition set up a revolving fund for women leaving violent situations to establish themselves and their children in a safer, more secure environment. Also in 1993 a campaign called Zero Tolerance was launched offering men the opportunity to show solidarity with women against violence against women. As a direct result of the massacre, several mothers of the victims began groups to restrict gun laws and promote awareness of the continued violence against women.

International Human Rights Day – 10th December

On December 10 peoples and states the world over celebrate the adoption, in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this landmark date in contemporary history, the nations of the world joined together to try and bury, once and for all, the spectre of genocide raised by the Second World War. This document was one of the first major achievements of the United Nations and provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments to follow. Resolution 217A (III) by the General Assembly, proclaims the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…” Organizations and individuals use Human Rights Day as an opportunity to both commemorate the signing of this historical document and to promote the principles which are enumerated throughout the document. Human Rights Day, according to High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, is “an occasion to demonstrate that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not theoretical or abstract.”

From Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership

Each year since 1991, tens of thousands of activists from every region of the world have taken part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. The campaign’s central messages – women’s rights are human rights and violence against women constitutes a violation of human rights – have been a rallying call of the women’s movement. Recognizing that violence against women affects people from every country, race, class, culture, and religion, the 16 Days Campaign provides an opportunity for activists to work together in solidarity and draw upon this period of heightened international attention to gain support for their local efforts.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) during last year’s 16 Days Campaign, millions of people pledged their support for ending violence against women (VAW) and upholding human rights. Building upon this momentum, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) dedicates the 2009 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign to honoring groups and individuals who have committed to bringing VAW to the forefront of global attention, to encouraging everyone in their various capacities to take action to end VAW, and to demanding accountability for all of the promises made to eliminate VAW.

Therefore, the 2009 theme is:

Commit ▪ Act ▪ Demand: We CAN End Violence Against Women!

Commit: We are All Responsible
In 1991 when 23 women from around the world met together at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and envisioned the 16 Days Campaign, it was unlikely that any of them could have foreseen the incredible success of the campaign as a mobilizing tool. Because of their efforts and the commitment of so many other activists over the past 19 years, well over 2,000 organizations in 158 countries have organized around the 16 Days Campaign, and the issue of gender-based violence has received a significant amount of international attention. In planning for the campaign, CWGL asks you not only to honor and celebrate the achievements made to ending VAW, but also to encourage broad-based community participation by emphasizing that everyone has a role to play. We all have a responsibility to end gender-based violence together as women, girls, men, boys, and individuals of all generations, religions, occupations, sexual orientations, abilities, political persuasions, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Act: We Can All Make a Difference
2009 will mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations’ formal recognition of November 25th as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There are many other landmark dates and documents that are the direct result of ACTION that women’s rights activists and defenders have taken. The anti-violence against women movement provides one of the best illustrations of how local activism can translate into global action. During the 2009 16 Days Campaign, CWGL encourages individuals, organizations, governments, etc. to take action on the commitments they have made to ending VAW. Each commitment – be it a personal pledge to speak out, a local or national law, an international convention or resolution, the Beijing Platform for Action – should be seen as a promise that has been made to women. NOW is the time to act on these promises. Every action, no matter how big or small, can make a difference!

Demand: We Are All Accountable
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, women’s organizations from around the world met with government representatives and collaboratively produced the Beijing Platform for Action – one of the most forward-thinking government negotiated documents on women’s rights to date. This ground-breaking document set forth a list of actions, which, if implemented, would significantly reduce incidences of violence against women. 2010 marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women. Therefore, we must all demand implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as other key documents, and demand state accountability for ending impunity, allocating adequate resources, and implementing good laws and national action plans to address VAW. We also call on the UN to take bolder action on the UN Secretary-General’s “UNiTE to End VAW” Campaign Framework for Action. We are all accountable for playing our part in reducing violence at the individual and community levels, as well as at the nation-state and global levels.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women, and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a human rights violation.

Join the 16 Days e-mail discussion!
Join the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence e-mail listserv discussion, which gives activists a space to share work against violence, build partnerships with others worldwide, and develop strategies and themes for the annual 16 Days Campaign. To join the discussion, visit:

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

On this 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we can applaud the fact that the issue of violence against women and girls is no longer treated as simply a woman’s concern. Thanks to the persistent and dedicated efforts by women’s rights activists in all parts of the world, it is now a human rights issue, a peace and security issue, and an issue of urgent concern to both men and women.

There are now more national plans, policies and laws in place than ever before, and momentum is also growing in the intergovernmental arena: last year the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820 which for the first time addresses sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations as an international security issue. This year we saw the passage of two new Security Council resolutions — 1888 and 1889 — that will greatly strengthen the ability of the UN to address the problem of sexual violence in conflict and pave the way for stronger involvement of women in post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction to take their specific needs into account.

There is also more commitment at the highest levels of power, as we experienced last year when UNIFEM’s Say NO to Violence against Women initiative mobilized scores of heads of state, ministers and parliamentarians to add their names to a global call for action. The Say NO initiative, which is a contribution by UNIFEM to the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, has now been re-launched as an innovative advocacy platform that stimulates and showcases actions and brings the spotlight to global efforts. Thousands of actions from organizations and individuals that have been registered over just the last few weeks demonstrate the groundswell of activity around the world by dedicated people who are determined to put an end to this appalling human rights violation.

Despite these achievements, huge challenges remain. It is shocking that based on available country data, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime. It happens everywhere — at home and at work, on the streets and in schools, during peacetime and in conflict.

We still live in a world where violence against women and girls is a major source of insecurity for half the world’s population, from domestic violence to female genital mutilation; from so called honour killings to mass rape in times of war. The gap between the promises and realities on the ground is still too wide and violence against women and girls continues to pose some of the world’s greatest challenges.

However, the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign offers a historic opportunity for demanding greater action. The campaign places the issue at the top of the UN agenda and calls on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, men, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing this global pandemic. On the occasion of today’s Anniversary and as a part of his campaign, the Secretary-General is launching a Network of Men Leaders who pledge to act on ending violence against women and girls in their countries and communities. Involvement of men and boys, along with empowerment of women, are critical to achieving gender equality and fulfilling the promise of a life free of violence for every women and every girl.

There is no room for spectators in advocating for the advancement of women’s rights. Governments must act to implement existing international commitments at the national level. We need national accountability frameworks that include adequate and appropriate standards of protection and response. Among the measures which are urgently required are:
* Adequate national legislation that is aligned with human rights standards;
* National action plans to combat violence against women and girls and to put in place the institutional, technical and financial resources required for coordinated, multisectoral responses;
* Immediate “frontline” support and services from the police, health and legal aid providers for survivors of gender-based violence;
* Collection, analysis and dissemination of data as an essential component for measuring the progress of anti-violence initiatives, developing effective strategies and allocating budgets;
* Targeted prevention programmes as a next frontier in addressing the issue, specifically focusing on youth and adolescents.
* Yet each and every one of us has a crucial role to play, too. We can make a difference by raising a generation that will not resort to violence, by volunteering to provide services, by raising funds and by raising our voices to say no to violence against women. The solution lies within us: through concerted action we can put an end to violence against women and girls.

By Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM

International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women 25 November 2009

The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, seizes the opportunity of the International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November) to present her approach to the mandate, both in terms of thematic priorities and cooperation with other mechanisms, with a view to enhance efforts to eliminate violence against women.

“Significant progress achieved in recent years in the international legal response to violence against women has resulted in the explicit recognition of violence against women as a human rights concern. However, the reality on the ground shows that many forms and manifestations of violence against women remain endemic around the world, cutting across national boundaries, race, class, culture, tradition and religion. The consequences include the violation of dignity and also of the right to equality, non-discrimination, physical integrity and freedom from violence.”

“The protection, promotion and fulfillment of all rights require a holistic and intersectional approach. States have a responsibility to eliminate violence against women through numerous measures, including through legal and policy frameworks, through a responsive criminal justice system, through the provision of social services and also through economic empowerment policies. The due diligence standard requires States to promote the right to be free from all forms of violence, both private and public; and also to develop and implement legislation, policies and programmes that specifically address prevention, protection, prosecution and compensation.”

“Over the last fifteen years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has evolved at both a conceptual and a practical level. At the conceptual level, the mandate has evolved to capture a wider spectrum of acts as they manifest from the home to the transnational arena, i.e. ranging from domestic violence or global trafficking to the impact of globalisation on women. At the practical level, the mandate involves regional networking, implementation of international laws, technical assistance and monitoring of international laws. The current approach emphasises the universality of violence against women, the multiplicity of its forms, the intersectionality of diverse kinds of discrimination against women, and its linkage to other systems of domination based on inequality and subordination.”

“It is with this approach that I intend to further strengthen the mandate by addressing a number of thematic concerns which in my view require timely and focused attention. These include the issues of reparations to women for wrongs committed in contexts of peace, conflict, post-conflict and transitional justice settings; prevention strategies including those which promote women’s empowerment and engagement in challenging patriarchal interpretations of norms, values and rights; and multiple, intersecting and aggravated forms of discrimination affecting women and leading to increased levels of violence and limitation or denial of their human rights.”

“The work and the challenges ahead require increased joint efforts with other international human rights mechanisms. In this regard, I am committed to strengthen synergies with the system of special procedures, the treaty bodies – and CEDAW in particular -, the Universal Period Review of the Human Rights Council, as well as with other entities as the Commission on the Status of Women and the new UN gender equality structure. I am also committed to promoting and strengthening the engagement of the mandate with regional mechanisms and civil society actors. The upcoming Beijing +15 and the review of the implementation of the Platform for Action; the 30th anniversary celebrations and reflections on the achievements of the CEDAW; and the recent Security Council Resolution 1888 strengthening the response to the issue of sexual violence in conflict situations, all provide us with the opportunity to intensify our efforts towards protection, prosecution, prevention and provision of effective redress to women who have been subjected to violence.”

“The Secretary-General’s campaign titled ‘UNiTE to end violence against women’ identifies five key outcomes in its Framework of Action. These include: the adoption and enforcement of national laws; the adoption and implementation of multi-sectoral national plans of action that emphasise prevention and are adequately resourced ; the establishment of data collection and analysis systems on the prevalence of various forms of violence against women and girls ; the establishment of national and/or local campaigns and the engagement of civil society in preventing violence and in supporting women and girls who have been abused ; and the adoption of systematic efforts to address sexual violence in conflict situations and to protect women and girls from rape as a tactic of war, and the full implementation of related laws and policies.”

“The above outcomes and also the due diligence standard provide us with an opportunity to address impunity and to demand accountability. Holding both state and non-state actors accountable for acts of violence against women is an imperative that cannot be ignored. The advocacy campaigns over the next 16 days once again challenge us to focus on ways, measures and means to eliminate all forms of violence against women. It is only by placing women’s human rights, including the right to be free from violence, at the center of such efforts that we will be able to build a more secure world, based on the common goal and the shared obligation of ensuring that human rights are universally and equally enjoyed.”

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences by the United Nations Human Rights Council for an initial period of three years at its 11th session in June 2009. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit the website:

For interviews or other information contact Gloria Carrera at + 41 22 917 9120 email:

Today on Nov 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we join advocates around the world in calling attention to the systematic violations of women’s rights, particularly through crimes of sexual violence.

In Malaysia, the rapes of Penan women and children in Sarawak serves as a horrific reminder of the severity of the crisis of escalating rates of violence against women, and equally important, the persistent inadequacies of our criminal justice system in securing relief for survivors of sexual crimes.

Since the mid-’80s, laws related to rape have seen various amendments to bring justice to survivors of rape. However, the recent statement from the police that the investigations into the rapes of Penan women are now closed, exposes the stark reality of how difficult it is to access justice from the criminal justice system, more so for marginalised communities.

We are aware of the difficulties of bringing criminal cases to trial. However, the difficulties in cases of rape are particularly pronounced. According to Bukit Aman, approximately less than 15% of reported sexual crimes in 2008 were brought to trial. A contributing factor is the ‘victim blaming’ attitude for rape and other sexual crimes.

The Women’s Centre for Change recently published their 2005 study ‘Seeking Justice for Vicitms of Sexual Crime’ which showed among other things that entrenched patriarchal views within the criminal justice system negatively affect the outcome of rape trials.

For instance, a frequent and effective defence tactic is to question the credibility of the survivor. Underpinning this is the false assumption that women lie about sexual assault and therefore, cannot be trusted. However, many studies have shown that very few rape cases are falsely reported.

Both attitudinal and structural factors stack the odds against survivors every step of the way in the courts – first, in getting a case to trial, second, in getting a hearing free of stereotypical prejudices, and finally, getting a conviction.

The shockingly poor conviction rates of sexual crimes is shown in the aforementioned WCC study of 439 cases between 2000 and 2004 in subordinate courts in Penang. It was found that only 4% of sexual crimes cases that went to trial resulted in a conviction. This only cements the fact that when it comes to sexual crimes including rape, accessing justice is most difficult.

How accessible was the justice system to the Penan rape survivors, both literally in terms of the distance to the police stations, magistrates etc, and culturally, in terms of the historical mistrust of authorities and the language barriers?

If rape survivors in urban cities such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur face daunting obstacles in seeing through their cases, what more indigenous women located on the margins of power centres and caught up in corporate capitalist/state interests in so-called ‘development’?

The fact that the police investigations have closed without any perpetrator being charged does not mean that these crimes have not been committed. Rather, it is an indictment of the criminal justice system that has failed to protect and uphold the rights of the most vulnerable.

Until steps are taken such as better inter-agency cooperation and more allocation of resources and sensitivity training for judiciary and prosecutors, the denial of justice to rape survivors is doomed to continue.

What now for Malaysians who believe in justice, equality and the need to end violence against women?

The writer is president, All Women’s Action Society (Awam). The above is a joint letter together with Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), the Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) and Sisters in Islam.

The government should establish a national program to combat violence in the family, which would put Israel in line with recommendations recently issued by the European Council, MK Tzipi Hotovely, who chairs the Knesset Committee for the Status of Women, declared Tuesday.

The committee met in advance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is being marked around the world on 25th November. The meeting aimed to examine Israel’s overall response to violence against women, and compare it to responses in European states.

One of the European Council recommendations was to institute a national program to combat family violence, while establishing a specific governmental body tasked with confronting the problem, to centralize the government initiatives and monitor their progress. The majority of European states have adopted the European Council recommendations.

Hotovely asked representatives of relevant organizations, including the Israel Police, social workers and organizations dealing with family violence what they felt was still lacking in Israel’s efforts to combat violence.

Among the issues raised were a lack of vocational rehabilitation for women who have been subjected to violence, programs for juveniles who have been exposed to violence in the family and alternative housing for those who cannot return to their homes.

Police and social workers agreed that the program that assigns social workers to police stations to facilitate initial responses to women who file complaints regarding abuse should be expanded. Social workers are currently found in 11 police stations, of the almost 70 nationwide.

“Increasing awareness about this subject is extremely important, but the problem is that it does not penetrate through to specific demographic groups in which the problem of violence is more frequent,” said MK Nahman Shai (Kadima), concurring with Hotovely’s call to establish an national authority to confront the issue.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hotovely called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to establish a national emergency program to combat the phenomenon of violence against women.

But the Knesset’s recognition of the international day was not confined to the committee. The Knesset held a seminar for MKs on sexual harassment in the workplace, and a number of speakers in the plenum utilized the one-minute speeches at the beginning of the session to address specific aspects of the subject.

“I would like to raise a subject that I always address – the phenomenon that is called ‘family honor killings,'” said MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL). “In this sort of murder, sir, there is no honor. A man who does this is no man and thus this is a particularly ugly form of violence.

“No person has the right to act that way toward women because of a suspicion or a disagreement, as extreme as it might be. I condemn and am quite angry at all those who take the life of a woman or act against her with violence on the basis of some act or another.”

Both Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) asked to officially concur with Tibi’s comments.

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Nicole Johnston reports on the formidable Women’s Forum not accepting the status quo in Malawi.

As the world’s decision makers embark on the road to Copenhagen, the oft-repeated refrain is that climate change will hit Africa “first and worst”. What we don’t hear enough about is the enormous additional burden it is already placing on rural African women.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Add climate change to the mix and the combination is deadly – particularly for women.

“Poverty is the cause of HIV here,” says Maria Gondwe of the Karonga Women’s Forum. “If the rains are too heavy or if they don’t come, then the yield is poor. Since 2001 we have noticed the weather changing. Floods come and wash our rice away and because we are farmers we don’t have the money to buy more seed. We are already in poverty, then that adds hunger.”

“It is getting hotter so we have to work shorter hours, which means we cultivate a smaller area and can grow less food,” adds Rachel Kasambara. “It is harder to live by farming than it was 10 years ago. I have grandchildren as well as orphans living in my house so there is a shortage of food. Maybe we will get a meal once a day. Sometimes we just eat a sweet potato and drink water before we sleep.”

It is considered the responsibility of women and girls to ensure there is food in the house, and as it becomes increasingly difficult to survive on agriculture, many women are forced to sell sex. “Some parents tell their daughters ˜there is no food, go find some money to eat’,” explains Forum chairperson Caroline Malema. “Then the girls come home with money and with sugar and the parents are happy. But once she is infected they chase her and say ˜go back with this thing to where you got it’. Or they marry a 14-year-old girl to an old man in his fifties because he has cattle. If she refuses they throw her out and she ends up as a prostitute.”

And women with husbands and children are also often unable to protect themselves from the virus: “The men say condoms are for prostitutes. If you insist, they will accuse you of having other men and divorce you. But they are the ones who go out and act carelessly and bring this [HIV] home with them,” says Gondwe angrily.

“Women in the more remote villages don’t have money to get to the clinic to get ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] so sometimes they will walk 50km to get the drugs.”

And double standards are rife says Malema: “Many men are HIV positive but don’t tell their wives. They will hide their pills and take them in secret. But if she finds she is HIV positive and wants to take ART he will chase her and accuse her of being a prostitute.”

But the Women’s Forum is not accepting the status quo, and is fighting a formidable battle on a number of fronts – from seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence to challenging gender dynamics. “We as women are not counted in Malawi,” says Malema. “They say a woman cannot be above a man. We aim to empower women – especially the younger generation – whether they are discriminated against for being HIV positive or have been raped, or want to go into politics.” The forum has successfully campaigned for a local woman, Beatrice Nyankonde, who is now running for election as a member of parliament.

The courage and generosity displayed by the members of the forum is astounding, particularly as they have no funds except those they raise from doing yet more work. What they do have is human capital, and a deep sense of solidarity with other women. “We make mats and knit baby jackets and sell them,” says Eliza Mbale, the forum’s treasurer. “With that money we are able to buy soap for orphaned children and widows. We help them with household chores and work in their fields so they will be able to grow some food. We have no finance or other way of helping so the little we have we try to share.”

Queen Kayira’s story

“My name is Queen Kayira and I am from Malawi, which you know is a poor country. I am a widow with five children and my husband died in 2000 leaving me with nothing. This changing of the climate is giving us a lot of troubles, because we can no longer make small businesses like selling bananas and cassava.

I decided to go the bottle store to find a man so I could find money to support my family. Instead, I found HIV. Men refuse if you want to use a condom; they say it is like eating a sweet with the plastic wrapper still on it.

I stopped doing sex work two years ago. I changed my behaviour because I learned I was HIV+ and I didn’t want to infect other people. I know if men sleep with me without a condom they will take that virus back to their wives.

Now I am a volunteer at the Karonga Women’s Forum. I sell tomatoes and bread to feed my children and I also knit things to sell, but I am still suffering.

I am afraid that other women, especially young girls will turn to sex work to feed their families. Because we are not getting good crops any more girls are under pressure to find food. This pressure is only on girls, not boys, because girls are seen as useless and we are not valued. While girls are selling themselves, the boys are going to school or being taught skills like carpentry.”

See also:
* Trying to give sex workers safer alternatives in Malawi
* Project to help Malawi’s sex workers – BBC audio

U.S. President Barack Obama honored a group of women on Monday who have confronted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and said they had defied a dictator.

“They often don’t get far before being confronted by President Mugabe’s riot police,” Obama said at a ceremony for Magodonga Mahlangu and the organization she helps lead — WOZA, which stands for Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

“By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of WOZA and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power — that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own,” he said, presenting the annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

The United States wants Mugabe to halt political arrests and media censorship and to honor a power-sharing agreement signed in September 2008 with his political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe is a pariah in the West, blamed by critics for plunging his southern African country into poverty through his authoritarian rule and economic mismanagement. He has led Zimbabwe since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe has often blamed Western foes for ruining his country via sanctions, which he says are in retaliation for the seizing of white-owned farms on behalf of landless blacks. Critics say the policy is used as a tool to intimidate political opponents and to give land to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party loyalists.

After long negotiations, ZANU-PF formed a unity government in February with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Tsvangirai, who is now Zimbabwe’s prime minister.

RIGHTS-UGANDA: “You Cannot Tell Me You Will Kill Me Because I’m Gay”

Q&A: “CEDAW is UNIFEM’S Entry Point”

BRAZIL: Leading Ladies Give Gender Slant to Campaign

HEALTH: New Task Force Targets Poor in Breast Cancer Fight

FRANCE: Top Designers Make Dolls to Fund Darfur Vaccinations

PERU: Cuzco Women Stand Up to Violence

Q&A: Put the New Women’s Agency in Africa

RIGHTS-CAMEROON: The Reverend Raped Me

SIERRA LEONE: New Dawn for Small Farmers?

MEXICO: Women Package the Sweet Taste of Nostalgia


This is the first major step forward in protecting children from being sexually exploited through the making and distribution of images of them being sexually abused. The law is hard hitting and among other things prohibits the possession, making, distribution, display, and the attempt to access or transmit on the internet or by cell phone any illegal images depicting sexual activity with or of children or their private parts.

This is one of the few pieces of anti-child pornography legislation in the world that requires by law Internet Server Providers (ISPs) to install filtering software that will block access to web sites though the internet that contains illegal images of children as defined under the act. The law is known as the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, Republic Act 9775. Mall operators and business establishments have to know and report to the police within 7 days any violation of the act in their premises.

The law strictly outlaws any attempt to knowingly access with reasonable knowledge any child pornography with or without the intent to publish, sell, distribute or broadcast the images. Hundreds of thousands of people daily are accessing, sharing, viewing and downloading images of children being sexually abused. It is a 3 billion dollar business and every image is evidence of a crime against the child. Experts say that such images do entice, induce and encourage offenders to seek out victims and abuse them. Under this legislation the internet server providers must give to the police when asked the identities of the offenders trying to access child pornography over the internet through their servers.

The mandated installation of filtering software by law is rejected by many in the industry. They say it is a first step to government surveillance of internet traffic is an invasion of privacy and a form of censoring; all these are anathema to internet server providers and many users. In the UK they have voluntarily installed filtering software.

There is no total and absolute right over anything or anybody in the world. If the freedom of action of some is harming and allowing the abuse of others, especially children, then action must be taken to protect the vulnerable and the victimized. One right must not be used to violate another right. Besides we all have a moral responsibility to protect children and bring violators to justice. Industry has a social responsibility to make their services child safe just like any other product. They must put children before profits.

Bayantel, a Philippine ISP owned by the Lopez Family is the only ISP already using the very easy to install filtering system known in the industry as NetClean a clever and effective invention from Sweden. PLDT, Sun-Digitel, Globe, Smart and Eastern do not have it. They must act soon. The Preda Foundation ( is mounting a campaign to encourage them to protect children and do it now and install NetClean white box technology. They are a responsible corporation and work closely with Teliasonera. Both companies are committed to helping the victims of child exploitation.

The New Zealand government is using NetClean technology successfully throughout the whole country. The ISPs have no reason to wait the 90 days for the National Telecommunications Commission to order them to do it.

Senator Jamby Madrigal gets the credit and thanks of the nation for sponsoring, drafting and tirelessly advancing the law which passed the senate in record time. I was privileged to be invited to share ideas and suggestions with her legal committee in drafting the legislation. Unicef Philippines also contributed greatly by engaging a Canadian legal expert and brought her in from Hong Kong to help draft key sections. Together with the senator Madrigal’s highly intelligent drafting team led by Attorney Nino Aquino we had a productive brainstorming that helped make this landmark legislation to protect children. (

Lower House representatives Darlene Antonio-Custodio Ist., Nikk Prieto-Teodoro and Matias Defensor all deserve praise for their efforts to get this important legislation sponsored, passed and signed.

Women bear the disproportionate burden of climate change, but have so far been largely overlooked in the debate about how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather, concludes The State of World Population 2009, released today by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

“Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it,” says UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women. The poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force. The poor tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

The report draws attention to populations in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to climate change and calls on governments to plan ahead to strengthen risk reduction, preparedness and management of disasters and address the potential displacement of people.

Research cited in the report shows that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters — including those related to extreme weather — with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

The State of World Population 2009 argues that the international community’s fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programmes and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women.

The report shows that investments that empower women and girls — particularly education and health — bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate. Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.

“With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world’s 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim,” Ms. Obaid says. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

A Zambian newspaper editor was acquitted Monday on charges of distributing obscene materials with the intent of corrupting public morals, a case filed against her after she sent photos of a woman in childbirth to government officials and other prominent figures.

Many media advocates in Zambia and throughout the world considered the arrest of Chansa Kabwela, news editor of The Post, to be an assault on press freedom. The newspaper and the government of President Rupiah Banda have been at loggerheads about allegations of public corruption.

“This was a case started by President Banda against us,” Fred M’membe, the paper’s editor in chief, said in comments on The Post’s Web site after the ruling. “He publicly accused us of pornography and called us all sorts of names. He insulted us of being sick, morbid and peculiar.”

In June, during a strike by health workers, a pregnant woman was refused care at a hospital in Lusaka, the capital. The woman gave birth outside the hospital building. Her baby died.

According to Ms. Kabwela, photos were taken during those hectic moments by the woman’s husband. He tearfully took them to The Post in the hope that their publication might avert similar tragedies, she said.

But while the editor judged the pictures to be too graphic for publication, she considered them important. She wanted to send them “to people who had the capacity to end the strike,” she said in an interview after her arrest.

Her mailing list included George Kunda, the country’s vice president; the health minister; the secretary to the cabinet; the archbishop of Lusaka; and two women’s groups. She was arrested a month later.

President Banda had not been sent the photos, but he did learn of them and lashed out against them at a news conference, saying, “I hope those responsible for the law of this country will pursue this matter.”

Members of the women’s groups said the photos belittled the sacred act of birth and invaded the mother’s privacy.

In Monday’s ruling, Magistrate Charles Kafunda described the pictures. They showed the child, reportedly dead, emerging feet first from the distraught mother. The magistrate said he sympathized with witnesses who found the photos to be shocking.

Nevertheless, he said, the prosecution had failed to prove that Ms. Kabwela had used the photos to taint the morals of society.

“I have been vindicated,” Ms. Kabwela said, according to The Post’s Web site. “I have always said that whatever I did was purely out of good will on behalf of The Post.”

Investigate 8 Deaths and Why So Many of These Workers Die

The Lebanese government should investigate the deaths of eight migrant domestic workers during October 2009, as well as the reasons for the disproportionately high death rate among this group of workers, Human Rights Watch has said. An estimated 200,000 domestic workers, primarily from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, work in Lebanon.

Four of the deaths are classified by police reports or by the workers’ embassies as suicides, three as possible work accidents, and one as a heart attack. Six of the deaths occurred when migrant domestic workers either fell or jumped from high places. One woman committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. The dead include four Ethiopians, two Nepalis, and two Malagasies.

“The death toll last month is clear evidence that the government isn’t doing enough to fix the difficult working conditions these women face,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to explain why so many women who came to Lebanon to work end up leaving the country in coffins.”

In August 2008, Human Rights Watch published a study showing that migrant domestic workers were dying at a rate of more than one a week in Lebanon.

A diplomat at the consulate of the country from which one of the dead women came told Human Rights Watch: “These women are under pressure, with no means to go away. Their passports are seized and they are often locked away in their employer’s house. It is like they are living in a cage. Human beings need to mingle with others; otherwise they lose their will to live.”

An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the labor ministry has taken some steps to improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers. In January 2009, the labor ministry introduced a standard employment contract that clarifies certain terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers, such as the maximum number of daily working hours, as well as a new regulation for employment agencies that aims to improve oversight of their operations. However, these workers are still excluded from the country’s labor law, and there are still no enforcement mechanisms for the current rules governing domestic employment.

“As long as Lebanon does not appoint labor inspectors to ensure compliance with the new rules, these rules will exist on paper only,” Houry said.

Human Rights Watch urged the official steering committee that works to improve the status of domestic workers to begin tracking deaths and injuries, to ensure that the police properly investigate them and to develop a concrete strategy to reduce these deaths. This strategy should include combating the practice of forced confinement, providing a labor ministry hotline for the workers, appointing labor inspectors, and improving working conditions and labor law protections.

Human Rights Watch also urged governments of the migrant workers’ countries of origin to increase the services at their embassies and diplomatic missions in Lebanon by providing counseling and shelter for workers in distress.

Details about Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in October 2009

On October 8, Sunit Bholan of Nepal, 22, reportedly committed suicide.

On October 16, Kassaye Etsegenet of Ethiopia, 23, died after reportedly jumping from the seventh floor of a building on Charles Helou avenue in Beirut. Etsegenet left a suicide note in which she states that her decision was based on personal reasons, in particular, a fight with another member of her family.

On October 21, Zeditu Kebede Matente of Ethiopia, 26, was found dead in the town of Haris hanging from an olive tree.

On October 23, Saneet Mariam of Ethiopia, 30, died after falling from the balcony of her employer’s house in the town of Mastita.

On October 23, Mina Rokaya, of Nepal, 24, died after being transferred from her employer’s house in Blat to a hospital. The police report says that she died from a heart attack.

On October 28, Tezeta Yalmoya of Ethiopia, 26, died after falling from the third floor of the apartment building where she worked in `Abra, next to Saida. According to reports in local papers, she fell while cleaning the balcony.

Newspapers in Madagascar reported the deaths of two Malagasy women in Lebanon in October. The first worker, identified as Mampionona, reportedly fell from the third floor while cleaning the balcony. She had arrived in Lebanon on September 1. The other, identified as Vololona, died after reportedly jumping from the fourth floor.

Raya Haffar Hassan cracked Lebanon’s male-dominated political world when she was appointed finance minister, one of the first woman to land such a top job. Activists say the appointment of Hassan and State Minister Mona Ofeish in the new 30-member national unity government unveiled on November 9 is a welcome step, but remains a mere “crack in the political glass ceiling.”

The US-educated Hassan, who has an MBA from George Washington University, was selected by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while Ofeish, an attorney and civil society activist, was named by President Michel Sleiman.

“The glass ceiling? I guess you could say it’s cracked,” said Aman Kabbara Shaarani, who heads the Lebanese Council of Women, an umbrella group of several organizations.

“Prime Minister Saad Hariri took a good step by appointing two women to his Cabinet, but this is far from enough,” she told AFP.

Lebanon prides itself as a pioneer of women’s liberation in the Arab world but it still lags behind some of its more conservative neighbors and only four women have seats in the 128-strong Parliament.

In government, female representation fares poorly as well.

The first woman to be appointed to a government was the daughter of Lebanon’s first Prime Minister Riad Solh, Leila Solh Hamadeh, who served as the industry minister from 2004 to 2005.

“We would have hoped women to get at least 30 percent representation in government, especially since women accounted for 53 percent of all ballots cast in our elections last June,” Shaarani said.

“Unfortunately in this country, qualified women do not reach high-level posts because political shares are divided among men and along sectarian lines,” she added.

“But our two new female ministers are highly qualified, so it’s a step forward in terms of quality at least.”

Hassan is no newcomer to the world of finance. She has contributed to the establishment of assistance programs in Lebanon set up by the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank.

Since 2003, the 42-year-old mother has worked with three former prime ministers on financial policies and says she is ready, and capable, of tackling challenges that lay ahead.

“It’s a very challenging opportunity, and I understand that very well,” Hassan told AFP. “But I think being a woman, we have the ability to withstand a lot of pressure.

“I intend to use diplomatic demeanor and calm to argue my points within the Cabinet and namely when it comes to setting the national budget,” Hassan said.

The task will be tough: although Lebanon has largely ducked the global economic crisis, the national debt is expected to top $50 billion this year alone.

Most of the debt was incurred during the massive reconstruction after Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War led by Saad Hariri’s father Rafik Hariri, a five-time prime minister who was assassinated in 2005.

Hassan also enters a national debate on whether to privatize the country’s extortionate telecoms sector and the money-draining electricity sector, the government’s third-largest expenditure after debt servicing and salaries.

Her detractors deride her as a muse of the Hariri era, and the pro-opposition daily Al-Akhbar has dubbed her the “golden child of Hariri’s financial policy.”

The US- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri announced the new Cabinet line-up after nearly five months of tough negotiations with his rivals in the Iran- and Syria-backed Hizbullah-led opposition.

Hariri got the lions’s share, with 15 ministries given to his alliance, while the opposition is represented by 10 ministers.

President Michel Sleiman, who plays the role of arbiter, has since appointed the remaining five ministers.

Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN) Letter to the UN asking for investigative reports, specific actions taken and punishment metered, reparations provided to Haitian victims of rape and sexual abuse by UN soldiers in Haiti

In 2005, the Ezili Danto Witness Project reported on a Jordanian soldier’s brutal rape and sodomizing a Haitian mother of five in Haiti. The report was sent to the UN, the victim complained to the UN. The investigation process never led to a resolution that was ever revealed to HLLN or the victim. (Read the English transcript.)

In 2007, it was discovered and reported that girls as young as 13 were having sex with U.N. peacekeepers for as little as $1 in Haiti. Moreover, Sri Lankan soldiers were accused of systematically raping Haitian women and girls, some as young as 7 years old.

Today, the UN said that dozens of UN peacekeepers were punished for sexual abuses. (UN peacekeepers involved in abuse are being punished, world body says, UN News Center, November 5, 2009, and Dozens of UN peace keepers punished for abuses, CBC News, November 5, 2009.)

Indeed, what this UN statement reveals to Ezili’s HLLN is that if only a dozen UN peacekeepers were punished for sexual abuse and rape, than that means, for instance, most of the 114 Sri Lankan soldiers deported back to Sri Lanka from Haiti in 2007 for sexual abuse and rape in Haiti did not get punished. The Jordanian and other perpetrators we are aware of through Haitian complaints also have not been redressed or punished.

The more important revelation is the UN’s continued secrecy on this matter as “no data on the nationalities or identities of the peacekeepers were revealed.”

HLLN is again publicly and via cover of this note to UN authorities requesting the release of the findings of the investigation and report as to exactly what was happening in Martissant, Haiti and other locations at the brothels set up by the Sri Lankan and other UN soldiers in Haiti before they were deported in 2007.

Via-cover of this note, Ezili’s HLLN again stresses that the UN should take a leaf out of Oprah’s book and not run from the allegations of rape and abuse by their employees. When girls at Oprah’s school in South Africa alleged sexual abuse, Oprah investigated, apologized to the students, their parents and the entire community that such depravity could have happened in her school, cleaned up the mess and set up new accountability standards and rigors so that such depraved assaults on children had a lesser chance of re-occurring.

The UN could at least do the same with all those international experts and PHDzzzs on its payroll. Investigate, apologize to the people of Haiti, fully and publicly report the result of the investigations, reveal the names of the culprits to the Haitian public, provide relief for the victims, set up new standards and accountability bars for the countries whose soldiers were involved in the rapes and sexual abuses in Haiti, not just release these diluted data where nothing is really revealed.

The UN’s “zero tolerance” is lip service until it is backed up by actions that realistically assures Haitians they are truly concerned about these depraved assaults on minors and women by their UN soldiers, are providing counseling and assistance to the victims, have cleaned up all backlog of complaints and have stopped making the victims who come forward with allegations, for instance, of gang rape by three or four soldiers at a time, feel responsible, terming the acts “consensual” if money was exchanged and/or further making the victims feel responsible for the abuse and exploitation of power with appallingly racist statements to the effect that – “Haitians are natural prostitutes, used to trading sex for food, shelter and education.” What such moral actions, new standards and accounting procedures would signal to Haitians is that indeed this indecency is clearly marked very seriously as a zero tolerance zone by UN superiors.

The newly release UN data on abuse falls short of such responsibility and is reprehensible. The investigation into the 114 Sri Lakan soldiers accused of sexually abusing minors and running a brothel in Haiti must be made public to the Haitian people and the victims offered assistance, especially the minors whose childhood innocence cannot be returned.

Humanitarian aid workers and UN peacekeepers accused of sexually abusing and sexual trafficking children in Haiti should have their names and their country’s identities exposed so that this matter may be cleaned up once and for all.

HLLN looks forward to a response to this letter from the UN authorities and a copy of their investigation to share with our Network and the media.

To end, we attach a Final Call article on this same HLLN concern for justice, transparency and accountability from the UN, written more than a year ago: UN peacekeepers and aid workers accused of abusing children, Final Call, June 24, 2008

For a related concern which touches on the UN and other authorities non-transparency and irresponsibility in cases involving the sexual abuse and rape of Haitian people by aid workers, see: No More Secrecy -HLLN on Douglaz Perlitz’s new motions asking for secrecy.


Ezili Dantò/(Marguerite Laurent)
President, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (“HLLN”)
November 5, 2009

Various women’s and human rights groups in the country explain why the law on “enticement” has no place today.

A man owns a donkey. One day, his neighbour walks by, sees the donkey and thinks, “Hey, this is a nice creature. I like it.” So he dangles a carrot in front of the donkey and lures it away.

Outraged, the owner sues his neighbour for “enticing away” his donkey.

“Now replace the donkey in the story with a woman and you will get what Section 498 of the Penal Code is all about,” says Abigail de Vries, senior programme officer of the All Women’s Action Society (Awam).

“Which married person, man or woman, would want to be equated with being ‘owned’ and incapable of making decisions, so as to be easily lured away?” she adds.

Representatives from the organisations involved in the Section 498: Out of Date, Out with It! campaign.

At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur Awam, together with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sisters in Islam (SIS), and the Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti (Community Awareness Centre, or Empower), had called for the abolition of Section 498 because “it is discriminatory against women”.

Three months ago, Ryan Chong, husband of popular TV personality Daphne Iking invoked Section 498 of the Malaysian Penal Code to accuse corporate figure Choy Khin Ming of “enticing” his wife to be unfaithful.

The section states that a man who entices, takes away or detains with criminal intent a married woman can be jailed up to two years, fined, or both, if convicted.

The case, scheduled to be heard next month, has raised more than a few brows, partly because many Malaysians are unaware of Section 498. In fact, it has been invoked only six times, the last being in 1976.

“Section 498 infers that an adult married woman is unable to think for herself,” says WAO president Meera Samanther.

“In assuming that married women are incapable of making decisions, the law is also silent on the issue of consent. In the end, what it’s really saying is that husbands have the right to control wives where sex is concerned.”

That is ironic, she adds, because Malaysia has women ministers, university chancellors, CEOs, and bosses and a woman bank governor.

“We entrust women to make many important decisions at work, but when it comes to governing themselves, in particular their bodies, they are denied the right to do so.

“We strongly believe that women’s sexuality and bodies belong to themselves, and as such, all laws that put their bodies and sexuality in the hands of men, family and society should be abolished,” Samanther says.

In light of this, women’s and human rights groups in the country reiterated their call for this outdated law to be abolished – using the tagline, “Out of Date, Out with It!” – on Monday in solidarity with the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies’ global campaign, “One Day, One Struggle”.

On that day, people across Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Sudan, and Egypt, took actions against violations committed on the basis of sexuality, including honour killings, lashing and stoning of women, discriminatory healthcare services, and female circumcision.

Section 498 of the Malaysian Penal Code reads the same as Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code. In fact, the Malaysian Penal Code evolved from British-imposed Straits Settlements Laws in Malaya in the 19th century, which were inherited from the 1860 Indian Penal Code.

Awam member Ng Tze Yeng, who has done preliminary research on the provision, explains that it is worth noting that the Indian Penal Code – which became the model legal system throughout British colonies in Asia and Africa – was drafted at a time when women were perceived as property of their husbands.

“Women were seen as passive agents whose functions were mainly to bear children and manage the household. They were perceived not to have any self-agency or rational mind of their own.

“A married woman was thus subordinated to her husband on the assumption that she was under his ‘protection’ as he was expected to be liable for her civil and criminal wrong-doings.”

In 2005, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), comprising Awam, Empower, SIS, WAO and the Women’s Centre for Change, had submitted a memorandum urging the government to abolish Section 498. But nothing came of that.

At the Dewan Rakyat sitting last month, Teresa Kok (DAP – Seputeh) had asked whether the Government had any plans to amend Section 498.

In a written reply to Kok, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein stated that the Government had no intention of abolishing the law as “it is an isolated case”.

Referring to Hishammuddin’s response on Oct 20, Samanther says: “A bad law is a bad law, whether it is used once or a hundred times.

“The state should not criminalise acts that may be perceived to have caused a marriage to break down. After all, if two adults are deemed capable of deciding to get married, shouldn’t the state leave them to decide if, and how, their marriage should continue?”

There are already laws in the civil system, such as the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (amended in 2006), that contain adequate provisions for matters relating to divorce, custody and maintenance, among others, thus providing recourse for the aggrieved party, Samanther says.

“If the state wants to get involved, it should be in cases where there is a clear violation of the rights of a partner, as in the case of domestic violence and, in particular, marital rape, which is still not regarded as an offence in Malaysia.”

What about the argument that Section 498 is necessary in order to protect women and keep them safe?

“Other existing provisions (for kidnapping, abducting, wrongful confinement, and wrongful restraint) under the Penal Code are sufficient to ensure that justice is served in the case where a woman is concealed or detained against her will,” Samanther adds.

In conjunction with ‘16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women’, the All Women’s Action Society, Sisters in Islam, the Women’s Aid Organisation and Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti will launch ‘Project Sentuh: Seksualiti & Tubuh’ on Dec 5.

This event will feature installation art and performances at the Five Arts Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur; it is a collaboration with artists such as Project Connect, Rumah Anak Teater, Lost Generation Space, Shieko, Julya Oui, Aisyah Baharuddin, and Mien Lor.

Participants will go through a theatre workshop with facilitators from inter-disciplinary backgrounds on Nov 21 and 22 and 28 and 29 (5pm-10.30pm) and from Nov 23 to 27 (7.30pm-10.30pm).

Project Sentuh is open to anyone interested in issues of discrimination on the basis of sexuality in Malaysia. Admission fee: RM30. Contact: Hui Koon (012-976 0397,, Pat ( or Farid Ayam (013-223 2169). For more details, visit

It is one of the world’s oldest professions, dating so far back that it is even mentioned in the Bible. But in the deeply cultural and religious country of Swaziland, Senator Thuli Msane stirred a hornet’s nest when she publicly challenged a new strict bill opposing prostitution.

Msane spoke out against arresting sex workers, when she said government should first address the humanitarian challenges that drive them into the trade.

She was responding to the new proposed legislation, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, 2009. The Bill imposes a six-year imprisonment on conviction, or a fine of approximately 2,000 dollars, on people who earn a living from sex work.

The Bill, which will be debated in parliament soon, also imposes a maximum sentence of 25 years and a fine of just over 13,000 dollars on those who perpetuate the trade through running brothels and using children as sex workers.

Currently the Crimes Act of 1889 imposes a fine of about 80 dollars or imprisonment for two years to anyone who entices immoral acts.

Msane, who was appointed to parliament by King Mswati III last year, came under strong criticism from both traditionalists and faith-based organisations who accused her of promoting a practice which is against both Christian and cultural values.

The nation is deeply rooted in its cultural and religious values, which have made sex work and Msane’s call to not criminalise the industry very unpopular among traditionalists and Christians.

“Swaziland is a Christian country and sex work is against the Bible,” said Khangezile Dlamini, the secretary general of the Swaziland Council of Churches.

Msane had suggested that there should be no pronunciation on legality or illegality of the trade until government addresses humanitarian challenges such as poverty and unemployment.

Despite being chastised for her views, she remains adamant that arresting sex workers will not solve the problem. If anything, she argued, this will further promote the exploitation of women by their clients “or even those who are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the citizens.”

“I don’t like the job that I’m doing, but after failing to secure (a) job at Matsapha for about three years, I was forced into the industry,” said a 36-year-old sex worker who is a mother of three.

She said her children live with her mother more than 100 kilometres away in Mbabane, Swaziland’s administrative capital.

She says she makes about 200 dollars a month, which is hardly enough to cater for her expenses including for those of her family back home.

“But it’s better than nothing,” she shrugged her shoulders. “Can you imagine the situation if there was no income at all?”

Msane said because of the high number of deaths related to HIV/AIDS, many children are left without parents and have to fend for themselves. And in a country where 69 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, an amount that is hardly enough to buy a loaf of bread, it is little wonder that young women were forced into prostitution.

“The girl child is more vulnerable because she is normally the one who is expected to provide for the family. You find that those who are in their late teens resort to the sex trade because they have no other means of making money,” said Msane.

A rapid survey done by the Swaziland National AIDS/STI Programme (SNAP) in 2007 revealed that over 60 percent of sex workers are under the age of 25.

A nurse by profession and also the director for Swaziland Hospice at Home, Msane said she has a first hand account of the frustration women go through because of poverty through her research on the challenges poor women face.

She said rather than criminalising the act, government must get its house in order first by creating proper employment opportunities, income-generating projects and rehabilitation centres for those who want to get out of the trade.

While Msane is getting a lot of support from the women’s rights movements, some of her colleagues do not share her views.

Nonhlanhla Dlamini, an elected member of parliament and former director for the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse does not find Msane’s idea appealing. Dlamini, who is also a women’s and children’s rights activist, was involved in the crafting of the Bill. She thinks criminalising sex work is more liberating to women because it will free them from exploitation.

“Sex work promotes the exploitation of women,” said Dlamini. “In this trade, there is the issue of power and control. Those who buy sex have much more bargaining power than the sex workers.”

Dlamini also said her Christian values are against this practice.

It is a view Msane does not agree with. Instead, she argues that the nation has a habit of moralising on issues which discriminates against marginalised groups such as sex workers.

“Divorce is one of the things that are morally wrong because the Bible is against it yet society condones it,” reasoned Msane. “The same applies to sex work, it’s morally wrong yet it’s a reality.”

Fortunately, the ministry of health is one institution that does not use the moral card against sex workers. The ministry, through SNAP, organises activities aimed at addressing HIV/AIDS among this group which is classified as on of the most at risk populations for contracting HIV.

“While fully recognising that practices such as commercial sex work are illegal in the country, the ministry of health is however concerned about the risks incurred in these practices in terms of vulnerability and consequently put in place interventions that seek to address the health needs of these populations,” said Zandile Mnisi, a STI programme manager.

In a country where 26 percent of the reproductive group of 15 to 49 years old is infected with HIV, the prevalence of HIV among sex workers is not known.

A rapid survey done by the programme in 2007 revealed that 60 percent of the respondents use condoms consistently with their clients while 67 percent of them do not use condoms with their partners.

As parliament debates this Bill next week, sex workers will be banking on Msane, who is determined to – at least for now – keep them out of jail.

Taiwan’s constitutional court said it would scrap an “unfair” law that means prostitutes can be punished but allows clients to go free.

“The law violates the equality principle in the constitution and shall be invalidated within two years,” the court said in a statement last week.

“Punishing only the profit-earner in the sex trade but not the payer constitutes unfair treatment,” it added.

Under the existing laws, prostitutes face detention of three days or a fine of up to 30,000 Taiwan dollars (938 US) if they are caught providing sexual services. Their clients go unpunished.

The ruling comes as Taiwan debates whether to decriminalise prostitution or establish special sex zones similar to those in Amsterdam’s famed red-light district.

Taiwan’s sex industry is estimated to generate annual revenue of up to 60 billion Taiwan dollars.

About 50 prostitutes are licensed nationwide under laws enacted in 1956. However, the government has stopped issuing licences, allowing these permits to be phased out.

The government will sponsor a bill later this Knesset session that is expected to put the squeeze on those trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich announced.

Aharonovich, addressing his ministry’s plans to combat the phenomenon during a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Trafficking of Women, said that he intends to submit a bill during this Knesset session, sponsored by the government, that would increase penalties for pimping to the same level as those for human trafficking – from seven years to 16 years imprisonment.

In addition, Aharonovich said, his office would reexamine the topic of business licensing to any businesses found to be running a brothel while abusing the business licenses that they were issued – and will try to cancel the licenses.

Subcommittee chairwoman MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) complimented the enforcement activities currently underway to curb trafficking, and noted their “significant contribution to reducing the phenomenon of women trafficking.”

But Zuaretz also called upon the enforcement agencies to plan ahead for changes in methods of trafficking and employment of women as prostitutes in light of the fact that, according to Zuaretz, the methods of employing the women have become more advanced.

“The minister’s position is consistent with my perspective throughout all of the subcommittee’s hearings, to make the level of punishment for those convicted of trading in women’s bodies more severe. I call upon the police and the other law enforcement authorities to act to try offenders under the existing law that forbids human trafficking and employment under conditions of slavery for the purpose of sex, which includes a sentence of 16 years,” said Zuarets.

In the course of the meeting, police officers reported that in the past two years, they had noted a significant decline in the phenomenon of organized prostitution in Israel, including a decline in the number of victims of women trafficking.

Police representatives did, however, add that with the increase in the number of foreign workers living in Israel – a number that the Immigration Authority places around 200,000 – they have noticed an increase in instances of trafficking of manual laborers. The police officers added that they could not determine whether the incidents were widespread enough to consider them a “phenomenon.” They emphasized that it was still a “rare” occurrence.

The Israel Police said that the number of people working in prostitution in Israel was “a couple thousand,” but NGOs who offer assistance to women involved in prostitution said that they believed the true number to hover around 20,000.

The police also said that at the beginning of the decade, there were estimated to be approximately 3,000 victims of women trafficking in Israel, whereas in 2009, they believed that the number was only a few dozen. The Israel Police attribute the decline to the enforcement efforts by police in the field.

Recent years have also seen a decrease in the number of investigations opened by police into suspected cases of trafficking for prostitution. In 2007, 21 such files were opened by the police whereas in the past two years, a mere 10 investigations have been opened each year.

The data provided by the police was not, however, entirely positive. Although police recorded a decrease in trafficking investigations, there has been an increase in the number of files opened for offenses related to trafficking, including pimping and operating brothels. In the first eight months of 2009, 331 files were opened for trafficking-related offenses – an increase of 84.9% from the overall number of investigations on similar charges in all of 2008.

Fourteen cities are being targeted in a new campaign aimed at alerting people about human trafficking, federal immigration officials have announced.

The “Hidden in Plain Sight” initiative, sponsored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, features billboards highlighting “the horrors and the prevalence of human trafficking,” which the agency says is equivalent to “modern-day slavery.”

The words “Hidden in Plain Sight” are displayed on the advertisements with a toll-free number people can call to report situations where they believe people are being sexually exploited or forced to work against their will.

Cities in the new campaign are Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans; New York; St. Paul, Minn.; San Antonio; San Francisco and Tampa, Fla.

Bruce Foucart, an ICE special agent in charge of New England, said officials hope the billboards persuade residents to report suspected cases to ICE or local law enforcement.

“It’s difficult to identify victims and it’s difficult for them to tell their stories,” said Foucart.

About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked each year around the world and about 17,500 of them end up in the United States, according to ICE. Immigration officials say the victims are lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs but are trafficked into the commercial sex trade, domestic servitude or forced labor.

Foucart said victims who cooperate with law enforcement are offered temporary status and can later apply to stay in the U.S. permanently.

Jozefina Lantz, director of New Americans services at Lutheran Social Services in Worcester, Mass., welcomed the new campaign and said the public is generally unaware that human trafficking is occurring near their homes.

“Often the victims get mistaken for undocumented immigrants,” said Lantz. “It’s not the same because these people were abducted from their homes and forced into trafficking.”

Lantz said her group has recently helped trafficking victims from Africa and South America.–PAsQ4CvGNat2ArgQD9BSUO0O2