Archive for January, 2010

It is with tremendous sadness that UNIFEM learned about the deaths of several women leaders from governmental and civil society organizations in Haiti. Among these were Myriam Merlet, Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Women’s Condition and Rights and founder of the umbrella women’s organization National Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights (CONAP); Myrna Narcisse, Director General of the Ministry of Women’s Condition; Magalie Marcelin, founder of KayFamn, which operates the only shelter for victims of gender-based violence; and Anne-Marie Coriolon, founding member of one of Haiti’s largest women’s groups, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA).

These women had a long history of service and commitment to human rights, gender equality and social justice. Their lives exemplified the character traits of courage, fortitude and optimism. None of them was faint of heart nor easily discouraged by the magnitude of the socio-economic challenges that Haiti confronts.

UNIFEM honours all those women, men and children who lost their lives in the earthquake and pledges its long-term commitment to the task of rebuilding, to supporting in very practical ways the struggles of the Haitian peoples in this very difficult time.

We join Haitians in the knowledge that sustained work undertaken with optimism and good faith is the pathway to the realization of the vision of Haiti characterized by development, equity and peace for all.

See also:
* Women’s movement mourns death of 3 Haitian leaders
* A Directory of Organizations Working In and For Haiti

The possibility of child trafficking in Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake has become a top concern for the United Nations organization that oversees the welfare of children.

Many children have been separated from their parents or caregivers because of the Jan. 12 earthquake, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, making them potential victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation.

“In this type of emergency, children are unfortunately the most vulnerable, especially those who have been abandoned,” UNICEF spokeswoman Veronique Taveau told a news briefing.

UNICEF acknowledged it had received reports of violence against children in Haiti since the quake but would not provide details.

The reports have made it difficult for one Canadian pastor who cares for orphans in Gonaives, located about 150 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince.

Pastor Noel Ismonin has been scouring camps of Haitians left homeless by the quake for orphans to bring back to Gonaives with him, but has found his offers sometimes rejected outright.

“They’re going to be abused,” cried one Haitian man at one tent city, to Ismonin’s dismay.

Later, a man offered to sell Ismonin a young boy in his care for $50. Ismonin refused.

“We’re not trying to take these kids away from their families,” Ismonin told CBC News. “I want to help those who have no mother or father or support for the future.”

UNICEF has partnered with the Haitian government, Red Cross and Save the Children, a non-profit organization, also to identify and register unaccompanied children wandering the chaotic streets of the capital Port-au-Prince, and to re-unite them with their families when possible.

“UNICEF’s position has always been that whatever the humanitarian situation, family reunification must be favoured,” said Taveau.

“If parents are dead or unaccounted for, efforts should be made to reunite a child with his or her extended family, including grandparents,” she said.

Many countries, including Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, have amended their adoption policies to make it easier for citizens to adopt children from Haiti.

Canada has said it would step up processing of immigration applications from Haitians who have Canadian relatives. Haitians temporarily in Canada would be allowed to extend their stay and priority consideration would be given to pending adoption cases.

The United States will temporarily allow entry to orphaned children from Haiti to receive care, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday.

Its “humanitarian parole policy” will be applied to children legally confirmed as orphans who are eligible for adoption in another country by the Haitian government and are being adopted by U.S. citizens.

See also: Call for halt to Haiti adoptions over traffickers

The international community must act to ensure the safety of women and girls following the earthquake in Haiti, ActionAid said on Thursday.

With an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, ActionAid is concerned that women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In one of the camps ActionAid is working in, several women have reported cases of rape or sexual abuse to our staff. Natural disasters can result in vulnerable women being forced to exchange sex for food to feed their families as well as heightened levels of sexual violence as a result of an absence of the rule of law.

In the camp, women have organised a system for the most vulnerable women to be guarded by volunteers at night. Every afternoon a Haitian police officer visits the camp and residents report whoever has been accused of rape. This has significantly lowered the threat and is a positive sign of community self-organisation, but thousands of other women in Haiti remain at risk.

In the coming weeks, ActionAid will be working to strengthen this women’s committee and set up similar systems in other camps.

The example of this camp shows that Haitians are acting themselves to protect women when they can. However, international efforts in the relief operation and in the longer-term rebuilding of the country must include the safety of women as a high priority.

Myra De Bruijn of ActionAid in Haiti said: “Women are always in danger after natural disasters such as earthquakes and we are already hearing reports of rape. Currently these are isolated incidents but they highlight the fact that women are at risk and must be protected.

“After the 2004 Asian tsunami we saw rape, sexual abuse, sexual discrimination and harassment, as well as domestic violence in camps and we have to make sure that does not happen in Haiti.”

ActionAid, which is part of the relief operation in Haiti, will also ensure that women receive appropriate emergency supplies such as clothing, undergarments and sanitary towels, and that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding receive enough food and nutrients.

As a result of the earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010, thousands of persons within Haiti and abroad have lost contact with their loved ones.

The aim of the Family Links website is to accelerate the process of restoring contact between separated family members.

It is managed by the ICRC, in cooperation with the tracing services of the Haitian Red Cross Society and of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world.

The website offers the possibility for persons in Haiti and abroad to publish their own names and the names of relatives with whom they are striving to restore contact.

In Haiti, the Red Cross has not been able yet to collect and publish on the Website the identities and whereabouts of the persons affected by the earthquake. Nevertheless, with the current reinforcement of their activities, the ICRC, together with the Haitian Red Cross, will add on the Website more information on the affected population in Haiti. This will provide more responses to the queries of anxious families who remain without news from their loved ones.

Entries published on the lists can be modified only by the ICRC. If you want to modify details for a name that you entered or delete a name completely, please send us an E-mail.

If your search is not successful, do not hesitate to revisit the website frequently, as everyday, new people are registering themselves.

Also in French

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has issued a call for close to US$2 million to provide urgently needed services for the protection of women and their families. In particular, UNIFEM seeks to rebuild women’s shelters and expand the provision of emergency services for women.

The call for funding is made through the system-wide flash appeal for US$562 million that was issued by the United Nations on 15 January 2010. In order to meet the urgent need for the protection of women and their communities, UNIFEM is also calling upon its National Committees and supporters worldwide to strengthen these fund-raising efforts and boost UNIFEM programming in Haiti.

As part of the overall UN effort in the country, the UNIFEM team in Haiti will work alongside NGO partners to strengthen services to victims of gender-based violence and their families in women’s centres and temporary shelters in Port au Prince and Jacmel. The money raised will go towards a range of efforts from emergency community-based violence prevention programmes to repairing damage of existing centres and providing humanitarian aid like emergency supplies, staff and counselling services in communities most affected. UNIFEM will also focus on coordination efforts to ensure that emergency and early recovery assessment and assistance incorporate a gender perspective to adequately address the differentiated needs of women, men and children.

UNIFEM’s work on the ground shows that too often natural disasters result in greater household and institutional instability and to increasing women’s vulnerability to violence, abuse and sexual exploitation. “This terrible humanitarian disaster is likely to impact girls, boys, women and men in different ways,” UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi said. “UNIFEM is committed along with its partners and the UN system to working to ensure that attention is given to addressing these differential impacts and in particular for ensuring the personal security of women and girls.”

See also:
* After the Quake, Depend on Women
* Work in Haiti/Work with Women. A gender responsive approach
* Why “women and children first” persists – We talk to experts about painful choices in the Haiti relief effort
* Peril Or Protection: The Link Between Livelihoods and Gender-based Violence in Displacement Settings
* Meeting Haitian Women’s Specific Needs
* Providing Gender Responsive Aid in Haiti
* Haiti’s Quake Will Disproportionately Impact Women and Girls

Changes in Conference Needed to Preserve Abortion Neutrality

Opponents and supporters of abortion rights agreed early on, in theory, to maintain the “status quo” with “abortion neutral” health care legislation. The idea was that health care reform is not the appropriate place to continue the fight over abortion and neither side should attempt to use health care reform as a vehicle to further expand or restrict access to abortion.

Unfortunately, neither health reform bill preserves the status quo on abortion. The Stupak Amendment in the House bill is more restrictive than the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill, but both impose new and unprecedented restrictions on abortion coverage in private insurance plans. Specifically:

Under current law, federal money cannot be spent on an abortion unless it threatens the woman’s life or results from rape or incest. However, there are no federal restrictions on abortion coverage in private health plans and 87 percent of typical employer plans offer abortion coverage.

Under the Senate bill private insurance companies would have to separate private premiums from federal subsidies and only use the former to pay for abortion services to ensure that no federal money would be spent on abortion beyond what is currently allowed. State insurance commissioners would have to make sure companies in their state comply with the segregation requirements. Despite these precautions insurers would also have to charge enrollees two premiums each month-one for abortion coverage and one for all other coverage.

The House bill goes beyond prohibitions on direct federal funding of abortion and bars federal subsidies to health plans that include abortion services. Abortion could be offered in a health plan only if the plan accepted no federal subsidies, leaving only 14 percent of insurance exchange participants eligible to purchase such a plan, or abortion coverage could be purchased through a separate rider that is unlikely to be sold or purchased.

The two bills must now be reconciled in order for each chamber of Congress to take a final vote on a merged health reform bill. Simple changes to the Senate version, such as removal of the two-premium requirement, would prevent new restrictions on abortion coverage and preserve the status quo. But whether those changes can and will be made remains to be seen.

This PDF chart explains the current law on abortion funding and shows how each bill would change the status quo.

See also:

Senate Health Care Bill Passes With Unacceptable Restrictions on Women’s Rights; There Is Still Time To Reverse the Damage
Statement of Terry O’Neill, NOW President

New government data suggesting high levels of sexual abuse of confined youth in the United States should galvanize the Department of Justice to swiftly issue national standards to end prison rape, Human Rights Watch has said.

According to the first National Survey of Youth in Custody, released today by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 10 youth in state juvenile facilities and large non-state facilities reported sexual victimization by staff in the previous twelve months. Another 2.6 percent reported sexual victimization at the hands of other youth. Youth who are not heterosexual are at particular risk: 1 in 5 reported sexual abuse by staff or other youth. In the very worst facilities, 20 to more than 30 percent of all youth reported abuse. Â

“The widespread sexual abuse of children in juvenile facilities shows that public officials either aren’t paying attention or can’t be bothered to do the right thing,” said Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The high rates of victimization are powerful testimony to the failure of governments to safeguard the boys and girls in their care.”

Six months ago, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, created by the National Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), released a report documenting the nature, causes, and prevalence of rape in adult and juvenile detention facilities. Fellner was one of the eight commissioners. Based on extensive research and consultations with corrections experts and other stakeholders across the country, the Commission proposed comprehensive, effective standards for the prevention, detection, and punishment of prison rape.

Under the terms of PREA, the attorney general of the United States has one year from receipt of the Commission’s proposed standards to issue final standards. Although the Justice Department has created a working group to address prison rape, it has not issued any standards nor indicated that it will do so any time soon.

“Every day Attorney General Eric Holder fails to promulgate national prison rape elimination standards is another day in which kids and adults are being abused behind bars,” Fellner said. “The attorney general already has on his desk proposed standards that reflect the best thinking and effective practices to end this widespread scourge. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or to delay moving forward.”
Areas covered by the commission’s proposed standards include: supervision; screening for vulnerability to abuse; medical and mental health services; reporting mechanisms; investigations; staff training; administrative sanctions; internal monitoring; and external audits.

Holiday care has fallen through the cracks of Australia’s childcare debate but is looming as a flashpoint in workplace relations, as parents and unions push for greater flexibility.

Women’s groups are demanding a Productivity Commission inquiry into school holiday and before and after-school care because of the long-term impact on working mothers and families.

While holiday care is usually juggled by parents using a mix of relatives, friends and commercial programs, it is typically women who opt out of paid work or take lower-status, less-secure jobs to cover the eight-week gap between a worker’s annual leave and 12 weeks of school holidays.

Women will regularly trade away pay, conditions and workplace prestige for jobs beneath their educational and professional levels to cope with holidays, said Dr Sara Charlesworth, an RMIT expert in industrial legislation and part-time work.

”They will choose part-time work and trade off job quality in many instances so they are able to manage the sometimes insurmountable issue of vacation care,” Dr Charlesworth said.

”The problem is there is not a central regulator for before and after-school care or vacation care so we don’t know what the shortfall [in supply] is.”

ACTU president Sharan Burrow agreed parents had been left high and dry on the holiday issue, although new national employment standards gave them the right to request flexible working arrangements, which could help some balance their work and family responsibilities.

”Possible arrangements during school holidays could include changed starting and finishing times, part-time work, or working from home,” she said. ”There is also a clear need for more access to affordable services such as school-holiday care programs. Unions will be campaigning for more of these services this year.”

Many union-negotiated collective agreements also include options such as 50/52 arrangements, where employees gain additional annual leave in return for a salary reduction.

”If we value women’s participation in the workforce, we have to provide more services and options to enable mothers to seek employment,” Ms Burrow said.

The National Foundation of Australian Women wants the government to tackle the childcare imbalance because of its impact on women’s financial wellbeing and retirement funds.

”It’s high time attention is focused not only on childcare for children under school age, but also on the needs of school-aged children,” the foundation told a recent government inquiry into the collapse of ABC Learning Centres.

”The lack of availability of affordable, accessible, acceptable-quality care for school-aged children (6-15 years) out of school hours, including during vacations, is a major cause of disadvantage in relation to women’s workforce participation.”

Part-time work affects immediate pay rates, advancement to better-paid positions and the likelihood of poverty in retirement, the group warned.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 42 per cent of working couple families use some childcare for schoolchildren aged five to 14 years.

The main sources are grandparents (18 per cent) and before/after school care (11 per cent). No exclusive statistics have been gathered on the demand for and use of formal and informal vacation care.

In Europe and the United States, working families have traditionally used summer camps to cover the long school holiday breaks, but it is a fledgling industry in Australia struggling with parental resistance to costs and the idea of children being left in the care of strangers.

New State Government regulations enforcing health and safety standards and ratios of carers to children on long-stay or day-care vacation programs have caused some operators to close down or cancel programs this summer.

Many private operators contacted by The Sunday Age reported a 10 to 15 per cent drop in bookings as families cut back in the wake of the financial crisis.

The governor of Värmland, western Sweden, has called for action to track the marital lives of men that habitually wed foreign women after it is revealed the region has the highest number of so-called wife importers in the country.

“We are asking for a specific commission from the government to find measures to reduce the number of these wife importers,” said county governor Eva Eriksson to news agency TT.

The present problem is the lack of accessible knowledge about the men who repeatedly tie the knot with women from abroad.

It is believed the men are abusing a Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) rule, which states that a foreign wife can be deported if the marriage ends within two years.

The National Organisation for Women’s and Girls’ Shelters in Sweden (Roks) has surveyed how many women coming to Sweden to marry end up seeking help through their women’s centres.

In 2008, 38 out of 515 women who needed assistance were living in Värmland where the situation is significantly worse than in Sweden’s big cities.

By way of comparison, there is one case per 7,000 inhabitants in Värmland and one case per 19,000 residents in Stockholm.

“We could obtain information about which men are exploiting the system from the migration authorities but at present those records are confidential and protected by law,” said Angela Beausang, chairwoman of Roks.

“In order to help the women from winding up in the clutches of these men, we would like the element of confidentiality to be removed,” she added.

* Rape under-reported but more victims coming forward
* Women try to burn themselves to escape misery

Rape occurs all too often in Afghanistan and is under-reported, but more victims are agreeing to report the incidents, a Canadian government report on Afghan human rights has concluded.

“Rape is widely believed to be a frequent occurrence, though its true extent is concealed by under-reporting owing to the social stigma attached to it,” stated the 2008 report, publicized on Thursday.

“There does, however, appear to be signs of increasing willingness on the part of victims to report rape, and on the part of the authorities to investigate and prosecute some cases.”

It cited President Hamid Karzai’s call in 2008 for rapists “to face the country’s most severe punishment,” following a public outcry after a 12-year-old girl was raped in Sari Pul province.

The report, released after an Access to Information request by the Canadian Press, said self-immolation by women is increasingly being used “to escape their dire circumstances”.

In Herat, it cited the head of the provincial hospital’s burn unit as saying 80 women tried to burn themselves in 2008, many of whom died.

It said the British-based group Womankind had determined that 87 percent of Afghan women complained of being victims of violence, half of it sexual. It said more than half of marriages involve girls under 16.

On a positive note, it said that the number of girls in school had gone from near zero during Taliban rule to 2 million now, and total school enrollment had risen to 6 million from 1 million.

Canada has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002 and currently has 2,800 soldiers there.

The Pakistani government should quickly reintroduce legislation to protect women and children from domestic violence, Human Rights Watch said last week.

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, but the bill lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within the three months required under the country’s constitution.

“Victims of domestic violence have long faced a double injustice – abuse at home and then no protection from the government,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The proposed law has widespread support in Pakistan, and the government should make passing it a priority.”

Legislators from both opposition and government parties told Human Rights Watch that even though President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani supported the bill, it was delayed by unofficial opposition from some ministers who had privately urged members of Islamist parties to oppose the bill in the upper house. Islamist parties had not opposed the bill in the National Assembly.

“It is appalling that ministers from a political party committed to empowering and protecting women and led by a woman for 25 years are trying to undermine their own government’s legislative agenda,” Hasan said.

The Domestic Violence bill seeks to prevent violence against women and children with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt criminal trials for suspected abusers. The bill defines domestic violence as including, though not being limited to, “all intentional acts of gender-based or other physical or psychological abuse committed by an accused against women, children or other vulnerable persons, with whom the accused person is or has been in a domestic relationship.”

The bill requires the court to set a hearing within three days of receiving a complaint and to adjudicate the case within 30 days. The law prescribes incremental terms of imprisonment and fines for each breach of a protection order.

Human Rights Watch said that an amendment to the penal code passed in November that criminalizes the sexual harassment of women is a step forward.

The measure makes sexual harassment or intimidation punishable by three years in prison, a 500,000 rupee fine [US $6,000], or both. The bill includes protection in public places such as markets, public transport, streets, or parks, and more private settings, such as workplaces, private gatherings, and homes.

“The new sexual harassment protections in the penal code are some of the most impressive and extensive in South Asia,” Hasan said. “If it displays the will, Pakistan’s government can be a regional leader in safeguarding women’s rights.”

Human Rights Watch called on the government to submit a companion bill to the sexual harassment measure to provide a mechanism to investigate complaints. The new law provides legal protections without putting in place the mechanisms needed to give female workers access to the protections, Human Rights Watch said.

The companion measure should oblige employers to abide by a code of conduct, provide a mechanism for punishing wilful violators, and offer victims counselling and medical treatment.

“Pakistan’s parliament has passed only half the legislation needed against sexual harassment,” Hasan said. “If the government is serious about protecting women, it should present the companion measure for parliamentary approval immediately.”

Following public outrage over the perceived injustice meted out in the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case, a group of women’s organisations have demanded a comprehensive legislation to deal with cases of sexual assault and rape.

The organisations, including All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and National Federation of Indian Women, suggested widening the definition of rape and molestation to bring it in conformity with international standards and ensure that there are no legal loopholes.

A delegation led by CPM leader Brinda Karat met law minister M Veerappa Moily to press for speedier trails and procedural changes that would ensure justice was meted out.

“The minister assured us that he would convene a meeting of nodal ministries of home affairs and women and child development to discuss the bill. We have already submitted a comprehensive draft of urgent amendments in the criminal law,” Kirti Singh, AIDWA legal convener, said.

The delegation asked the ministry to introduce various other sections on cases of protracted sexual assault and sexual assault by guardians under the IPC.

Besides Karat, the delegation included Sudha Sundararaman and Kirti Singh (AIDWA), Primila Loomba and Usha Shrivastav (NFIW).

The organisations have urged that the definition of rape should include oral and anal intercourse. They also urged that the law should come down heavily on guardians and those who are responsible for caring for children and are found to be offenders.

The organisations are, however, against making laws gender neutral. “We feel since there are no reported cases where women have been accused of molesting or sexually assaulting men, there is no need for a gender neutral law. It is liable to be misused,” Sundararaman said.

If you insult your wife or husband repeatedly, you could soon find yourself in court if you live in France. The charge? Psychological violence. That’s what the new offence will be called if a bill backed by the government is passed by parliament.

Once considered a purely private domain, rows between married or cohabiting couples could now prompt intervention from the state. The French government wants to take the controversial step of introducing a new law banning “psychological violence” between married couples or partners living together.

But there are questions about how such an offence could be proved. Many people fear that courts might find it tricky to assess the rival claims of squabbling couples.

But the government says it would allow the authorities to deal with mental and verbal abuse in couples which leaves no visible scars, but where the victims are often badly damaged psychologically.

Even supporters of the bill have concerns about how courts could prosecute a crime for which there is unlikely to be any physical evidence.

Psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen is an authority on psychological violence but she said she was “cautious” about a new law because she fears it might be easily misused.

“I think it’s important to have a law but it must be formulated so there isn’t too much risk of manipulation or mistakes,” she told me. “I treat people whose lives have been torn apart but they haven’t been hit. There are no physical marks, no proof.”

Dr Hirigoyen suggested that recordings of phone calls could be used as evidence – along with medical and psychiatric assessments.

Lawyer Laurent Hincker, a fervent supporter of the bill, said it would not be the only crime on the books that is difficult to prove.

“There are other crimes which are also hard to prove, such as bullying or harassment in the workplace,” he said. “For a long time people said you can’t have a law against bullying because it’s too difficult to prove, but now there is a law and people get convicted.”

One problem is that the concept of psychological violence may be hard to define.

But Dr Hirigoyen said it was obvious to a professional. “It’s a relationship which is based on control and domination – and if you want to prevent physical violence, you have to take action early on,” she said.

Dr Hirigoyen said psychological violence was often the first step towards physical violence. “But even if there are no physical blows, it’s still devastating,” she added.

Last year the French government launched a TV campaign to increase awareness of psychological violence.

The campaign featured a 30-second spot produced by a film director, Jacques Audiard. It shows a man who denigrates and insults his wife. It also links physical violence with mental abuse.

On average, almost three women die each week in France after being assaulted by a partner or ex-partner.

The government says if the authorities can deal with psychological violence, physical violence can be prevented or reduced.

But many members of the public have misgivings about how a law would work in practice.

Parliament is almost certain to pass this controversial bill on psychological violence.

It is backed by Prime Minister Francois Fillon and key members of the governing party.

And the move is being welcomed by women’s groups – and by those, like Gabrielle, who believe it could save women from mental breakdown and the threat of physical violence.

Part of a longer article at

UPDATE: Canada: Polygamist leader suing B.C. government
Winston Blackmore, the leader of a polygamous community in southeastern British Columbia who has admitted to having multiple wives, is suing the provincial government for violating his rights when he was charged last year. Mr. Blackmore and James Oler, both leaders of separate factions in Bountiful, B.C., were arrested in January 2009 and each charged with practising polygamy, two decades after police first starting looking into the community near the United States border. The charges were thrown out last fall after the men’s lawyers successfully argued in court that the decision of a previous special prosecutor not to lay charges was final.

Iran: Call for release of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience
The International Solidarity network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, joins civil society groups and organisations such as Amnesty International, The Feminist school, The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and The Observatory in condemning the recent wave of arrests of over 18 women’s rights activists and the harsh sentences passed on three journalists in December 2009 and January 2010.

UPDATE: Saudi Arabia: Sentence on 75-year-old woman not yet carried out
The Hail Emirate has received official orders to implement the recent sentence handed down against the defendants in the case of Khamisa Sawadi, issued by members of the Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice in the City of Shamli (170 kilometers south of Hail), which was known in the media as ‘The case of the elderly woman of Shamli’. Saudi sources have confirmed to Emirati newspaper, Gulf News, that the woman is still in her house and the sentence has not been carried out yet.

Nepali widows and their advocates are pushing back at a government proposal to pay engaged couples for a widow’s remarriage. Not only is the law like a new form of dowry, they say, many widows feel better off staying single and earning their own incomes.

The government has proposed helping widows here by paying engaged couples about $670 when they marry and the wife is a widow.

But Women for Human Rights, single women group, a leading local advocacy organization for widows based in Kathmandu, isn’t pleased.

Last summer, shortly after the government announced the idea, the group staged a protest that drew about 1,500 participants to sound off against the government’s proposal.

Rajin Rayamajhi, a lawyer with Women for Human Rights, likened the proposal to “buying and selling a woman.”

Many single women, as widows here prefer to be called, are illiterate and only 2 percent have higher education. Rayamajhi said the proposal would be difficult for many to understand. This makes them vulnerable to men who would marry them for the money and then leave, taking all the funds.

She also slammed the payments for increasing the risk of violence and trafficking once widows were again under the control of a husband. Critics further say that the proposed legislation encourages a different kind of dowry, though the Nepali government has been trying to eliminate that system, and advances the notion that a woman’s security and empowerment is dependent on marriage and men.

Women for Human Rights filed a case with the Supreme Court in October against the Nepali government, the prime minister and the finance minister to compel their withdrawal of the policy. In November, the court ordered the government to demonstrate why the legislation should not be withdrawn.

Lily Thapa, 49, the founder and executive director of Women for Human Rights, stressed that independence for widows is their first priority. Her organization has won several cases that secure citizenship and property rights for single women, including one in the Supreme Court in early 2009 that allowed widows to inherit from their deceased spouses, even if they remarry.

“We encourage very young widows to get remarried,” Thapa said, “but before that we encourage her to be independent on her own.”

While waiting for the government’s response, Thapa has met with policymakers and continues to lobby them to use the funds for skills training, job placements, health care for widows and free education for their children instead.

Her group also hopes to get the government to give the poorest widows monthly allowances regardless of age. As the law currently stands, only widows over the age of 60 get just under $7 each month.

When a woman’s husband dies, in many parts of Nepal the loss she suffers is much more than just a spouse.

Single women are not to wear jewelry or bright colors, especially red; they are not to eat meat or seasoned food; not allowed to participate in celebrations; and often not even allowed to touch other people. Their increased dependency on living relatives makes them more vulnerable to, and often the victims of, verbal, physical and sexual abuse and frequently their property and inheritance rights are violated. The practice of Sati, where women were ritually burned on their husband’s funeral pyres, was outlawed a century ago.

“One minute you have everything and the next it’s gone,” said Thapa, whose own husband died 20 years ago while serving as a physician with the United Nations in the first Iraq War. She was left with three sons aged 4, 9 and 10.

Almost immediately her relatives forcibly removed her treasured diamond nose ring, which she’d worn since receiving it at 14 from her parents as a gift for completing high school. She was made to wear colorless clothing and at her brother’s wedding she was not allowed to help with the preparations. As a widow, she was considered bad luck.

Today Thapa again wears a nose ring, bracelets and brightly-colored clothes. She hasn’t remarried and said she doesn’t want to. She is not alone.

In the 15 years since Women for Human Rights began, the group has established 225 single women’s groups across 52 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In all, it has organized about 44,000 widows. Thapa said that 99 percent of the single women she has met in that time would prefer not to remarry.

Close to 70 percent of widows in Nepal are between 20 to 35 and have, on average, three to four children. Thapa said they worry primarily about their children and whether a second husband would properly care for them. Often, she said, stepchildren are not treated well or rejected by second spouses. Second marriages are also considered taboo, so even if a woman did want to remarry she would still encounter stigma for her choice.

“I don’t have an interest,” Bhagawati Satyal, 28, said of remarriage last month through a translator. Her husband died accidentally in 1999 after falling from the roof of a hotel where he worked in Kathmandu. “If I remarry, I’ll have to again be dependent on my husband. Now I am independent.”

Satyal now works with Women for Human Rights in the Single Women Entrepreneur Group preparing catered lunches for sale. She said she earns enough to support herself and her 10-year-old daughter, as well as to help her in-laws and their small farm.

The elderly couple, who Satyal said stigmatized her after her husband’s death, have since come to live with her instead of their remaining son because she can better provide for them.

Dale Davis, Nepal project director for the Centre for Development and Population Activities, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to improve the lives of women and girls in the developing world, said that after marriage traditionally Nepali women move into their husband’s homes, becoming part of his family.

In a country where arranged marriages are still the norm, it is not customary to secure another marriage if a woman’s husband dies, Davis said.

She reiterated Thapa’s observation that for many single women the practical challenges of caring for children and insuring their livelihoods–not remarriage–are paramount concerns, especially for less affluent or poorly educated village women.

“Now that they have lost their breadwinner,” she said in a telephone interview, “survival is the most important issue.”

Satyal said she hoped a government proposal to assist widows would focus more on their children.

“I thought they would bring something beneficial to my children,” she said. “I felt the policy commodified single women and tagged them with 50,000 rupees. Is my price only 50,000 rupees?”

Renu Sharma, president and founder of the Kathmandu-based Women’s Foundation of Nepal, a nonprofit advocacy group formed in 1988, said that with job opportunities single women will have better chances of rebuilding their lives and overcoming cultural discrimination. Her organization currently houses 20 single women in its shelter for victims of violence.

“If women are skillful, can get a job and be independent, then society will accept her,” Sharma said in a recent telephone interview.

For some women, however, remarriage is beside the point. What matters more is earning broad social recognition that even as single women they are equal, capable and free to live their lives as they wish.

“Marriage is not the only thing,” said Rekha Subedi, 31, another member of the Single Women Entrepreneur Group. “Even by living single we can do something by ourselves.

A Mexican girl who was held captive by human traffickers and later managed to escape tells Channel 4 News how she witnessed babies and children being “sold to order” to American citizens.

The Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC says the girl, known only as Maria, had “significant information” and possessed a “remarkable memory” of her experiences inside the gang.

In a chilling interview with Channel 4 News the teenager tells of a cross-border trade in babies and young children, where Mexican and US gangs worked together to supply a demand in the United States.

Her interview with the programme has prompted US authorities to launch a criminal investigation and in late December agents flew the teenager to the United States for a full interview after Channel 4 News alerted authorities.

Maria was 16-years-old when she was lured into the gang by a young man on the streets of the deadly Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez.

Since the 1990s thousands of women have disappeared from the town, and hundreds of bodies bearing signs of rape and sexual mutilation were dumped on waste ground in the city.

Thousands more have never returned.

Despite international coverage of the story including a film starring Jennifer Lopez, the disappearances continue.

In 2009, 55 teenage girls vanished in the town, which has been gripped by violence as two drug cartels fight a lethal turf war for cocaine smuggling routes to America.

Whilst investigating the fate of the missing girls Channel 4 News correspondent Nick Martin and producer Guillermo Galdos discovered Maria and carried out the interview whilst she was in hiding.

Few girls return after going missing and Maria’s interview sheds light on the fate of so many in her position.

She said she had been given presents and promised a job in an office by the gang member but was instead drugged and raped and sold to men. She explained what the gang did to one girl who tried to escape.

“They took a gallon of gasoline and started pouring it over her,” said Maria.

“One of the men told me ‘if you don’t do as I say I will do the same to you’. I wanted to look away – but they didn’t let me.

“Even though the girl was on fire they kept hitting her. They were laughing as if they were enjoying what they were doing.

“They burnt her alive.”

Maria, which is not her real name, said the gang held young women in a house on the Mexican border until they were sold to the US as sex slaves. But she said they also dealt in children and told of on one occasion when the gang was contacted by a woman in New York.

“She called and was very angry. She said she needed a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy – and she needed them in three days.”

Maria told Special Agents that the gang would prowl the streets of poor areas and look for children.

“They stole the children,” she said. “One of the gang members took a six-year-old kid. I had to look after him for three hours. He told me he wanted to see his mummy.

“Then I started crying, I said: “I don’t think you’re ever going to see your mummy again.” All he kept saying was I want to see my mummy.”

US officials have a keen interest in this case. As a result of the interview US officials have begun investigating along with the Mexican authorities.

Maria, who managed to escape after a gang member left her alone in a house, says children were often around. But not for long.

“I saw the Americans taking kids,” she said. “A four-year-old and another boy, he barely walked, he was only about two years old. They took them to New York.”

The US State Department estimates that more than 20,000 young women and children are trafficked across the border from Mexico each year. But conviction rates remain low.

Mexico’s Attorney General Arturo Chavez has been accused of not doing enough to bring human traffickers to justice but insisted it was an issue the country was “definitely focussing on.”

Maria has been told that she could have to give evidence against the gang of they are caught. It is something she says she is determined to do.

“Women are sold, they are abducted, bought and even killed by these men. If these men are ever found, jail won’t be enough to make them pay for the way they’ve made us feel.”

Declaring that abortions “delay the redemption,” Israel’s chief rabbis have pledged to “strengthen” the work of an anti-abortion council in the rabbinate and urged state-employed rabbis to take other steps to reduce abortions.

In a letter sent out on last week, Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger encourage local rabbis to devote their Shabbat sermons to speaking against abortions, distribute anti-abortion literature to couples registering for marriage at religious councils, and work in coordination with the pro-life organization Efrat to encourage grassroots opposition to abortions.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Metzger told The Jerusalem Post that it was important to encourage fertility and discourage abortions, in part, to fight a demographic war. “I am sorry to say that our enemies are multiplying,” said Metzger.

The letter was sent out to all city, neighborhood, settlement and local council rabbis on the state payroll throughout the nation.

These rabbis are urged to devote their Shabbat sermon next week, January 9, when the reading of the book of Exodus begins, to emphasizing the severe halachic prohibition against abortions.

The first chapter of Exodus features the story of the Hebrew midwives Pu’ah and Shifra, who refused to listen to the king of Egypt’s order to kill all male babies: “But the midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded.” The rabbinate has traditionally seen the reading of this biblical verse as marking an opportunity to speak out to the faithful against performing abortions, a spokesman said.

Reference made in the rabbis’ letter to the connection between abortions and the final redemption is based on the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Niddah which states that each baby that is born brings the redemption closer. “The redemption does not take place until all the souls are brought out of their storing place,” states the Talmud.

The letter announces that an anti-abortion council set up two years ago, headed by Chief Rabbi of Beersheba Yehuda Deri, will be “strengthened,” but offers no further details.

Local religious councils are requested to continue to pass out anti-abortion literature to couples who register for marriage. This literature has been distributed for the past 25 years, according to the letter.

In addition, local rabbis are advised to consult with Dr. Eli J. Schussheim, head of Efrat, if they plan anti-abortion rallies in their respective towns.

The country’s rabbis were notified in the letter that “the vast majority of abortions are unnecessary, and Halacha severely prohibits them”.

Figures provided by Efrat’s Schussheim during a presentation before the chief rabbinate two years ago showed that a total of 50,000 abortions are performed annually in Israel, 20,000 of which are legal while the rest are performed illegally.

“Rabbis have a role in encouraging their communities to have children and to discourage abortions. It is the best weapon against our enemies,” Metzger said.

He added that there were cases in which Halacha permitted performing abortions, “such as when there is a danger to the mother’s life or in extreme welfare situations.

“However, the rabbinate has adopted Efrat, which saves between 4,000 and 5,000 babies a year by providing pregnant mothers with financial and psychological support during their pregnancy,” he said.

Irit Rosenblum, head of New Family, an organization fighting to prevent religious influence in marital and birth issues, said the rabbinate’s initiative constituted blatant intervention by men in women’s decisions regarding their bodies.

“You have bunch of men, who do not allow women to participate in their gatherings, who are telling women what to do with their bodies,” said Rosenblum. “Why are they interfering? Do they think a woman does not know how to decide on her own what she does with her body?”

Rosenblum said that she sent a letter to MKs urging them to prevent the rabbinate’s intervention.

Rosenblum voiced concern in her letter that if pressure is put on women not to have an abortion they will have one anyway, but in substandard conditions in a way that could endanger their lives.

“It seems to me that in the 21st century there is not room for the intervention of religious figures. We must not abandon women who are in need of a termination of pregnancy, and we must allow it for every woman that demands it, in the most professional and safe way possible.”

“I am not shocked by this announcement,” said one women’s rights activist who has been involved in fighting the Rabbinical Courts on the issue of agunot (women denied a divorce by their husbands) for many years. “Israel is becoming more and more fundamentalist, and this is just another step to further control women’s rights and sexuality.”

She added: “We are moving backwards, and I think it’s about time that women’s rights groups get together and take note of what is really happening here. This step is in sync with what is happening in the rabbinical courts.”

A push by doctors and pro-choice activists to have abortion decriminalised in Queensland has been formally refused.

State Attorney-General Cameron Dick has officially responded to 4368 petitioners who called for Queensland to remove abortion from its Criminal Code in the wake of a Cairns couple being committed to trial for procuring an abortion.

“The Premier has made clear that the government has no plans to undertake a wider review of the general abortion laws,” Mr Dick wrote in his response, tabled in Queensland parliament on Christmas Eve.

“Any move to change the legislative provisions concerning abortion would have to be introduced as a private member’s bill and be subject to a conscience vote. The Premier has indicated that she would not seek to bind any of her colleagues to a particular position.”

More than 6000 Queenslanders signed an opposing petition arguing to keep the legislation as it is.

The abortion debate was reignited in Queensland with the laying of criminal charges against Cairns couple Tegan Leach, 19, and Sergie Brennan, 21, for allegedly procuring an abortion using drugs imported from Ukraine.

The pair were committed to trial in September. If convicted, Ms Leach faces up to seven years’ jail and Mr Brennan a maximum of three years.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has pushed for abortion to be decriminalised in Queensland. There was also concern among doctors that the laying of charges against Ms Leach and Mr Brennan would mean medical abortions — as opposed to the surgical termination of pregnancies — would be illegal.

The Bligh government moved to clarify the law and amendments were passed in September to extend legal protection to those medical practitioners who carry out medical terminations.

Mr Dick’s decision has attracted praise from anti-abortion groups and criticism from those who are pro-choice.

Australian Christian Lobby chief of staff Lyle Shelton said the decision showed “integrity” on the Bligh government’s behalf.

Queensland is one of the few states to retain criminal sanctions against abortion on the statute books.

Caroline de Costa, the Cairns-based professor of obstetrics who suspended her abortion service using the drug RU486 after Ms Leach and Mr Brennan were charged by police, said the Attorney-General’s decision meant Queensland was out of step with the rest of Australia.

“Keeping (abortion) in the Criminal Code means it’s a grey area for the public and also for doctors,” she said.

In early December, a woman diagnosed with HIV filed a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, charging that Chile did not protect her from being forcibly sterilized at a state hospital after she gave birth.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Chilean based HIV/AIDS service organization Vivo Positivo, submitted a petition on her behalf. In the petition the 27-year-old woman from Chile, who goes by the initials F.S. argues that the hospital operated on her because of her HIV status. She was not asked for her consent.

Luisa Cabal, director of the international program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “Forced sterilization is a violation of a woman’s most basic human rights and is all too often committed against members of vulnerable groups, which deserve special protection, such as women living with HIV.” She went on to say that it’s time that the Chilean government respect the human rights of all its citizens.

F.S. was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 after learning she was pregnant. She went to the Curico Hospital for treatment during her pregnancy. She never requested sterilization and her husband planned on having more children. Vivo Positivo did a study in Chile in 2004 and found that of the women living with HIV who had been sterilized, 29% had been pressured by medical staff to do so, and 12.9% did not give their consent. The study also found that the majority of the women had received counseling promoting the idea that HIV women should not become pregnant. With the appropriate measures the risk of transmitting the virus to the newborn can be reduced to less than two percent.

Executive Director of Vivo Positivo said that despite proof to the contrary, the Ministry of Health and the Chilean Courts decided that F.S.’s rights were not violated.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo argue that Chile has violated F.S.’s right to be free from discrimination, and also her right to decide on the number and spacing of her children, “the right to be free from violence, and the right to have access to justice.” All these rights are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women.

The Center and Vivo Positivo are asking that the Commission recommend that Chile acknowledge the fact that F.S.’s human rights were violated, give her monetary compensation, and adopt policies that do not impinge upon reproductive choices of women with HIV.,0

IPS Gender Wire – up to 15th December 2009

CLIMATE CHANGE: Latin American Women Want Modified Trade Rules

GENDER: U.N. Women’s Treaty Weakened by Slew of Reservations

MALAWI: Women Fight Harmful Cultural Practices

Q&A: “Poverty Kills Women’s Awareness”

RIGHTS-INDIA: Women Rally Together to Fight Injustice

RIGHTS: U.N. Still to Accredit Its First U.S. LGBT Group

RIGHTS-TANZANIA: ‘I Feel Like Less of a Woman’

MEDIA-ASIA: Forget ‘Gender’

SIERRA LEONE: Woman Breaking Traditional Walls in Chieftaincy Elections

MALAYSIA: Lack of Regulation Blamed for HIV Upsurge among Women

CLIMATE CHANGE: Adaptation Funds Must Reach Africa’s Women Farmers

RIGHTS: Dispute Over Veil Spreads Across Egypt

POLITICS: Zimbabwe Blasted for Condoning “Sexual Terror”

Q&A: Bolivian Women a Force Behind Power, But Still Powerless

IPS Gender Wire – 22nd December 2009

DEVELOPMENT: Women Chiefs Change Indian Villages

CAMBODIA: Media Still Struggling to Break Gender Barriers

EGYPT: Cheap Bread Frees Women to Work

SOUTH AFRICA: Hard Lessons for Small Business on the West Coast

RIGHTS-INDIA: Hi-Tech Beats Sex Selection Ban

RIGHTS-EGYPT: Bloggers Name and Shame Torturers

INDIA: Teacher Training For Gender Sensitive Schooling

JAPAN: Careers On Hold For Most Women

SOUTH KOREA: Low Birth Rate Blamed on Women

SOUTH SUDAN: Women Perpetuate Culture of Submission

NEPAL: Widows Break Tradition – Wear Red

IPS Gender Wire – up to 30th December 2009

GENDER/LANGUAGE: Rejecting the Derogatory ‘Feminine’

RIGHTS-JAPAN: Privacy Invaded in Sex Crime Trial

SOUTH SUDAN: A More Gender Representative Leadership

Q&A: Healing the Wounds of War Through Yoga

NEPAL: Witch Tag Only on Dalits, Minorities

RIGHTS: Gender Empowerment at U.N. Still Cloudy