Archive for March, 2010

The effects of the earthquake that struck Haiti some two and a half months ago have reverberated across the country. Both in and beyond the capital, Port-au-Prince, progress made in tackling long-standing human rights issues – including the problem of gender-based violence against women and girls – seems a distant memory.

In too many cases, the most vulnerable have been the victims of exploitation and abuse.

Five grassroots advocates travelled many miles recently for a chance to speak with UNICEF Haiti Gender-Based Violence Specialist Catherine Maternowska.

The six met in the backyard of small cement house located off a residential dirt road. Despite the importance they attached to this meeting, each of the three men and three women in attendance was patient and respectful.

By the meeting’s end, the situation report was bleak: Like the capital’s overcrowded settlements for displaced people, the modest homes of host families in rural regions are under increasing duress. Daily life in the close quarters of a tent or one-room house has taken away any semblance of privacy. Come nightfall, poorly located latrines – or the complete lack thereof – require women and children to steal away to unlit areas. Few people feel safe.

“Since the earthquake, as the population here has increased, so have we seen an increase in cases of violence against women,” said Anse-a-Pitre Justice of the Peace Marc-Anglade Payoute. “The police and the justice system, we’re doing everything possible. We’re continuing to pursue arrests.”

For Ms. Maternowska the problem isn’t new or surprising: Emergencies increase the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence. She stresses, however, that such violence can be avoided. Local women’s, men’s and non-governmental organizations; the justice system; all UN actors; and the media all have crucial roles to play.

“Sexual violence is not inevitable,” says Ms. Maternowska. “Haiti’s women’s movement has worked long and hard to change archaic Haitian laws that put women and girls at a grave disadvantage from the day they are born. Today in Haiti, support groups are teaching both men and women how to prevent violence, as well as how to create safe spaces for their daughters.”

In the aftermath of earthquake, UNICEF staff members have met with nearly a dozen groups in south-eastern Haiti, working to create an effective referral system for survivors of violence. Small plastic-coated referral cards, printed in Haitian Creole, instruct victims on where to go for medical care and support. The cards were developed by UNICEF, in collaboration with the Haitian Government, the International Rescue Committee, and UNFPA.

“Information is key,” says Ms. Maternowska, “and placing that information in the hands of a survivor can save her life. The referral cards we’ve developed provide information on how and where to access essential medications to prevent pregnancy and HIV. And of course, the provision of timely information gives survivors access to full medical treatment, psycho-social support and justice.”

In partnership with NGOs and other UN agencies, UNICEF supports the Haitian Government’s push to include gender-based violence services as part of a comprehensive approach to women’s and girls’ health. Plans to develop dedicated health centres for women and girls are currently in the works in the areas hardest-hit by the earthquake – including Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel.

The partners’ goal is to expand these services to even the most remote corners of Haiti, including Anse-a-Pitre.

UNICEF is equally committed to the prevention of future violence through the establishment of child-friendly spaces, with activities designed to educate girls and boys about gender-based violence and help them develop life skills needed in the new and challenging camp settings. Working with an established local Haitian partner, Solidarity for Haitian Women, UNICEF has plans to create women-centered friendly spaces, as well.

Safe spaces for women and girls will address issues related to gender roles and violence through a locally produced curriculum based on gender-based violenceprevention and basic rights. Group activities such as these provide the community-based psycho-social support that Haitian women and children need.

Part of a longer report at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/UNICEF/ae2c69eb646f653f5c3479e48c530821.htm

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The International Herald Tribune (IHT) today launched a viral campaign to raise awareness of its new editorial series, The Female Factor. Aimed at influential women in business and government around the world, its release coincides with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The viral, entitled It’s a girl, was developed by London based creative agency Karmarama and tells the stories of thee women across the globe, highlighting their contrasting experiences. It is targeted at online channels, primarily women’s networks and bloggers who write about women’s issues, and has a dedicated Female Factor channel on U Tube.

John Scully, head of marketing for the IHT, said: “This is a high impact, thought-provoking viral that not only brings into relief the huge divergences in women’s lives but also gives a true flavor of the Female Factor series, driving people to our content.”

Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of Karmarama added: “We wanted to create a viral that could capture women’s imaginations and at the same time, make them aware of the fact that the IHT is covering the issues they really care about from its unique international perspective.”

The Female Factor is a year-long series in the IHT, examining the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, and assessing how women are influencing early 21st century development. The “Female Factor” series aims to take the reader on surprising journeys where women’s worlds intersect, whether they are in the western or the developing worlds, and answer the question: How does the ‘’Female Factor’’ influence early 21st century development?

The Female Factor: Conversations

Share your thoughts about the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, as part of The Female Factor series.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/female-factor-conversations.html

A feminist group in Ukraine has called on wives, girlfriends and lovers of the country’s new Cabinet ministers to impose a sex ban after accusing the prime minister of being anti-women.

Mykola Azarov defended his decision to appoint an all-male government, saying he needed ‘people who can work 16-to-18 hours a day’ to fix the recession-hit economy.

‘Conducting reforms is not women’s business,’ the new pro-Russian premier insisted. He claimed it was too tough for women who could not say ‘no’.

He also ordered an Orthodox priest to exorcise the spirit of his female predecessor, Orange Revolution princess Yulia Tymoshenko, from his office. ‘It was very hard to breathe in there,’ he said.

His comments sparked fury from the Femen feminist group, which accused the career apparatchik of ‘blatant boorishness’.

‘Femen wants the wives, girlfriends and all females close to government ministers to declare a sex boycott of Cabinet members in protest against the impudent and humiliating treatment of Ukrainian women,’ said the group.

‘People with such an archaic views on women, who constitute more than half of Ukraine’s population, have no right to hold leadership positions.

‘In the whole civilized world, such a statement would be political suicide for any high-ranking official. Such remarks are shameful, not only for top-level politics, but for every man.’

The feminists also took issue with President Viktor Yanukovych – who won power in February’s election – for suggesting that a woman’s place is in the kitchen not politics.

The group likened the attitude to women by the newly-elected Ukrainian government to the policy in Nazi Germany of limiting women to the three Ks – ‘Kuche, Kinder, Kirche’ (kitchen, children, church).

They claimed Ukraine’s was the only government in Europe without a woman minister.

‘We are confident that Ukrainian women will never agree to neglect themselves and will force state leaders to change their views,’ said the group.

On polling day last month, the group staged a topless protest in sub-zero temperatures. They unfurled posters saying ‘Stop Raping the Country’.

The feminists have also protested against sex tourism in Ukraine.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1260319/Fury-new-Ukraine-PM-appoints-male-cabinet-conducting-reform-womens-business.html

Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold. The law is a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.”

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April).

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland’s first female and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: “Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her.”

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. “Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. “What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women,” she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.”

Part of a longer comment piece at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/25/iceland-most-feminist-country

After two years of research that included enforcement operations targeting prostitutes, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) is seeing the benefits of their innovative new approach of going to the streets to provide comprehensive services and a complete exit strategy for those seeking a way out of prostitution. Data evaluated at the University of North Texas Health Science Center has not only shown the Prostitute Diversion Initiative (PDI) is getting prostitutes off the streets, it is lowering crime rates in areas frequented by prostitutes along Dallas’ I-20 corridor.

Surprising data reveals of the 371 adult prostitutes contacted as part of the Dallas PDI over the last two years, 54 percent tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, with the most prevalent being syphilis, said Martha Felini, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Health Science Center School of Public Health. Of the truck stop prostitutes tested, about 30 percent had the disease, similar to the statistics found in underdeveloped countries. Almost half of the prostitutes were high school graduates or had higher education, and 54 percent reported having a mental health condition, with over half of those reporting having more than one.

The PDI’s ultimate goal is to change the way law enforcement and other institutions approach those involved in prostitution.

“The purpose of the PDI is to give these victims a choice,” Felini said. “By bringing resources to the streets we’ve learned these women have suffered a lifetime of trauma and their drug addictions are helping them cope with co-occurring mental health conditions. Should those eligible opt for treatment in lieu of jail, they can get immediate and appropriate care that will give them a fighting chance at recovery and a new life.”

Results show that 60 percent of those eligible opted to go into treatment. With 23 people completing the initial phase of the treatment program, 65 percent of these remain abstinent and in supportive care services with no subsequent arrests in Dallas County.

“As the PDI enters its third year, we anticipate seeing the impact of the program over the longer term,” Felini said. “In other words, will those successes in the first year continue to remain off the streets in two years? The statistics thus far indicate that the initial phase of the treatment is critical, but challenges remain in defining success in this migratory population. Part of this equation for determining success will become more demonstrable as the PDI expands its collaboration to other cities.”

This year, with the collaboration of the UNT Center for Human Identification, a High-Risk Potential Victim’s DNA Database will be implemented into the PDI , the first of its kind in the nation. Given that prostitutes are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race, this database will provide law enforcement a forensic tool to aid in post-mortem identification of victims and advocate for the prostitute in finding his or her killer. In addition, it can help provide closure to the victim’s families searching for missing loved ones.

Atlanta, Las Vegas, Montreal and South Korea are looking at the program and have contacted the DPD for more information on the PDI.

“In order to help establish a program in areas outside of the United States, we will have to look carefully at cultural differences to obtain the greatest success,” Felini said. “The PDI demonstrates a respect for women’s rights and recognition of mental health conditions as treatable. But many countries have a different perception of women, and those with mental health conditions are ostracized.

“The challenge we face today is humanizing the data we have analyzed. Most people are unaware of the prostitute population and believe that those individuals ‘get what they deserve.’ Regardless of your position on prostitution, information about this population is important to our understanding of mental health, cancer and infectious disease, all which affect the general population. We cannot afford to continue ignoring this marginalized group,” Felini said.

The Health Science Center will continue to evaluate the program as it expands and is implemented by other cities. Each year, a report will be published revealing the compiled data. For information on future PDI developments, visit http://www.pdinewlife.org, or the Center for Community Health at the Health Science Center.

Part of a longer report at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/unthsc-assists-law-enforcement-to-reduce-prostitution-crime-rates-89406617.html

Dozens of French sex workers proclaiming themselves proud to be prostitutes last week marched to protest a lawmaker’s proposal to legalize brothels in France, arguing that such a law would deny them the freedom to work on their own.

A lawmaker in France’s governing party has proposed reopening brothels just over six decades after they were banned in order to move prostitutes off the streets and provide them with medical, financial and legal protection.

The protesters say the proposal limits their options to make their own decisions — and are demanding, instead, a repeal of a 2003 law that outlaws solicitation.

“We are workers and we want the choice to work as we want,” said Thierry Schaffauser, 27, a sex worker from Paris now living in London. “For doctors, they can work for a company or they can be independent. I think the importance is to let people choose how they want to work.”

Dozens participated in a daylong conference on prostitution at the Senate, organized by a lawmaker opposed to the proposed bill. Lawmaker Chantal Brunel, who proposed the law, was not present.

After the conference, the men and women marched through Paris’ Left Bank, many dressed in their skimpy work attire. Some carried signs reading, “You sleep with us, you vote against us.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Lola Bruna, a 19-year-old sex worker from Paris. They “used to say that this is the oldest job ever, and that’s not for no reason.”

Brothels were legally outlawed in France in 1946. The 2003 law tightened restrictions against prostitution by making solicitation punishable with two months in prison and a euro3,750 ($5,000) fine.

“The question is not, for example, about the brothels,” said Alima Boumediene-Thiery, the Green Party senator who organized Wednesday’s conference. “The question is about the recognition of the rights of these men and women who have made these choices that we must respect.”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gptNqAnEhpro9MdhvY_1B__MIF5gD9EL9DN80

Giving sex workers condoms and advice will not bring down HIV rates, says Elena Reynaga, general secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Sex Workers Network. But giving them their rights will.

It is of little use giving condoms and HIV prevention advice to women who are harrassed by the police and abused and cheated by their clients because of their illegitimacy, she says. If you want sex workers to negotiate with their clients, you have to give them status. They have to have some rights.

She does not see why this, the oldest profession, should not be treated like any other. Everybody has to work for a living, she says. Some women, brought up in poverty, have nothing else to offer.

But the network, which now has 17 member organisations across Latin America, has begun to challenge attitudes. “We now say what we think – not what society wants to hear from us. We are trying to get out of the role of the victim to say ‘this body is mine – why do I have to ask the permission of society to do what I want to do with it? It is the only thing that is mine. If I want to make money from that, it is my right’.

“We have rights as women and we need to fight for that – to have the same benefits that all workers have to get out of the darkness.”

Society is two-faced, she says. There is demand for commercial sex, but discrimination against those who provide it. Her argument is that sex workers should be treated like any other kind. And yes – they need pensions. “We want to contribute to the national security for when we are old,” she says.

Reynaga has the backing of the International HIV/Aids Alliance for her demand that Global Fund money should be channelled through sex workers’ organisations, and not NGOs that think they know what is best for them.

“Remember all the millions of dollars that the Global Fund has spent in our region. Very little has reached us,” she says. In only three countries – Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay – have any grants gone to sex workers organisations. Out of $170 million spent in Latin America, according to an report by the Alliance, only 4.6% went directly to be managed by key populations. Yet where it has, she says, there have been significant achievements. In Ecuador, they advocated for the end of a compulsory card that each sex worker had to keep with her, listing the sexually transmitted infections she had suffered. Each woman had to pay a doctor $26 a week for a check-up. “The doctors always invented STIs to sell medicines to them,” says Reynaga, “and they were also victims of the doctors.” But now, she says, sex workers are now far more readily seeking healthcare when they need it.

And they need and want education, she says. Reynaga, brought up in dire poverty in Argentina, went to school so that she could run the network and speak on equal terms with politicians and officials. She was 47 at the time. Learning to read and write has transformed her life. Education opens horizons and for many – although not all – it shows a path out of sex work altogether.

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/sarah-boseley-global-health/2010/mar/25/hiv-infection-international-aid-and-development

Earlier this month church leaders here threatened to mobilize their faithful against a draft of a national constitution if it included language allowing abortions under any circumstance.

Kenya currently outlaws abortion unless three doctors certify that the pregnancy puts a woman’s life in immediate danger.

In a sign of official acknowledgement of the widespread use of illegal abortions, however, post-abortion care is legal and available in hospitals.

In February, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, a Catholic, assured church leaders that Parliament would not pass the draft constitution, which is meant to be enacted within the next two years, if it includes any abortion exceptions.

A committee of experts charged with drafting the constitution had placed a provision allowing for abortions under certain emergencies in order to comply with international treaties on human rights that Kenya has signed. The provision would permit abortion if a pregnancy brought danger to life or health of the mother. Such phrasing could be interpreted to allow for the termination of pregnancies that pose both physical risks as well as psychological ones, such as when a woman has been raped.

A new constitution is being drafted as part of a deal that brought an end to violence in the wake of the 2007 elections, which left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead. Political factions here agreed to enact a new constitution before the next round of elections in 2012 in the hopes that curbing presidential powers would decrease corruption and avert further bloodshed.

While the abortion-related language in the draft varies little from what is currently allowed under Kenya’s penal code, its inclusion in the constitution would make the imposition of a complete ban all but impossible and would open the door for more lenient legislation in the future, says a women’s advocacy lawyer closely following the matter.

Kenya’s Parliament is currently debating the draft of the constitution, including whether to leave the abortion-related provision, which is to be decided upon by the end of this year when Kenyans vote to accept or reject.

The criminalization of abortion in Kenya, combined with the stigma and shortage of legal post-abortion care, leads to the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands of women each year due to complications of unsafe abortions, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said in a report this month.

Kenyan women portrayed by the report described how they or their relatives or friends suffered illegal abortions from people who accepted small fees in exchange for procedures that used knitting needles, pipes, pens, bleach and malaria pills.

Unable or afraid to seek emergency care in public clinics, many women who undertake such illegal abortions die.

Those who sought help in hospitals were often met by nurses and doctors who were corrupt, untrained, ill-equipped or even abusive, finishing incomplete abortions without analgesics or calling women names, according to the report.

Many young women from Kibera are arrested for having abortions, according to the center’s report, and few understand that post-abortion care is legal and public hospitals are supposed to provide the service without cost if the patient is unable to pay.

Kenya’s Ministry of Public Health told Women’s eNews that it hopes to lower the death toll of illegal abortions by both improving and expanding family planning programs and ensuring that when women do suffer complications from illegal abortions, they have access to proper care.

Recently, the government has been training midwife nurse practitioners working outside of urban centers in post-abortion care.

Henry Njagi, spokesperson for the National Council of Churches, does not care to acknowledge the problems of dangerous and often fatal abortions flagged by the Center for Reproductive Rights report.

“Our position is that the abortions shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “Pregnancies should not be terminated. What is required is education for the women so that they don’t get pregnant if they are not interested in getting the baby.”

When pressed on the issue of pregnancies in difficult circumstances like rape, Njagi hung up the phone and did not respond to further questions sent via e-mail.

In a section of abortion-related questions on the Web site of the National Council of Churches, Secretary General Karanja responds to one about what happens to a girl who aborts a child. “She is guilty of murder,” he says.

A lawyer at Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers said such attitudes are by no means universal here and that it’s still possible to keep the clause protecting a woman’s right to an emergency abortion in the constitution.

“There are threats and half truths and falsehoods put out to create religious fear in the people,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named in keeping with the group’s policy of only allowing its executive director to be quoted publicly. “But we find that whenever we go out to explain to people the real reasons for allowing abortion they immediately are sympathetic or would support abortion under difficult circumstances.”

For more information: “In Harm’s Way: The Impact of Kenya’s Restrictive Abortion Law,” Center for Reproductive Rights: http://reproductiverights.org/en/kenyahome

Part of a longer report at http://www.womensenews.org/story/abortion/100317/kenyas-abortion-ban-fires-constitutional-debate

President Obama, who quietly signed an executive order last week reaffirming that no federal funds can be used for abortion, is facing fury from a core part of his constituency: women’s advocates.

“Women elected him,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “He campaigned as a pro-choice president. We wished he would storm the ramparts for every one of our issues. It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women. It’s health reform that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women.”

The anger also stems from language in the legislation that allows abortion to be covered by health insurance plans offered on new “exchanges,” but requires buyers to make two premium payments — one for most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one, for abortion coverage.

Abortion opponents complain the language did not go far enough to keep federal money from subsidizing abortion.

“The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

But abortion rights groups and health-care analysts predict few plans will end up covering abortion because the requirement of two payments would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “Health-care reform was supposed to expand health-care coverage for women. Now women will be worse off under health-care reform.”

It is too soon to tell whether the president’s decision to sign the executive order has affected his standing among women, but recent polling shows that their views on abortion more generally, and on the president, are holding steady. In a January Washington Post-ABC poll, half of adults, including 53 percent of women and majorities of Republicans and independents, said they preferred a “more restrictive” option, where “insurance plans in which the government is involved [are] forbidden from covering abortions.”

Among some women, the disappointment fuels earlier misgivings about Obama, who ended the prospect of the nation electing its first female president when he defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

“I’ve heard women complain very loudly, ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president,’ ” O’Neill said.

Several advocates said they were especially bitter because at one point during the intense negotiations over the abortion provisions in the health-care legislation they had agreed to a compromise that they thought would resolve the issue without either side giving ground.

The frustration over the language on abortion was compounded by the executive order, which Obama signed out of sight of cameras on Wednesday, in stark contrast to an elaborate ceremony when he signed the legislation a day earlier. Some abortion-rights advocates fear the order will make it more difficult to achieve one of their biggest priorities: elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions.

“What we had hoped for when the president was elected was that this would be an opportunity to break down the many obstacles to abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “That instead, one year into the Obama presidency, we have moved the line further away is just stunning.”

Obama took a number of steps immediately after his election pushed by abortion-rights advocates, including removing restrictions on funding for international family planning groups that support abortion, allowing the morning-after pill Plan B to be made available at military hospitals and announcing plans to rescind a new federal regulation designed to protect health-care workers who do not want to deliver care they find objectionable, including abortion.

But disappointed abortion rights groups also pointed to a seemingly minor provision in the legislation designed to protect health-care workers who did not want to be forced to violate their personal beliefs related to abortion. Originally, the language extended that protection to those who were both “willing” and “unwilling” to perform abortions. In the end, the protections for those willing were dropped.

“We thought it was a modest, evenhanded proposal to have it go both ways, and we couldn’t get even that,” said Helene Krasnoff, a senior staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

But others said they considered it a significant victory that the final legislation did not incorporate a proposal by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to ban coverage of abortion in plans offered in the exchange.

Several advocates noted that the legislation contains many elements that will benefit women.

“All in all, this is a historic accomplishment and is a response to women who have been crying out for help in dealing with the failings of the health-care system. It will have immediate and long-term benefits for women and their families,” said Amy Allina of the National Women’s Health Network. “But it clearly came at a cost.”

Source http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032403128.html?hpid=topnews

We are a group of feminist who aim to advance the status of women in the Israeli-Palestinian society. We believe that social change can be achieved if women are empowered to take a more active role in private and public life, encouraged to contribute their experiences and perspectives and to confidently demand recongnition of their needs and realization of their rights.

Empowering Arab Women to Be

The word Kayan comes from the Arabic word for being or existing. Our name reflects the guiding belief of Kayan that social change can be achieved when women are empowered to exert influence and make decisions about their own lives as well as society as a whole. In order for this belief to be valid women must have the knowledge and confidence required to become proactive and self directed. The activities of Kayan lay the foundation for this process of women`s empowerment to take place.

Kayan was founded in 1998 by Arab feminist women with the goal of advancing the status of Arab women in Israel and protecting their rights. Kayan`s singular approach is to focus on grassroots capacity building that has a transformative effect on individual women as well as throughout society.

The founders of Kayan are interested in issues that tackle the tension between nationality and gender, feminist concepts and ethics in feminism as it relates specifically to Arab-Israeli women. As women who belong to an unrepresented minority we often experience double discrimination, as a woman and as an Arab. It is from this place that we engage in grassroots work to bring about social, legal and economic equality for all Arab women in Israel.

History

In 1990, Arab Feminist women from Haifa and the northern region of Israel were actively working with women`s services, battered women`s shelters and crisis centers for injured and sexually assaulted women. These women helped create programs, meetings, workshops and crisis-services specifically for Arab women. The meetings evolved into a place for Arab women activists to work together and discuss common concerns. Through these meetings the idea emerged to establish an organization by and for Arab women in Israel.

In 1999 Kayan became registered as a non profit and has been responding to the distinct needs of Arab women since that time. Through the creation of unique programs, forums and services delivered in a culturally aware manner there continues to be a surge in Arab women eager to become activists, participate in workshops, receive legal services or simply engage in an exchange of ideas with other women.

In the ten years since it was founded, Kayan achieved significant improvements in the status of Arab women in Israel, most notably:

The Childcare Workers Program (2002-2004) addressed the violation of workers` rights of female childcare workers in Arab villages and towns in Israel, whose salaries were not transferred because of municipal debts. Kayan succeeded to organize 1300 childcare workers, who had not been organized before, in a workers` union, and supported them in their confrontation with local and national authorities. The project was a big success, with an unexpectedly high number of women joining the efforts from the very beginning. At the first national childcare conference in 2003, 450 women attended, among them Bedouin women from the Negev. The union, with the help of a big public and media campaign, eventually succeeded in its demand that salaries were paid directly to the childcare workers and not to the local municipalities.

The “Women Demand Mobility” Program (2004-2008): Kayan facilitated a grassroots campaign that is bringing public transportation to Israel`s Arab towns and villages in 2009. The project started as a local initiative in the village of Maghar, out of Kayan`s empowerment course. Participants of the course were exhausted trying to find ways to get to a weekly Kayan meeting, as no form of public transport existed in this large village spread out or most other Arab towns and villages in Israel. They decided to change their situation, and the situation of women in most Arab localities who are isolated in their homes, unable to move beyond a certain radius outside their homes without male accompaniment. In 2006, the first report on “Mobility among Arab women in Israel” was published, which served as a major advocacy and media tool. The program achieved its aim of installation of public transportation in 2008, when Kayan worked with the Ministry of Transport in a joint work-plan for the installation of public transportation in two major clusters of Arab villages.

The Arabic Leaflet on the Law against Domestic Violence: In 2007, Kayan has published excerpts of the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act” of 1991 in Arabic. The act is designed to offer fast and not bureaucratic help to women in emergencies. 2000 leaflets were distributed to Arab women in social welfare offices, universities, schools, and other public places. This was the first publication of an Arabic version of the legislation at all. Most legal information in Israel is distributed to the public in English only, despite the fact that Arabic is an official language of the State and despite the fact that many Arab citizens and especially Arab women can not understand this language and are thus deprived of their right to know the legislation which they are subject to. The need to inform Arab women about their legal rights against domestic violence, and the lack of any Arabic information about it, brought up the idea at Kayan to create this publication. Kayan was surprised by the big public storm raised by this project, with unprecedented media attention. It was debated in most major Arabic and Hebrew newspapers in Israel, as well as on the public television and radio broadcast. It thus reached a very high number of women, among them the direct beneficiaries, women who face domestic violence.

Community Action

The focus of Kayan`s work is to engage in grassroots capacity building by bringing together Arab women in order to raise awareness, increase knowledge, and foster personal development so that women become proactive and self directed in their personal lives and in society.

Kayan organizes workshops, lectures and community meetings about women`s rights and issues so that participants are prepared to advocate for themselves and create social change in the community. Out of these workshops many women have intensified their community activism and remain involved in self governed local initiatives ranging from installing Public Transport in rural villages to creating a community women`s center.
Kayan`s staff trains, mentors and advises local leaders in the community in addition to raising funds and support for various women`s initiatives.

Legal Aid

Kayan gives legal aid, assistance, and advice to low income Arab women. As members of an unrepresented minority, Palestinian-Israeli women often have their legal rights disregarded on two fronts, both from within the community and within the national arena. Kayan focuses on informing women of their legal rights, raising awareness about legal recourse and ensuring women have access to legal aid.

Policy change

Kayan has developed relationships with policymakers in the government in order to be effective in bringing about policy change primarily in Arab villages and communities. Through an ongoing dialogue among women in the community about the areas most in need of improvement, and collaboration with policy makers on how to address these issues, Kayan continues to progress. Some recent policy changes include:
* The creation of a National Childcare Workers Union
* The establishment of an Arabic language option in the police departments emergency phone line
* Installation of Public Transport in Arab towns and villages

Advocacy

Kayan engages in ongoing public discourse, comprehensive data collection, publishing of reports and dialogue in order to advocate for ourselves and other Arab women by bringing key issues to the public arena.

Website: http://www.kayan.org.il/en/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=15759821647&ref=ts#!/group.php?v=wall&ref=ts&gid=15759821647

1. CWP Opens a New Activity Center in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa

After nearly a decade of activity, CWP is finally opening an office and activity center. The new center is located on Yad Harutzim Street, in South-Central Tel-Aviv, and will be open within the next few weeks. We hope that this center will become a home for local peace activists, serve as a space for political meetings and events and encourage new actions and initiatives. We also hope that the new space will be a meeting point for our international friends and supporters and enable them to join our activities and to work with us on joint actions.

2. Call for Action on Global BDS Day, March 30

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) has issued a call for action to mark the second Global BDS Day of Action on March 30 2010, in solidarity with the Palestinian people and for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions and corporations. This Day of Action coincides with Palestinian Land Day, which marks the struggle against the expropriation and colonization of Palestinian lands and commemorates six Palestinian demonstrators killed by Israeli security forces on the first Land Day in 1976.

BDS is an effective and nonviolent form of struggle, intended to generate international pressure on Israel to end the occupation and to bring justice to the Palestinian people. As Desmond Tutu noted with regards to the end of apartheid in South Africa: “We would not have succeeded without international pressure – in particular the divestment movement of the 1980’s”. The Palestinian call for BDS measures against Israel, issued in 2005, has grown into a powerful global solidarity movement. CWP has decided in its General Assembly in November 2009 to support the Palestinian call for BDS and we see ourselves as part of this international movement.

What can you do?

CWP’s online database, “Who Profits from the Occupation?”, was launched in January 2009 and has since become a leading source of information about corporate involvement in the occupation and a key asset to the global movement of economic activism and BDS. You can search the WhoProfits website to find ideas for action on March 30. Some suggestions:

* Demand that your university, church council, workers union or pension fund divest from Israeli and international companies that are involved in the occupation. The WhoProfits research team can help in surveying investment portfolios to identify these companies. For example, in May 2009, following a campaign initiated by CWP, the Norwegian

Pension Fund declared that it will divest from Elbit, an Israeli company that provides surveillance technologies for the Apartheid Wall.

* Organize a creative action targeting a corporation that is involved in the occupation. Hundreds of Israeli and international companies that violate international human rights law await you at the WhoProfits database. You might like to try: Carmel Agrexco – Israel’s largest exporter of agricultural produce. In a court case in November 2006, the General Manager of Agrexco UK at the time testified that Agrexco markets 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. 50% of Agrexco’s shares are owned by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the company serves as a tool in Israel’s colonialist expansion and land expropriation. Agrexco exports are sold in many supermarkets around the world, particularly in the European Union.

Ahava – A privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea, sold in beauty stores around the world. The company’s main factory and visitor center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank and nearly 45% of the company’s shares are held by the Israeli settlements Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia.

Support existing BDS campaigns facing challenges. Last week, UC Berkeley’s student senate voted in support of divestment from General Electric and United Technologies because of their involvement in the occupation. A week later, the Senate president vetoed the bill. However, the veto can be overturned with just 14 senate votes – and the students need you to email the UC Berkeley senators to let them know why they should overturn the veto. Write a letter to senate@asuc.org (if possible, include ucbdivest@gmail.com in bcc). In France, the Israeli lobby is trying to introduce new laws that will deem any BDS activity as “anti-Semitic” and the French Prime Minister and Minister of Justice have been attacking the BDS movement. One activist, Sakina Arnaud from Bordeaux, is facing trial for putting BDS stickers on orange juice at a local supermarket. You can sign the petition in support of Arnaud and against the criminalization of BDS (endorsed by CWP).

3. Universal Jurisdiction Update

In December 2009, following an arrest warrant issued in London against Tzipi Livini for war crimes committed during the war on Gaza, the British government announced its intent to limit the principle of universal jurisdiction, which enables the prosecution of foreign war criminals. CWP initiated an urgent appeal to the British Prime Minister and to the British Foreign Secretary, urging them to not take this dangerous step. The letter was endorsed by 99 feminist peace organizations from 25 countries, among them 20 Israeli and Palestinian organizations.

The letter helped generate international and internal pressure on the British government. In March 2010, the British cabinet announced that it will postpone any changes to universal jurisdiction until after the general elections. We would like to thank all of the people and organizations, who helped us in signing and spreading this appeal.

4. Stay in Touch

We are currently in the process of rebuilding and improving our website. We apologize for the inconvenience, but in the meantime you can receive regular updates about our work through our Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-of-Women-forPeace/94205446262

For any questions and comments, or to be subscribe to our international mailing list, please write to: yoana@coalitionofwomen.org

In Solidarity,
The Coalition of Women for Peace
http://coalitionofwomen.org

In 1985 the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women (JAG) organised a historic workshop cum exhibition on VAW calling for law reforms to rape, prostitution, domestic violence and amendments to all laws that discriminate against women. The workshop also highlighted issues on the negative portrayal of women in the media and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The 1985 workshop raised public awareness on violence against women and led to the formation of several new women’s rights organisations which joined JAG. Since then the membership of JAG has evolved and in 2010 JAG, now known as the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality comprises five (5) women’s groups, namely:
* All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
* Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
* Sisters In Islam (SIS)
* Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
* Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Penang

Since 1985, JAG has diligently documented, monitored and lobbied for law and policy reforms on all aspects of women’s human rights. Several strategies were adopted to advocate and lobby about the government’s duty to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

For instance, on 30th April 2008, JAG reminded the newly elected Members of Parliament (MP) about their election promises on gender equality issues and published “Kotakan Kata” which summed up a list of pending law and policy reform.

When analyzing JAG’s advocacy efforts and government response we detect a pattern of promises made but not kept. The government makes all the right noises and moves – receiving memoranda, setting up taskforces and committees, conducting studies, holding dialogues and organising huge conferences and public campaigns but all to no avail as they have not followed up with actual delivery.

The lack of political will is supported by a political creed of divide and rule whereby a divisive discourse of race and religion continues to be perpetuated by the government and political parties. For instance, after the 2008 General Elections, the Government set up the “Sekretariat Pembelaan dan Permekasakan Wanita Islam” (SENADA) for issues related to Muslim women only, while the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) deals with non-muslim women’s rights. SENADA, which is now under the MWFCD, only serves to perpetuate a false divide between Muslim and non-Muslim women. It also defeats the purpose of the MWFCD to be inclusive and representative of all women’s rights issues.

The government’s power appears to be limitless given a menu of oppressive laws, such as the Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, discriminatory provisions in the Penal Code and Syariah enactments which are selectively used to silence dissent and curb differing views. No one has been spared from the brunt of these oppressive laws whether media, NGOs and politicians.

JAG’s efforts in the past 25 years have seen historical movements of lobbying, documenting and monitoring for law reform. Our national history has seen a myriad of the good, bad and ugly side of law and policy reforms and implementation. Some of the more positive achievements are the amendments to the Penal Code to include wider definitions of rape; the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act; and amendment to the Guardianship of Women and Infants Act, including a cabinet directive giving all mothers the equal right to sign official documents to manage the affairs of their children. Also welcome was the amendment in 1997 to the Distribution Act to allow a surviving wife to inherit the whole of the estate instead of only one third.

Similarly in 1995 Malaysia ratified the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and shortly after, the One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) was established in hospitals nationwide. Other good news includes the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and the establishment of the toll free Talian Nur hotline for women in crisis. In 2002, an amendment to Article 8 of the Federal Constitution guarantees women equal rights.

While it is admirable that efforts have been made to establish and implement new law reforms, we must not let it overshadow the lack of effort to execute them effectively.

Issues which have been discussed but with little follow up and commitment for improvement include the reforms to Islamic Family Law, the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976; recognizing psychological violence as a form of domestic violence; amendment to the Local Government Act 1976 enabling local government elections to be held, the enactment of a Sexual Harassment Act, and amendment to the Parliamentary Standing Order to curb sexist behaviours and remarks.

Committees such as the National Advisory Council for the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) and even the Cabinet Committee for Gender Equality appear to be ineffectual.

The ugly side that degrades women still continues to shock and appal those working towards a progressive nation today. Sexism reigns in the debates in parliament and among politicians, marital rape has yet to be recognized and the sexual abuse of Penan women was an eye opener. Recently the use of Section 498 to sue a wife’s alleged boyfriend is both demeaning and outdated. Degrading too are the sexist and discriminatory comments made by Perak ADUN Hamidah Osman about how women can run households, but cannot run state governments.

Even uglier is the fact that child brides are still evidently in existence in our country today. Women are being sentenced to whipping for the first time under Syariah Law. Women who are asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are vulnerable to both sex and labour trafficking. Orang Asal and Orang Asli rights are still not on the main agenda, and the increase in women contracting HIV/AIDS is not addressed.

While we acknowledge that positive changes have taken place in light of JAG’s 25 years of advocacy, we are disappointed and angered that the full realization of gender equality has been sluggish. Each time an issue arises, the authorities are quick to respond with more reports, studies and conferences, but fails dismally when it comes to taking effective comprehensive action.

JAG realises that a lot more has to be done in order to eliminate gender inequalities and discrimination. We urge Members of the Parliament and in particular the Parliamentary Gender Caucus to keep raising women’s issues and fulfil their duty to the citizens in keeping the government honest to their commitments.

This statement is released by JAG comprising:

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). P.O. Box 493 Jalan Sultan, 46760 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 7957 5636 / 0636 Fax: 60 3 7956 3237 Email: wao@po.jaring.my

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), 13 Lorong 4/48E, 46050 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 77844977 Fax: 60 3 77844978 Email: empower05@gmail.com

All Women’s Action Society, 85 Jalan 21/1, Sea Park, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 78774221 Fax: 03 78743312 Email: awam@awam.org.my

Sisters in Islam (SIS), 7 Jalan 6/10, Petaling Jaya, 46000 Selangor, Malaysia.
Tel: 60 3 77856121 Fax: 60 3 77858737 Email: sisters@sistersinislam.org.my

Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), 24 Jones Road, 10250 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: 60 4 2280342 Fax: 60 4 228578 Email: wcc@wccpenang.org

Source http://www.sistersinislam.org.my/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=991&Itemid=1

See also:
* Police Investigates Sisters in Islam on the Caning of Three Muslim Women under the Shariah Criminal Offences Law
* Support the Right to Freedom of Expression in Malaysia – Please sign up now for Freedom of Expression in Malaysia

The Global Campaign is pleased to announce the publication of our first Policy Briefing Series on culturally-justified violence against women (CVAW). Launched on March 3rd, 2010 at our panel discussion at the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Series is a valuable resource for those working on issues of CVAW. Policy Briefing Series I includes the following titles:

  • No Justice in Justifications: Violence Against Women in the Name of Culture, Religion and Tradition
    Shaina GreiffThis paper gives a general overview of discourses on culture, tradition, and/or religion that are used to justify, and therefore perpetuate, specific manifestations of VAW in our focal countries, as well as local methods to counter such arguments. While recognising that culture and religion can be empowering for, and central to, both individual and collective identities, this article will look at the misuse of these discourses for the purpose of sanctioning impunity for perpetrators and silencing dissenters. This discussion concludes with recommendations for activists, scholars, and policy makers.
  • Stoning is Not our Culture: A Comparative Analysis of Human Rights and Religious Discourses in Iran and Nigeria
    Rochelle Terman & Mufuliat FijabiSince stoning is implemented differently in different contexts, this paper presents two case studies – Iran and Nigeria – in order to examine the issue in a comparative perspective. These case studies detail the specific ways in which stoning arises, as well as how local activists work to eliminate stoning in their own countries. We conclude with specific recommendations to policy makers and civil society.
  • Criminalizing Sexuality: Zina laws as Violence against Women in Muslim Contexts
    Ziba Mir HosseiniThis paper shows how zina laws and the criminalization of consensual sexual activity can also be challenged from within Islamic legal tradition. Far from mutually opposed, approaches from Islamic studies, feminism and human rights perspectives can be mutually reinforcing, particularly in mounting an eff ective campaign against revived zina laws. By exploring the intersections between religion, culture and law that legitimate violence in the regulation of sexuality, the paper aims to contribute to the development of a contextual and integrated approach to the abolition of zina laws, thereby broadening the scope of the debate over concepts and strategies of the SKSW Campaign.

In 2007, the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW Campaign), was launched to end the relentless misuse of religion and culture to justify the killing, maiming and torture of women as punishment for violating the imposed ‘norms’ of sexual behaviour. Violence against women is never acceptable, and yet its manifestations are diverse, prolific, and cut across all cultures.

Our Key Messages:

  • Culturally-justified violence against women and all its manifestations cannot be condoned and tolerated , whenever and wherever they occur.
    Both State and non-state actors are increasingly using culture to ‘justify’ carrying out violence against women. When these acts are given legitimacy, whether at the international or regional levels, it promotes the idea that there is an inherent cultural right to execute violence amongst certain communities. This is patently unacceptable and must be rejected. When such conservative forces claim ownership over an ‘authentic’ interpretation of culture, tradition and/or religion, women are not only told to accept violence, they are denied the fulfillment of their potential as equal and active contributors to the development and production of culture.
  • Human rights are universal, indivisible, and inalienable to each and every person
    States are accountable to their existing obligations under international law to prevent, investigate, punish and redress all acts of violence against women, whether in peacetime or armed conflict, regardless of whether the perpetrators are State or non-State actors. We are calling for the repeal of all national-level laws that facilitate or condone harmful acts against women for alleged sexual and moral transgressions as a critical step without which women subject to gender-based violence have little or no legal recourse.
  • Ending discrimination against women is the ultimate solution to culturally-justified violence against women
    Patriarchal interpretations of cultural norms and traditions including religious texts in many societies which promote a mind-set which claims women’s bodies and sexuality as the prerogative of her male family and/or community members still abound. Women who do not conform to prescribed norms, especially those related to her sexuality, are ostracised and and subjected to brutal, cruel and sadistic reprisals by members of her own family and community. The Campaign actively promotes the importance of evolving a more gender-equitable, rights-based value systems.

A bill to protect women in Jammu and Kashmir from domestic violence was introduced in the legislative Assembly earlier this month.

Introducing the bill, Social Welfare Minister Sakina Ittoo said the bill, aimed at giving protection to women against any kind of violence within the family, will be a ‘historical legislation’ in the state.

The bill defines ‘domestic violence’ to include actual abuse or threats by husbands that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic. Harassment by way of dowry demands would also be covered under the definition.

According to the objectives of the bill, the measure seeks to ‘protect the women from being victims of domestic violence in society and cover those women who are in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage, adoption in addition to relationship with family members living together as a joint family’.

‘However, whereas the bill enables the wife to file a complaint under the proposed enactment against any relative of the husband or the male partner, it does not enable female relatives of the husband or the male partner to file a complaint against the wife or the female partner.’

The bill also provides for the right of women to secure housing and to reside in her matrimonial home or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights there.

http://sify.com/news/anti-domestic-violence-bill-introduced-in-kashmir-assembly-news-national-kd0u4ceihga.html

UNICEF Regional Director Dan Toole has highlighted the challenges facing children and families during a six day visit to Afghanistan.

Together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai he launched the country’s National Immunization Days 2010 on 14 March – a campaign which aims to immunize nearly eight million children against polio in three days.

He emphasized the right of all girls to lives free from violence during a visit to Herat in western Afghanistan where he spoke with girls and women in a safe house, where victims of early marriage or domestic violence find can find refuge.

“It’s shocking to hear the stories of these girls, some of them hardly nine years old, who have been forced from home into an unwanted relationship, often with a man five times their age,” he said, also noting that the perpetrators of such crimes often go unpunished.

UNICEF is working to increase the numbers of girls in school by supporting the training of female teachers and setting up child-friendly classrooms. Mr. Toole visited female students at Herat Girls High School to see such efforts firsthand.

“To see such a big number of girls who are enthusiastic about becoming teachers, doctors or engineers is extremely encouraging. Their protection is among our key concerns in this country where early marriage and the denial of access to education for females is still deeply rooted in the society,” said Mr. Toole.

“Especially in high-risk, difficult to access areas, UNICEF is promoting community-based schools,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “We set up community management committees for each school, discussing with them from the onset the importance of girls’ education and their role in making it happen.”

Afghanistan has seen an improvement in the number of children – including girls – who are enrolled in school. Today about three quarters of boys and nearly half of girls of primary school age are enrolled in primary school. While this is a drastic increase from the 42 per cent rate for boys and 15 per cent rate for girls in 2000, the gender gap remains wide.

Lack of security is a significant concern for both Afghan citizens and humanitarian workers. A total of 613 school incidents were recorded from January to November 2009, a frightening increase from 348 incidents in 2008. Insecurity is pervasive — with continued threats and direct attacks against schools, health centres and humanitarian workers.

“We are concerned about the positioning of UNICEF in an increasingly complex environment,” said Mr. Toole. “Our mandate is apolitical, but not when it comes to the basic rights of children. Humanitarian support is needed at the bottom, and development of the country will come from the Afghan citizen.

“The children whom we assist today are the adults of tomorrow,” he added.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/UNICEF/85b9d5faeb9d2f16d877b8fbb6961a14.htm

Rights activists blame the economy, Hamas-Fatah tensions and the conflict with Israel for the rising number of cases of violence against women. Disinterest in domestic abuse by the judicial authorities and the apparent impunity of violators have made matters worse, they say.

A March 2010 report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) explores women’s perceptions of the organizations or legal bodies designed to protect them, based on focus group discussions and interviews with women and girls in the West Bank and Gaza between June and November 2009.

“Women and girls revealed that their feelings of insecurity are related to the ongoing conflict, society’s tacit acceptance of violence against women, their own lack of awareness of service providers, and their distrust of the available services,” the report said.

“Women and girls explained that they were reluctant to resort to women’s organizations, human rights organizations, or security and justice providers, such as the police and courts, because of the strong social stigma attached to reporting abuse.”

The report said women recommended more awareness-raising events and education campaigns for all segments of society about women’s rights and the institutions in place to uphold them. They also felt better training was needed for members of the social services, women’s and human rights organizations and hospital staff and police – in addition to increased female representation in these organizations and political life in general.

A 2008 survey of 2,400 Palestinians by Ramallah-based independent research centre Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD) found that 74 percent of Palestinians did not know of a women’s or human rights organization working in the field of women’s rights; and 77 percent of respondents believed that laws needed to be enacted to protect women from domestic violence.

In December 2009, a report by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Center (PWIC) noted an upsurge in violence against women since Israel imposed an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007, after Hamas became the de facto authority there.

The study – based on 24 workshops and interviews with 350 other women in the last quarter of 2009 – found that 77 percent of women in Gaza had experienced violence of various sorts, 53 percent had experienced physical violence and 15 percent sexual abuse.

“The levels of violence against women in the Gaza Strip are higher than they were in previous years, and compared to other countries the rates are certainly higher,” Huda Hamouda, director of PWIC, said. “Women are exposed to hardships in every sphere, be it financial, social, political or lack of security.”

She said widespread unemployment was one of the biggest contributors to household stress, and in turn male violence towards females.

“It’s hard to imagine a family living in dignity when they live on less than three dollars a day. Many say they don’t feel respected and suffer depression. Poverty affects education and public participation. It limits their social standing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Commission on the Status of Women, a commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), on 12 March approved a text on the status of and assistance to Palestinian women, to be sent to ECOSOC for adoption.

The draft resolution expresses concern about the “grave situation of Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, resulting from the severe impact of the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations”.

Part of a longer report at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/5388c80a0ea6a90926a7ae6de59abaa1.htm

Domestic violence in Japan increased 11.7 per cent in 2009 to 28,158 reported cases, the highest since surveys began in 2002 according to the National Police Agency (NPA).

The number included 2,429 serious cases where courts issued restraining orders against partners, spouses or other family members under the domestic violence prevention law, the NPA said.

A further 1,658 cases of domestic violence were handled under other laws, including 552 assaults, 853 injuries, and 44 murders or attempted murders, they added.

In 2008, a government survey of 1,358 women with current or former partners found that 33.2 per cent reported suffering physical assaults, psychological threats or sexual coercion from their partner.

However, about half of the victims never reported the incidents nor mentioned them to anyone, the Cabinet Office said in its report.

Asked why, 50 per cent of these silent victims said that they did not consider the problem serious enough, and 36 per cent said they blamed themselves.

‘Some women think some of the fault might be theirs,’ said Mie Ueda, an executive board member of Japan Women’s Shelter Network for victims of domestic violence.

‘The first thing that I tell a battered woman is, ‘You are not the one in the wrong’,’ she said.

Experts and activists claim the incidence of domestic violence is likely to be much higher than reported, since many Japanese people still regard violence against women as a family matter rather than a violation of the women’s human rights.

‘One of the biggest problems is that the commercialization of women’s bodies is taken for granted in Japanese society,’ Ueda said. ‘The media have also failed to provide a serious debate about the issue of domestic violence.’

Activists, lawyers and victims have long been pushing for more effective laws to protect victims of domestic violence.

In April 2001, the Japanese Diet passed a law – which came into force in October 2001 – allowing courts to impose restraining orders on abusive husbands. In 2007, the remit of this law was extended to included unmarried partners.

http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1541927.php/Domestic-violence-in-Japan-hits-record-high-in-2009

The word ‘rape would soon be removed from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as the government is working towards replacing it with ‘sexual assault’ in an attempt to provide gender-neutral and to broaden the range of crimes covered under the sections.

Official sources said that the home ministry is working on drafting a bill to replace the word ‘rape’ from nearly 150-year-old Indian Penal Code with ‘sexual assault’ to widen range of the crimes covered.

Sources said the replacement of ‘rape’ with sexual assault will cover crimes like sodomy, fingering, insertion of foreign object and other similar offences which do not come under present definition of rape.

Under section 375 of IPC, penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to the offence of rape.

Sources added that ‘sexual assault’ would ensure gender neutrality, which means that the relevant sections of IPC can be imposed on accused of any gender.

Sexual cirmes against women, men and children will also come under the new provision.

According to sources, the decision can be seen as an effort o prevent sexual crimes among homosexuals.

Homosexuality was decriminalised by the Delhi High Court in 2009.

http://news.oneindia.in/2010/03/16/sexual-assault-to-replace-rape-in-ipc.html

Caritas Internationalis is calling on governments and the international community to protect migrants who work in people’s homes as maids, nannies and carers from exploitation. These workers are mostly women.

Domestic workers are frequently trafficked and exploited. They rarely benefit from any form of legal protection. Abuse can be difficult to detect because the workplace is in private homes.

Caritas asks that domestic workers have the same legal protection in the workplace as others workers do.

‘Apart from the risk of abuse, domestic workers may have no social security protection, can be overworked and underpaid. Many fear their employers’ reprisals if they complain to the authorities and thus continue to live as modern day slaves,’ says Martina Liebsch, Director of Policy for Caritas Internationalis.

The International Labour Organziation is the UN body responsible for international employment standards.The ILO will consider a draft convention to protect the rights of domestic workers in June 2010. Caritas is asking for specific provisions for migrant domestic workers that includes that their work or residence permit is not tied to one employer.

Caritas is calling for the creation of a complaints mechanism and a compensation scheme for migrant domestic workers that is independent of their legal status.

Domestic work should be regulated through the creation of employment agencies which act as intermediaries between employers and migrant workers. Agencies should ensure compliance with labour standards and the quality of the work performed.

Caritas recognises an increasing demand for domestic workers and home care providers, yet legal migratory channels don’t existent in many countries. Caritas calls on governments to create channels for legal labour migration for people wishing to leave their own countries.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/fromthefield/carintern/3249ed8485e5ade29e75d0aabdccd34d.htm

European commissioner for fundamental rights refuses to rule out legislation to promote wage equality

The pay gap between men and women in Europe has barely changed for the better in 15 years, the European commission said today, while pledging to narrow the gap significantly within five years.

The situation in Britain was worse than average, with women in the UK being paid 79% of male rates, while across the 27 countries of the EU the figure was 82%, according to a survey from Eurobarometer timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on Monday.

Viviane Reding, a European commissioner for fundamental rights including gender equality, pledged to step up a campaign for equal pay and to combat gender violence, saying she did not rule out European legislation to promote wage equality.

Later this year, said José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, Brussels would deliver a “women’s charter”, a five-year plan aimed at redressing the inequalities in pay which ranged from under 5% in Italy to 30% per cent in Estonia.

The commission said it “plans to raise awareness among employers, encourage initiatives to promote gender equality, and support the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. On the other hand, new legal measures are not excluded.”

Reding said: “I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and in some countries it is even increasing.”

The opinion survey found that 62% of Europeans believed inequality between the sexes was widespread, with between 40% and 44% calling for better care facilities for children and the elderly, flexible working, and straightforward pay rises for women in order to redress the imbalance.

“Tackling the gender pay gap will be one of the main priorities,” said the commission today, vowing “to use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce the gender pay gap”.

Any European law proposals seeking to compel a level playing field would need to win the backing of all 27 governments as well as being endorsed by the European parliament.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/05/europe-gender-pay-gap