Archive for March 3rd, 2010

As set by the United Nations, this year’s theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for all.”

While we here at GAB believe that equal rights for women should be celebrated every day, this particular event is a day for people to come together and blog about the progress of rights and opportunity for women worldwide.

Blog for IWD will take place on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2010. Please take a moment to sign up using the form here and you can also download a Blog for IWD graphic to let readers know you’re participating. We ask bloggers to think about any of the following questions in regards to the U.N.’s theme for IWD:

  • What does “equal rights for all” mean to you?
  • Would you describe a particular organization, person, or moment in history that helped to mobilize a meaningful change in equal rights forall?

Once you sign up, a link to your blog’s URL will appear on the Blog for IWD blog directory page. Also remember to tag your posts as “Blog for IWD” or “Blog for International Women’s Day” so that we can identify your posts!

At GAB we will live-blog throughout the day, highlighting some of your posts and what you have to say about “equal rights for all.”

For those who forget, we will also send out a reminder email about Blog for International Women’s Day a few days before March 8, 2010 when you check the box on the sign up form. By participating in this event, you are taking action in equal rights for all. So, what are you waiting for?

Thanks in advance for signing up. Please feel free to tell your blogger friends about Blog for International Women’s Day! The official site for Blog for IWD is

If you have any questions about Blog for IWD, contact myself or our general email,


Emily and the rest of the GAB editorial board
Gender Across Borders, a global feminist blog

See also:
* International Women’s Day 2010 events and statement in the UK and Ireland
* Is NOT The “Official” IWD Website!

Next phase of online discussion launched
UNESCO Gender Mainstreaming

UNESCO is prolonging its Beijing +15 online discussion until September 2010. The discussion will broaden the scope of debate, looking at “Transformative policies and initiatives: promoting gender equality in all spheres of life”. Participants will be asked to share their perspectives and expertise on policies, interventions and programmes aiming to advance gender equality in all spheres from economics, politics, and education, to culture and society.

The enthusiasm which greeted the online discussion on “Gender equality, education and training”; organized within the context of the fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, highlighted the need for such interactive and dynamic fora, where critical issues of policy and practice related to gender equality can be debated amongst stakeholders.

The online discussion will broaden the scope of the debate, looking at “Transformative policies and initiatives: promoting gender equality in all spheres of life”. Participants will be asked to share their perspectives and expertise on policies, interventions and programmes aiming to advance gender equality in all spheres from economics, politics, and education, to culture and society.

As with the Beijing +15 discussion, the aim of this discussion is to:

1. inform policy debates and direction

2. allow participants from all corners of the globe to collaborate and share their research and best practices on gender equality initiatives.

This year, several key international fora are taking place where your voices and views can be shared with policy makers and decision makers; namely the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) conference in July and the Millennium Development Goals’ high-level summit in September.

So take part in the discussion and let your views on how to turn gender equality into a reality be heard at the highest level!

Participation is welcome to all interested individuals. If you would like to subscribe to this list, please email the Moderator

Bedouin women whose husbands take up other women continue to live by their side in order to be close to their children. As a result they are not considered single patents eligible for income support, living in destitute poverty. Women’s groups file petition with High Court to mend situation

A group of women’s organizations filed a petition with the High Court of Justice last week claiming that the National Insurance Institute determines the income support eligibility of Bedouin women who have been abandoned by their husbands in a manner ill-fitting the reality of their lives and disregarding their cultural disparity.

The petitioners include the Women Lawyers for Social Justice organization and a forum of Arab-Bedouin women’s groups. They have motioned to order the NII to cancel certain tests serving as criteria for income support eligibility for single-parent Bedouin women and replace them with more appropriate standards befitting the women’s lifestyle.

The petition claimed that Bedouin women are subject to their community’s social and traditional norms against their will and denied the choice of residence location. They are forced to live in a area controlled by their father or the father of their children. The petition further submitted that in many cases the man maintains a family life with only one woman thus neglecting the others is married to, and their children.

“Despite being abandoned, Bedouin women are forced to stay in the tribal space of the father of their children so as not to lose their children,” the petition stated. These women depend upon NII allowances as a source of living.

The petitioners claimed that in many cases the NII rejects the abandoned women’s claims for full income support and doesn’t consider them single parents. According to the petition, these women and their children live in destitute poverty and at times reach a state of starvation.

“As a result of NII procedures, these women are faced with the dilemma of their lives – choosing residence near their children or receiving income support as a separate woman,” the petition stated.

“And what does a mother choose? These women and their children have been abandoned by their families and tribes, as well as the National Insurance Institute and are beind denied their and their children’s right to live in dignity.”,7340,L-3853571,00.html

Spain’s Senate gave final approval last week to a bill that liberalizes the countries abortion laws. The new law allows abortion up to 14 weeks, which means that Spanish women will no longer risk imprisonment should they choose abortion. It also gives 16 and 17-year-olds the right to have an abortion without parental consent. The bill’s passage enraged the Catholic Church and many conservatives, reported the Associated Press.

Carmen Monton, the Spanish Socialist Party’s spokeswoman on women’s issues, told the Associated Press in December 2009, “The important thing is that the consent comes from women, regardless of age…The parents will be informed and there will be exceptions.”

The new law also permits abortion within 22 weeks of pregnancy, pending the recommendation of two physicians that the mother’s health is at risk, or if the fetus is malformed. Under previous abortion laws, women could only abort within 12 weeks in the case of rape, or in the first 22 weeks if the mother’s life was at risk. Those who violated these restrictions faced possible imprisonment.

The reform of abortion laws is part of the social change program undertaken by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist government has removed religion from the public education curriculum, reformed divorce laws, and legalized gay marriage since assuming power in 2004. By enacting changes to their abortion laws, Spain’s policies come in line with several neighboring European countries, including Germany, Britain and France.

On 23 February 2010 the High Court of Swaziland ruled that some married women will be allowed to register property in their own name. It has been five years since the new Constitution granted women equal status, after centuries of being classified and treated as minors. Gender activists greeted the ruling as a small victory; despite the 2005 enactment of the Constitution, the second-class status of women in the country ruled by sub-Sahara’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, has largely remained intact, denying women their inheritance rights and hobbling their progress as entrepreneurs and traders. “I went to apply for a bank loan, and I was shocked to find that nothing has changed for women in this country. The loan was approved for my business, the bank was in support of my project, but the bank manager asked me, ‘Where is your husband? He must sign the loan forms,'” Thabsile Masuku told IRIN. “The bank did not recognize me as an adult who can enter into a contract. Legally, I am just a minor who is dependant on my husband. He is a good man but the situation is galling – I am not dependant on my husband, I am an independent person, but in Swaziland I don’t exist,” she said. A woman who declined to be identified told IRIN that a house she had built from the proceeds of her chicken-breeding business was sold by her husband without her knowledge. In Swaziland the husband remains the legal administrator of the marriage estate, to use as he likes – with or without his wife’s knowledge or consent.

Although the Constitution has granted women equal rights with men, in practice old laws still on the statute books continue to define gender relations. Observers blame a lack of political will for the slow progress in replacing laws that conflict with the Constitution. Lomcebo Dlamini, director of the Swaziland branch of Women in Law in Southern Africa – one of the legal bodies advising the Mswati-appointed Constitutional Review Commission during the 10 years it took to create the Constitution – told IRIN that gender equality could be partly achieved with a new law that defined modern marriages. “The Marriage Act No. 47 of 1964 dates from the colonial era before Swaziland’s independence [in 1968] and was really written with European residents in mind. Under the law, Swazis are assumed to be wed according to the traditional practice, which falls under the rules of Swazi Law and Custom that Swazis have always lived by,” said Lomcebo Dlamini. When the Constitution took effect, it stated that all laws counter to the Constitution were null and void, yet a recent ruling by the High Court of Swaziland said government must be given time to revise or repeal all non-compliant laws, but failed to provide a timeframe. Activism has contributed to eroding gender-prejudiced legislation, and this week the High Court amended the 1968 Deeds Registry Act by making it possible for a Swazi woman to register immovable property, like a home or business, in her own name. Justice Qinisile Dlamini, the High Court’s sole female judge, ruled that “Section 151 (2) of the Constitution states that the High Court has jurisdiction to enforce fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed by (the Constitution). This includes the right to equality, which is guaranteed by section 20 and 28 of the Constitution.” However, the ruling only applies to women married in a civil ceremony, and with a community of property agreement. About 80 percent of Swaziland’s one million people live on communal Swazi Nation Land under customary law administered by chiefs. “The marriage law must be changed because it assumes that all Swazi women are married the traditional way, which is really arranged marriages that unite two families. A woman is a minor under her parent’s homestead until she goes to her husband’s homestead, where she is also a minor. The law considers the husband the administrator of the marital property,” said Lomcebo Dlamini. Social historian Anita Magongo told IRIN: “Traditional marriages are polygamous, which is one reason why a man is given administrative control. How do you divide administration of family property amongst any number of wives? … A traditional homestead is a communal affair, without any real property.” The question of land ownership was also problematic. “The land belongs to the King, and Swazis reside on a piece of land at the pleasure of their chief. There was no wage-earning or commerce, no material objects beyond blankets and pots, and no need for loans or savings – but that was then.” With increasing numbers of women widowed by HIV/AIDS and in need of family property on which to live and raise their children, AIDS activists object to Swazi Law and Custom that results in the family of the deceased husband inheriting all marital property. Widows are often left destitute, but custom dictates that a widow must mourn for at least six months, during which she is forbidden to leave the home, preventing her from working to support her children and compounding the vulnerability of the family. “A new Marriage Act is essential,” said Lomcebo Dlamini. “Fewer women are entering into traditional marriages, and it is wrong for the law to assume that 21st century Swazi women live as the Colonial-era lawmakers assumed they did long ago.”

Iraqi women look to lift voice in March 7 polls

One face of Iraq’s upcoming election is candidate Salama al-Khafaji, who hands out campaign leaflets providing voters a guide to Muslim prayer times and who wears a solemn black cloak that covers everything but her face.

The other is Masoun al-Damalouji, who smiles down with bleached blond hair and wearing western-style clothes from campaign posters plastered across Baghdad.

These two women represent the competing trends dominating Iraqi society since 2003, when Saddam Hussein’s mostly secular regime was toppled and Shi’ite Islamist parties rose to power.

The role of women in the lead-up to the March 7 polls — and the roles they will attain in the next government — are a barometer of the direction Iraq is heading as it struggles to end violence and create stability ahead of a U.S. withdrawal.

“I believe in freedoms and rights, but within Iraqi tradition,” said Khafaji, one of 1,800 women candidates seeking office less than a decade after Washington established what it hoped would become an inclusive Middle Eastern democracy.

Damalouji, an architect who is running with the secular Iraqiya list, makes no overt reference to religion on her campaign website. “We should keep religion and politics separate,” she said.

Many Iraqis are dismayed by the rise since Saddam’s ouster in 2003 of Islamist parties that they blame for fuelling sectarian violence and failing to deliver services.

Against the tide of conservatism, those Iraqis long for the days when Baghdad was one of the region’s most laissez-faire capitals and women in miniskirts strolled riverside parks.

In Iraq, women were educated as doctors in the 1930s and the first woman minister was named shortly after the monarchy ended in the late 1950s.

Others see domination by parties representing Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, many of whom embrace more conservative traditions, as only right.

Iraq’s next parliament will have at least 82 female members — but only, most would argue, because the constitution drafted under U.S. influence in 2005 guarantees them a quarter of seats.

Today, women head less influential committees in parliament and ministries without big cabinet clout, and women politicians complain they are shut out from the inner circle of power.

Safia al-Suhail, a secularist running with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said political leaders talked about rights but tend to promote only those women who do a party’s bidding.

“This is one of the things we are still missing,” she said.

According to Hanaa Edwar, of women’s rights organization al-Amal, female candidates in previous post-2003 elections did not show their faces on campaign posters out of fear of Islamist assailants. They pictured their husbands instead.

That is one sign of the toll seven years of war have taken on Iraqi women, who have often borne the brunt of conflict. In southern Basra, slain bodies of women who Shi’ite militants saw as insufficiently “Islamic” were once dumped on the street.

In Baghdad, Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in some areas, and Shi’ite militias in others, forced women to don headscarves and stop driving cars at the height of the violence two years ago.

Khafaji, a devoute Shi’ite who stumbled into politics when a female politician was killed in 2003, has joined a religious Shi’ite alliance challenging Maliki, who also has Islamist roots, as he seeks a second term on a law-and-order platform.

Both groups have bent over backwards to hone a new, nationalist image that is likely to play better with Iraqis fed up with ruling parties’ failure to deliver.

It worked for Maliki, of the Islamic Dawa party, in local polls in 2009. But many Iraqis suspect the change is skin deep.

Some female candidates may go along with party positions that are unfavourable for women, such as a move to give male religious clerics greater power than civil courts over divorce, inheritance and child custody.

“We have a lot to do,” said Edwar, the activist.

Girls in Swat District, northwestern Pakistan, have gone back to school, and most women who had been prevented from working have returned to work, but people are still fearful.

According to the government’s National Commission on the Status of Women, there were 1,000-1,200 women factory workers in Mingora before the Taliban takeover in 2009. It is unknown how many have returned to work.

Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced from Swat in the spring and summer of 2009 due to intense fighting between government forces and Taliban militants. Most returned after the army regained control in July. (See Swat timeline)

A deep sense of trauma exists in many places. Since November 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has set up 10 welfare centres, known as “Friend’s House” to offer support and counselling to those affected by conflict.

There are also reports from Swat that state action against militants is continuing, adding to the tension.

“We have credible reports of arbitrary detentions, including female relatives of militants,” Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.

Meanwhile, Sardar Hussain Babak, education minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), has told the media in Peshawar that since December 2009 there has been a 1 percent increase in female enrolment. This is a significant development in a part of the country where, according to official figures, the literacy rate for women stands at below 23 percent.

School infrastructure, however, is “in ruins”, according to Ibrash Pasha, an activist with the NGO Khwendo Kor, which works for the education of girls.

Part of a longer article at

As an emergency telephone line for victims of domestic violence launches in Syria, a pioneering project is training professionals to support affected women. A group of lawyers, social workers and volunteers from Dera’a and Yarmouk Legal Advice Bureaux studied the legal issues concerning domestic violence during the three-month course.

The training, offered with the support of the Damask Rose Trust and the British Embassy in Syria, also focuses on discrimination against women and children.

The course finishes in early March, with a graduation ceremony on International Women’s Day (8 March). The participants will also be inaugurating Syria’s first-ever emergency telephone line for people affected by domestic violence, which will operate in Yarmouk.

Daad Mousa, a lawyer turned women’s rights’ activist, ran the workshop. He said: “I’ve been working for the past 15 years in the field of legal counselling for women that are victims of violence and have been involved in several important projects, but this one in particular tops them all.”

The group learned invaluable tools for better performing their emotionally demanding jobs. The workshop included in-depth courses on international law and conventions on women’s rights, as well as courses on Syrian legal and administrative procedures regarding violence against women and children.

Participants also had the chance to apply their new abilities to real-life case studies.

Hatifa Rashid, a Yarmouk social worker who took part in the workshop, said: “This is one of the first efforts of its kind in Syria – a hotline for people that suffer domestic violence. It is a new step towards addressing the problem and eventually preventing it.

“That is why I feel so happy to be a part of this and be able to help other people, making women feel they are not alone.”

The Damask Rose Trust is a registered UK charity established in 2006 by a group of British and Syrian academics, development specialists and philanthropists. It supports welfare and development projects in Syria, and promotes appreciation of Syria’s cultural heritage among British audiences. The Trust focuses on training and capacity-building projects which meet the needs of disadvantaged groups, especially among young people, women, the elderly and people affected by disability.

This training is part of a series of activities and capacity-building workshops carried out by UNRWA with the financial support of the Damask Rose Trust.

The report from the International Narcotics Control Board says “the abuse from prescription drugs is greater in some countries than from heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined.”

Read the full report here.

The report says the “date-rape drug” phenomenon “is evolving rapidly, as sexual abusers attempt to circumvent more rigorous drug controls by using substances not restricted by the international drug conventions.”

An excerpt:

    What is alarming is the unscrupulous way in which those drugs are used upon unwitting victims — the drugs, which are usually disguised in food or drinks, are introduced in dosages that are significantly higher than the dosages used for therapeutic purposes —a practice which entails serious health risks for the victims. Sexual assault crimes are often committed in public places such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs but also in private surroundings.

It says stricter control measures by governments, in close cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, have been shown to be effective in the past to curb the abuse of some of the “date-rape drugs” and that such measures should be stepped up.–warns-of-alarming-rise-of-date-rate-drugs/1

Canada won’t be winning many medals when the United Nations takes stock of women’s equality around the world, according to a new report that charts “systematic erosion” in the status of Canadian women since 2004.

The stinging report, which cites backward progress in everything from pay equity to child care, was prepared by an alliance of feminist and labour activists to counter the more flattering picture the federal Conservative government presented to the UN for the assessment.

The UN is convening a special session in March to mark 15 years since the huge Beijing conference on women in 1995, which laid out plans of action for all participating nations – including Canada.

Women have lost ground due to the elimination of funding for advocacy groups, the scrapping of a national child-care program and a widening wage gap between men and women, the report notes.

Kathy Lahey, a professor of law and gender studies at Queen’s University, whose research is part of the report sent to the UN this week, says Canada can’t claim many bragging rights.

She points out, for instance, that while more women may be in the workforce and at post-secondary institutions, their wage gap with men was actually worse in 2001 than it was in 1981.

In 1981, there was a 15.6 per cent gap between the wages of men and women who had attended university, according to Lahey. It then declined to an all-time low of 12.2 per cent in 1991. But 10 years later, it was up to 18.4 per cent, she says, and there are few signs anything is improving at the moment.

“This backing-off has been going on for quite a few years,” Lahey says.

The report also notes that although women have greater access to higher education, hiring and promotion in academic institutions has not kept pace: men with doctorates are twice as likely to have full-time professor positions as women with doctorates.

The report was released last week by Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and the Canadian Labour Congress and was billed as a “reality check” on the Harper government’s submission to the UN.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, in its own report card submitted for the UN session, argued “there are many positive stories” to tell about “women and their place in Canadian society.”

It said progress had been made in getting more women into universities and the workforce, for instance.

Harper has also said women’s issues will be front and centre when Canada hosts the G8 and G20 meetings this year. A UN indictment of Canada’s own record on women’s issues could cast an embarrassing shadow over that goal.

The submission by the labour congress and women’s groups takes aim at the Harper government for closing 12 of Canada’s 16 Status of Women offices, on the grounds that women’s and men’s issues do not need to be separated, and reallocating funding from organizations that support advocacy for women’s rights to those that provide front-line services.

It criticizes the elimination of funding for court challenges, which provided assistance to cases related to equality rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

“There has been a sharp decrease in institutional and political support by the government of Canada for the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls during the period 2004-2009,” says the report.

“There has been a systematic erosion of the human rights of women and girls in Canada.”

The report notes Canada has been steadily declining in international rankings of gender disparity over the past few years, at the UN and at the World Economic Forum.

In 2006, Canada placed 14th out of 115 countries in terms of the World Forum’s “gender-gap index” – a complex calculation that takes account of wages, education, health and political power. In 2009, Canada had slipped to 25th place.

Even among 22 OECD nations, Canada is lagging in measurement of the gender gap in wages, the report notes – in fifth place, behind the United States.

Lahey says that the loss of a national child-care program – put in place by Paul Martin’s Liberal government from 2004 to 2006, dismantled when Harper came to power – has represented another backward step for women and their economic security in Canada.

The Conservatives’ $100-a-month universal child benefit is not an adequate substitute or a realistic alternative for impoverished mothers, especially single ones, who need to work to support their families, Lahey said.

The report is critical of the government for doing away with the national child-care program, which would have cost $5 billion in its first five years, and for its opposition to the long-gun registry. The registry, it says, was one of the most significant factors in the decrease of firearm-related spousal homicides in Canada in the past 10 years.

Though the report is critical of the Harper government for cuts to women’s advocacy and equity programs, Lahey says blame for the decline stretches beyond the political.

She says the slashing of government revenues, by political parties of all stripes, has made a real, negative impact on the status of Canadian women. She also says that there are “deep, cultural” forces operating against women’s equality – as evidenced by the fact that any progress is difficult to maintain.–canadian-women-s-rights-in-decline-report-says

You can download the report “Reality Check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fifteen Years On, a Canadian Civil Society Response” from

Here is the address of the website for our ‘million signatures campaign’, and it will be really appreciated if you could circulate this to whoever may be interested in. This is a petition in order to abolish the article in the Penal Code in which women and those who practiced abortion are criminalized.

Go to

As Japan is a donor country, Japanese law on abortion has an impact on many developing countries through the policy of the official development assistance by the Japanese government.

The Japanese Penal Code prohibits the performance of all abortions. Penal Code stipulates “when a pregnant woman causes her own abortion by drugs or any other means, imprisonment with work for not more than 1 year shall be imposed” in its article 212, although the Maternal Protection Law justifies abortion on the ground of medico-economic reason and rape, under the autorization of her spouse.

The concluding observations announced by the CEDAW Committee in August 2009, after its review of the sixth periodic report of Japan, are as follows:

“The Committee recommends that the State party (Japan) amend, when possible, its legislation criminalizing abortion in order to remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion, in line with the Committee’s general recommendation No.24 on women and health and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action”.

But the Japanese government will not try to change the law. So we strongly urge the new Japanese government to abolish the provisions under the Penal Code that criminalize abortion.

We have launched one million signatures campaign for decriminalizing abortion. You can find the signature form at the following address. We would appreciate it if you would sign this form in order to put pressure on the Japanese government to decriminalize abortion.

Thank you in advance.

Kind regards,
Sumie Asatori and Fumi Suzuki

Palestinian women have been forced to find work to prevent family destitution at the same time as protecting masculine self esteem to preserve family harmony. These are the findings of a report by CARE International, The World Bank and the Women’s Studies Institute (WSI) at Birzeit University.

Economic collapse (the West Bank and Gaza has moved from being a middle income economy to one that is now massively aid dependent in the span of a decade) has systematically undermined men’s traditional role as the primary provider and protector of the family. Women, ill-equipped by training, experience, or expectation, are having to become breadwinners, in addition to their traditional roles, by searching for jobs in the formal sector (public sector and services), delaying their exit from the public sector (traditionally women would have left their jobs after marriage), producing food and other goods, selling or bartering food coupons, borrowing from neighbours, and volunteering with charitable organisations.

However women also have to negotiate the effect their new role of provider has on men. With men of all ages experiencing the daily fear and humiliation that stem from violence, conflict and unemployment, they retreat, depressed and emasculated. Women, eager to preserve tranquillity at home, have to tread carefully in a terrain of disrupted gender roles.

A woman in Jenin City said: “I have to think carefully about how I manage myself and what I say. For example, I can’t just come home and give him the money I earn. This would make him angry and depressed. He would feel like a failure for not being able to earn it himself. Instead, I leave it on the TV. I don’t want him to feel he is not the man of the house.”

Martha Myers, Head of CARE International in the West Bank and Gaza said: “Palestinian women are finding ways to cope with the poverty and conflict they find their families facing but their strategies represent a double blow. First, they are assuming extra burdens, work, and responsibilities. Second, they have to manage this in the context of traditional roles and perceptions and the men in their lives who are increasingly isolated and frustrated by their inability to provide and care. The hardships of Palestinian women will only be reversed with the lifting of Israel’s economic restrictions”.

The report states that only sustained lifting of economic restrictions by Israel will reverse negative trends, but recommends that the Palestinian Authority can take specific action in the immediate term by:
* Enabling employment for women that is perceived as “dignified”, especially through improvement of public transport regulation and enforcement of labour law.
* Supporting and expanding opportunities for youth employment.
* Facilitating social cohesion, especially in Area C and others isolated by movement and access restrictions.
* Collecting better data on gender-disaggregated economic participation.

Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza—Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse” can be downloaded from

On February 10, 2010 photographer and videographer Umida Ahmedova was convicted by the Mirobad District Criminal Court on charges of slander and insulting the Uzbek people.

The charges were brought against Ahmedova in January 2010 on the basis of a book of photographs published in 2007 and a documentary film published in 2008. These works reflect everyday life and traditions in Uzbekistan, with a focus on gender inequality, but were found by the court to “discredit the foundations and customs of the people of Uzbekistan” and “offend [their] traditions.”

Ahmedova was amnestied in the courtroom in honor of the 18th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence and will not go to prison. She plans to appeal the court’s guilty verdict.

Prior to this conviction HRW had said:

The Uzbek authorities should immediately drop the baseless slander and insult charges against the prominent photographer and videographer Umida Ahmedova and allow her to carry out her work and exercise her right to freedom of expression without government interference, Human Rights Watch said today.

The charges were brought on January 13, 2010, under articles 139 and 140 of the Uzbek Criminal Code. On January 23, investigators informed Ahmedova that the investigation had been completed and that the trial is expected to begin soon. The charges, specifically slander and insulting the Uzbek people, are based on a book of Ahmedova’s photographs published in 2007 and a documentary film produced in 2008. If convicted, Ahmedova could face up to three years in prison.

“The charges against Umida Ahmedova reveal the absurd lengths the government will go to silence independent expression,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The case sets a dangerous precedent and is a threat to all Uzbek artists.”

Ahmedova’s book, “Women and Men: From Dawn till Dusk,” portrays rural Uzbekistan and Uzbek traditions, focusing on gender inequality. The film, “The Burden of Virginity,” explores the social consequences for brides who are suspected of not being virgins.

Both projects were funded by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent. Human Rights Watch has received information that other artists whose projects were funded by the Swiss Embassy Gender Program have also come under investigation by the authorities.

As part of the investigation, the prosecutor ordered a review of Ahmedova’s book and film by an expert panel, consisting of six specialists in the fields of religious affairs, spirituality, and psychology. The panel concluded that Ahmedova’s work was insulting to the people of Uzbekistan and portrayed Uzbekistan in a negative light to Western audiences.

The panel said that 90 percent of the photos in Ahmedova’s book “were taken in remote, backward villages” and concluded that “the author’s aim is to show the difficult side of life [in Uzbekistan].” The panel expressed concern that “a foreigner who has never been to Uzbekistan, but who is familiar with this album, would reach the conclusion that [Uzbekistan] is a country where people live in the Middle Ages.” The experts concluded that Ahmedova’s “photo album does not conform to aesthetic demands,” and that “[d]istribution of this film does great damage to the spiritual values of Uzbekistan.”

“It is not the role of the Uzbek government to dictate how artists should depict Uzbek society, Cartner said. “The charges against Ahmedova are utterly groundless.”

Ahmedova was first questioned about her work in November 2009. At that time she was summoned to the Mirobad Police Station in Tashkent, the capital, where she was told by the investigator, Nodir Ahmadjanov, that she was a witness in the case. However, on December 16, Ahmedova was verbally informed that she was a suspect in a criminal investigation that had been opened in response to a review of her work, including the 2007 photo album and the 2008 documentary film, by the State Press and Information Agency. She was told she should hire a lawyer.

Ahmedova later learned through official case documents that she had already been a suspect when she was first questioned. Suspects are afforded greater rights than witnesses under Uzbek law, and investigators have an obligation to inform anyone who becomes a suspect as soon as that is determined. Those rights were denied Ahmedova because the investigator failed to inform her of her status.

On January 13, when the prosecutor’s office formally pressed criminal charges, Ahmedova was required to sign a document acknowledging that she had been accused. The document was back-dated to December 20. She was also required to sign another statement acknowledging that she is barred from leaving Uzbekistan.


Ahmedova, a photographer and cinematographer, graduated from the All-Soviet State Institute of Cinematography in 1986. She is a member of the Cinematography Union of Uzbekistan and of the Uzbek Academy of Artists. She has spoken on several television and radio programs about her work, and exhibited her photographs and films internationally, including in Tbilisi, Georgia at an international conference on Gender and Mass Media, as well as in cities across Europe. Ahmedova has won several prizes for her photography, including at the InterPress Photo Competition in Russia in 2004.

At the end of December, artists, photographers, journalists, and others from around the world issued an open statement addressed to Uzbekistan’s Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs Ministries, calling for the charges against Ahmedova to be dropped.

Women’s rights groups last month slammed a recent announcement that the Malaysian government has caned three Muslim women for having sex outside of marriage. Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the trio, who were whipped at a local prison on February 9, were the first women to receive the punishments under the country’s Islamic sharia law.

The caning has sparked outrage from rights groups, who say that the caning discriminates against women. No information was released on the fate of the men involved in the alleged sexual affairs.

“This is sending a message to women, it’s disrespecting women,” said Ivy Josiah, executive director of advocacy group, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

“We are completely flabbergasted and mortified. And we are really angry,” she told the German News Agency dpa.

“The WAO categorically does not condone corporal punishment, but the fact that three women have been whipped, this is a form of state violence against women,” said Ivy.

She said several rights and women’s groups would be meeting later Thursday to decide on the course of action against the government’s move.

Sisters In Islam, a Muslim rights group, has also slammed the caning as a form of discrimination.

“It violates constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, as whipping of women under Shariah Criminal Offences legislation contradicts civil law where women are not punishable by caning,” said the movement’s executive director Hamidah Marican in a statement.

She said the delayed announcement of the whipping also implied that the government “wanted to hide this degrading and unjust treatment from public scrutiny,” Hamidah said.

Two of the three women where whipped six times, while the third was given four strokes of the cane. The women’s identities have not been released.

The government’s surprising announcement has reignited attention to the caning of a 33-year-old woman who was sentenced to be whipped last year for drinking beer.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a mother of two, is waiting for her sentencing to be carried out but government officials have kept mum on the exact date.

Kartika’s case had sparked outrage, with rights groups saying the move would undermine government efforts to portray the country as moderate.

Hishammuddin said he decided to bring to public attention the recent whipping of the three women punishment as he believed there was “too much hype” over Kartika’s sentence.

“People are saying that no woman has been caned before and that Kartika should not be caned.

“I am announcing that we have already done it,” said Hishammuddin.

Hishammuddin said all three women did not suffer any cuts or bruises following the caning.

“They have all repented. They are also hoping that others will not go against the teachings of the religion,” he said.

Kartika’s case had sparked concerns that conservative and hardline Islamists are gaining influence over the justice system of this country where more than half of its 28-million-population are Muslims.

“The darker, menacing message here is that this is the beginning of the state controlling all aspects of our lives. That is frightening,” WAO’s Ivy said.,rights-groups-slam-caning-of-malaysian-muslim-women–summary.html

See also: Caning is against federal constitution

Women’s groups analysing the impact of the gender budgeting exercise initiated by the UPA government more than five years back feel that while the pioneering initiative has done its bit in sensitising people to women’s needs, much more needs to be done in terms of increasing allocation and devising better schemes.

The National Common Minimum programme of the UPA made a committment towards gender budgeting which found reflection in former finance minister P Chidambaram’s speech in this government’s first budget in 2004-05. “Women’s groups have met me and urged me to consider gender budgeting. This means that the budget data should be presented in a manner that the gender sensitivities of the budgetary allocations are clearly highlighted,” he said.

The promise was fulfilled in the next year’s budget when the government introduced along with the Budget documents a separate statement highlighting the gender sensitivities of the budgetary allocations under 10 demands for grants. The exercise has been repeated in subsequent budgets.

Appreciating the government’s efforts, Kanta Singh from Women Power Connect, a coalition of women’s groups, academic institutions and women leaders which holds dialogues with policymakers on women’s issues, pointed out that the gender budgeting exercise had indeed sensitised the government to women’s needs. “It has underlined the fact that women have separate needs than men,” she said.

However, the government is still a long way from meeting the target of allocating 30% of resources to measures targetting women as promised in the Ninth five year Plan (it is estimated at a little over 5%). To top that, allocation for women specific programmes have almost remained static as a portion of the total government expenditure (at 5.5%) over the last two years.

“The concept is too new to have made much of an impact,” Ms Singh said, adding that a lot more needs to done.

Women groups now want the government to take gender budgeting to its next level now. “Since food security impacts on women disproportionately and National Family Health Survey data shows that anemia levels among women are going up, it is extremely important that the National Food Securities Act with adequate allocations and gender responsive provisions to see the light of the day. This would have a far reaching impact on ‘aam aurat,” says Yamini Mishra, director, Centre for Budget Analysis.