Archive for April, 2010

Nigerian women’s groups say they’ll take legal action against a politician who married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl at Nigeria’s national mosque.

Female members of the country’s senate have promised to support a petition to reprimand Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, the BBC reported Wednesday. Sani married the girl at the mosque in Abuja several weeks ago, the BBC said.

Nigeria’s human rights commission says it will investigate whether the marriage is legal.

Women’s rights groups say Sani has broken the law, citing the Child Rights Act of 2003.

“When you marry them out at this early stage, is it because it is viewed as a commodity that can be easily disposed of and a new one acquired,” Mma Wokocha, the leader of the coalition protesting the marriage, said.

The group wants an investigation into the child’s identity, her age, the circumstances of her entry into Nigeria and the dowry paid to her family, the BBC reported.

See also:
* Nigeria – investigation into senator’s ‘child bride’
* Nigerian senator Sani denies marrying girl of 13

Investing in women smallholder farmers is the key to halving hunger and results in twice as much growth as investment in any other sector, a new ActionAid report reveals.

Less than one per cent of the agriculture budget is targeted at women in the three countries researched by ActionAid in its new report Fertile Ground – Malawi, Kenya and Uganda – despite women’s central contribution to the growing of food.

“One billion people going hungry must be a wake-up call that there’s something very wrong with our farming,” said Tennyson Williams, Acting Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Despite recent commitments, donor aid to agriculture is still too little, uncoordinated and arrives too late. It has also been poorly targeted and remains hugely inconsistent with the realities of women’s role in food production.”

At the moment, virtually nothing is being spent on research into crops grown by women, training, credit, early childhood education and access to land, despite food price hikes and shortages likely to worsen as climate change intensifies.

Fertile Ground shows that 2.9 million Ugandans could be lifted out of poverty by 2015 if the country reached a six per cent agricultural growth rate annually.

In Kenya, 1.5 million lives could be improved, if current sums on agriculture rose from 5 to 10 per cent.

In stark contrast, Malawi is one of Africa’s highest spenders on agriculture and as a result food security is better than at any time in recent history. In 2004, 1.5 million people needed food aid while in 2009, this number had dropped to 150,000 people.

ActionAid believes that by scaling up support to smallholders to at least $40 billion per year globally, world leaders can deliver a 50 percent reduction hunger and poverty by 2015 – the most fundamental of the UN Millennium Goals.

Download: Fertile Ground Report

Reject Delay in Steps to End Rape in War and Include Women in Peace Talks

The United Nations Security Council should immediately begin using measurable benchmarks to protect women caught in conflicts around the world and to ensure that women are included in peace negotiations, rather than delaying this step, Human Rights Watch said today.

In October 2009, the Security Council asked the secretary-general to prepare a set of indicators on the implementation of key Council commitments regarding women in conflict. The measures are to be presented today to the Security Council, which has the option of acting now or postponing action.

“This move has been a decade in the making,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “There’s no excuse for waiting another minute to take steps we know are needed.”

Diplomats have indicated that it is likely that the Council will “take note” of the secretary-general’s report. They said the Council is likely to defer any implementation of the indicators until at least October, the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, which laid out UN system and member state commitments regarding women in conflict. Resolution 1325 has been reported on annually since 2000, but without any consistency in the focus of reporting or specific expectations for outcome.

Further steps may be needed to implement all of the indicators recommended by the secretary-general, but the report also concludes that information is readily available and reliable for many of the indicators. The Council should endorse the immediate use of all indicators for which data exist, in particular in the UN reports on countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said.

“Any real discussion of abuse of women in conflict depends on understanding the scope of the problem,” Mollmann said. “This is a chance for the Security Council to make clear how urgent this is so that there can be actual numbers to report and a real way to measure success and failure.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern a delay could mean that the benchmarks would become the main focus of debates around the 10th anniversary rather than commitments to overcome the problems the indicators are expected to highlight.

“Women in conflict-ridden countries deserve more than a commitment to collecting data when the Security Council looks at what it has done in the past 10 years to address their plight,” Mollmann said. “We expect UN member states to follow through to empower women as peacemakers and to stop rape in war.”

The UN refugee agency has expressed concern about the lack of justice for the thousands of women who are raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) every year, and prevailing impunity for rapists.

“Sexual violence constitutes among the most serious of crimes and should be treated as such,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists Friday. “Survivors should be helped to report incidents without fear of reprisal.”

New UN figures show 1,244 women have been raped in DRC during the first three months of this year, and the numbers could be much higher because of under-reporting.

More than a third of the recorded cases are in the provinces of North and South Kivu in eastern DRC. The region hosts some 1.4 million internally displaced persons, including 100,000 in camps run by UNHCR.

In many cases women are raped when they venture out of their villages or camps to collect firewood, water and other basic necessities.

UNHCR is taking steps to keep women safe, such as providing fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to women in North Kivu. Since 2008, the UN refugee agency has provided fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to some 4,200 families.

“In addition to such prevention methods, we are also working to follow up on rape cases brought to our attention by providing counseling, medical treatment and legal advice,” Fleming added.

Thanks to UNHCR legal assistance, 145 survivors in South Kivu were able to file complaints in local courts. Most of the cases are still before the courts, but 24 people have been found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of between two and 10 years, and some have also been ordered to pay compensation.

“This represents a significant development for justice, but overall the number of cases in which criminal charges are being brought is tiny compared to the vast scale of the problem,” said Fleming.

In DRC at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since 1996.

Haitian women have been increasingly vocal and active in social, political, and economic issues since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. Though it has not come easily, their progress in changing gender relations of power within the home, within social movements, and within the nation has been steady.

Women’s organizations have been key to these advances, helping create the space to foster and protect women’s activism. One network is helping women gain voice, literally: the Haitian Women’s Community Radio Network (REFRAKA by its Creole acronym).

The importance of radio cannot be overstated in a country where 45% of men, and 49% of women, are illiterate.[1] Nor can the significance of women taking the microphone, in a country where aggressive patriarchy in the home and society, as well as violence from male partners and the state, have tried to keep them silent.

Founded in 2001, REFRAKA includes 25 member stations in nine of Haiti’s ten geographic departments. The network has trained about 150 women as journalists, program hosts, and production technicians.

Moreover, REFRAKA helps women in various radio stations make programs about local issues, while also producing national-level shows which are then aired on member stations. REFRAKA staff produces a special radio-magazine each month, one hour each, on specific gender-related topics such as women’s political advocacy, gender relations, Haitian women’s social realities, violence, HIV-AIDS, and news about women from around the world. They also produce 30-minute shows especially for girls aged 11-15 in community schools, called Own Your Body, Care for Your Body which discuss issues including girl’s bodies and health, and relations between girls and boys.

REFRAKA’s office was destroyed and all their archives, materials, and supplies were lost in the January 12 earthquake. Their work is temporarily on hold as they reestablish their institution. Soon they will resume their programs, this time with a sharp focus on the status of women in this catastrophe phase and the participation of women in the reconstruction.

Marie Guirlene Justin, program director of REFRAKA, tells more.

“When we started working, it was very hard because of the machismo from men who couldn’t accept women’s voices getting out like this. Before it was hard to find women speaking on the radio; now it’s not.Now women are advancing. More women are trained in reporting and production. There are more women on the radio, and there are more women’s radio programs. Now we have women who are directors of radio stations, though there are still no women owners. Men are starting to understand, and gender issues are crossing over into other radio programs.

“More women are speaking their own truth. For example, you have CONAP [the National Coalition to Advocate the Rights of Women by its French acronym]… When CONAP hosts something in Port-au-Prince, REFRAKA does a radio program on it and gets it out into the countryside. That way rural women don’t feel alone. We cover what groups like SOFA [Solidarity Among Haitian Women] are doing, which gives the women’s movement a lot of strength.

“We’re taking small steps. Today on the radio, you hear less music and proverbs discriminating against women. This has to be reinforced so that we don’t go backwards. You know that relations between women and men are fragile today, especially with all the displacement since the earthquake.

“One of the new concepts following the earthquake is reconstructing another form of participation, where women can participate in everything, in the big debates about reconstruction, in planning national development for another Haiti. A process where women and men put their hands together to build something new in this country will be very different than one where men are making decisions for everyone. When we have a society where women have a say in what they want and need, we’ll be closer to having a society based on social justice, an equitable society. Then we’ll have balanced relations, with the possibility for everyone to live in peace.

“Popular communications is a big part of this. It’s an important form for people to have their own voice to speak about questions that impact their lives with the reconstruction. Community stations are close to the people, and they give people a chance to understand what’s happening and insert themselves in it.

“In the context of Haiti’s reality today, we really need solidarity. In the earthquake, our office was smashed and we lost everything we had collected over nine years: our computers, records, cameras, office furniture… It’s all gone. Myself, I was trapped inside the office alone and I thought I would die. My ear was sliced open when a cement block fell on it. My home was destroyed.

“We don’t want the kind of international ‘help’ that we’re seeing throughout Haiti today, much of which is about domination. We want an exchange of experiences in the North and South where we each bring our own contribution. Today we need that type of solidarity, especially globally in the women’s movement.”

The justice minister, Francisco Camaño, managed today, despite opposition from the European Commission, supported by a sufficient majority of Member States to adopt the European order of protection for battered women, one of the priorities of the Spanish presidency. His goal now is to conclude in the coming weeks the details of the new standard and reach a political agreement in June, which must be ratified by the Parliament.

In a tense press conference after the meeting of ministers of the EU, a spokesperson said “Some people are ready to advance as quickly as possible instruments for the protection of victims,” the Justice Minister claimed to justify the urgency in passing the European arrest warrant.

“I disagree to the position of commissioner,” said Caamano, who stressed that the Spanish proposal has a “large majority” backup. And the EU executive vice president replied that the “vast majority” of States “has problems” with the initiative of Spain. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” said Reding.

The level of engagement was such that, when after the press conference Caamano tried to say goodbye, Reding was not even looking at him and only after a second attempt took his hand. The aim of the Spanish proposal is that any security measure taken by a Member State to protect a threatened person, a restraining order for an abuser, will also run automatically in another EU country to which the victim has moved.

On April 9th 2010, Amnesty International issued the following statement:

Due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International on 9 April 2010. Gita has most recently held the position of Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, and was in a period of consultation over possible redeployment following a redundancy process. Accordingly, Gita will leave receiving a payment based on Amnesty International’s redundancy policy.

Statement By Gita Sahgal On Leaving Amnesty International (11 April 2010)

On Friday 9th April, 2010 Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, ‘due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.’

I was hired as the Head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every aspect of the work. Today, there is little ground for optimism.

The senior leadership of Amnesty International chose to answer the questions I posed about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg by affirming their links with him. Now they have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates and his organisation Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.

I thank the senior leadership for these admissions and for their further clarification that concerns around the legitimization of Begg were of very long standing and that there was strong opposition from Head of the Asia programme to a partnership with him. When disagreements are profound, it is best that disputes over matters of fact, are reduced.

Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.

I extend my sympathies to all who have fought long and hard within Amnesty International to match the movement’s principles with its actions. I know many of you have been bewildered by this dispute and others deeply shamed by what is being done in your name. You may have been told that that debate is not possible in the middle of a crisis. I agree that there is indeed a crisis and that the hardest questions are being posed by Amnesty International’s close human rights allies, particularly in areas where jihad supported by Begg’s associates, is being waged.

I am now free to offer my help as an external expert with an intimate knowledge of Amnesty International’s processes and policies. I can explain in public debates, both with the leadership and inside the Sections, that adherence to violent jihad even if it indeed rejects the killing of some civilians, is an integral part of a political philosophy that promotes the destruction of human rights generally and contravenes Amnesty International’s specific policies relating to systematic violence and discrimination, particularly against women and minorities.

During these last two months, human rights gains have been made to defend the torture standard and to shame governments who have been complicit in torture through their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies. But the spectre that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim, is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

So I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?

Gita Sahgal
Former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, Amnesty International

See also:

Dangerous liaisons by Gita Sahgal

In a letter in response to the Global Petition to Amnesty International, the Secretary General of Amnesty International makes a shocking and incredible claim that “Defensive Jihad not antithetical to Human Rights”. If this is the official position of the world’s leading human rights organisation, this would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement.

And earlier stories:
* Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights
* Statement by Gita Sahgal Head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit

Writer Nawal El Saadawi has braved prison, exile and death threats in her fight against female oppression. And she isn’t about to give up now

‘I am becoming more radical with age,” says Nawal El Saadawi, laughing. “I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite. Age makes me more angry.”

In 1972, her non-fiction book Women and Sex (which included criticism of female genital mutilation) led to her losing her job as director general of public health for the Egyptian ministry of health. In 1981, her outspoken political views led to her being charged with crimes against the state and jailed for three months – she used the time to write Memoirs From The Women’s Prison on a roll of toilet paper, with an eyebrow pencil smuggled in by a fellow prisoner. In 1993 she fled to the US after death threats were issued against her by religious groups.

Her work continues to be explosive. Her play, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting – in which God is questioned by Jewish, Muslim and Christian prophets and finally quits – proved so controversial that, she says, her Arabic publishers destroyed it under police duress. And recently her criticism of religion, primarily on the basis that it oppresses women, has prompted a flurry of court cases, including unsuccessful legal attempts both to strip her of her nationality and to forcibly dissolve her marriage.

Her energy, she insists, comes from the 10 to 15 letters she receives every day from people who say their lives have been changed by her writing. “A young man came to me in Cairo with his new bride. He said, I want to introduce my wife to you and thank you. Your books have made me a better man. Because of them I wanted to marry not a slave, but a free woman.”

El Saadawi is “a novelist first, a novelist second, a novelist third”, she says, but it is feminism that unites her work. “For me feminism includes everything,” she says. “It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.”

In her first autobiography, A Daughter of Isis, she recalls her outrage when she began to realise daughters were not considered equal to sons. When her grandmother told her, “a boy is worth 15 girls at least . . . Girls are a blight,” she stamped her foot in fury.

In that same book she writes about the horror of female circumcision. “When I was six, the daya (midwife) came along holding a razor, pulled out my clitoris from between my thighs and cut it off. She said it was the will of God and she had done his will . . . I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days the bleeding stopped . . . But the pain was there like an abscess deep in my flesh . . . I did not know what other parts in my body there were that might need to be cut off in the same way.” Later, while working as a doctor, she saw for herself the terrible physical damage female genital mutilation could cause; she campaigned for 50 years, she says, for it to be banned in Egypt. A ban was finally instituted in 2008, but she says the practice “still happens – it is even increasing. Some religious leaders talk against it, but others are for it.”

Circumcision wasn’t the only horror El Saadawi faced as a child. Brought up in a middle-class Egyptian household, she was expected to become a child bride, but refused; she blackened her teeth and dropped coffee over one would-be suitor who came to call. “When I was a child it was normal that girls in my village would marry at 10 or 11,” she says. “Now, of course, the government is standing against that because it is unhealthy. And it happens much less. But we are having a relapse again, because of poverty and religious fundamentalism.”

El Saadawi’s desire to study was so great that her parents were eventually convinced she would benefit from university. She believes that her radical views were formed, at least in part, by training as a doctor. “When I dissected the body it opened my eyes,” she says. “Also, I think I have the gene of my grandmother who was a rebel. My sisters and brothers took another gene.”

She still refuses to tone down her work. “I am very critical of all religions,” she says. “We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.” It is religious extremism, she believes, that is the biggest threat to women’s liberation today. “There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions,” she says. “We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.” She fears that the rise of religion is holding back progress regarding issues such as female circumcision, especially in Egypt.

In a bid to address this, she has helped to found the Egyptian chapter of the Global Solidarity for Secular society. She believes religion should be a personal matter, and approves of France’s ban on all religious symbols, including the hijab. “Education should be totally secular. I am not telling people not to believe in God, but it should be a personal matter which should be done at home.”

Despite the fact that her sisters wear the veil, she refuses to accept it as a free choice. “What do we mean by choice? It is pressure, but it is hidden pressure – she is not aware of it. I was exposed to different pressures from my sisters. We are all the products of our economic, social and political life and our education. Young people today are living in the era of the fundamentalist groups.”

El Saadawi says that she is dismayed by the relaxed attitude of young women who do not realise what previous generations of feminists have fought for. “Young people are afraid of the price of being free. I tell them, don’t be, it is better than being oppressed, than being a slave. It’s all worth it. I am free.”

And, she adds, there are more battles for her on the horizon. “A new university opened in Egypt and I was asked to teach, but the top people said no. They are afraid. So that is the next thing. I will work towards teaching in Egypt.” A fighter to the last.

Part of a longer article at

The attorneys representing Chilean Judge Karen Atala, a lesbian who brought her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming discrimination in the loss of custody of her three daughters, accused the Chilean state of sending out “unequivocal” signals of a lack of will to implement the regional body’s recommendations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS) body, found that “the Chilean state violated Karen Atala’s right to live free from discrimination,” and issued recommendations.

But Supreme Court chief magistrate Milton Juica said Thursday that he would not join the working group proposed by the government to comply with the suggestions issued in February.

“The courts do not discriminate in any way,” Juica said, referring to the case. “We are not going to take part in any working group.”

Although the government of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera said it accepted the IACHR’s recommendations, Juica’s remarks are “an unequivocal signal of the state’s lack of will” to live up to them, said Jorge Contesse, director of the private Diego Portales University’s (UDP) human rights centre.

In a May 2004 decision, the Supreme Court stripped Atala of custody of her three daughters because she was living with her lesbian partner, Emma de Ramón, a history professor.

In so doing, the Court overturned the rulings of two lower courts that had granted her custody after she separated from her husband, who is also a judge.

With no further chance to appeal the ruling, Atala took her case to the IACHR in November 2004, with the backing of the UDP human rights centre, Corporación Humanas, a women’s rights organisation, and the Lawyers Association for Public Freedoms.

In March 2006, the Chilean government and Atala’s defence counsel began to negotiate a friendly settlement agreement, but the effort failed.

The IACHR declared the case admissible in July 2008, and early this year it issued its final report, which found that Atala’s rights were violated and urged the state to make reparations to her and to take steps to adopt legislation, policies, and programmes to prohibit and end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Piñera administration announced this week that in line with the IACHR’s recommendations, it would set up a working group comprised of representatives of all of the concerned parties, to propose public policies and legislative reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of what happened in Atala’s case.

But the Supreme Court has refused to participate.

In the next few weeks, the Chilean government is to submit to the IACHR a report on the steps it plans to take. The Commission must then decide whether or not to refer the case to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Atala’s defence attorneys believe the case will end up in the Inter-American Court if the Supreme Court does not agree to join the working group.

The Supreme Court’s decision surprised Atala’s lawyers because of Juica’s well-known work in cases of human rights abuses committed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006).

“What stands out about this case is the concept of human rights held by the Supreme Court, because human rights not only involve the widespread, systematic violations that occurred during the dictatorship, but also have to do with people with a diverse sexual orientation,” said Contesse.

Atala “is happy with the Commission’s decision, and is waiting to see what happens. This has been a long process, and the damage is irreparable,” Corporación Humanas lawyer Helena Olea told IPS.

“Chile has not shown signs of moving in the direction of living up to recommendations in favour of sexual minorities,” said Contesse, who pointed out that for years the country has been debating a draft law containing anti-discrimination measures.

According to the lawyer, the IACHR report is “historic and unprecedented. This is the first decision of this kind on the rights of people of diverse sexual orientation to be handed down in the inter-American system” of human rights.

The resolution in this case “was awaited in countries like the United States, Colombia, Argentina. Karen Atala’s case is forging new ground,” Contesse told IPS.

The Inter-American Court has issued rulings against Chile in several cases: in 2001, for violating freedom of expression by censoring the film “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and in 2005 for trying cases involving civilians in military courts.

In 2006, two other sentences were handed down, involving access to public information and the incompatibility of the 1978 amnesty decreed by Pinochet, which let human rights violators off the hook, with the American Convention on Human Rights.


Under a new Utah law, women who miscarry under certain conditions are open to murder charges and life sentences. Feticide laws in other states focus on abusive boyfriends and husbands, but this one targets the woman herself.

Utah’s new law, in which women who miscarry could face charges of murder and life sentences in prison, has the American Medical Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and women’s advocacy groups worried.

Other states, such as North Carolina, Florida and Mississippi, have laws that are directed towards a third party and “were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend,” Paltrow said. But Utah’s law “is directed to the woman herself, and that’s what makes it different and dangerous.”

The law became official March 8. State Rep. Carl Wimmer proposed it after a 17-year-old girl who was 7 months pregnant paid a man she didn’t know to beat her up to induce a miscarriage. He kicked her in the stomach repeatedly and even bit her neck. But the fetus survived and the baby was given up for adoption.

The young woman was charged with second-degree felony criminal solicitation to commit murder in Juvenile Court, but was not ultimately charged.

Under Utah law at that time, a woman could not be held criminally liable for attempting to obtain an abortion on her own. The man who beat her was found guilty of third-degree attempted killing of an unborn child under a state anti-abortion statute and was sentenced to up to five years in jail.

Wimmer, an ardent advocate for repealing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion under a woman’s right to privacy, proposed the first version of what became the Utah Criminal Homicide and Abortions Revisions bill.
Any ‘Reckless’ Act

Originally the bill criminalized any “reckless” act by a pregnant woman that causes a miscarriage. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert refused to sign it out of concern that the wording was murky enough to mean pregnant women who lost a fetus due to slipping on ice, over-exercising or driving past the speed limit could face the bill’s most extreme punishment of life in prison.

The bill was revised, yet the law still contains provisions that may have consequences far exceeding the scope of the legislature’s intent, critics say. Among other things, law enforcement officials now have discretion over arrests and investigations in connection with the law.

Some of the “knowing or intentional” acts that may be prosecuted under the law include smoking cigarettes during pregnancy, staying in an abusive relationship, refusing a Caesarean section or bed rest when instructed by a doctor or using prescription medications that are known to harm a fetus.

One major concern is that the bill will drive women in need of prenatal and health care underground.

Wimmer assured opponents that the law would only be applied “in the most glaring of cases.” Law enforcement officials, however, have discretion to arrest and investigate whichever cases they choose.

Advocates representing low income and minority women have expressed concern that the law will have a particular impact on women already disproportionately targeted for punishment, state control and arrests.

Part of a longer article at

Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions bill

Utah American Civil Liberties Union

“What the Utah bill will really mean for women’s rights and health,” National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

The state of Nebraska has opened a new front in America’s war over abortion, passing a law that shifts the emphasis away from the viability of the unborn baby to survive outside the womb and on to a previously legally untested concept of foetal pain.

Two laws signed by the governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, represent a bold attempt by local anti-abortionists to undermine the constitutional right to an abortion established in the supreme court ruling Roe v Wade in 1973. Pro-abortion groups denounced the legislation as the most extreme attack yet on women’s reproductive rights.

The foetal-pain law bans abortions in Nebraska beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. It cites claims by some doctors that by that stage foetuses show signs that they avoid certain stimuli, indicating that they feel pain, though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists insists there is no evidence to support that.

Only in cases of a pregnant woman’s imminent death or substantial physical harm would exceptions be allowed.

In a second law, all women seeking an abortion in Nebraska would have to be screened for any mental health or other “risk factors” that could arise as a result of the procedure.

The reliance on pain marks a dramatic switch away from previous definitions of legal abortion as set down by a succession of supreme court rulings since Roe v Wade. The cut-off point has been determined as the viability of the foetus, which is assessed on an individual basis but usually falls between 22 and 24 weeks.

Although legislators in Nebraska have presented the law as a reform based on science, there is a strong political incentive behind their action. In May last year George Tiller, one of the only doctors in America who performed abortions in late stages of pregnancy, was shot and killed by an anti-abortion campaigner, Scott Roeder.

Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, was closed and attention on the most emotive cases of late abortions transferred to Nebraska where another doctor, LeRoy Carhart, promised to take over some of Tiller’s casework. Local politicians in Nebraska feared that the centre of the abortion debate would pass from Kansas, where daily and sometimes violent demonstrations were held outside Tiller’s clinic for years, to their home state.

The foetal pain law is likely to be swiftly challenged by pro-abortion groups and may well end up before the supreme court. The Centre for Reproductive Rights said the ban on abortions after 20 weeks “clearly violates the constitution”.


We have continued to receive news, from civil society organizations and the Algerian media, of terrible atrocities perpetrated against women workers in Hassi Messaoud, in recent weeks. These events remind us of the tragic days of July 2001 which saw hundreds of women, “tortured, stoned, raped and buried alive”, as recalled by the Algerian press.

Ten years later, these crimes go largely unpunished and women, in general, have not been able to rebuild their lives for lack of sustained material and financial support, but also while facing moral and legal challenges. Time has not healed this nightmare, and it has started again. Violence has flared up conducted by gangs of youth that, once again with impunity, are stealing from, beating, and torturing – mostly migrant – women, who work in the industrial and economic sectors of Hassi Messaoud. The majority of them are in hiding because they cannot leave their jobs: they need to provide for themselves and support their families.

This situation is intolerable in terms of the law, our consciences and the human rights that these women are entitled to as citizens. It is intolerable in the face of the inaction, which has begun to resemble the complicity, of local police forces and administrative structures at the regional and national level. The authority of the state is constantly flouted because these groups know they can act with impunity. Justice has still not been served for the violence and killings of 2001.

We would therefore like to draw your attention to these gross violations of the human and citizenship rights of these workers. It is imperative that there is an immediate end to the violence and torture, which is condemned by national and international laws.

We have urged the Algerian authorities at all levels of governance to intervene urgently, and to take drastic and effective measures to ensure the protection of women and put a final stop to these acts of banditry.

WLUML – Women Living Under Muslim Laws (
SIAWI – Secularism is a Women’s Issue (
WICUR – Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights


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Survey reveals that sixty percent of rape victims gang raped, more than half in their own homes, appalling increase in number of civilian rapists.

An extensive study of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) commissioned by Oxfam and conducted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, shows that 60 percent of rape victims surveyed were gang raped by armed men and more than half of assaults took place in the supposed safety of the family home at night, often in the presence of the victim’s husband and children.

While the majority of rapists were either soldiers or militiamen, the report also shows a shocking 17-fold increase in rapes carried out by civilians between 2004 and 2008.

The report, “Now, the world is without me”, is based on the study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which analyzed information collected from 4,311 female rape victims who were treated in Panzi hospital in South Kivu Province over a four-year period.

The report found that the incidence of rape spiked during military activities. Given the ongoing offensives against militia groups in eastern Congo, the report has real relevance for the situation in DRC today. Over 5,000 people were raped in South Kivu in 2009, according to the UN. The report comes out ahead of the UN Security Council visit to DRC this weekend, with the council set to renew the UN peacekeepers mandate in May.

Krista Riddley, Oxfam’s Director of Humanitarian Policy, said:

“Rape of this scale and brutality is scandalous. This is a wake-up call at a time when plans are being discussed for UN peacekeepers to leave the country. The situation is not secure if a woman can’t even sleep safely in her own bed at night. The report shows when and where women are attacked, and why peacekeepers must continue to play a vital role in creating security while the Congolese government builds up its own capacity to keep civilians from harm.”

The study shows that 56 percent of assaults were carried out in the family home by armed men, while 16 percent took place in fields and almost 15 percent in the forest. Fifty-seven percent of assaults were carried out at night. Sexual slavery was also reported, affecting 12 percent of the women in the sample, with some women being held captive for years.

The report also offers insights into the stigma facing women within their families after rape and the problems they face getting medical care. Less than one percent of women came to Panzi hospital with their husbands and nine percent had been abandoned by their spouse. One in three women came alone.

This stigma leads to delays in seeking treatment, with only 12 percent of the women coming to Panzi within a month of the assault. Very few women came for treatment in time to prevent HIV infection. Over 50 percent of women waited more than a year before seeking treatment, with a significant number waiting more than three years.

Krista Riddley from Oxfam said:

“Panzi is the only hospital of its kind in South Kivu, which is home to some 5 million people. Many women from rural areas cannot make the journey and often die from the complications associated with brutal rape. Rich country donors together with the Congolese government need to radically increase the medical services available for survivors of sexual violence in Congo’s remote towns and villages. Every woman should be able to get the treatment she needs.”

The research found that fewer than one percent of rapes were perpetrated by civilians in 2004. By 2008, that proportion had gone up to 38 percent.

Susan Bartels, the study’s lead researcher from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said, “This study confirms what has only been reported anecdotally until now: sexual violence has become more normal in civilian life. The scale of rape over Congo’s years of war has made this crime seem more acceptable. Although Congo has one of the most progressive laws on rape in Africa, few rapists are prosecuted. The law must be enforced and justice put within reach of survivors.”

The report calls on the Congolese government and the international community to:

    Increase provision of medical care for survivors of sexual violence, particularly in rural areas. The easier it is to get help locally, the more likely women will be to get timely support for HIV and the more able they will be to manage the risk of others finding out. Stigma remains a significant barrier to accessing care following sexual violence.

    Ensure that the protection provided by the UN peacekeepers and Congolese security services is tailored to local realities. The peacekeepers and security services need to consult with the local community to provide innovative solutions, such as early warning systems and night patrols to help meet their needs. This is happening in some areas and needs to be rolled out more systematically to respond to the threats this report highlights.

    Reform the Congolese security sector and justice system to ensure that there is zero tolerance for rape, whether it is committed by civilians, militiamen, or soldiers.

Se also: Congolese laws against sexual violence are not being implemented and a withdrawal of United Nations peacekeepers from the country would make the struggle against endemic rape “a lot more difficult,” the U.N. said.

Even though I turned into Autumn I am more beautiful now
A letter of suffering by Bahareh, victim of rape arrested in July 2009 at Ghoba Mosque

“My name is Bahar (Spring in Persian). It’s Spring and I write to you of flowers but flowers with scattered petals. I write to you of the green and of sprouts but squashed sprouts, trampled on by hatred, the hatred towards beauty and whatever is beautiful as displayed by ugly souls, the hatred towards those who seek justice by a bunch of sell outs. I write to you of those who are not real men.

My name is Bahareh Maghami, 28 years old and there is nothing left of me and no reason to hide my name anymore. I have lost all who were important to me one day. I have lost relatives and friends, neighbors and companions, coworkers and colleagues. I have lost them all. Those who pretend to be men stole it all from me so unfairly. They stole my life. Now that I have left the country, I want to share my pain with someone, even if only once. I also like to ask other friends who have experienced a similar painful fate to write. They must write what happened to them. Even if they fear their lives or dignity, they should use anonymous names but they must write. They must write so that history is aware of what happened to our generation; to this grief-stricken generation. They must write so that those who come after us and live in a free Iran know what price was paid for their freedom; how many lives were burnt and how hopes vanished; they must know about the broken backs and bent knees!

When my father found out, his back broke. He was shattered into pieces. My mom aged a hundred years overnight. My brother: I still haven’t been able to look into my brother’s eyes and he doesn’t look at me either; he doesn’t want me to suffer any more than I already have. When he found out, it was like they took away his manhood. When he found out that there are people who pretend to be men but the only thing left of it is their genitals, he began to hate his own manhood. For them dignity, nobility and chastity have no meaning. I was a first grade teacher. I was teaching the little flowers of our country how to read and write. I was teaching them “Dad brought water”, “That man comes”, “That man brings bread”. For me the image of a man was the kind breadwinner. I was waiting for him to arrive. And now that image has changed. He is angry and blinded by his desires. I cannot rid myself of his infectious smell of sweat. I am always scared of him coming back. I jump out of bed in the middle of the night fearing his footsteps. My whole body shakes with the smallest sounds and my heart starts beating faster fearing his arrival. I am always ready to escape. I leave the lights on at nights and I pass the days with tears and grief!

Our house was situated at “Kargar Shomali” street. I had gone to Ghoba Mosque with my brother when I was arrested. They beat me and took me away and they destroyed me. As our old poet Hafez says: they did what the Mongolians did!

Some had broken arms, some had broken legs and some had broken backs. Still others like me had broken spirits. Shattered spirits. As if my whole humanity was taken away from me. I used to be a Spring. I am now dead. I am a squashed corn-poppy.

I would like to ask those who read this letter that if they know someone who is like me, a victim of rape, to be kinder towards them. Sympathize with them. The issue for me and people like me is that in our culture rape is not just a blow to one person. It’s a blow to his whole family and clan. A victim of rape is never healed by passing of time. With every look of her father, the wounds open again. Her heart breaks again with every drop of her mother’s tears. The relatives, friends, neighbors and everyone cuts off their relations. We were forced to sell our house way below market price and moved to Karaj (a suburb of Tehran). But we didn’t last there either. The agents found our new address quickly and were monitoring us. They would stand in the corner of our street and would smirk at my father every time he passed by. We left everything behind and immigrated. At their old age, my parents became refugees at a camp. I can easily say that the cultural wounds were much harder to deal with than the physical ones. Many people smile when they hear about rape! I swear that there is nothing funny about rape! It’s about the suffering of a simple family; it’s about a young girl or boy who loses his or her diginty; breaking the dignity of love is not funny. Those who raped me would laugh! there were three of them. All three were dirty and wore a beard. They had a terrible accent and foul mouths. They would swear at my whole family. Even though they saw that I was a virgin, they accused me of being a whore and forced me to sign admitting that I was a prostitute. I am not ashamed to say it anymore. Not only am I not ashamed, I am even proud to say it: they called me a whore. They said: sign this you whore! I told them that I was a teacher and I wouldn’t sign. They said they had three just witnesses who had seen me sleep with three people in one night and I told them that I have 30 witnesses that I am a teacher and if this is what has happened to me, it was through their own fault. They laughed it off saying: well it’s not so bad for you afterall! your pay has now increased! That’s how worthless the privacy and dignity of people is to them. And that’s how empty words like modesty and chastity are to them. They had not seen these virtues. They didn’t have them. All women were whores to them. It wasn’t only women. They did not even pass up on men. They weren’t human beings. They were suffering from self-subordination. They had turned into perverted animals who knew nothing but to destroy all beauties. Sometimes I see people cursing at the mothers and sisters of these people. These creatures will not even pass up on their own mothers and sisters. I feel sorry for those who have to live with these rabid animals all their lives. My front teeth broke and my shoulder was displaced; my womanhood was destroyed. I know that I will never be able to love a man; I will never be able to get close to a man and to trust him. I realize that my land bears many brave men who have also suffered but for me real men and pretend men are the same. My life as a woman has reached an end and I am like a walking dead. But I write. I write in order to regain my livelihood. I write that I was a teacher, turned into a prostitute and I am a writer now. I write that I was Bahar (Spring), and although I turned into Autumn, I am more beautiful for it. I am a beautiful whore; I turned into the outcast in our neighborhood; I turned into a teacher without a classroom; I became the subject of ridicule; sentenced to loneliness; immersed into the injustices of the oppressors; For the Islamic Republic I became the woman with her hair cut, her arms broken and with her face bloodied. So I am proud to be a whore for freedom. I know that I am not alone. I hear their voices; in the next cells; when my lifeless and useless body was on the floor I would hear these pretend-men display their manhood many times. I ask all people who have suffered like me to write. They need to shout out their sufferings however they can because these are the same pains that Sadegh Hedayat (contemporary writer) referred to as ‘pains that chew at people’s souls’. Let it all come out. Let everyone know. You should realize that you are not alone. There are many like me and you. We all share this pain.

This letter of suffering is much longer than this. But I end it with one sentence. I am directly addressing Mr. Khamenei: ‘You consider yourself as the father of this nation. I was a daughter of Iran. Your sons raped me. Who will pay for my lost dignity?’

Bahareh Maghami,
April 2010, Germany

Translated by Tour Irani

See also:

Women Online In Iran Brave Heavy Web Surveillance
Iranian female journalists are veterans of government closure of their print publications and early Internet ventures. Now they are prevailing against the region’s most advanced censoring and monitoring software.

Women’s civil society groups were noticeable by their absence from the landmark Haiti donor conference on 31 March, which secured pledges of US$5.3 billion over the next two years to support the country’s post-quake recovery.

Their lack of a presence at the meeting was indicative of a broader missing voice in Haiti’s long-term reconstruction prospects, gender activists argued.

“Why are we not there right now, where are the women at this conference?” questioned Marie St. Cyr, a Haitian human rights advocate. “We still don’t have full participation and we certainly don’t have full inclusion. Haitian women are still being raped…they are supporting more than half of the households, and yet they are not being heard.”

More than 100 women’s groups attended an alternative conference hosted by MADRE, a New York-based organization. St. Cyr said she had lobbied for the past month to join the donor meeting, but had not received a response from any of the various co-hosts, including the United Nations, the Haitian and the US governments.

Haitian-born Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur, who represented the diaspora community at the main conference, said she was not surprised to look across the room and see few other female faces. The text of the Haitian government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), a blueprint plan for recovery, offered a similar lack of gender diversity, she explained.

“There needs to be a bolder vision for reconstruction, and right now, there isn’t a very clear place for women within that,” St. Fleur told IRIN. “But I think we make a mistake when we say that we have to have a place for women, because they must not placed in a corner like that. Women and girls must be integrated throughout this plan. And that doesn’t exist, right now.”

The PDNA report divides reconstruction into eight main themes, including governance, infrastructure sectors, and environmental and disaster risk development. Women gain inclusion only in the “cross-cutting sector,” which also addresses youth and culture.

The Haiti Gender Equality Collaborative, a coalition of civil society organizations, placed its own spin on the document, issuing a modified “gender shadow report” at the MADRE conference, hosted across the street from the United Nation Secretariat. It highlights the gender concerns absent from Haiti’s PDNA, and offers recommendations for gender-sensitive plans of action.

Enabling the participation of gender equality experts in all sectors of reconstruction, and ensuring that funding streams include gender-specific allocations are among the alternative report’s proposals, according to Kathy Mangones, UNIFEM’s Haiti office representative.

Women in Haiti, however, do not have the luxury of waiting for action, St. Cyr noted. Before the earthquake, they were running half the households – and those numbers have now risen, with women taking in children from other families.

The issue of sexual violence also remains an enormously grave, though largely undocumented one.

Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said at a press conference last week that while the numbers are unknown, reports of sexual violence and rape are on the rise. The UN considers the matter “urgent,” he said, and plans on deploying an all-female Bangladesh Formed Police Unit (FPU) of military peacekeepers imminently. It will be the second-ever all-female FPU the UN has deployed, and Mulet anticipated their presence in the often cramped and poorly-lit displaced camps “would be extremely helpful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted in a closing press conference at the main donor meeting that he remained “painfully aware, in particular, of reports of sexual violence”. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, among others, also spoke of the need to prioritize the needs of women.

Yet without women at the table, the sentiment fell short, said St. Cyr.

“We need to be heard because the system has failed us so miserably. These systematic failures have shown that our voices have not been taken into consideration or prioritized,” she said. “This is beyond words. It’s beyond laws that are not being implemented. It’s beyond dollars. It’s a country in degradation that is progressively being buried. The earthquake didn’t bury Haiti, Haiti has been continuously buried for years, and it’s time we help dig it out.”

Sex workers in Bangladesh, some as young as 12, are putting their health in danger by taking a drug to make them fatter so they are more attractive to clients.

ActionAid has started a campaign in brothels in Bangladesh to raise awareness of the dangers of the drug and help the women who are addicted to it.

Under pressure to look more attractive

There are 17 brothels in Bangladesh, all operating legally under a licence. The busy trading town of Faridpur in Bangladesh hosts one of the country’s most popular. The brothel is like a prison for the hundreds of girls who have to work there. They get sold into sexual slavery for as little as two hundred pounds and forced to work for free for years.

One girl called Asha is just a teenager but she has to serve customers all day. Her name means ‘hope’ but there appears to be very little of this in her life. She is forced to work seven days a week and gets just one pound per customer. The money goes directly to her madam. Unlike other girls her age around the world, Asha is under pressure to become fatter to make herself look more attractive and healthier to clients, so her madam makes her take a drug called Oradexon – a steroid which was originally meant to make cows fatter.

Asha calls her madam a ‘mother’. The madam owns five other ‘daughters’. She gives all her girls Oradexon because she needs to maximise her profits. “The clients like plumper girls and this is why I give them the drug. I know it has bad side-effects but I also give them vitamin pills,” the madam said.

Lutfun Nahar from ActionAid Bangladesh, who works in the brothels, was one of the first people to realise that the drug was being widely used. “I remember thinking, there are all these bulky girls here – how did they get like that?” she said. “And then I asked around and someone told me they were all taking a drug called Oradexon, which is the same preparation used for cows in the cow farm, to make them fatter.”

Devastating side-effects

Oradexon has devastating side-effects. “The women rapidly gain fat after they start taking the drug. But they also get diabetes, high blood pressure, skin rashes and headaches. It’s highly addictive,” Nahar said.

Dr Bashirul Islam, head of the healthcare services in Faridpur, added: “This drug often causes a kidney failure which can lead to a premature death of the patient.”

Nahar said the drug is a godsend to those who run the brothels. “Here in Bangladesh the girls must be 18 to do this work. But this drug means the pimps are able to get girls who are as young as 12 or 13 – many of them have been trafficked, and have nowhere else to go – and make them look much older.”

ActionAid has discovered Oradexon is used by almost 90 per cent of girls in most brothels in Bangladesh and found the age range of girls who take the drug is 15-35 years.

Another girl called Juaina is also a sex worker who has been taking the drug for over five years. If she stops taking the drug, she gets withdrawal symptoms. “I must give it up gradually, if I give it up suddenly I will get health problems like fever and body pain and I will stop eating,” she said.

But Juaina thinks Oradexon keeps her looking good, which is why she’s going to go on taking it. “If you work in this brothel, you have to take this medicine. Everyone does. If you take the medicine you will look healthy and otherwise you will look ugly.”

A cheap, easily available drug

The drug is easily available in many chemists and as prescriptions are not used in Bangladesh, even illiterate girls can buy it without a visit to a doctor for as little as one penny per pill. In a poor country where many people are malnourished, it is, unsurprisingly, a hugely popular drug.

ActionAid’s campaign aims to raise awareness of the drug’s dangers. Nahar said: “We are creating awareness amongst the sex workers about the drug’s side effects. We are also holding meeting with the quacks who are selling the drug. In addition we are reaching the policy makers in drug administration and civil surgeons who can really keep track and play an effective role in stopping this.”


They work like stepping stones to pave a major fresh path in women’s history: First 1325, then 1820, now 1888. These are U.N. resolutions that in the past 15 or so years have put wartime sexual violence on the international policy map.

At the start of Women’s History Month in March, Margot Wallström began her two-year assignment to stop sexual violence from being used as a tactic in war–as a matter of global security.

Her job calls on her to implement U.N. Resolution 1888, passed by the Security Council in September, one of the major milestones in women’s history that her appointment culminates.

Before the late 1990s, sexual violence wasn’t generally considered any kind of issue, says Anne-Marie Goetz, chief advisor of governance, peace and security for UNIFEM.

Rape camps in Bosnia were “horrifying” and systematic sexual violence in Rwanda was “on a level never seen before,” but indictments didn’t occur until years later, she said. Neither peace agreement mentioned sexual violence.

Those charges brought public attention to convictions of three Bosnian Serbs for wartime sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity–a first for the International Criminal Tribunal–and led to Resolution 1325. Passed 10 years ago by the Security Council, the document articulated war’s impact on women.

Though 1325 “lacked accountability measures to encourage progress,” said Letitia Anderson, it opened doors to a watershed 2008 conference about women in armed conflict, held in Wilton Park, England. Anderson is an advocacy and women’s rights specialist for U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a coalition of 13 U.N. entities. The talks included “the unusual suspects–force commanders, military and police peacekeepers,” Anderson added.

Anderson presented a paper on the need for a “systematic framework to respond to these crimes,” which she called the missing link at the policy level.

Her message resonated and in August 2008 the Security Council passed Resolution 1820, recognizing sexual violence as a war crime and a major impediment to peace.

In September 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the Security Council’s passing of 1888, the agreement that Wallström is now charged with implementing.

Anderson likens 1820 to a “blueprint” of sexual violence’s link to security; 1888 provides the “building blocks” for its implementation.

Wallström, the former vice president of the European Council, says she knows that “beautiful language” in a number of “historic and groundbreaking” women, peace and security resolutions, including 1888, doesn’t immediately help the thousands of women who remain targets of sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict zones.

“We must create political ownership of this issue, where both men and women everywhere can say, ‘Enough is enough. We have to end this,'” Wallström said in a recent telephone interview with Women’s eNews. “I am a person who knows how to cooperate, how to fully utilize the resources of everyone around me and to mobilize that. That is what I can promise to bring.”

Wallström has said she will focus immediately on conflict and post-conflict situations in three African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Sexual violence in conflict zones, however, isn’t an “African issue,” Wallström is quick to point out, describing gender-based violence as a global “human rights issue, a security issue.”

Wallström herself stresses the importance of assembling a strong, diverse six-person staff to help her navigate the U.N. system.

Resolution 1888 does not address U.N. peacekeepers abusing the very women they are supposed to aid, says Goetz. “That remains an enormous and serious issue.”

The U.N. has a zero-tolerance policy on peacekeepers inflicting sexual violence on others and handles allegations of exploitation and abuse in its Conduct and Discipline Unit.

After making its assessment, the unit defers to its member nations, which handle convicted peacekeepers in their own fashion, said Genevieve Butler, the Conduct and Discipline Unit’s external affairs officer.

For more information:
* Working Group on Women, Peace and Security
* U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit

Part of a longer article at

The Philippine Supreme Court last week overturned a decision barring a gay rights group from contesting national elections in May and recognized it as a legitimate political party for the first time.

Voting 13-2, the court threw out decisions by the Elections Commission denying accreditation to Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet) on grounds that it tolerates immorality and offends Christians and Muslims.

The justices said the party had complied with all legal requirements, and that there is no law against homosexuality.

“I felt vindicated,” said the group’s leader, Danton Remoto, an English professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University. He said that Ang Ladlad had struggled for recognition and accreditation for the past seven years.

The Elections Commission caused outrage among gays and liberals in November by saying the group cannot run as a political party because it “tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs.” Three of the commissioners cited passages from the Bible and the Quran to justify their ruling, claiming that Ang Ladlad exposes young people to “an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith.”

Homosexuals are generally accepted in the Philippines and many prominent Filipinos are openly gay, despite the dominant Roman Catholic religion’s rejection of same-sex relations.

The group has received support from Leila de Lima, head of the independent Commission on Human Rights, who denounced the November ruling as “retrogressive” and smacking of “discrimination and prejudice.”

The group filed a case in January with the Supreme Court, which said that government is neutral and no legal impediment should be imposed on groups on religious grounds.

“The denial of Ang Ladlad’s registration on purely moral grounds amounts more to a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals, rather than a tool to further any substantial public interest,” the court said.

Ang Ladlad is one of more than 100 parties seeking to win 50 of the 286 seats in the House of Representatives allocated for marginalized sectors.

The Chinese government’s current efforts to tighten control over nongovernmental organizations is threatening to roll back hard-earned advances made by civil society groups over the past decade, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 25, China’s leading independent women’s rights organization – the Women’s Legal Research and Services Center – was abruptly notified that its affiliation with Beijing University had been terminated. Because China’s restrictive laws governing the registration of nonprofit organizations mandate that applicants be affiliated and sponsored by a governmental unit, the decision effectively ends the existence of the center as a registered nongovernmental organization (NGO).

“The closure of the Women’s Center is a serious setback for women’s rights and civil society in China,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s general hostility towards civil society is starting to impact mainstream organizations whose work had so far been tolerated by the Chinese government.”

The founder of the Women’s Center, Guo Jianmei, has been unusually public in expressing her concern about the lack of justification for shuttering the center, which provides legal advice to women, and works on anti-discrimination legislation and on domestic violence. Guo has also expressed concerns about the signal this sends regarding the government’s proclaimed commitment to eliminate discrimination against women, promote the rule of law, and support vulnerable groups in society.

In a statement released on April 2, the Women’s Center noted that the dissolution “was only the last one in the long series of difficulties faced by the center in its 15-year existence.” The statement pointed to systemic problems that stunt the growth of a healthy civil society in China, including barriers to raising charitable funds, governmental hostility to public interest litigation, and regulatory uncertainties that translate into a permanent struggle for organizational survival. Although Guo Jianmei intends to continue the center’s litigation work through the private Qianqian law firm she established last year, the loss of its university affiliation has put the organization’s future in jeopardy.

A group of Beijing University alumni have taken the unusual step of writing a public letter to the university and its president, Zhou Qiwei, on April 3, to protest the decision to dissolve ties to the center, but no domestic media has been allowed to report on these developments.

The dissolution of the Women’s Legal Research and Services Center comes at a time when many domestic NGOs are reporting increased interference from the authorities with their work, including police surveillance and individual questioning of their staff; administrative harassment; pressures to cancel conferences and workshops; warnings about bringing public interest lawsuits; and the introduction of stifling regulatory requirements regarding funding and operations of nonprofit groups.

“The Chinese government should recognize that civil society groups play an essential role in remedying social problems and easing social tensions,” said Richardson. “Instead, it is treating these groups as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, making China’s most vulnerable populations pay the price.”

On March 1, the government started implementing new regulations that place additional burdens on the ability of domestic NGOs to raise funds from international donors. The regulations introduce new requirements for receiving donations from foreign charities, philanthropies, and nonprofit groups – including producing notarized agreements and detailed application forms. Few international donors have publicly objected to these new regulations.

While governments may impose reasonable regulations on donation procedures of nonprofit organizations, Chinese legal experts have pointed out that the most onerous requirements do not apply to nonprofit organizations run by the government, but only to independent NGOs. Also, some of the provisions are at odds with China’s own tax code. These rules open more avenues for arbitrary interference by government agencies and create uncertainties for civil society organizations even when they comply fully with the new regulations.

One group working on HIV/AIDS prevention, the Beijing Loving Source Information Center, which has partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund, Oxfam, the China AIDS Fund, and the Global Fund for Children, and other international organizations over the years, has publicly reported on the difficulties it has faced in complying with the new requirements. Several other NGOs have privately reported similar difficulties but are unwilling to voice their concerns publicly because they fear jeopardizing their work if they protest publicly and alienate the authorities.

The government’s insistence on registration and operational requirements that few organizations can meet leaves NGOs in a chronically vulnerable position. In July 2009, the authorities used alleged tax irregularities over foreign funding to shut down another leading public interest legal aid and research center, the Open Constitution Initiative – better known under its Chinese name, Gongmeng – and detain briefly its founder, Xu Zhiyong, and another employee. At the time the Beijing authorities accused the research arm of Gongmeng of having “falsely registered as a commercial enterprise in view of carrying out civic non-commercial activities,” a move threatening to the NGO community since many if not most nonprofit groups in China opt to register as commercial enterprises to try to comply with the law.

“The writing is on the wall for the international donor community working in China,” said Richardson, “They must find a common voice and address their concerns to their governmental counterparts. Remaining silent when the situation continues to deteriorate only encourages the government to further clamp down on civil society groups.”


Since its establishment in 1995 in partnership with the Beijing University Law School, the Women’s Legal Research and Services Center has played a major role in the promotion of women’s rights in China. Staffed by law department faculty, staff, graduate students, and lawyers, it provides free legal advice to thousands of women every year through its telephone hotline and works with a network of over 300 volunteer lawyers across the country. Its research and advocacy arm has worked closely with experts, international women’s organizations, and the Chinese government on legislation pertaining to women and anti-discrimination legislation. In addition to providing free representation in hundreds of court cases over the years, the center has also been increasingly active in bringing public interest lawsuits to highlight particular issues faced by women such as discrimination and domestic violence.

Guo Jianmei is widely seen as China’s leading women’s rights activist, and has received numerous domestic and international distinctions over the years. The state-run China Daily hailed her in 2007 as “a patron for the weak” and the Women’s Center was regularly listed by domestic media as one of the top public interest groups in the country.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Guo at the Women’s Center at Beijing University during her last visit to China in February 2009, the third time they had met since Clinton first visited the Center in 1998. In 2007, Guo had received the Global Leadership award from Vital Voices, an international women advocacy group Clinton co-chairs. In January 2010, Guo was awarded the first Simone de Beauvoir award for women’s rights.


* Rates down the most in Egypt, Bolivia, Maldives
* Maternal death rates in Canada, U.S., Norway high
* Successes can point to policy changes

Deaths of women in and around childbirth have gone down by an average of 35 percent globally, according to a study using new methods, but are surprisingly high in the United States, Canada and Norway.

The researchers said their findings show it is possible to save women’s lives if countries want to and said their analysis should point to ways to do so.

The AIDS pandemic alone, they said, killed more than 61,000 women in and around the time of childbirth in 2008, most of them in Africa.

“These findings are very encouraging and quite surprising. There are still too many mothers dying worldwide, but now we have a greater reason for optimism than has generally been perceived,” said Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study.

The findings contradict work done by the World Health Organization, which reported last May that mothers and newborns are no more likely to survive now than 20 years ago.

Murray and colleagues took every bit of data they could find on deaths of women from records in 181 countries and plugged this information into a computer model.

“We estimated that there were 342,900 deaths worldwide in 2008, down from 526,300 in 1980,” they wrote in their report, published in the Lancet medical journal.

They found the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35 percent globally in the past 30 years.

“One of the most surprising results is the apparent rise in the maternal mortality rate in the USA, Canada, and Norway,” they added. But it can partly be because U.S. death certificates recently started asking about pregnancy, they added.

But this does not explain why U.S. maternal deaths are double the rates in Britain, triple the rates in Australia and four times the rate in Italy, they said.

In the United States the rate rose from 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 17 in 2008. In Canada, the rate hovered between 6 and 7 for the whole time and Norway’s rose from 7 per 100,000 in 1980 to 8 per 100,000 in 2008.

The United States is currently embroiled in reforming its healthcare system, where more is spent per capita than in comparable developed countries but with poorer results, as demonstrated by maternal and newborn death rates and high rates of diabetes and heart disease.

China, Egypt, Ecuador and Bolivia made some of the most progress in lowering maternal death rates, Murray’s team found.

In China, the rate fell from 165 per 100,000 to 40 per 100,000.

“Progress overall would have been greater if the HIV epidemic had not contributed to substantial increases in maternal mortality in eastern and southern Africa,” they added.

Nearly one out of every five maternal deaths or a total of 61,400 in 2008, were associated with AIDS infections.

About 80 percent of all deaths of pregnant women or new mothers were in 21 countries, with half of all such deaths in just six countries — India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Finding out why a country such as Egypt has had such enormous success in driving down the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes could enable us to export that success to countries that have been lagging behind,” Murray said.

Here are some statistics from the study by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the Lancet medical journal.

* Maternal mortality is defined as the death of women during pregnancy, childbirth or in the 42 days after delivery.
* The maternal mortality rate rose 42 percent in the United States, from 12 per 100,000 in 1980 to 17 per 100,000 in 2008.
* Rates in Japan fell from 20 per 100,000 in 1980 to seven in 2008.
* Rates in China fell from 165 per 100,000 in 1980 to 40 per 100,000 in 2008.
* Australia had the best rates with nine per 100,000 in 1980 and five per 100,000 in 2008.
* Rates in Norway rose slightly from seven in 1980 to eight in 2008.
* Canada’s rate fluctuated between seven and six and was seven per 100,000 in 2008.
* Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate fell from 1,640 per 100,000 in 1980 to 1,261 in 1990 but was back up to 1,575 in 2008. This could be in part due to better monitoring, Murray said.
* Britain’s rate was 10 per 100,000 in 1980 and fell to eight per 100,000 in 2008.
* Bolivia’s rate plummeted from 547 per 100,000 in 1980 to 180 in 2008.
* Mexico’s rate was 124 in 1980 and 52 in 2008.
* The rate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was 498 in 1980 and 534 in 2008.
* The rate in the Central African Republic ballooned from 990 per 100,000 in 1980 to 1,570 in 2008. Source: The Lancet medical journal