Archive for May 26th, 2010

There has been some increase in the number of women accessing antenatal healthcare services in Yemen over the past four years, but most mothers still deliver at home and their health situation remains rather bleak, according to new reports from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The proportion of women benefiting from antenatal healthcare services has increased from 40 to 55 percent over the past four years, according to an 18 May Health Ministry report covering 2006-2010.

At a conference in Sanaa on 18 May sponsored by the National Women’s Committee and the Health Ministry, some women’s rights activists criticized slow progress in antenatal healthcare coverage.

UN Population Fund (UNFPA) deputy representative Zeljka Mudrovcic said 22 women die in Yemen every day due to pregnancy and birth-related complications.

“As 80 percent of women deliver at home, much more needs to be done to improve antenatal health care for women and reduce high mother and infant mortality rates,” she said.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, supported by UNFPA, launched on 17 May the distribution of 30,000 clean and safe home delivery kits for the year 2010 in an effort to improve this situation.

According to WHO’s 10 May World Health Statistics 2010 report, [] Yemen’s maternal mortality rate was 430 cases per 100,000 live births, the highest in the Middle East.

Antenatal care coverage (“the percentage of women who used antenatal care provided by skilled health personnel for reasons related to pregnancy at least once during pregnancy, as a percentage of live births in a given time period”) was 47 percent – the lowest in the Middle East, according to the report.

Repeated miscarriages and post-natal bleeding – particularly among girls in rural areas – are among the major factors behind the high maternal mortality rate in the country, according to Nema Naser al-Suraimi, a specialist doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology at al-Thawra Hospital in Sanaa. “In rural areas, miscarriage is commonplace, particularly as 52 percent of girls marry before the age of 15,” she told IRIN.

Yemen’s adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years) stands at 80, according to the WHO report.

“In many remote villages where health facilities don’t exist or are very far away, many women die inside cars on their way to [maternity] hospitals in provincial capitals,” al-Suraimi said. “Women in rural areas don’t receive basic health care from the beginning of pregnancy and therefore are prone to multiple birth-related complications.”

According to Mohamed Ghurab, another obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at the Sanaa-based Republican Hospital, 70-80 percent of maternal deaths can be avoided by raising public awareness of the risks of home delivery.


Measure Would Deter Pregnant Women From Seeking Medical Care

Brazil’s Congress should protect women’s dignity and human rights by rejecting a bill that confers extensive rights to fertilized ova, Human Rights Watch have said. The measure would give the rights of the fertilized ovum “absolute priority” under Brazilian law.

The proposed bill would require any act or omission that could in any way have a negative impact on a fertilized ovum to be considered illegal. The bill was voted favorably out of the Family and Social Security Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives this month.

“To promote healthy pregnancies and births is a laudable goal and, indeed, one of Brazil’s human rights obligations,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “But this bill is likely to cause more harm than good by deterring pregnant women from seeking the care they may need because they are afraid to be turned over to the police.”

Over the past year, a number of jurisdictions in Latin America have passed laws to confer some rights on fertilized ova. For example, in Mexico, a number of federal states have recently amended their constitutions to extend the protection of the right to life to “the conceived.” Many of these laws specifically protect earlier legal exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened.

Brazil’s bill however goes further. For example, it extends the right to child support to ova that have been fertilized through rape, and seeks to give “absolute priority” to the rights of the fertilized ovum. This could lead to the criminalization of any act or omission thought to affect the fertilized ovum negatively, trumping the rights to life or health of any pregnant woman, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Brazilian government would do well to focus its attention on providing assistance to rape victims, adolescent mothers, and others who are vulnerable and potentially unable to provide for themselves,” Mollmann said. “This law does the absolute opposite by threatening to subject everything women do or do not do during a pregnancy to criminal investigation.”

“Violence against women is not only domestic, it also happens in the streets. Not having the right to feel safe in a city square or at a bus stop without someone bothering us, that’s also violence.”

Nervousness or even fear of street harassment, even among young girls, prevents women from freely moving around, hinders their personal development, in terms of studies, work or recreation, and has an isolating effect on them.

Women are taking part in a programme participating with local governments in actions to fight this phenomenon, ensure equal access to public spaces, and help design and build cities that are safer for everyone.

The programme is sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) with the support of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), and coordinated by the Women and Habitat Network of Latin America and the Caribbean (Redmujer), based in Argentina.

According to UNIFEM, one out of three women in Latin America is abused at some point in her life, and gender-based violence causes more deaths and injuries among women between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war.

The programme has several strategic lines of action. In first place, it seeks to generate knowledge on gender violence in cities, as an extension of violence against women in the domestic sphere.

Another focus is training and raising awareness on the issue among women, young people and police. In addition, specific strategies are developed to bring about concrete changes in the way cities are designed.

Debates among experts and women’s organisations in the various countries are helping spread the idea that “public spaces can either promote or stand as hurdles to peaceful coexistence between men and women”.

“Planning should not be the exclusive domain of experts,” and that women at a grassroots level should express their fears and needs, in order to drive changes and make public spaces their own.

In Rosario, the Red Lazos de Mujeres por Nuestros Derechos women’s rights network, said that the plazas or city squares had become the territory of groups of young drug users, and women avoided these areas.

But with the support of the city government, the plazas were once again made safe for women and children. They were redesigned, with playground equipment for children and nearby tables and benches, football goal posts and better public lighting.

In Suba, a district in Bogotá, Colombia where gender violence is a serious problem, the programme worked with local women who recommended fencing in vacant lots and putting in public lighting along the streets and especially at bus stops.

“Neither at home nor on the streets” is one of the slogans used in the neighbourhood campaign to fight violence against women.

One of the most effective aspects of the programme in Suba involved the transportation system. Many women complained that they had been harassed on the Transmilenio, Bogotá’s modern bus system, where men frequently take advantage of the crowding to press up against or grope women.

Posters put up at bus stops show a man pushing up against a woman, in a red circle with a bar through the middle. The caption “We don’t want this support” uses a play on words in which “apoyo” or “support” in Spanish also refers to the practice of men leaning up against women.

Actresses and actors also took part in the campaign, acting out scenes on buses to raise awareness on the gender harassment that women frequently suffer in the public transit system.

In Chile, the programme is being implemented in 200 neighbourhoods in different cities, and the local organisation that is coordinating it signed an agreement with the Housing Ministry to back the effort.

Thanks to that agreement, a gender perspective was incorporated in 2008 in the housing upgrade programme launched by then president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) called “Quiero mi barrio” (I Love My Neighbourhood).

Besides the cities in the seven countries taking part in the programme, other urban areas “have been inspired by it” to carry out their own efforts.

One example is an initiative against “machista” violence in public transport in Mexico City, promoted by the government Women’s Institute. “It’s a very rich experience, and they not only adopted our proposal but we also learned from them,” she said.

Other cities in the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, are also working to bring about women-friendly cities through the Red de Mercociudades (MercoCities Network).

“The gender perspective used to be included in questions of health, education or domestic violence. But now it has been expanded to a focus on women’s right to safe access to cities and their services”.

Edited version of longer article at

The First International Women and Film Festival for Gender Equity drew enthusiastic audiences this month in the Argentine capital, where movies from nearly 40 countries were screened.

In comments to IPS, the organisers said they felt they had achieved their goals of increasing the visibility of women’s problems, raising awareness among viewers about the debate on the inequality of the sexes, and promoting inter-gender dialogue.

“The results were more than positive,” said the artistic director of the festival, Cynthia Judkowski. “We had a great deal of active participation from male and female members of the audiences, at the screenings and at the debates, which were so well-attended that some people were unable to get in.”

The festival, titled “Mujeres en foco” (Women in Focus), was held May 5-10 at six venues in Buenos Aires that served as movie theatres or debating halls. There was also a retrospective, and a seminar on screenwriting, directing and producing.

The idea was to call on filmmakers to submit films that address women’s issues related to health, migration, cultural practices, violence, inequality, political participation, sexual diversity and family life.

“Over 200 films were entered, and we selected 68, five of which competed in the feature-length category and six in the short film category,” Judkowski said.

“Cholita libre”, a documentary on Bolivian immigrants by German filmmaker Rike Holtz, won first prize for feature-length film. The jury stressed that the film not only focused on issues of central interest to the festival, but that it did so with perception, humour and beauty.

Second prize went to Venezuelan director Clarisa Duque’s “Tambores de agua”, which portrays the lives of black women from coastal communities in Venezuela.

Among the shorts, prizes were taken by “Ana y Mateo”, by Natural Arpajou from Argentina, and “Il Corpo delle donne (The Body of Women) by Italian filmmakers Lorella Zanardo and Marco Malfi.

The films selected came from Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, among other countries.

Films by women directors included “Claroscuro” by Ana Faerrón of Costa Rica, about a women’s music group, “Fim do silêncio” (The End of Silence) by Thereza Jessouroun of Brazil, about unsafe abortion, and “Mémoire à la dérive” (Memory Adrift) by Pauline Voisard of Canada.

Films by male directors who tackled subjects from a gender perspective were also screened, such as “Lilja 4-Ever” by Lukas Moodysson of Sweden, and “Antiguos sueños de mujeres kichwas” (Quechua Women’s Former Dreams) by Santiago Carcelén Cornejo of Ecuador.

Entrance to the film shows was free, and there were no charges for registering films for the competition, each section of which was judged by a panel comprising two women and a man.

A retrospective of the work of Spanish filmmaker Helena Taberna, the director of “Yoyes” and “La buena nueva” (The Good News), was also shown. Taberna herself gave a seminar on screenwriting, producing and directing.

Debates were held on subjects like the place of women in the media, and “machista” violence. A meeting was also held for filmmakers wanting to explore how to promote gender parity and human rights.

“The aim was to create an opportunity for meeting, exchanging ideas and promoting movies by men and women directors that deal with gender issues and human rights,” Judkowski said.

In the medium term, the idea is to stimulate the making of films embodying commitment to a gender perspective and human rights.

Usually, festivals stressing women’s point of view include a broad variety of subjects, but show films made exclusively by women directors.

The Buenos Aires festival was organised on the reverse principle: the subjects of the films were limited to key issues about gender perspectives, while the sex of the directors was immaterial.

The organisers, a group of independent professional women filmmakers, were supported by a number of local and international institutions. They plan to hold the festival on an annual basis in Buenos Aires, as well as taking it abroad.

“We are convinced that the practice of art is transformational and revolutionary insofar as it modifies space and time, creating new situations… that challenge social relations of domination,” the festival announcement said. (END)

But Prof. Catharine MacKinnon agrees that she has been less successful in fighting pornography.

In at least one area – pornography – Catharine MacKinnon has failed spectacularly. Ever since she began writing about women in the pornography industry and to advocate for them, at the start of the 1980s, nothing in their situation has changed. Her criticism of the damage caused by pornography has achieved nothing.

“On the contrary,” she says. “During the past 20 years the situation has only deteriorated. Today pornography is accessible and available everywhere. It is possible to obtain it with a few keystrokes, it comes in through Internet to every home where there is a computer and the women who work in the industry, in the thousands, are weak and exploited and have no options.”

MacKinnon represented, pro bono, victims of rape in the Serbian-Croatian war. In 2000 she won in the famous Kadic vs. Karadzic case and obtained for the women – victims of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic – compensation totaling $745 million. More importantly, she advanced the awareness of rape during wartime as an act whose aim is genocide.

However, MacKinnon’s influence is evident primarily in other areas, which have to do with the mainstream of society. All of the basic terms accepted today in the United States, and also in the cultural and legal system in Israel, regarding sexual harassment in the work place as a prohibited form of discrimination against women, as well as rape and violence within the family, and the criticism of the idea of “consensuality” in rape (the fact that forced sex is considered rape even if the woman who was raped said “yes”), that is, the very fact that women today have the possibility of obtaining legal aid in cases in which they have been injured in a gender-related context – all of these are the fruit of MacKinnon’s theoretical and activist work.

From what she says and from the way she analyzes the power relations between men and women, great pessimism emerges. MacKinnon’s basic idea is that gender – that is, the concepts of “man” and “woman” – is not about difference, but rather about dominance. By virtue of their definition, she argues, the man is dominant and the woman is dominated, subordinated to his needs. And in any case, the male, as Simone de Beauvoir saw before her, is the standard, is “man” – the pattern on which everything is based and from which everything is derived – whereas the woman is the “other,” who is defined relative to him. Just as in anatomy the human body is studied and the model is usually the male body, whereas the female body is shunted into the study of gynecology, as a special case – the same holds true in culture: Woman is not part of the human standard.

MacKinnon stresses: “De Beauvoir showed the problem: that the woman is the `other,’ and the man is the standard. I am showing something else: that the things that have been depicted as a solution to the problem – that is, the feminist struggle for equality, for the equalization of the rights of women to the rights of men – are in fact part of the problem.”

MacKinnon makes it clear that the very fact of wanting to be equal to men perpetuates the assumption that men and masculinity are the model that determines what is worthy and what is desirable. “If we want to achieve equality in such conditions of inequality, our way will become endless,” she comments.

It sometimes seems as though MacKinnon’s radical feminism does not respect women. If a woman is by definition subordinate to a man’s authority, and is defined by him and in relation to him – it is difficult to imagine a totally free and independent woman. This is especially difficult with respect to sex and pornography. MacKinnon assumes that heterosexual sexual relations are defined and shaped by the male point of view. Sex is penetration and subordination, she says, only from the male perspective. She argues that unequal sexual relations – relations of conquest and forced submission – became eroticized in order to perpetuate the inequality between the sexes.

Why have you failed? Why have your proposals for legislation in the area of pornography failed and in all other areas – sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and so forth – you have succeeded in bringing about real change?

“It’s very simple: Power and money win. There is not a sexual harassment industry. There aren’t people who are making millions out of sexual harassment the way people are making millions from pornography. The moment we succeed in advancing legislation against pornography in one of the states in the United States, or in the world, someone in the international lobby of pimps hears that this is getting under way and they organize and exercise tremendous power to prevent change. They hire huge public relations firms and they invest lots of money and make sure that this does not succeed.

“And not only that. The problem is that the printed and electronic media support pornography, on the mistaken assumption that a prohibition on pornography threatens them and their power. They confuse obscenity laws and the pornography laws that Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed, and they think that they are publishing pornography and their freedom of expression will be limited. But in fact we have made a clear distinction between pornography and all the rest. What there is in advertisements for Hollywood films is not pornography.”

But the non-pornographic eroticism in advertising and mainstream films is also likely to contribute to the demeaning and harming of women. And it is consumed by everyone.

“Ordinary advertisements and films do not lead to violence and rape. Pornography does do this. Studies show this clearly. And pornography is what influences the mainstream, and not the other way around. The struggle has to focus on pornography.”

From a longer article and interview published at

See also:

The Future of Pornography: Stop Porn Culture! Conference
June 12-13, 2010 – Wheelock College, Boston MA

In March 2007, over 500 people gathered at a conference in Boston to help re-ignite a progressive and feminist movement against pornography. Our second national conference will once again bring together activists, researchers, survivors, parents, and other concerned community members to continue developing our anti-pornography analysis and building our resistance movement. Come and join us for two days of keynotes, workshops, and discussion.

An increasingly sexualized consumer society and inadequate funding for social services are major reasons why more young girls are being pressed into sexual slavery, a human-trafficking expert told a Fort Worth audience last week.

Fishnet-clad dolls, “porn star” T-shirts, Juicy brand jeans and the mainstreaming of the word “pimp” all are signs of “demonic forces” at work in American culture, said Alesia Adams, the Salvation Army’s Atlanta-based human trafficking coordinator. Adams spoke at a forum on the subject at the Salvation Army’s Fort Worth offices.

“I don’t want my granddaughter playing with a doll with hooker heels,” she said.

Adams also criticized what she called a shortage of social services to help desperate young people who might be lured into a life of sex.

“There are more services for animals than for child victims of abuse,” she said.

Texas is a hub for human sex trafficking, said Kathleen Murray, the Fort Worth Police Department’s trafficking coordinator. She estimated that 20 percent of all human trafficking in the United States comes through Texas at some point.

“These cases are within our reach,” she said. “That’s a huge responsibility for Texas.”

The State Department estimates that 300,000 children, mostly runaways, are exploited in the United States each year, Murray said.

Experts at the forum said that no reliable estimates for the amount of local sex trafficking exist.

But they said that The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than from any other state, and 15 percent of those are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

FBI Special Agent Don Freese said forced labor trafficking is harder to detect because it typically involves immigrants bringing in others from their home country to work in private homes.

“Sex trafficking is easier to find,” he said, because it requires interaction with customers, which can open the door for detection by law enforcement.

Deena Graves, executive director of Traffic911, a local nonprofit group that rescues child slavery victims, said human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, second only to drugs in global crime exploits.

Sex trafficking may eventually eclipse drugs, she said.

“You can sell a drug only one time,” she said. “You can sell a person over and over and over. Demand drives the machine.”

A child is sold in the world every two minutes, Graves said, and a third of children who run away from home are forced into prostitution within 48 hours.

“These perpetrators know how to spot a distressed child at malls, bus stations,” she said. “Once they are forced into it, their average life expectancy is seven years” because of disease and violence.

Pornography is the No. 1 driver of child sex exploitation, she said. Often, children are forced to act out scenes in hard-core movies for paying customers, Graves said.

She agreed with Adams that pop culture desensitizes kids and adults to exploitation. She highlighted the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which won the best original song Oscar from the movie Hustle & Flow and the online game as examples of glamorizing prostitution and sex slavery.

“You will become a master at the art of pimping your hoes, commanding your thugs and battling your enemies to protect what you have and to help your empire grow,” PimpWar’s online intro boasts.

Graves showed the audience a cropped image of the face of young girl from a pornographic movie.

“This could be your daughter,” she said.

The United Nations has launched a major campaign for universal adoption of treaty protocols that outlaw the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, and protect youngsters in armed conflict, with UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon calling for full ratification by 2012.

“The sad truth is that too many children in today’s world suffer appalling abuse,” Ban told a ceremony at the headquarters of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in New York marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the two optional protocols strengthening the Convention on the Rights of the Child by providing a moral and legal shield for youngsters vulnerable to prostitution and pornography or caught up in armed conflict.

“Two-thirds of all Member States have endorsed these instruments. On this tenth anniversary of their adoption, I urge all countries to ratify them within the next two years,” he said.

Ban cited recent advances: the release three months ago by the Maoist army in Nepal, under UN supervision, of more than 2,000 soldiers who had been recruited as children; the UN-assisted freeing of children from the ranks of armed groups In Cote d’ Ivoire; the prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga for war crimes against children.

He noted, too, that fewer and fewer States now permit children to join the armed forces, and reiterated his previous calls to the Security Council to consider tough measures on those States and insurgent groups that still recruit children.

More countries are also reforming legislation and criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children, with international cooperation helping to dismantle pedophile networks, remove child pornography from the Internet, and protect children from sexual exploitation by tourists.

“Nonetheless, much remains to be done,” he said. “In too many places, children are seen as commodities, in too many instances they are treated as criminals instead of being protected as victims, and there are too many conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies or human shields.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said the Optional Protocols “represent a promise made to the world’s most vulnerable children — children born into extreme poverty and despair, children in countries torn apart by conflict and children forced into unimaginable servitude by adults who regard them as commodities.”

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict has been ratified by 132 States; 25 States have signed but not ratified it and 36 States have neither signed nor ratified it. “We know from the situation on the ground that much remains to be done. Violence against children in all its forms remains a challenge for societies in the world,” Ban’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said.

“There are a multitude of conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies, human shields or for sexual purposes. Every additional ratification of the Optional Protocol would therefore bring us closer to a world in which no child is participating in hostilities and forced to serve the national military or irregular armies,” she said.

The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography has been ratified by 137 States; 27 have signed but not ratified and 29 have neither signed nor ratified it.

“The Optional Protocol is an important tool for tearing through the mantle of invisibility surrounding the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, to mobilize societies and to translate political commitment into effective protection of children from all forms of violence,” Ban’s Special Representative on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais said, citing significant law reforms to criminalize such crimes.

More than half of the 72 million primary school-aged children out of school are girls. These children mostly come from the world’s poorest communities and, in many cases, from nations with long histories of conflict.

For the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Bob Prouty, Head of the Secretariat of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative, a global partnership between donor and developing countries to speed progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015; and Suaad Allami, Iraqi lawyer and human rights activist.

The podcast discussion covered the ways poverty affects girls’ and boys’ access to education across the globe.

Mr. Prouty said the exclusion of girls from schooling is a result of many factors. Poverty, he added, is “highest in line.”

Girls are often put to work around the home or sent out to earn money. “The more the financial challenges are felt by families, the more likely they are to see the opportunities for girls to bring in some additional income,” Mr. Prouty said. The family income lost if girls are not working – coupled in many places with the high direct cost of schooling – is likely to be a major obstacle to educating girls, he added.

Culture and tradition can also play a “big role” in preventing girls from receiving a quality education, said Ms. Allami. In her native Iraq, she noted, “culture is one of the [biggest] challenges to face these girls when they want to continue their studies.”

Ms. Allami said she has witnessed significant changes in education levels overtime in her country. In the past, she noted, Iraqi women were highly educated compared with other girls in the region.

In contemporary Iraq, she said, “many families prevent their girls from going to schools, to universities. They are concerned about their safety, kidnappings, killings.” Today, literacy rates are low throughout Iraq, especially among women and girls. Violence and years of economic sanctions associated with past wars have made it particularly difficult for girls to receive an education, said Ms. Allami.

“Conflict disproportionately keeps kids out of school,” Mr. Prouty agreed, adding that it is “the single biggest remaining obstacle towards education for all.”

And armed conflict exacerbates the problems of poverty. “Conflict invariably has a larger impact on the poorest families,” said Mr. Prouty.

Despite these challenges, the Fast Track Initiative is leading to some improvements. “We’re seeing very positive movement in terms of parents trying to get their children started in school,” said Mr. Prouty.

But in developing countries, girls still drop out of school at higher rates than boys. As more children – including more girls – are enrolled in school, an increasingly central challenge will be to keep them there.

“The challenges we see, more and more, are in trying to get girls through schooling and up into higher levels of school,” said Mr. Prouty.

AUDIO: Listen now

A five-year campaign to boost the number of UN female peacekeepers is progressing steadily in police units, but “seems to be stuck” at a miniscule percentage in military contingents, Lt-Col Alejandro Alvarez of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told IRIN.

The UN Secretariat has repeatedly emphasized the proven benefits of having more female peacekeepers, especially in regions where sexual violence has been or still is a serious problem, but there are hiccups.

“The Secretary-General can set any number [of female peacekeepers], but … It depends on the will of the countries that are contributing the troops. They say, ‘We don’t have enough female troops, so we cannot send them’; there is also always the case of countries having the women, and just not sending them, but that is an internal problem,” Alvarez, a personnel officer, said.

The advantages of a strong presence of female peacekeeper in conflict and post-conflict zones include creating a safer space for girls and women who have suffered sexual violence, said Marianne Mollman, advocacy director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog organization.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a campaign in August 2009 to lift the percentage of women peacekeepers to 20 percent in police units by 2014, and to 10 percent in military contingents.

Yet only 2.3 percent of the 88,661 military peacekeepers serving in 17 different missions are women, whereas in 2008 they made up 2.18 percent of military contingents, Alvarez said. Approximately 8.2 percent of the 13,221 UN police are women, a figure that jumped from 6.5 percent in April.

In 2000, Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council called on the Secretary-General to “progress on gender mainstreaming throughout peacekeeping missions and all other aspects related to women and girls.”

Subsequent Security Council resolutions outlined more comprehensive methods for using peacekeeping missions to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict zones, including increasing the number of women peacekeepers.

The first all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU), deployed in Liberia in 2007, made a substantial difference to the women victimized in rampant sexual violence during the country’s civil war, said Lea Angela Biason, a DPKO gender affairs associate.

The UN Mission in Liberia noted that after the deployment of Indian female peacekeepers, the percentage of women in the national police force rose from 13 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2009.

Women police were often placed in the front lines in riots, as they can reportedly help calm raucous crowds, Biason said, and the presence of women in uniform also appeared to encourage Liberian women to report instances of sexual violence.

The UN Secretariat plans to send an all-female FPU from Bangladesh to Haiti, where reports of sexual violence in the camps for internally displaced persons abound.

Nigeria deploys the second-greatest number of female peacekeepers – 349 women out of 4,951 troops – and has announced plans to send an all-female FPU to Liberia.

In Darfur, western Sudan, 136 female police officers from Ghana, Gambia, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have joined the UN Mission there since February, Biason said. Nearly 200 female police officers in Rwanda recently passed a test qualifying them for deployment.

Comfort Lamptey, a gender adviser to DPKO, told IRIN that gender scenarios in troop-contributing countries were reflected in the peacekeepers they sent. “If we look globally, you see more women in national police units than you do in the military – the countries then have more women to send for their [peacekeeping] police units.”

Alvarez said countries that could send women sometimes refrained out of concern about the conditions they would be working under, and it was not always certain that they would be working alongside their male counterparts. Bangladesh, one of the largest troop-contributing countries, considered women as “low-ranked personnel, and puts them in the kitchen”, Alvarez said.

Women might constitute 20 percent of peacekeeping units by 2014, but Lamptey acknowledged that some officials thought it “completely unrealistic” to try replicating this on the military front.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “A lot of member states are beginning to understand that when it comes to peacekeeping missions, you really do need to have both women and men in the military and police equally represented; they are beginning to understand the merits of that.”

Humanitarian workers in Liberia worry that as the UN and NGOs scale down aid operations, the fight against sexual violence will suffer, given a limited capacity in national institutions to take it on.

The fight against sexual violence, led by the Ministry of Gender and Development, is part of a wider four-year national plan to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; the resolution was passed in 2000 but Liberia – where a 14-year war ended in 2003 – began implementing it just last year.

The action plan relies heavily on aid agencies and on international donors for funds, said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s coordinator for sexual and gender-based violence, Anna Stone. “But after the [presidential and legislative] elections next year many international NGOs, including the NRC, will scale down operations in Liberia.”

Many aid agencies, including NRC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – also active in the fight against sexual violence – are gradually cutting their programmes in Liberia. And the post-election role of the UN mission (UNMIL), which has supported much of the government’s anti-sexual-violence programmes, is uncertain. []

“Agencies do move out and there is high turnover,” agreed Madhumita Sarkar, programme adviser at the joint UN-government SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) programme in the capital Monrovia. “That is a very big concern. This is the wrong time to withdraw – even though Liberia is not in a conflict state. Until now we’ve tried to work on building local capacities and we now need to continue that, and hand over projects to the government.”

“We will go back to zero if people just withdraw now,” she said.

Meanwhile the gender ministry is turning to donors to fund its programmes over the long term, aware that international support my wane; the ministry recently received funding from Italy and the United States, according to Deputy Gender and Development Minister Annette Kiawu.

Sexual violence consistently comes first or second (after armed robbery) in monthly crime statistics in Monrovia, with most victims being children, according to MSF.

Legal recourse is rarely an option for survivors, due to a lack of means as well as weak law enforcement, health NGOs in Liberia say. But most rapes are committed by family members and are not reported, according to the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in a 2009 study, “Nobody Gets Justice Here”

Attorneys often do not take it as seriously as armed robbery, as nothing is “stolen” in the attack, an aid worker told the NIIA.

NRC is trying to encourage women to report sexual crimes through a nationwide collective of women’s groups, called WISE Women; the organization promotes women’s rights and develops practical responses to sexual crimes, such as how to raise money for a medical exam.

Rita Kollie, 17, was the youngest member at a WISE Women meeting in Bong County in central Liberia, earlier this month.

“I was curious to find out what women’s rights are about. We are not taught about that at school,” she said. “Of course I am happy that we have a woman president, but we still don’t have women role models in Bong County.”

Whatever institutions lead the sexual violence fight, NIIA says, the approach must focus more on the political, cultural and economic roots of such crimes. NIIA says the current UN approach is too fragmented and shortsighted. Groups working to reduce sexual violence must harmonize statutory and traditional law, saying international actors do not have an adequate grasp of the latter, it points out.

The government has made some steps at the policy level: It now has a policy to promote women’s rights; it has strengthened rape and inheritance laws; and it has created a secretariat to implement Resolution 1325. But implementation still lags behind, UNMIL-government representative Sarkar told IRIN.

For instance, according to the NRC’s Stone, while Liberia is one of only two countries in the world that has specially assigned police units for protection of women and children, the units helped convict just five perpetrators in 2009.

NRC trains the units on how to address sexual crimes, but efforts are hampered by a lack of means and equipment, says NIIA.

Further, few trained officers want to leave Monrovia to work in rural areas – one of several problems impeding the fight in rural zones: poor roads, inadequate facilities, difficult access to some communities and lack of funds for counties, says the NRC.

A total of 2,753 women were victims of violence in the decade 2000-09, according to Tonga Police statistics that show on average 23 women per month come to police to report an incident of physical or sexual violence; and last year four women died in domestic incidents.

“The majority of these victims were assaulted in the domestic environment – ‘the home or safe environment!’ and without doubt nearly all the attackers, the offenders were known to the victims,” said Tonga’s Police Commander Chris Kelley today, in opening the National Consultation Process on “Advocacy Strategies for Advancing Legislative Change to address Violence against women”.

Commander Kelley said that, perhaps, an anti-violence curriculum is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic in schools and that Tonga Police are looking to introduce a schools programme over the next two years.

“My point is that look to the starting point, look at when, how, where it might begin, in the sons of today are the traits of the men tomorrow,” he said.

“If you are to review the concepts of violence against women, endorse findings in local research, develop strategies, introduce new laws, initiatives, you need to identify at least one important point. Where does it begin? What stimulates the act of violence against women here in Tonga?” he said.

“In my opinion it’s a learned behaviour perpetrated in peer pressure. Yes, it’s a power thing, a control mechanism but I don’t think you are born with a gene labeled ‘domestic violence’ – you learn from others, regrettably.

“If your son sees his father assaulting his mother and getting away with it, is it OK?

“If your son is encouraged to indulge in school fighting because of some misguided honour, or his father and grandfather did it, is it OK?

“If the availability and consumption rate of alcohol plays a major part in domestic violence, is it OK?

“If you have a wife and family but little or no relationship skills then is it OK?

“If it’s not appropriate to assault your mother and sister but it is alright to assault your wife or other women, then is it OK?

“We all know it’s never OK!” he said.

Commander Kelly said that the ten years of statistics referred to grievous bodily harm, to rape, indecent assault, injury and wounding, but these statistics did not include intimidation, threats or psychological and emotional abuse.

“The reported rate of violence against women has climbed from 113 in the year 2000 to 404 in 2009. Now, well over one report each day of a serious assault incident against women is made by women.”

He said that the courts have entered convictions in 1304 of those 2,753 cases, or 47%. Other cases were withdrawn, acquitted or still under investigation and pending trial..

These statistics don’t include murder and manslaughter, which reached a peak in 2009 when four women died in separate domestic incidents.

“Remember I am quoting you reported crime. What about the unreported figure and %. I don’t know what that figure is – who does?

“Don’t fall into the trap of changing the law for change sake but I strongly believe the law needs to reflect the rights of women and children and recognize their special place in society,” he said.

“If we are to introduce new laws we must look at ways that will benefit women and children, protect women and children – not just punish men, because that hasn’t been too successful if you accept the reported statistics,” he said.

Tonga Police are introducing a domestic violence response policy in July this year and a draft will be discussed in the seminar. A feature of the police Domestic Violence Response Guidelines is the ‘No Drop Policy’ for reported physical assaults.

“Police will seek feedback on the draft policy before introduction – that process will help contribute to positive outcomes for this consultation,” Commander Kelley said.

He added that these issues are not peculiar to Tonga, not indigenous to this country, not a reflection of every male in Tonga today. “Acknowledgment is one thing, acceptance is another, acceptance that change is required will be the key to progress.”

The consultation was organised by the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SCP) in partnership with the Women’s Affairs and Culture with the aim to improve legislation to protect women and to develop appropriate policy and legislation in Tonga. Over four days this week the participants will review existing general assault laws, discriminatory provisions and practices in the areas of violence against women and develop practical strategies for legislative change in the area of violence against women.