Archive for June, 2010

Update, 21/06/2010: According to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR), Shiva has been transferred from solitary confinement to the women’s section of Evin prison, which is a public prison.

In an interview with the news agency, Reporters and Human Rights Activists of Iran on 12 June 2010, Shiva Nazar Ahari’s lawyer, Mohammad Sharif, said: “After two different cases brought against Nazar Ahari were integrated, the [new date for the court] session has not yet been declared to us.” Sharif announced that his client had been officially accused of ‘Moharebeh’ (enmity against God), and acts against national security through collective action and participation in the demonstrations. Such charges attract very severe sentences under Iran’s Penal Code and Nazar Ahari and could face the death penalty. Please continue to write to the Iranian authorities calling for Iran to abide by its commitments under international laws and its own constitution.


An abortion hotline set up in Pakistan on Saturday has been condemned by Islamic groups and political parties as “anti-Islamic” and “colonial”, even though it will save the lives of thousands of women who die each year in back street abortion clinics, reports The Independent.

The hotline, set up by women’s groups in Pakistan and the Dutch pro-choice group Women on Waves, advises women how to use a drug to induce miscarriage safely and aims to reduce the estimated 8.9 lakh unsafe illegal abortions performed in Pakistan every year.

“There will be very strong opposition,” said Ahsan Iqbal, of the Pakistan Muslim League. “This could create misuse. It cannot be done as free choice under our law and our religion.”

Access to abortion in Pakistan is limited. Forbidden under Islamic law unless the mother’s life is in danger, terminating a pregnancy carries a massive social stigma in the country, which is 97 per cent Muslim. As a result, a flourishing trade in backstreet abortion clinics has developed.

Figures from the Population Council of Pakistan show 320 women die for every 1 lakh live births — compared to 13 per 1 lakh in the UK.

The Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health, estimates that as many as one in six deaths are a result of illegal abortions. “We want to save women’s lives,” said Gulalai Ismail, founder of the Pakistani women’s group Aware Girls, which is helping to set up the hotline. “We are empowering women, and trying to give them information to help them take control of their bodies.

Any groups which try to help women will have problems with extremist and fundamentalist groups. Ninety-nine per cent of clerics will oppose this.”

As well as the hotline, trained Pakistani staff will offer abortion information in communities in rural Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province, where opposition is expected to be fiercest.

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman, Islamic Human Rights Commission, said, “To go against the majority like this might be seen sympathetically in the West, but it will be counterproductive and will create huge problems.

At best, they are misguided, at worst they are trying to provoke.” He added, “It is part of the colonial idea that the West’s way is the best, and that is not the case.”

The Muskoka Initiative, formally announced Friday, has largely failed to inspire both at home and abroad. Despite the $2.85-billion, five-year commitment of Canadian taxpayer money, the initiative is high on rhetoric but short on detail.

Buzzwords — like voluntary family planning, country ownership, health workers, information systems, continuum of care, accountability and effectiveness — are abundant. But the details are missing. How will the initiative be co-ordinated with existing global health activities, particularly the Global Fund? Will the initiative promote universal access to health care for women and children, and if so, how will this be financed? While named in the communiqué, it is not clear how the initiative fits in with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the UN Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The G8 communiqué claims the initiative will prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children five years and under and 64,000 maternal deaths while enabling 12 million couples to access family planning. Yet no information is provided on how these goals will be achieved. Perhaps this lack of specificity is the reason that matching contributions from other G8 countries were disappointingly low. A request for billions of dollars is normally accompanied by a strategic plan.

The lack of enthusiasm abroad is met with skepticism at home. This government recently cut funds to organizations working for the rights of women in Canada and abroad. It also decimated Status of Women Canada, and shut down gender equality units at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canada to contribute to reducing maternal mortality, he must recognize that maternal health is not a one-off, stand-alone issue.

Improving maternal health depends on the protection, promotion and advancement of the rights and freedoms of women and girls. Canada needs to push countries to fully respect these rights and support programs at home and abroad that allow women and girls to realize them.

Such rights include the ability to access affordable, appropriate and effective health care, as well as the right to clean water and sanitation. Women have a right to be educated, deserve equal opportunities for employment and credit, as well as protection of their property and inheritance rights. The right of women to mobilize as members of civil society and to seek political office must be supported. Voluntary family planning is only voluntary if women’s rights are respected and if they have choice. To quote from the Beijing Platform, women must “have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

The Muskoka Initiative also needs to be closely linked to Canadian engagement in broader global health initiatives. In advance of the UN’s September MDG Summit, experts are debating how to generate more resources while ensuring that global health interventions are better co-ordinated and managed at the country level. Despite its G8 focus on maternal health, Canada has been largely silent on these debates, nor are they reflected in the G8 communiqué.

This silence is not new. Canada’s response to global health challenges has been largely reactive, driven by public policy issues such as the threat of H1N1, or by international processes at the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies. This policy vacuum is accompanied by institutional fragmentation. Global health responsibilities are dispersed among CIDA, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. CIDA does not even list health as one of its three priorities, while Health Canada has few resources for international programming.

Canada, with its expertise in public health and its experience delivering universal health care to a dispersed and diverse population, should be a natural leader in global health. To realize this leadership potential, the government should articulate a bold Global Health Strategy — like the U.S. and British strategies — that identifies how Canada’s global health engagement will protect and improve the health of Canadians and of people around the world. This vision would articulate how best to marshal Canadian government, civil society and academic resources, and clearly delineate institutional responsibilities to implement global health initiatives.

Harper can take this opportunity to frame the maternal health initiative as a key component of Canada’s larger engagement on global health, and accompany the initiative by championing the rights of women and girls. Doing so will not only allay the cynics, it will provide a more inspirational, successful and sustainable foundation for the Muskoka Maternal Health Initiative.

At least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty, according to a new study launched Tuesday night by Cherie Blair, wife of the former British prime minister.

The most dire consequences are faced by 2 million Afghan widows and at least 740,000 Iraqi widows who lost their husbands as a result of the ongoing conflicts; by widows and their children evicted from their family homes in sub-Saharan Africa; by elderly widows caring for grandchildren orphaned by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and by child widows aged 7 to 17 in developing countries, the report said.

“Across the world, widows suffer dreadful discrimination and abuse,” Blair said. “In too many cases they’re pushed to the very margins of society, trapped in poverty and left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

She said many are cheated out of their husbands’ assets and property and expelled from their family home — and since they have no money they can’t support their children, “so misery is heaped on grief.”

Blair was in New York to launch the report entitled “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows around the World,” commissioned by the Loomba Foundation which works in a dozen countries to help widows and educate their children.

“The plight of widows — in the shadows of the world — is a human rights catastrophe,” said Blair, the foundation’s president. “It’s really a hidden humanitarian crisis.”

She said the foundation had been working on the basis that there were about 100 million widows but decided to do a study from published sources to get a more accurate figure. She said the foundation was surprised to discover there were at least 245 million widows worldwide, almost half living in poverty.

The report stressed that persecution against widows and their children is not limited to the developing world, noting that large numbers of widows are also found in Europe and Central Asia.

According to the report, the countries with the highest number of widows in 2010 were China with 43 million, India with 42.4 million, the United States with 13.6 million, Indonesia with 9.4 million, Japan with 7.4 million, Russia with 7.1 million, Brazil with 5.6 million, Germany with 5.1 million, and Bangladesh and Vietnam with about 4.7 million each.

Blair said women become widows when their husbands are killed in conflicts, die of diseases including HIV/AIDS, or are killed because they work in dangerous conditions, the only jobs available to many poor men.

When their husbands die, she said, some women are required to be “cleansed,” some are erroneously accused of murder or witchcraft, some are required to marry another member of the family, many are disinherited and forced out of their homes and many are raped.

According to the report, over 500 million dependent and adult children of widows are caught in a vicious underworld in which disease, forced servitude, homelessness and violence are rampant and youngsters are denied schooling, enslaved or preyed upon by human traffickers.

The foundation was established in 1997 by Raj and Veena Loomba in honor of Loomba’s mother, who was widowed at the age of 37 in India when her husband died of tuberculosis and raised her seven children by herself.

“There are few resources in the world available to help widows achieve a safer, more comfortable existence and to promote their equality and pursue justice on their behalf,” Loomba said.

He said that’s why the foundation is campaigning to put the plight of the world’s widows on the U.N. agenda and to have June 23 — his mother’s birthday — declared International Widows Day to raise awareness of the crisis.

Authorities in the Maldives view women’s issues as a core human rights problem and are keen to tackle them head on, but cultural and religious issues often stand in the way.

“No doubt the government of President Mohamed Nasheed recognises many problems and is willing to tackle them, but there’s limited ability to do so because of deep-rooted cultural and religious issues,” according to a Maldivian journalist, who declined to be named.

Member of parliament Eva Abdulla, who belongs to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – which won power in May 2009, thus ending the 30- year-old reign of dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – said the government firmly believes in affirmative action policies benefiting women.

“The President has called for gender mainstreaming in both formulating and implementing government policies,” she said. She stressed, however, that lack of staff and resources are undermining Nasheed’s good intentions.

Particularly worrying, she said, is the growing religious extremism in the Maldives and its impact on the lives of Maldivian women, who comprise around 48 percent of the country’s population of around 340,000.

“Religion is all too often used as an excuse to limit women,” she added.

Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid- 12th century.

Abdulla believes the government and civil society as well as the media need to proactively engage in dealing with the rise in extremism and take tangible steps toward tackling “the adverse affect this will have on the lives of women in the country.”

While women have equal opportunities and there are some very strong females at leadership levels, they are rarely at the top, according to local journalists who spoke to IPS.

Workplace issues such as sexual harassment persist. Recently, the chief executive officer of the state-owned Bank of Maldives fled the country following allegations of this nature, they added.

Still another issue confronting women is domestic violence. Spousal rape is not a crime, and reporting of rape is rare, according to women’s rights advocates in the Maldives.

Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, with 10.97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations. Little wonder it is common for women in this small island nation on the Indian Ocean to be married four to five times, since Islam permits divorce and marriages are not considered as a family affair but an individual choice, according to female activists.

But the biggest worry in recent months, they said, is that religious extremism is taking root and having a serious impact on women.

“Religious lectures are growing and there’s some government support for these foreign preachers (who speak in such events),” said a female journalist and activist.

The journalist, who declined to be named for fear of incurring the wrath of extremist groups, said that in one of these gatherings, Jamaican-born Canadian Muslim preacher Bilal Phillips proposed that Sharia laws be the foundation of governance, and cited the need to increase religious education, for women to cover themselves fully, and promote polygamy.

“These extremists want women to be restricted to the home,” said a female judicial activist as she puffed on a cigarette while garbed in denim pants – looking and sounding every inch the epitome of liberalism – while three other women, who shared her views, looked on in agreement.

The activist added that she and her colleagues were deeply concerned that the government’s inability to tackle extremism could eventually subjugate women.

She and her group told IPS that while the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, it did not mean “we must have 100 percent Sharia laws here.” They also expressed fear that extremism from some Islamic fundamentalist countries has begun to spread to small nations like the Maldives.

They claimed the Adaalath Party, a member of Nasheed’s MDP coalition and the main, stridently religious party in the government, has been supportive of extremist views being propagated in the Maldives.

President Nasheed conceded that religious extremism is an issue but said that since the country has been fed on a diet of religion for more than 30 years, it is not easy to turn it overnight into a liberal Muslim society.

He told IPS that his government hopes to anchor itself to a religious-oriented middle ground. “Let the country go along with (the prevailing view) for awhile and at the same time strengthen civil society and other liberal ideas and by and large make society freer,” he said.

In the meantime, said Abdulla, women continue to be under-represented at the decision-making level, with only one female Cabinet minister while only 6 percent of parliamentarians are women.

The MDP led the campaign for pro-democracy reforms some years, which saw many campaigners, including Nasheed, being jailed for many months during Gayoom’s presidency. The end of the Gayoom era generated a lot of reform expectations, especially on human rights, among the people, including women. But the road ahead is not all that easy, he said.

“The kind of expectations that were raised is beyond the reach of anyone within a short period of time. The last year, in particular, has been a non- starter. It took us about eight months to get a good grip on government,” the President said.

Yet, he said, his administration is already making major strides toward change, including the grant of a health insurance scheme to single mothers.

“If we fast-forward to the future, then we could see that we have achieved something,” said Nasheed.

A confidante of the Burmese opposition leader has made a simple but passionate appeal to those in the West to use their freedom to help his country achieve the same.

In a hand-written letter smuggled out of Burma and passed to The Independent, U Win Tin writes: “I want to repeat and echo her own words – ‘please use your liberty to promote ours’. I want to add more to it. Please bring more and more liberty to us, to our country, Burma. We are starving for it and we are waiting for someone or some institutions or some countries to bring it to us.”

The plea from Ms Suu Kyi’s friend and senior political ally, who himself spent almost 20 years in solitary confinement, comes at a desperately difficult time for the opponents of Burma’s military junta.

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been forced to shut down after it decided it could not participate in an election due later this year when she and more than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars. While a breakaway group of supporters has decided to contest the polls, most independent analysts believe the election will simply further cement the junta’s position.

While Ms Suu Kyi has been permitted occasional meetings with diplomats and her lawyers, she remains imprisoned within the lakeside Rangoon home once owned and occupied by her mother.

Analysts say that in the aftermath of the 2007 democracy protests – when tens of thousands of people took to the streets – the military authorities have made a concerted effort to marginalise the Nobel laureate, both physically and politically. Before the authorities had allowed the NLD and its largely frail and ageing membership to splutter on, although hundreds of its younger political activists, monks and dissidents were jailed. Now, it has been prevented from operating as a political party.

Amid this, the junta has claimed the elections due to be held this year will mark a crucial staging point in Burma’s journey to full democracy. It is a claim that has been met with derision by most independent observers.

The Elders, a group of global leaders called together by Nelson Mandela, used the occasion of Ms Suu Kyi’s birthday to denounce the planned election. “National processes in Burma have been usurped by the military government – they do not serve the people. The elections due later this year will not be any different,” said Desmond Tutu, chairman of the group.

Gordon Brown told The Independent: “The reason I wrote to both Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela as my final two letters as Prime Minister, was to send a message around the world that as long as [she] is not free then we cannot talk about a free world. And as long as [Mr Mandela’s] dream of universal education and eradicating poverty is unrealised, then there is no justice. It is our duty, whatever position we are in, to fight for Aung San Suu Kyi to be free, and democracy to prevail.”

Despite the junta’s efforts to isolate her, experts say Ms Suu Kyi remains the sole person who could perhaps unite Burma. “She remains a powerful icon and, if she were free and there were free presidential elections tomorrow, there’s no doubt in my mind that she would win,” said author Bertil Lintner.

Aung Din, who also spent time in Burma’s jails as a dissident and now heads the US Campaign for Burma, was even more forceful. “The junta are not able to remove the image of ‘The Lady’ from the hearts of the people. The more the people of Burma see and suffer abuses and injustices by the generals, the more they expect her to save their country”.

Ms Suu Kyi – who rose to become leader of Burma’s political opposition following massive democracy demonstrations in 1988 that were crushed with the loss of up to 6,000 lives – has been repeatedly jailed and detained by the authorities. Her first imprisonment followed an election in 1990 which the NLD won by a landslide but the military refused to acknowledge. Her current term of detention dates from 2003.

While she is slightly built and is perhaps starting to reflect her age, those who have met her during this time say she remains remarkably vibrant, alert and focused.

David Cameron has said that continuing to press for change in Burma will be a key part of his foreign policy agenda. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said yesterday: “Her continued detention, and that of more than 2,100 other political prisoners in Burma, contravenes international human rights law and casts a long shadow over planned elections. I urge the military regime to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s birthday will be celebrated with far more fanfare overseas than in Burma, where it is expected that just hardcore members of her NLD will gather. Paying their respects in person will be utterly impossible; since last year, the road that passes the opposition leader’s crumbling house has been permanently barricaded.

Even at the age of 65, the woman inside carries with her a rare, special power that the generals still fear.


See also Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate’s family life in Britain is depicted in photographs released for her 65th birthday

Even if Julia Gillard never gets to move into The Lodge, Australia’s first female prime minister will have a profound effect on the standing, expectations and limitations that have long held and often shackled women.

Gillard announced on Thursday, after taking over the Labor leadership, that she would not move into the PM’s official residence unless she won the election. Practical and politically smart – who’s got time to move when you have just become PM and are months out from a tough election battle? – and typical of Gillard.

But while the euphoria around her triumph is intoxicating, will her supporters wake up with a nasty hangover? If Gillard fails to win the election, will she be seen to have set back the cause of feminism?

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick doesn’t doubt that Gillard’s achievement will raise the expectations and ambitions of young women.

”Her elevation sends a message that there is no public office that is out of reach of women. As my daughter [12] said to me yesterday after breathlessly telling me we had a female PM. ‘Mum that could be me!”’

The Melbourne headquarters of Emily’s List, the group that Gillard, Joan Kirner and others founded to get Labor women elected, has almost sold out of its ”Future PM” T-shirts for girls. Hutch Hussein, the group’s national co-convener, says Gillard’s winning the highest political office of the land ”speaks volumes about the position of women in society”.

”There is probably no other vocation with as many barriers for women. More so, to have a woman from a working-class background with power to make decisions over the shape of our society,” Hussein says.

Broderick says Gillard’s rise is more of a game-changer than other female pioneers, including Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Australia’s first elected woman premier, Queensland’s Anna Bligh. ”[This is] because it is arguably the most powerful position in our country and power is a trait often attributed to men, not women.”

Former Victorian premier Joan Kirner says she and former WA Labor premier Carmen Lawrence were ”one-offs”. Gillard’s rise is fundamentally different in that there is now something approaching a critical mass of women in Australian parliaments, says Kirner – almost 30 per cent federally.

Kirner says Thursday’s triumph was underpinned by groups such as Emily’s List and women including herself and Gillard pushing the ALP to adopt affirmative action. ”It was clear that unless we had affirmative action, women like Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard were going to be frustrated in their attempts to be elected – so she was both a gate-opener and she walked through the gate,” Kirner says.

Kirner also notes that the scrutiny on Gillard’s hair, reproductive and marital status has lessened from three years ago. ”Comments like, ‘well she’s childless’, that offends not only many women but also many men. That’s ’70s talk,” Kirner says.

”Women are now seen as making their own choices … Julia Gillard’s not only made it, she breaks the mould. She doesn’t have a marriage partner, children … That would have caused a revolution 20 years ago!”

Lawyer Moira Rayner, a former equal opportunity commissioner, says Gillard has managed to get to the top without becoming ”one of the boys” or needing a patron. ”Julia’s her own woman and has learned a heck of a lot from the women who have gone before,” Rayner says.

Gillard herself has been at pains to not play up her feminist credentials, a smart political tactic, couching policies on principles of fairness, inclusion, hard work, opportunity and productivity. She has said repeatedly that she got into politics to make a difference, not to be the first.

Political scientist Lindy Edwards says Gillard has persuaded the Labor Party that gender doesn’t matter. ”But the question is whether she can convince the general public”.

Lauren Rosewarne, a social and media researcher who lectures in public policy at the University of Melbourne, says acclaim for Gillard – even among young women – is not universal. ”On social media like Facebook and Twitter there’s a mix. Some young women are criticising her appearance,” Rosewarne says with exasperation. ”We can be our own worst enemy, but there are also positive posts from women my age [20s] and younger who are seeing it as a huge victory.”

Edwards says that in 2006 Gillard had more support than Rudd but ceded him the top job because of Labor’s reservations about a woman in the role. (Joan Kirner disagrees on that point, saying Gillard and Rudd needed each others’ numbers.)

”It’s worth remembering all the nastiness that came out from inside the Labor Party in the 2006 contests, about a childless woman being unelectable,” says Edwards. ”What they did [Thursday] was a very high-risk strategy, but there was overwhelming confidence that if anyone could pull it off it would be Julia.

”After 2½ years in the job they are seeing her competence not her gender.”

Broderick says the only risk she can foresee in Gillard’s rise, apart from the inevitable extra scrutiny given to her personal appearance because she is a female, is that some might take the view that because we now have a female PM, gender equality is ”finished business”. ”We need to keep the debates and messaging around pay equity and other areas of inequality very much alive,” Broderick says.

Catherine Marshall, a Sydney-based journalist for Jesuit Communications, doesn’t doubt that Gillard is the best qualified for the job, but is uneasy at how all this feminist ”backslapping” has obscured the ”brutality” of Rudd’s political assassination, and how feminists are being asked to overlook that.

”If the knives were out for Julia Gillard, would we then be saying ‘this is happening because she is a woman’ or will we be man enough (pun intended) to act as equals and take it – because Julia Gillard will not be exempt from that kind of treatment,” Marshall says.

Commentator and writer Helen Razer shares that uneasiness, saying it is dangerous to celebrate this as a ”victory” for women and feminism.

”First, this diminishes the real victory which, in my view, is of a civic-minded pragmatist over a cultural conservative. Second, it reduces the aims of feminism to that of amassing trophies,” she says.

Razer says that many battle fronts – equal pay, equal representation, and domestic violence to name a few – remain. ”I couldn’t, in this moment, be happier that the ALP has a leader that may take real action on industrial reform and indigenous rights … And, I’m hoping that she will demonstrate some feminist mettle. This will only be observed in her policy; not in her appointment. So, I’m reserving my ‘You Go Girl’ sentiments for a future date.”

All the women interviewed emphasise that regardless of the symbolism of Gillard’s appointment, Gillard stands or falls on her policies and politics.

”It’s not her gender that will determine whether she is a good PM, although it may help,” says Kirner, who believes Gillard is ”normalising” women in power.

Rosewarne warns, however, that she’ll have to do that while still batting ”idiotic” questions about her appearance and womb, and carefully calibrating how she projects power and aggression.

The concept of being a ”backstabbing bitch” doesn’t affect men in the same manner, Rosewarne says. ”For a man to backstab, it’s a game men are meant to play in politics because politics always seen as a men’s game. For a woman to do that it’s seen as sly and underhanded.”


See also:
* From Greer to Gillard
* Australia’s new prime minister takes her place beside 18 other elected female leaders. But does a woman at the top make any difference to the lives of ordinary women?

As Zimbabwe embarks on writing a new constitution with the countrywide collection of public submissions starting on Jun. 23, not all women are upbeat about the process.

While some gender activists see this public comment phase as an opportunity for their voices to be heard, ordinary women remain in the dark about the proposed new constitution and what exactly they are supposed to contribute.

Activists warn this could be a lost chance for women to speak about issues that affect them and therefore assert their constitutional rights. It could compromise women’s rights advocacy and the drive to have more women in parliament and other decision-making positions, warns Rejoice Timire of the Disabled Women Support Organisation.

“For women’s issues to come out as they want in the constitution, it needs women at the grassroots to be educated about what is a constitution. If they don’t know what it (the constitution) means then we cannot say our issues will come out as we want them to as Zimbabwean women,” Timire told IPS.

There are already complaints among members of the public that not much has been done to adequately advertise the call for public submissions.

Lydia Thembo agrees saying she has no clue about the constitution-making process that she and other Zimbabweans are expected to provide input for.

“I have not heard anything about it (the constitution outreach exercise),” she told IPS. “There are obviously many things I would like addressed that affects us women, for example, issues to do with inheritance laws. But I have no clue how to do this. I only know about voting during elections – that’s all.”

Local newspapers also reported that the public is unaware of where to make their submissions and that one constitutional outreach team dispatched to collect submissions had been thrown out of their hotel, due to lack of accommodation arrangements.

These concerns are emerging against the backdrop of feminist activists having already complained after the formation of the government of national unity in 2009 that the coalition partners had ignored the call for equal representation in senior government positions. This would have been in line with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, of which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

The protocol demands that women have equal positions to men in both public and private sectors by 2015. Zimbabwe has only four female cabinet ministers of a total 120.

“At the moment women in parliament are too few to make any meaningful change,” Timire said.

Zimbabwe’s next elections are expected after a new constitution has been written and accepted in a referendum. The constitutional outreach process is expected to be completed by September.

But concerns have been raised that this could be another exercise in futility that will serve only as “window dressing.”

“Coming up with a good constitution is one thing, implementing the provisions is quite another thing,” said Slyvia Chirawu, National Coordinator of the Women and Law in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe).

The decades-old economic crisis has left women vulnerable and out of employment, and feminists say this has partly been due to their absence in decision-making positions both in the public and private sector.

“We need other strategies to get women into decision-making positions. Do the political parties themselves have a clear stance on women’s participation in their parties? It determines the number of women who get into parliament,” Chirawu told IPS.

In a gender audit report of political parties that form Zimbabwe’s unity government last year, the Women in Politics Support Unit lamented that despite Zimbabwe being a signatory of the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the coalition government had, by not ensuring gender parity in government, failed the country’s women.

Yet the fight for political equality remains a tough one in this largely patriarchal nation where women remain stereotyped as “homemakers,” says Abigail Shuma, a gender activist in Bulawayo.

“Women are yet to come out of the closet as leaders in their own right not by mere appointment and that has been the nature of our national politics that women only participate and become very visible only as supporters and so-called party bulwarks. That’s how their role in politics has been defined,” Shuma told IPS.

“There is still a long way to go before ordinary women aspire to higher political office in this country.”

However, Chirawu believes new strategies must be adopted for women’s presence to be felt.

“We need to address issues that hinder women’s effective participation in politics starting from the home upwards,” Chirawu told IPS. She said this included addressing, among other issues: the lack of knowledge on laws and policies; gender inequalities; patriarchy; negative stereotypes; and lack of access to resources.

“The legislated quota system will only work if those who get in through this system have real power, so we look at the motive: is it just window dressing or is it meant to give the women real power as decision makers?” she asked.


The worst part of the whole ordeal was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.

But making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.

“Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe,” said the woman who requested that her full name be withheld.

The kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a women’s health clinic at the family’s request.

Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others’ misery.

So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women’s groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and “the threat is constant,” said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.

Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.

Ms. Villard said that Kofaviv’s two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer — 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.

Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.

Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this city’s battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.

Read the full story at

Girls’ safety hinges on families’ willingness to speak out about sexual violence, researchers in Senegal’s southern Casamance region said at the release of a study that reveals widespread violence against girls aged 10 to 13.

The study, by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the University of Ziguinchor, found that in Kolda, Sédhiou and Ziguinchor, family, social and cultural pressures bred silence and impunity.

Having heard of many cases of early pregnancy and violence in and around schools in 2008 and 2009, UNICEF funded and conducted the study for a more detailed picture of the nature, extent and causes, Christina de Bruin, head of the agency in Ziguinchor, told IRIN.

“It is urgent that the taboo surrounding sexual violence be lifted in society and above all in the family,” the report states.

For Diatta Yadicone Sané, a state education worker in Sédhiou region, family honour is an important factor. “In this culture the family’s honour is first and foremost,” she told IRIN. “The first consideration is saving face among the adults; [people] do not think of the young girl who is the victim of something that carries inconceivable consequences.”

Researchers found that social pressures “disarm” families in the face of rape. “Even if parents want to react, more often than not they opt to settle the matter within the family or ask a traditional local leader to mediate,” the report says.

Moreover, families do not want to talk about these arrangements between the family members and the perpetrator, Mohamed Azzedine Salah, UNICEF deputy regional director, told IRIN. “This makes it difficult to have open discussions in the community about the problem and its impact.

“Silence is one of the principal causes of this violence.”

Some local experts and residents said it was mostly because of a family’s fear of social stigma that rape cases were not pursued in court.

“A girl is destined for marriage,” Sané said. “So the family does not want her to be singled out and marginalised.”

In many cases, she added, the assailant is a family member, which makes it all the more unlikely legal recourse will be sought.

“When a girl is raped or beaten by a family member or someone close to the family, people try to find a compromise within the circle because this society looks down upon someone who would bring a close friend or relation to court,” a resident of Casamance’s department of Bignona, Moussa Sané, said.

It is not only in rape cases that culture has a negative impact on girls, child welfare experts and educators told IRIN, naming several other practices they said constitute violence – forced early marriage, early pregnancy and female genital mutilation/cutting.

“When certain rites are practised as part of religious or traditional beliefs it is not easy to eradicate them from one day to the next,” Oumar Diatta, education specialist in Kolda, told IRIN. He said a reluctance to speak out played a role here as well.

“The fact that these practices are deep-seated in the society and culture [means] there is a reticence to denounce them. This blocks understanding of the reality, of the potential harm. It’s a delicate situation.”

In their report UNICEF and the University of Ziguinchor say health, education and social services institutions must work together to combat all forms of violence against children.

As part of their recommendations they call for reinforcing education – for children and adults – about sexual violence and children’s rights, providing legal assistance to victims and strengthening social services for girls traumatised by violence.

Women in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region said on Friday that police had targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.

The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution.

“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on condition of anonymity.

Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which handles the police force, declined to comment on Friday about the reports.

Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.

The ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist has amassed thousands of personal militia, who enforce his decrees such as periodic bans of alcohol and making women cover their heads in state buildings. “This paintballing is an obvious Kadyrov rule just used to strengthen and tighten his grip over his tiny republic,” prominent human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Reuters.

Russian rights group Memorial, citing witnesses, said in a statement it believed police were behind the attacks that fired the paint at women’s faces and necks. Local media said there were around 12 such attacks.

This week, fliers from the self-proclaimed paintballers appeared in the city of Gudermes, site of Kadyrov’s opulent residence, warning women that if they did not cover their heads the attackers will be “forced to resort to tougher measures”.

“Isn’t it nasty for you, while dressed defiantly, with your head uncovered, to hear various obscene ‘compliments’ and proposals? Think again!” it read, according to a copy posted on Internet news agency Caucasus Knot.

Police also declines to comment on the fliers, some of which were posted on state buildings and bus stops.

The rising number of honour killings in the capital reflects the “Talibanisation” of society, say women’s rights groups, adding that the central government should enact a law to put down the pernicious practice.

“This is absolutely inhuman treatment for any society. This is not honour killing…it is caste killing. Moreover, whose honour are they talking about? Killing your own sons and daughters in the name of honour is wrong. This is Talibanisation, if you defy the so-called rules you are killed,” Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research (CSR), told IANS.

The organisation has started an online signature campaign requesting President Pratibha Patil to ban such extremist justice.

“India cannot afford to have a parallel justice system, which undoes all the good that was ushered in by its founding fathers. Also, the tyranny unleashed by khap panchayats on the pretext of safeguarding tradition needs to be quelled under threat of severe punishment,” the petition said.

“We were already worried after the Khap panchayat’s diktat because we were afraid that others will follow. These people should be punished severely. But the sad reality is that this hierarchical caste mindset is present even in our law agencies,” she said.

The national capital has reported two honour killing cases within a week’s time.

A 19-year-old girl and her boyfriend were tortured to death by the girl’s uncle and father in north Delhi’s Swaroop Nagar area June 14.

On Monday, a man and woman who were married four years ago against the wishes of the girl’s parents were found murdered in north Delhi’s Ashok Vihar amid speculation that it might be a honour killing.

Several honour killing cases were recently reported from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana as well.

The “Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat” (all community council congregation) in Haryana is demanding amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra (sub-caste) marriages.

“These incidents are shocking and a big blot on any respectable society. The government should not accept the demand of khap panchayat to amend the Hindu Marriage Act. It should be on the individual (girl or boy) to decide about their partners,” said Kanta Singh, senior programme officer with WomenPowerConnect.

Following a spurt in honour killing incidents, the Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the central government and some states on the risisng incidents being reported across the country.

“Earlier such incidents were limited to Haryana and now its in Delhi. I think it is the responsibility of the state governments to curb such events,” said Moushumi Basu of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights.

Kurdistan Regional Government Should Outlaw the Practice

A significant number of girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) and its destructive after-effects, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate action to end FGM and develop a long term plan for its eradication, including passing a law to ban the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

The 73-page report, “‘They Took Me and Told Me Nothing’: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan” (download from ) documents the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM against a backdrop of conflicting messages from some religious leaders and healthcare professionals about the practice’s legitimacy and safety. The report describes the pain and fear that girls and young women experience when they are cut, and the terrible toll that it takes on their physical and emotional health. It says the regional government has been unwilling to prohibit FGM, despite its readiness to address other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and so-called honor killings.

“FGM violates women’s and children’s rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won’t go away on its own.”

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews during May and June 2009, with 31 girls and women in four villages of northern Iraq and in the town of Halabja. Researchers also interviewed Muslim clerics, midwives, healthcare workers, and government officials. Local nongovernmental organizations say that FGM may also be practiced among other communities in the rest of Iraq, but there are no data on its prevalence outside the Kurdish region.

The prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan is not fully known as the government does not routinely collect information on the practice. However, research conducted by local organizations indicates that the practice is widespread and affects a significant number of girls and women.

The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that for many girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM is an unavoidable procedure that they undergo sometimes between the ages of 3 and 12. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, societal pressures also led adult women to undergo the procedure, sometimes as a precondition of marriage.

Human Rights Watch met Gola, a 17-year-old student from the village of Plangan. Gola told Human Rights Watch, “I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls. We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something. They did it one by one with no anesthetics. I was afraid, but endured the pain. I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate.”

Young girls and women described how their mothers had taken them to the home of the village midwife, a non-licensed practitioner. They were almost never told in advance what was going to happen to them. When they arrived, the midwife, sometimes with the help of the mother, spread the girl’s legs and cut her clitoris with a razor blade. Often, the midwife used the same razor to cut several girls in succession.

Doctors in Iraqi Kurdistan told Human Rights Watch that the most common type of FGM believed to be practiced there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce, also known as clitoridectomy. Health care workers said that an even more invasive procedure was sometimes performed on adult women in hospitals. The practice serves no medical purpose and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences.

The previous regional government took some steps to address FGM, including a 2007 Justice Ministry decree, supposedly binding on all police precincts, that perpetrators of FGM should be arrested and punished. However, the existence of the decree is not widely known, and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that it has ever been enforced.

In 2008, the majority of members of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) supported the introduction of a law banning FGM, but the bill was never enacted into law and its status is unknown. In early 2009, the Health Ministry developed a comprehensive anti-FGM strategy in collaboration with a nongovernmental organization. But the ministry later withdrew its support and halted efforts to combat FGM. A public awareness campaign about FGM and its consequences has also been inexplicably delayed.

The new government, elected in July 2009, has taken no steps to eradicate the practice.

The origins of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan are unclear. Some girls and women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were told that it is rooted in a belief that anything they touch is haram, or unclean, until they go through this painful procedure, while others said that FGM was a traditional custom. Most women referred to FGM as an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one’s religion that is not obligatory.

The association of FGM with Islam has been rejected by many Muslim scholars and theologians, who say that FGM is not prescribed in the Quran and is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Women and girls interviewed said they had received mixed messages from clerics about whether it was a religious obligation. Clerics interviewed said that when any practice interpreted as sunnah endangers people’s lives, it is the duty of the clerics to stop it.

Health care workers interviewed gave mixed responses both about their concerns about the harm FGM causes and about their obligation to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM.

Two studies have been conducted recently to try to determine the prevalence of the practice. In January 2009, the former Human Rights Ministry conducted a study in the Chamchamal district with a sample of 521 students ages 11 to 24. It found that 40.7 percent of the sample had undergone the procedure – 23 percent of girls under age13, and 45 percent of those ages 14 and older.

In 2010, the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights nongovernmental organization, published the results of a study conducted between September 2007 and May 2008 in the provinces of Arbil and Sulaimaniya, and the Germian/Kirkuk region. Interviews with 1,408 women and girls ages 14 and over found that 72.7 percent had undergone the procedure – 77.9 percent in Sulaimaniya, 81.2 percent in Germian, and 63 percent in Arbil.

The wider age range of girls and women interviewed may account in part for the higher overall percentages. The percentage was 57 percent for those ages 14 to 18 in this study.

Human Rights Watch called on the regional authorities to develop a long-term plan that involves government, health care workers, clerics, and communities in efforts to eradicate the practice. The strategy should include a law to ban FGM for children and non-consenting adult women; awareness raising programs on the health consequences of FGM; and the mainstreaming of FGM prevention into policies and programs for reproductive health, education, and literacy development.

The government also should work closely with communities and people of influence in those communities to encourage debate about the practice among men, women, and children, including awareness and understanding of the human rights of girls and women, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government not only needs to take action to end this practice, but to work for public affirmation of a new standard – not mutilating their girls,” Khalife said.

“FGM is a complex issue, but its harm to girls and women is clear,” Khalife said. “Eradicating it in Iraqi Kurdistan will require strong and dedicated leadership on the part of the regional government, including a clear message that FGM will no longer be tolerated.”

Much to the frustration of gender activists, Swaziland’s Supreme Court has reversed a February 2010 High Court ruling that allowed a married woman to register property in their own name.

After centuries of being classified and treated as minors, the new Swazi Constitution granted women equal status in 2005. Activist Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane wished to register a house in her own name and challenged the country’s 1968 Deeds Registry Act. She was granted a High Court order declaring the section unconstitutional.

Yet a mere three months later, “The Supreme Court suppressed the High Court judgment granting women the immediate right to register property in their own names. From a legal and constitutional point of view, this is a big deal,” Tenille Brown, legal advisor to the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), told IRIN.

Although the Constitution grants men and women equal rights, in practice the old laws on the statute books still define gender relations in a country ruled by sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

The second-class status of women had long denied them their inheritance rights, and hobbled their progress as entrepreneurs and traders. Observers blame a lack of political will for the slow progress in replacing laws in conflict with the Constitution.

“The Constitution is clear that any law on the books that is counter to rights guaranteed in the Constitution must fall away, but in the face of government inaction, who is to do this?” an attorney who declined to be named told IRIN.

“We welcome the fact that Parliament has been directed that they have one year to amend the law, so that women married in community of property can hold property individually and with their husbands. However, we must remember that the constitution is now five years old. It is SWAGAA’s position that Parliament has taken too long to ensure that the laws of Swaziland provide protection for women,” SWAGAA said in a statement.

“People need to be aware that the inability of women to equally control the property they own with their husbands leads to situations of dependency and possible cases of abuse. We see many women who are not able to leave abusive husbands because it would mean they have nowhere to live, no money, and no family support.”

Most gender activists are sceptical that the deadline set by the Supreme Court will be met by parliament: “Given the amount of time that has gone by since the Constitution was enacted, we are not very hopeful,” Brown said.

The Attorney General’s office, which drafts legislation for parliamentary consideration, would not comment on its timeframe for revising the property law.

Swazi women are watching and waiting. “Thousands of Swazi women are trapped in abusive situations that are endangering their lives and mental health because no one wants to challenge the old patriarchal authority,” said Thab’sile Ndlovu, a secretary in Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial hub. “What use is the constitution?”

Domestic workers fighting for rights and recognition through binding international standards won a crucial first round victory at the this year’s International Labour Conference at the ILO in Geneva. On June 4, 61 governments voted in favour of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation, against 14 voting for a Recommendation only.

This first victory for the hundreds of millions of domestic workers around the world was followed by ten days of tough negotiations around proposed amendments, particularly from the Employers’ Group seeking to considerably weaken the scope and content of future standards. While claiming to recognize the important economic contribution of domestic workers, the employers characteristically argued that high standards would reduce employment opportunities for this group of workers – a contention challenged by government representatives from countries including Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, where domestic workers are covered under national legislation and collective agreements exist.

The Workers’ Group and the African, Australian, Latin American and US governments in particular managed not only to maintain the important clauses in the draft conclusions but to introduce several amendments further strengthening protection in key areas, including minimum working age/child labour and the liabilities and responsibilities of private employment agencies.

Despite the substantial progress made at this first discussion, a number of challenges remain for the second and final discussion in 2011. The principle of equal treatment with respect to social protection, working time, health and safety and labour inspection between domestic workers and workers in other sectors is far from established – including in some of the richest countries in the world including the members of the European Union

To prepare for next year’s discussion, the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) will have to mobilize strong support from relevant national and regional authorities around these issues. It will also be necessary to intensify the documentation of and awareness raising around domestic workers’ working and living conditions and the ways and means to improve these.

Workers’ Group spokesperson Halimah Yacob in her introductory remarks told the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers that their historic task was to take “decent work for all” from a slogan to a reality for all domestic workers. The IDWN and its members will return to next year’s negotiations better prepared than ever to fight for equal rights for all.

The full report and the conclusions from the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers are available here

For more information and regular updates from domestic workers’ organizations around the world see the Respect and Rights for Domestic Workers website


See also on ILO website: Decent Work for Domestic Workers in Asia-Pacific–en/WCMS_114205/index.htm

Anne Slater, National Organizer of Radical Women, issued the following statement on President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Radical Women opposes the potential seating of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan has shown herself to be a calculating seeker of power and no ally of the oppressed or the Constitution. We do not support using reproductive rights as a bargaining chip as Kagan did in advising President Clinton to outlaw late-term abortion. We are outraged that Kagan defends the constitutionality of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. She has had nothing to say about the atrocious legislative and judicial assaults on civil liberties during the Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, in her confirmation hearings as Obama’s solicitor general, she agreed with issues such as indefinite detention of those suspected of terrorist activities. In her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan filled 32 teaching positions- but hired only seven women and one person of color. She is lauded for increasing Harvard’s diversity by hiring conservatives.”

“Our priority is advancing the rights of women, workers, people of color, immigrants and queers. Giving a lifetime appointment to a female judge who is on the opposite side on all these issues is not progress.”

“One reason many people supported a Democrat for President was that they hoped it would prevent the nomination of far-right Supreme Court justices. Instead, President Obama has nominated a female candidate whose sole criteria is her relative inoffensiveness to the right. This is no advance for women. We need justices willing to uphold human rights.”


* Egypt, Qatar, Sudan among those opposing the group
* Britain, U.S. advocate accrediting gay-lesbian NGO

A United Nations committee that decides which nongovernmental organizations can be accredited to the world body moved on Thursday to keep out the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The group, which had applied for “consultative status” at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) three years ago, is an international NGO and advocacy group focusing on protecting the rights of homosexuals and lesbians worldwide.

Diplomats from Western nations that support gay rights complained that Egypt and other developing states that have been criticized by rights groups for discriminating against gays and lesbians prevented the committee from voting on whether to accredit the group, thereby leaving it in limbo.

“IGLHRC is disappointed by the vote of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to block action on our application,” Cary Alan Johnson, head of the New York-based group, said in a statement to Reuters.

The U.N. NGO committee has 19 members, among them the United States and Britain, who supported the NGO. Among those who voted against it were Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Pakistan, China, Russia, Angola, Burundi and Sudan. Turkey abstained.

Johnson said it was “a clear case of discrimination against an organization because it defends the human rights of LGBT people around the world and promotes non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The U.S. delegation defended the work of IGLHRC (

“This NGO is committed to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the U.S. statement said. “It has contributed to valuable research on HIV/AIDs and its work is well known to this committee.”

A Western diplomat told Reuters that “unfortunately we didn’t have the votes” on the committee to overcome opposition from countries like Egypt, Qatar, Sudan and others. The diplomat added that IGLHRC clearly fulfills all the criteria for U.N. accreditation.

The British delegation issued a statement expressing its “deep regret” for the decision to reject a U.S. proposal to take action on IGLHRC’s application for a U.N. accreditation. The British statement said the move not to accredit the group was proposed by Egypt on behalf of African countries.

“This act of simple discrimination runs contrary to the principles of the U.N., of ECOSOC and of the NGO Committee,” it said.

One envoy told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the United States and Europeans would push for the U.N. Economic and Social Council itself to move to accredit the group, a strategy that he said would have a better chance of success.


The US justice department has confirmed that federal laws giving protection against domestic violence also apply to gays and lesbians.

A memo posted yesterday by the department said prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving gay and lesbian relationships.

These provisions include those related to domestic violence, stalking and protection order violations.

The Defence of Marriage Act says that federal law can only consider the words “spouse” and “marriage” to relate to opposite-sex couples.

But David J Barron, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, said that domestic violence laws also contain phrases such as “dating partner” and “intimate partner.”

“The text, relevant case law and legislative history all support the conclusion” that the law’s criminal provisions “apply when the offender and the victim are the same sex,” Mr. Barron wrote.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said: “Today’s memorandum by the Department of Justice is one step forward in ensuring that LGBT people are protected by our federal domestic violence laws.

“Some of our families, like all Americans, experience domestic violence and those impacted by such violence should enjoy equal protections, and equal dignity, when they seek assistance from law enforcement. We thank the Department of Justice for releasing this important interpretation.”

A 2010 report by the National Centre for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programmes found that gay couples are just as likely to be affected by domestic violence as heterosexual couples.


We the concerned citizens of Africa reiterate that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s shared development agenda to reduce major aspects of human poverty.

We recall that in September 2000, world leaders met at the United Nations Millennium Summit and committed that by 2015, extreme poverty and hunger will be cut by half; gender inequality will be addressed, women and youth will have access to employment; environmental degradation will be halted; slums will be upgraded and all people will have access to good drinking water; HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis will be contained; all children of school going age will be in school and the gap between boys and girls will be eliminated; and cut child and maternal mortality. These will be ensured through a new global partnership for development which have come to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

We acknowledge that these goals are derived from more far-reaching international declarations, protocols and conventions such as the universal declaration of human rights, including the protocol on social and economic rights; education for all, health for all; reproductive rights for all; the Convention on the Rights of People Living with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Indigenous people among others. These have been translated into equivalent protocols and conventions by African leaders.

We are encouraged by the fact that in the last decade, Africa has made significant progress in combating extreme poverty, improving school enrolment, reducing child mortality, expanding access to clean water and containing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

However, we note with concern that progress remains slow in many of the MDGs in many countries in the continent, in particular the areas of hunger, maternal and child mortality, gender equality especially political representation of women, and employment. Without decisive and sustained action by governments, Africa risks missing out on many of the targets and with the appropriate policies and programmes, supported by appropriate levels of investment, most African countries can achieve or, even surpass the MDGs.

We further note that with the recent financial, food and energy crisis, the need for African governments to effectively mobilise domestic resources and prioritise MDGs in the allocation of such resources, as well as the rich countries to fulfilling their side of the bargain to provide additional resources, make trade just and contain climate change, is even more urgent.

To achieve the MDGs we call on Governments to:
• Re-affirm their commitments to the achievement of the MDGs by 2015
• Work with their citizens, parliaments and local governments to develop and implement break-through action plans.
• Address inequality, discrimination and marginalization of specific social groups including people with disabilities, women, youth as integral part of the breakthrough plans.
• Address resource leakages and corruption with urgency
• Act urgently to implement the African protocol on women’s rights and similar undertakings in relation to youth, children and people living with disabilities
• Put employment and decent work for women and young people at the centre of economic policies
• Uphold all continental agreements and protocols to budget adequately for the achievement of the MDGs including such targets as 15% to health, 10% to Agriculture, 10% to education
• Put more efforts into mobilising and retaining domestic resources
through fair and efficient taxation, fair sharing of natural resource rents and the prevention of illicit capital flight

We commit as citizen groups to engage our governments at various levels in order to hold them to account for these commitments

To add you voice and commitment to this Africa-Wide Petition, please go to:

World Parliamentarians have pledged to mobilize support for legislative actions to ensure the health, dignity and rights of women and girls through access to reproductive and sexual health in the shortest possible time.

“We are convinced that implementing the commitment made by our governments in the major United Nations conferences and summits, will end the preventable high maternal deaths and disability that constitute the greatest moral, human rights and development challenge of our time”.

This was contained in a communiqué issued at the Parliamentarians Forum during the close of a three-day world conference on “Women Deliver 2010,” which highlighted the achievements in reducing maternal mortality, breakthroughs in reproductive technology, the role of women’s health in development and the remaining obstacles to improving maternal health around the world.

The conference was attended by over 3,000 participants including national health ministers, first ladies, parliamentarians, midwives, the youth, maternal health advocates and celebrities from over 140 countries.

The parliamentarians expressed their determination by creating laws and policies with and for women and girls, giving them their fair share of funding, budget and oversight responsibilities, advocate for a women’s and girls’ agenda everywhere to advance MDG “5”, locally, nationally, regionally and globally as well as speaking out on women and girls to create awareness and knowledge building.

The MPs explained that health solutions for girls and women must be complemented by a conducive political will and legislative environment for long term results and effectiveness.

They, therefore, expressed their commitment in demanding that key issues of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights were made regular agenda items during relevant bilateral, multilateral and international meetings.

The MPs also committed themselves to generating an institutional memory by mapping legislations that governments have adhered to women and girls health and ensure their implementation, work actively towards enforcing national laws and de facto implement policies to accelerate women and girls economic, social and political rights and reduce gender inequality and gender-based violence.

They expressed concern about the funding and budget allocated to address the health needs of women and girls and called for additional 12 billion dollars a year to be invested in women and girls.

They also pledged to work in partnership with governments, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders to meet the 24 billion dollars needed to provide access to family planning and maternal and newborn care to all women in developing countries.

The communiqué called for active work in the establishment of a global funding mechanism for family planning, mothers saying “such a global funding mechanism would reduce maternal mortality by 70 per cent, avert 44 per cent of new born deaths, reduce unsafe abortions by over 70 per cent and further contribute to curb the AIDS and malaria pandemics, which has placed women and girls at greater risk.

“With the up-coming G-8 and G-20 parliamentarians’ conference and the summit of leaders of industrialized nations, the MPs will take the opportunity to review the MDGs.

“Now is the time to amplify our voices to broaden the dialogue on maternal and reproductive health in the global arena and to demonstrate concrete action to achieve MDG “5”, the communiqué added.

It called for parliamentarian’s participation and inclusion in political priority setting on women and girls health at local, national, regional and global levels by establishing a clear monitoring mechanism for each MDG with a clear timeline and format.

The communiqué also called on health ministers to establish realistic and verifiable annual action plans for reaching individual MDG targets with a special emphasis on MDG “5”, which will be presented during the UN High Level Meeting to be held in September 2010.

It said MPs would therefore take a leading role in communicating the societal, economic, political and cultural benefits of investing in women and girls to parliamentary colleagues, governments and other key decision-makers and private investors.

The world parliamentarians, the communiqué said, called on governments to act upon endorsed consensus on maternal, newborn and child health.