Archive for July, 2010

The independent review into how Amnesty vets partners fudges the issue of ideology and its collaboration with Moazzam Begg

In the wake of the Gita Sahgal/Cageprisoners debacle, Amnesty International appointed independent consultants to conduct a review and recommend changes in the way that Amnesty operates and vets its campaigning partners. Although a little late for Sahgal, perhaps, it is a positive outcome of the fallout as this is exactly what she had been asking the senior management to spell out the process by which they choose their partners.

It appears that Amnesty alliances had been formed on the recommendations of staff members who used a combination of instinct, experience and knowledge of the field in which they worked. Although many of the staff are highly skilled, this was a policy based on a wing and a prayer prayer being the operative word given their joint campaigning with the Catholic church and Cageprisoners, both of which operate in a religious ethos that is often contrary to the spirit of human rights.

The review, Working With Others, recognises Amnesty did not show “due diligence” in its collaboration with Moazzam Begg. However, there seems to be a fudge at the heart of it. It calls for gender (there is only one full-time post on gender currently) and diversity mainstreaming to be implemented across the organisation; and the creation of a space for staff to discuss “the specific challenge religious fundamentalism poses for AI’s policy of not commenting on ideology” but at the same time concludes that even if all this were in place, Amnesty’s collaboration with Begg may not have been materially different. For a human rights organisation to claim that it does not comment on ideology, when every campaign it wages is de facto a comment, beggars belief.

Apart from the muddle, there is the question of monitoring the implementation of such policies. Oxfam provides a salutary lesson. It has just such a policy, also called Working with others, and yet it is currently caught up in a very similar situation in India where its We Can (end violence against women) project is headed by a Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) member, in Uttarakhand state, Meera Kaintura (aka Saklani).

Local NGOs and women’s organisations under the We Can umbrella in the state were shocked to discover this, as the BJP is influenced by a hardline Hindutva philosophy that posits India as essentially the land of Hindus. In the drive to win power in India, the BJP frequently dissembles its true purpose, courts Muslims when it is politically expedient and always has a couple of Muslims in prominent positions to ward off awkward questions even though it was allegedly involved in the Gujarat massacre in 2002, in which an estimated 2,000 Muslims were killed. When Oxfam was challenged about its bedfellows, the initial response from Mona Mehta, global programme adviser (EVAW) Oxfam GB was: “We respect everyone’s right to have varied and different perspectives and also various political affiliations.”

This position sits uncomfortably with Oxfam’s policy as articulated in their partnership document: “We must share a desire to work towards a common position on important issues, including a commitment to gender-equality and respect for diverse identities ” Perhaps in implicit recognition that it would be hard to justify a sustained alliance with individuals associated with the BJP as simply a question of “different political affiliations”, the Oxfam position changed. The national co-ordinator of the We Can campaign, India, denied that Kaintura was a member of the BJP and therefore, saw no need to dissociate from her. This is exactly the kind of smoke and mirrors which bedevils the debate on Begg, except that he admits his directorship of Cageprisoners and proclaims his Salafism, a highly sectarian and anti-woman strand of Islam.

The review has provided the perfect get-out clause for Amnesty when it recommends “creating space for rightsholders to speak for themselves through the development of an AI platform for the voiceless There should be no criterion for access to the platform, save a direct experience of a [human rights] violation”. This is a retrospective, theoretical vindication for an ill-considered collaboration in which, as the review acknowledges the “initial clarity of purpose regarding its engagement with MB blurred over time”. In the appendix, outlining the history of Begg’s involvement with Amnesty, is this little gem: “In 2005, MB lights candle at the opening of AI UK’s annual general meeting.” Isn’t that the kind of symbolic act that goes beyond a “platform for the voiceless” and suggests that Begg is the champion of all human rights that lies at the heart of this furore? It’s time for a little honesty.


Iran has formally suspended the execution by stoning of an Iranian woman for alleged adultery, after facing international outrage.

But the regime revealed its embarrassment by seeking to silence Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son, who has repeatedly talked to Western journalists and human rights groups about his mother’s plight.

The latest development in the case came when Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in East Azerbaijan province, told the state news agency IRNA: “Although the verdict is definitive and applicable, it has been halted due to humanitarian reservations and on the order of the judiciary chief and will not be carried out for the moment.”

He insisted that Ms Ashtiani had committed heinous crimes, and that if the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, “deems it expedient, the verdict will be carried out regardless of Western media propaganda”.

However, her supporters insisted the regime had retreated in the face of world condemnation. “They are reacting to international pressure,” Ahmad Fatemi of the International Committee Against Executions said. He warned: “She is still in prison and still on death row and could yet be executed by other means. We need to keep campaigning.”

Fears were growing for her son, Sajad Ghaderzade, 22.

Mina Ahadi, an Iranian exile who heads the ICAE, said she tried to call Mr Ghaderzade several times from Germany. Her calls were blocked and she was called back by men who shouted profanities in Farsi. “Sajad is probably in trouble,” she said.

Ms Ahadi told The Times that the regime’s agents had also harassed her family, who live near the Iranian city of Zanjan, since she started highlighting Ms Ashtiani’s case.

Ms Ashtiani, 43, has spent five years in prison and received 99 lashes for her alleged adultery,

Her imminent stoning was denounced last week by government, human rights groups and more than 80 leading politicians, artists and other luminaries. Though Ms Ashtiani could be executed by other means Mohammed Mostafaei, her lawyer, told campaigners yesterday that, “her future is bright and the chances of getting her free are high”.

The reaction by abortion opponents to Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed decriminalisation bill has revealed a sea change in their attitudes, said Di Cleary of the Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign.

“To a man, anti-abortionists have not responded by calling publicly for an outright ban,” she said. “Instead, they say they just want fewer abortions – a position that blows their whole ‘sanctity of life’ argument out of the water.”

Ms. Cleary said the main anti-choice groups have all stated in one way or another that they oppose Chadwick’s proposal because it might lead to more abortions.

“This position also contradicts their oft-stated claim that we already have de facto abortion on demand in New Zealand,” she said. “Their response has been muddled and inconsistent at every turn.”

Ms. Cleary said WONAAC was proud that the proposed bill closely resembled the woman’s choice position the group adopted and fought for in the 1970s.

“Over the last 30-plus years since the current laws were passed, many millions of dollars have been spent on consultants’ fees, court cases and administrative costs,” she said. “We opposed the laws then, and everyone agrees now that they don’t work.”

Ms. Cleary said anti-abortionists were focusing on the issue of later-term abortions because they had no coherent argument against decriminalisation.

“Late-term abortions have always been available, but extremely rare – and their rate would not increase after decriminalisation. It is simply lunatic to suggest women will wait to have abortions at 24 weeks,” she said.

Research involving more than 1000 Australians has found the vast majority — 87 per cent — support allowing abortion in the first 12 to 13 weeks, comprising 61 per cent who said it should be legal at this stage and a further 26 per cent who would allow it in certain situations. But qualified support persisted even for later stages of pregnancy, with 12 per cent of those polled saying abortion should be permitted in the second trimester and a further 57 per cent under certain conditions.

Although nearly half, or 48 per cent, of respondents thought abortion in the third trimester should be illegal, an equal proportion was prepared to allow it — 6 per cent without qualification and 42 per cent in set circumstances.

Victoria decriminalised abortion in 2008, but the procedure remains a crime in at least some circumstances in every other Australian jurisdiction except the ACT.

In Queensland, Cairns woman Tegan Leach is expected to reappear before the state’s courts this month charged with attempting to procure an abortion. If convicted, she could face up to seven years’ jail.

Ms Leach is understood to be the first woman to be charged with the offence under a 111-year-old clause in the Queensland criminal code.

Her partner, Sergei Brennan, is charged with supplying drugs to procure an abortion.

The poll, conducted by research firm Crosby/Textor and published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, also found that in only five of 16 specific examples of why a woman might seek an abortion did respondents believe a doctor performing the procedure should be struck off or face other professional sanction.

Lead author of the MJA article Lachlan de Crespigny, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Melbourne, said abortion laws in most parts of Australia were complex and differed from state to state, leaving women and doctors unclear about their rights and obligations.

A spokesperson for NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said the state’s laws, which allowed abortion in certain circumstances, “provide the right balance”.

A new Spanish law allowing abortion without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy went into effect earlier this month but the Constitutional Court could yet intervene to suspend or change it.

The law, approved by Parliament in February, was the latest item on a liberal agenda undertaken by the Socialist government, which took power in 2004. The measure is seen as bringing this traditionally Roman Catholic country more in line with its secular neighbors in northern Europe.

Equality Minister Bibiana Aido told Cadena SER radio the government was unworried by an appeal by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court challenging the 14-week clause as unconstitutional.

“The government is fully convinced of the constitutionality of the law,” she said.

The Popular Party cited a 1985 ruling from the court that said a woman’s rights could not automatically take precedence over those of an unborn child, and could do so only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or when the mother’s health is in jeopardy.

The Constitutional Court must also decide whether to suspend the law while it studies the appeal. The court said there was no timetable for either decision.

The law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to have abortions without their parents’ permission, although the parents have to be informed. It also wipes away the threat of imprisonment for having an abortion and declares it a woman’s right.

“Above all it is a more secure law, providing legal protection for both women and health professionals,” said Aido. She said it reflected the needs of Spanish society better than the previous law.

Under the previous law, which dated to 1985, women could in theory go to jail for getting an abortion outside certain strict limits — up to week 12 in case of rape and week 22 if the fetus was malformed.

But in effect abortion has been widely available because women can assert mental distress as sole grounds for having an abortion. Most of the more than 100,000 abortions carried out each year in Spain were early-term ones that fell under this category.

Fewer than 1,000 people gathered in Madrid on Saturday to protest the new law, down from the hundreds of thousands of people that have attended protests in recent years.

“The drama of abortion has been in Spain for 25 years, it has caused terrible pain to over a million women, more than a million children have not been born,” anti-abortion campaigner Benigno Blanco told Associated Press Television.

“With this new law this drama is going to get worse. What we want to say is ‘enough of abortion.'”

See also: Spain Approves Abortion Law Sparking Controversy

Religious leaders opposing the proposed constitution have been accused of hiding under claims of sanctity of life, even as the Catholic church said it would not support the draft law.

Constitutional lawyer Mutakha Kangu said the Church’s objection of the new law on the basis of abortion clauses was assuming that trained health professionals would be used to kill the unborn.

He wondered why religious leaders were not opposed to the clause on right to life that says a person can be deprived of life intentionally to the extent authorised by the constitution.

“Death sentences can be passed through legislation and the Church does not seem to oppose that, yet it’s creating an impression that it is concerned with protecting life,” said Dr Kangu.

He said the struggle for a new constitution which has taken some 20 years now, started when Kenyans felt the need to clip the powers of the presidency.

He said that abortion, kadhi courts and counties were never the reasons behind the push for a better constitution, although they were equally important issues.

Those thinking that kadhi courts would make Kenya a Muslim state should stop assumptions that had no basis, he warned.

“The kadhi courts are in the current constitution. Besides, a Muslim who offends a Christian will still end up in the normal courts,” said Dr Kangu.

Recently retired president Daniel Moi told a rally in Eldoret that the clause on citizenship was not good as it might see foreigners accorded Kenyan citizenship.

The former leader has also criticised the constitution citing land and abortion as some of the clauses that should be looked into before the referendum.

Women’s groups describe Vatican’s decision on female ordination as ‘appalling’

It was meant to be the document that put a lid on the clerical sex abuse scandals that have swept the Roman Catholic world. But instead of quelling fury from within and without the church, the Vatican stoked the anger of liberal Catholics and women’s groups by including a provision in its revised decree that made the “attempted ordination” of women one of the gravest crimes in ecclesiastical law.

The change put the “offence” on a par with the sex abuse of minors.

The revision of a decree first issued nine years ago was intended to address the issue of clerical sex abuse. Last night it remained unclear why the Vatican had decided to invite further controversy by changing the status of women’s ordination in canon law.

Since scandals blew up in Germany in January, five Roman Catholic bishops have resigned as evidence has come to light of priests who raped or molested children, and of superiors who turned a blind eye to safeguard the reputation of the church. Data from countries in which church membership is officially registered suggest tens of thousands of Catholics, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have abandoned their faith in disgust.

Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, stressed that the new rules on sex abuse applied solely to procedures for defrocking priests under canon law. They had no bearing on whether suspected offenders were notified to the civil authorities – he said bishops had already been reminded of their duty to do so.

The most important change is to extend the period during which a clergyman can be tried by a church court from 10 to 20 years, dating from the 18th birthday of his victim. Many people who were abused by priests are unable to summon up the courage to come forward until well into adulthood.

The new norms also streamline the procedures for dealing with the most urgent and serious cases, enabling bishops to defrock priests without a long, costly trial. They put abuse of the mentally disabled on a level with that of minors. And they introduce a new crime of paedophile pornography, defined as “the acquisition, possession or disclosure” by a clergyman of pornographic images of children below the age of 14.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who helped overhaul the rules, said: “This gives a signal that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse.”

Lombardi said the Vatican was working on further instructions “so that the directives it issues on the subject of sexual abuse of minors, either by the clergy or institutions connected with the church, may be increasingly rigorous, coherent and effective”.

But Barbara Doris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) said it was tackling the issue the wrong way round. “Defrocking a predator, by definition, is too late,” she said. “Severe harm has already been done.”

Part of a longer article at

Malaysia’s Islamic Shariah courts have appointed their first female judges — a move praised by women’s rights activists as a boost for a judicial system often accused of favoring men.

Suraya Ramli and Rafidah Abdul Razak, formerly officials at the government’s Islamic judicial department, were named Shariah court judges for Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital of Putrajaya in May, but the appointment was only announced in the past week by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib said the step was meant to “enhance justice in cases involving families and women’s rights” in Malaysia, where nearly two-thirds of the country’s 28 million people are Muslims.

Women have long complained they face discrimination in cases involving divorce, child custody rights, inheritance, polygamy and other disputes in Islamic courts, which handle matters involving family and morality for Malaysian Muslims.

Rights activists have said they receive hundreds of complaints each year from women because Shariah courts are slow to penalize ex-husbands who fail to pay child support. Men are also known to find it relatively easy to divorce their wives while taking a greater share of the couple’s property.

Norhayati Kaprawi, a prominent Malaysian Muslim women’s activist, said the appointments were long overdue.

“What they must focus on is ensuring that they deliver justice and take into consideration … the realities of Muslim women’s lives,” Norhayati said.

Meera Samanther, president of Malaysian group Women’s Aid Organization, said fair representation within the justice system was “a necessity.”

Suraya, 31, could not immediately be contacted Thursday, and Rafidah, 39, declined to immediately comment. Court officials could not be reached to elaborate on what cases the judges have handled so far.

Female judges are common in Malaysia’s secular courts, though most top posts are held by men.

Earlier this month, Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardotti married her longtime partner Jonina Leosdottir, making her the first head of government in the world to marry a same-sex partner. The couple married last Sunday, which was both the international day for gay rights and the day that a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Iceland went into effect. Sigurdardotti called the new law “cause for celebration for all Icelanders”, according to the Examiner.

The legislation is particularly notable because it goes one step beyond being gender neutral and explicitly states that “woman and woman” and “man and man” are included in the definition of marriage, according to On Top Magazine. The bill, first introduced in March of this year, was voted in by 49 of 63 members of the parliament on June 12. The remaining 12 members of the Icelandic parliament abstained, making the vote unanimous. The law replaces a 1996 law that allowed registered partnerships for same-sex couples. Sigurdardotti and her partner had this type of union prior to their wedding. Married partners will now have all the legal benefits and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples have.

In 2009, Sigurdardotti became the first woman and openly gay Prime Minister in the nation’s history. Sigurdardotti became interim prime minister when Former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned in January as a result of Iceland’s economic collapse. She was then appointed by Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and had previously served as the welfare minister under Haarde. She is currently the only openly gay national leader in the world.

The Scandinavian countries are often recognized internationally for their socially progressive policies and overall tolerance of differing lifestyles. In 2009, for instance, Iceland had the highest gender equality index of the 134 countries that were analyzed in a World Economic Forum study. Frederick Federley, a highly respected Swedish attorney, is openly gay, according to the Associated Press. Denmark started to register same-sex partnerships over 20 years ago and was the first to do so.

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in six other European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and Portugal).

A Swedish law punishing the purchase not the sale of sex, has been so effective it has reduced street prostitution in half, but the Scandinavian country is still facing a growing problem of sex sold over the Internet, a report recently published has said.

“The evaluation shows that the ban on the purchase of sexual services has had the intended effect and is an important instrument in preventing and combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes,” the report said.

The report, handed to Justice Minister Beatrice Ask yesterday, maintained “that prostitution in Sweden, unlike in comparable countries, has not in any case increased since the introduction of the ban” on buying sexual services went into effect in 1999.

While the law punishing the client rather than the prostitute may not have caused a dramatic drop in prostitution as a whole, its true triumph, according to the report, is that “street prostitution in Sweden has been halved.”

See also:
* German’s legalized prostitution brought more exploitation than emancipation to women
* Legalising prostitution is not the answer

Work: defending and strengthening the right to work, despite the economic crisis
4th World Forum on Human Rights, Nantes-France, July 1, 2010
Ruchira Gupta (;

Namaste. I bring greetings from the ten thousand and seventy two girls and women who are members of my organization, Apne Aap in India. Many of them are victims and survivors of prostitution. I bring a message from them to the conference as we debate the strengthening of the right to work at a time of economic crisis.
The women of Apne Aap appeal to all human rights activists not to accept their exploitation as work. They appeal to us to reject the normalization of their sexual exploitation by those who say it is a choice. They say their prostitution and sex-trafficking is not a choice but absence of choice. They did not choose to be born poor, low caste or female. Apne Aap members have decided to use the term ‘women in prostitution’ for adults and the term ‘prostituted child’ instead of ‘child prostitutes or child sex-worker’ for girls and boys.

Apne Aap members feel that:
1. The term sex-worker sterilizes the inherently exploitative nature of prostitution and invalidates the women’s traumatic experiences of subjugation, degradation and pain.
2. The term sex-worker naturalizes and makes acceptable in society the exploitation of women or children.
3. The term sex-worker makes it convenient for different states and governments to ignore the structural social, economic and political policies that force women into prostitution.
4. Very often governments, policy makers and buyers of prostituted sex argue that women chose prostitution as a work option over working in sweatshops, domestic servitude or other forms of hard or cheap labour. They forget, or chose to make invisible, that for women, other options have been limited in terms of highly paid employment (especially when higher education is lacking or husbands/fathers decide or have control over a woman’s time), and prostitution and pornography remain among the more highly paid occupations available to women. They refuse to look at or re-examine the fact that economic and social policies make other lucrative employment unavailable to women and that gender discrimination and occupational segregation funnel women into particular occupations.
5. The term sex-worker categorizes prostitution as a kind of work. They say that Prostitution cannot be categorized as work (even exploitative work in sweat shops or domestic servitude) as it disconnects the self from the activity. It always involves penetration of the body or body invasion. To cope with the experience, many Apne Aap members detach themselves emotionally from their bodies- effectively segmenting themselves, or entering into out of body experiences. So besides risking disease or death they suffer from the deep psychological trauma of alienation from their own bodies.
6. While labour movements can and do guarantee certain minimum conditions and standards for workers, providing for energy and time needed for the worker to be a fulfilled human being, prostitution inherently cannot do so. I will mention four points here:

    a. All labour movements strive for minimum wages. In prostitution there is no guarantee of minimum wages, as the price of a woman comes down with age and time of night, and sometimes location. Moreover, in brothel-based sex there is no such thing as minimum wages. For the first five years, the brothel owner owns the woman or child and keeps her like a bonded slave. For the next five years, she may give half of what she earns, later she is allowed to keep all that she earns but her earning capacity comes down.
    b. All labour movements aspire to certain minimum working conditions. In prostitution, all women face violence that cannot be legislated away as they are ultimately alone with the buyer of prostituted sex. In an upscale legal brothel in Australia, for example, rooms are equipped with panic buttons, but a bouncer reports that the women’s calls for help can never be answered quickly enough to prevent violence by johns, which occurs regularly. In both brothel-based and non-brothel based prostitution, women are forced to speed up the process of earning more money by servicing an increasing number of buyers, sometimes up to 20. They are also forced to provide all kinds of services and high risk activities like sex without a condom as most often they are not in any negotiating position. They are kept locked up in brothels, have no access to medical care or education and often are sold when they are children. Their children play on the floor while they service their buyers. They live in small rooms with barred windows end up with insomnia, repeated abortions, jaundice TB, cigarette burns, HIV and AIDS and trauma. And while some of these conditions can be regulated in brothel-based sex, they cannot be regulated in street-based sex at all. Mortality rates in prostitution are high due to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS and repeated abortions and suicide attempts related to psycho-social trauma. The average age of death of a woman in prostitution in India is now 35 years.
    In Kolkata, I talked with a group of women who had asked for the unionization of prostitution to guarantee workers rights. All the members I interviewed admitted to facing violence when they are alone with the client. “The bed was covered with blood, ‘he stubbed cigarette butts out on my breasts,” “they paid for it, we cannot stop it.” A doctor working for this group told me that he left after having to stitch up the vagina of a fifteen-year-old Nepali girl – for the third time.
    c. All labour movements work to guarantee retirement benefits such as old age pension. Prostitution cannot guarantee old age benefits as there is no defined employer in street based sex and in brothel based sex, the women or child is often sold again and again from one brothel owner to another. The older a women in prostitution gets, the less she is able to earn an income and very often ends upon the streets, with no income, a disease ridden body and a few children. In Germany and in an area near Las Vegas in the US where prostitution has been legalized, government agencies tried to make applicants for unemployment benefits show that they had attempted to find “work” in the so-called “hospitality industry” of prostitution in order to become eligible for such benefits.
    d. Finally and most importantly for labour movements is the question of dignity of the worker. Labour movements have insured that miners do not have to crawl into mines anymore but walk upright. However, in prostitution the woman or child is constantly humiliated physically, emotionally and psychologically. Her price is constantly negotiated as the night wears on or as she grows older. She is forced to sexualize her body for a time –period and then desexualize it again at another time.
    e. The term ‘sex-worker’ gives a false impression of agency and choice exercised by women and children in prostitution. Apne Aap members’ life-experiences reveal that the choice and agency in prostitution, talked about in some policy circles, is a choice allowed by the exploiter in an exploitative situation as in the days of slavery. We can examine the exercise of choice in the life-cycle of a woman in prostitution over a period of 20 years from when she is 15 to when she is 35. This is a hopeful projection, as most Apne Aap members say that the normal time-span that the body of a woman can cope with prostitution is no more than ten years.

• The first five years (15-20): In this period, girls kidnapped, stolen. tricked, sold and lured are locked up in small rooms with barred windows only brought out by the brothel madam to serve up to 15-20 buyers of prostituted sex every night. They are served one meal a day, given some clothes and toiletries, but they are not given any of the money that the buyer pays for them. They are in slave-like conditions and have no choice. In every conversation with them, they talk about wanting to go home.
• The second five years (20-25): There is a period of socialization within the brothels and the women are taught to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. Brothel madams also make sure that they have one or two children so that the women cannot think about returning home anymore. In this period, the women are allowed by the brothel madam to keep half of what they earn. Memories of home become hazy due to repeated violence and psychosocial trauma and they begin to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome, where the small mercies meted out by the kidnapper seem of great moment. With children, suffering from depression and diseases, they do not see a way out. At this time, when asked the women say they want to stay in the brothels and no go back home.
• The third five years (25-30): After ten years of physical abuse, malnutrition and drug and alcohol dependency, the earning capacity of the women comes down. Buyers of prostituted sex look for younger girls. They are allowed to keep all of their earnings but earnings go down and the needs of their children go up. At this time, they want to leave prostitution, but don’t have the life-skills or the physical health to do so. They have no choice.
• The fourth five years (30-35): In this period, the women have no buyers of prostituted sex, no income; have two or three children and disease ridden bodies. They are thrown out of the brothels and end up on the sidewalk. They cannot afford even one meal or even access to a toilet. They have no options and are forced to die on the streets. In a period of 20 years, women talk about wanting to exercise a choice to stay in prostitution for about five years. And even this, exercise of choice or agency is in a situation, where the women feel they have no other options and try to make the best of what there is.

Therefore, Apne Aap members don’t use the term sex-worker. They are in the middle of a heroic struggle with our government and some international foundations to change the Indian anti-trafficking law to punish those who exploit them and to remove all clauses in the law which punish victims on charges of solicitation.

In running this campaign, Apne Aap Women Worldwide has come up against some entrenched interests. Ironically, this opposition has included many HIV/AIDS management projects funded by International Foundations that work in red-light areas and hire pimps and brothel managers as “peer educators” to gain easy access to the brothels for the purpose of condom distribution. They turn a blind eye to the little girls and adult women kept in a system of bondage and control, who cannot say no to unwanted sex let alone unprotected sex. They are more interested in protecting male buyers of prostituted sex from disease rather than protecting women and girls from the buyers. These are the same solutions that colonialist powers used to control syphyllis in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There new challenges thrown up by the economic crisis at a time of rising neo-liberalism is that we are being asked to accept once again the legitimacy of exploitation as work. We are told that if choose to be exploited then we are not exploited. We are never told that a choice must at least have two options. We are then asked to notice and feel empowered by finding “agency” within exploitation. We are told that prostitution is inevitable and we must accept it and negotiate to mitigate its circumstances.

When a problem is very big and profits a powerful group, there is a time-honored temptation to sweep it under the rug by assuming it inevitable. This was true of slavery until the abolitionist movement of the 19th Century, and of colonialism until the contagion of independence movements in the 20th Century.

Now these same forces are at work in attitudes toward the global and national realities of sex slavery. The biggest normalizer of profiteering from the rental, sale and invasion of human bodies is the idea that it is too big to fight, that it has always existed, and that it can be swept under the rug by legalizing and just accepting it. Those who profit — in this case, the global network of sex traffickers, sex tourism operators and brothel owners – are the major force behind the argument to legalize and increase profits that already rival those from the global arms and drug trade. As with the slavery and colonialism of the past, this argument has force with those in power who are so distant from the reality that they don’t know the consequences as well as those who profit from it themselves, whether economically, politically, or as men addicted to dominance.

What will diminish and end this injustice? Exposing its reality: the lack of alternatives for those who are prostituted; the addiction and inability to empathize among those who create the demand and the uniformly disastrous results where ever the selling or renting of human beings for sexual purposes has been legalized and normalized.

Thank you

The US Health and Human Services Department has announced that it is making $25 million available to states to support pregnant women and teen parents, in an initiative that the White House is framing as a way to find common ground on abortion.

The new federal Pregnancy Assistance Fund will award grants to states aimed at providing pregnant women and teen parents support for completing high school or college degrees and for getting health care, child care and housing, HHS said in a news release Friday.

The grants can also be used to combat violence against pregnant women, the release said.

In an e-mail announcing the initiative to nonprofit groups on Friday, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at HHS tied the new fund to the abortion issue.

“It was only a year ago that President Obama gave a seminal speech at Notre Dame urging our nation to find common ground on the issue of abortion and unintended pregnancies,” said the e-mail, which was obtained by CNN.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund is a competitive grant program established by the Affordable Care Act to assist women who have decided to carry their pregnancies to term and those who are parenting,” the e-mail continued. “…This funding is another critical step in the President’s vision for common ground.”

HHS did not mention abortion in its news release on the establishment of the fund, which was created by the health care bill that Obama signed in March.

“The opportunity created by the Affordable Care Act will provide States and Tribes needed assistance to support vulnerable teens and women who are pregnant and parenting,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the news release.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund provides States the opportunity to link these families to health, education, child care, and other supports that can help brighten the futures of parents and their children,” she said.

Moderate religious groups hailed the measure as an important way for the White House to deliver on its goal of reducing the need for abortion, which Obama articulated last year in establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Pro-life and pro-choice people have gotten behind it so it’s a good first step at reducing abortion and providing support for healthier babes and mothers,” said Kristen Day, executive director of the antiabortion group Democrats for Life of America. “Once we show how effective this is we can go back and expand this program.”

Day, who has consulted with the White House on reproductive health issues, said the new fund also had political benefits for Democrats. “We’ve been working on common ground around abortion for a long time because we want to take it away as a wedge issue,” she said.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America also indicated that it supported the measure.

But conservative anti-abortion groups greeted the announcement of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund more skeptically.

“This money is mandated for services for pregnant teens and women – violence prevention, vocational training,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for CitizenLink, the public policy arm of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. “It would be inaccurate to characterize it as ‘abortion common ground’ since it doesn’t specifically address abortion.”

The new health care law appropriates $25 million for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund each year through 2019, according to HHS. The grants will be awarded competitively.

When Obama established the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009, the White House said that “it will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.”

The reshuffle also saw a senior prelate moved from the institution that helps frame the Catholic church’s “pro-life” doctrines after he appeared to question the announcement by another archbishop that the mother of a child rape victim had removed herself from the church by arranging for her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella was transferred to head a new department charged with stemming the advance of secularisation, particularly in Europe.

It is the appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, however, that is likely to arouse most controversy. As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Ouellet, until now the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, will be responsible for drawing up shortlists from which the pope decides who is to get a bishop’s mitre.

The prefecture is often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican administration since its incumbent can prevent even the most gifted priest from rising to a position of leadership in the church. Ouellet has in the past been touted as a successor to Benedict.

This year, Ouellet provoked what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation termed a “firestorm of criticism” when he told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a “moral crime” even in rape cases. He said he understood that a sexually assaulted woman should be helped and her attacker held accountable. “But there is already a victim,” he said. “Must there be another one?”

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, said she was outraged by Ouellet’s views and accused him of trying to get abortion recriminalised – a claim a spokesperson for the archdiocese denied.

Four days after he made his remarks, the Quebec national assembly passed a unanimous resolution affirming women’s right to free and accessible abortion.

Last year, there was worldwide controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife in Brazil said the mother of a nine-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather had excommunicated herself from the Catholic church.

In response, in an article published on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, Fisichella wrote: “Before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl.”

He was replaced as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life by a Spanish prelate close to the conservative Opus Dei. Fisichella’s appointment to head the nascent Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation is not a demotion, but it marked the second time in a week that the pope sent a clear signal that he would not tolerate public dissent.

Last month, the Vatican announced that the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, had come to Rome to explain himself to the pontiff after apparently questioning priestly celibacy and accusing a fellow cardinal of mishandling a prominent sex abuse scandal.

Kurdish women contribute to the global fight for women’s rights while also struggling for human rights in their own country, an Istanbul deputy from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party said at a summit of European feminists at the end of June.

The “Kurdish feminist movement” has gained significance because the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has prioritized female representation, BDP’s Istanbul deputy Sabahat Tuncel said at the opening session of the 2010 European Feminist Meeting held at Istanbul Technical University’s Maçka Campus.

As a rule, the BDP tries to assign a woman as one of its presidents-general, and out of the 28 female mayors in Turkey, 14 of them are BDP members, Tuncel said, adding that Kurdish men recognize women’s success and motivate them to attain higher positions.

According to the deputy, what she characterized as “Kurdish feminism” has its basis in the larger struggle for Kurdish people’s rights and challenges problems of violence, rape, honor killings and polygamy through demanding equal rights in the political arena.

By establishing nongovernmental organizations, Kurdish women have tried to broaden their outreach within the country despite the racist and nationalistic opposition they sometimes face, Tuncel said.

The 2010 European Feminist Meeting welcomed women from 22 countries to Istanbul to discuss women’s issues as well as the current economic and political situation in Europe.

Women’s groups, under the banner of Mumbai Working Group, have sought de-criminalisation of consensual sexual activity in the 16-18 age group, while recommending replacing the term ‘minor’ with ‘child’ for all persons under 18.

Writing to the Home Ministry on the proposed draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2010, they said that an under-16 did not have sufficient maturity to ascertain the consequences of a sexual act and may suffer adverse impact on health, body and mind due to ‘penetrative’ sexual activity. It would not be so for the 16 to 18-year-olds.

“It is very strongly felt that it would be counter-productive to penalise consensual sexual activity when any of the parties are between 16 and18 years of age. It would be a weapon in the hands of parents who oppose the relationship, and such parent would be in a position to penalise the other party for a consensual act.”

Suggesting that the age of consent should be retained at 16, they said that this had been arrived at keeping in mind the child attaining the maturity to understand the consequences of engaging in sexual activity.

Proposing a minimum seven-year prison sentence extendable to life term, the women’s groups said sexual offences against children should be made gender-neutral for the 16-18 age group. They said it would be more appropriate to enact a separate legislation to deal with sexual offences against children.

In another major recommendation, they said any sexual assault on children under the age of 16 and between 16-18 without consent by a uniformed personnel or while in custody of the staff or management of health, educational or residential institutions or even someone from the family should be punished with a minimum of 10 years of imprisonment which may be extended to a life term. This kind of assault has been described as aggravated sexual assault on a child.

For the aggravated assault on child by uniformed personnel, officials, guardians or known people by obtaining consent through seduction, or using a position of authority, the minimum punishment should be a five-year jail term.

A national campaign that uses the power of pop culture, media and community mobilisation for outreach against domestic violence India has bagged the prestigious Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

Right’s body Breakthrough’s “Bell Bajao! Campaign” against domestic violence has bagged the prestigious Silver Lion, India’s only win in the film category out of the five shortlisted entries.

The films have been created by Ogilvy & Mather and directed by Bauddhayan Mukherjee of Little Lamb Films.

“Bell Bajao” campaign was launched in August 2008 with the support of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and campaign ambassador and popular filmstar Boman Irani. The campaign is based on true stories of people who joined the movement against domestic violence.

“The Silver Lion provides us with a global platform to spotlight violence against women and to ask men and boys to become partners in ending it,” Mallika Dutt, executive director of Breakthrough said in a statement.

“What makes this win even more wonderful, is the fact that this work was not created because one wanted to win an award. But because everyone from the client to the creative team to the filmmaker believed this was what it would take to put an end to domestic violence,” said Ogilvy & Mather group creative director Zenobia Pithawalla.

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is considered one of the biggest celebration of creativity in communications.

The G8 and G20 Summits wrapped up after a tumultuous weekend. The protestors clashing with police got all the press but there were important developments for maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health as well.

The G8 released the details of its Muskoka Initiative for Maternal and Child Health on Saturday, a five-year, $7.3 billion package for improving maternal, newborn and child health and increasing access to reproductive health. The G8 countries have pledged US $5 billion of new money over the next 5 years and an additional $2.3 billion has been committed by non-G8 member states and foundations including the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation. The communiqué notes that the G8 countries “fully expect” to mobilize more than $10 billion between 2010 and 2015 but doesn’t provide details on where that extra money might come from.

The G8 members call this “a comprehensive and integrated approach to accelerate progress towards MDGs 4 and 5 that will significantly reduce the number of maternal, newborn and under five child deaths in developing countries.” The G8 is working with partners to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 with a particular focus on MDGs 4 (Reduce by two-thirds the under-5 mortality rate by 2015) and MDG 5 (Reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio by AND achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health). MDG 5 is farthest away from being achieved by 2015 and estimates are that another $20 billion is needed if we hope to reach those targets for reduction in maternal and child mortality and reproductive health access in time. The Muskoka Initiative doesn’t come close to meeting that $20 billion shortfall, but it is a start.

While the funds committed may not have been all we hoped for, there were some pleasant surprises in the communiqué details. The funds will support strengthened country-led national health systems in developing countries and will help them to deliver key interventions along the continuum of care from pre-pregnancy, to pregnancy, to childbirth, to infancy and early childhood. The funds can specifically be used for programs on pre-natal care; attended childbirth; postpartum care; sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning; health education; treatment and prevention of diseases including infectious diseases; prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; immunizations; basic nutrition and relevant actions in the field of safe drinking water and sanitation. The communiqué for the first time ever commits G8 countries to “promote integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health, rights and services within the broader context of strengthening health systems.” The mere inclusion of the phrase “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in a G8 communiqué seems like cause for celebration to me!

The G8’s recognition that there’s a need for money for a range of critical, complementary interventions is important as well. As the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health points out in its statement on the G8, “hemorrhage is the biggest reason why women die after delivery, but with HIV at the root of 20 percent of maternal deaths globally — and higher in Africa — it is clear that we must take a wider view of health, as women themselves do.” The communiqué also included a commitment to work towards universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV and AIDS and to continue to support funding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. G8 governments also express support for strengthening health information systems and sharing of innovations such as using mobile phones to provide health information and task shifting to make better use of scarce health workers.

Notably missing from the communiqué, not surprisingly, was any mention of abortion. Protestors on the streets of Toronto were seen carrying a banner that read, “Maternal health includes abortion!” but this fact was not recognized anywhere in the Muskoka Initiative. Unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide and complications from the 19.7 million unsafe abortions performed annually are a serious public health threat. The communiqué addresses sexual and reproductive health care and services, but fails to recognize that safe abortion, when and here legal, is a critical piece of women’s healthcare access.

As the Summits concluded, new voices were added to the call for continued support for maternal and child health including the crucial voices of youth and developing country governments (with a rock star thrown in for good measure). The delegates to the official international youth summit being held concurrently with the G-8 and G-20 summits issued a statement calling on G8 leaders to “move quickly in creating a long-term maternal and child health plan for developing countries,” and identified lack of specialist training in the developing world surrounding prenatal and newborn care, and access to essential obstetric expertise as causes they would like to see the G8 take up.

Leaders from Algeria, Ethiopia, Malawi (Chair of the African Union), Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa were invited to meet with the G8 in a special afternoon session to discuss maternal and child health, highlighting the important role of developing countries themselves in this process. The communiqué indicates that, “G8 and African leaders recognize that the attainment of the MDGs is a shared responsibility and that strategies based on mutual accountability are essential going forward.”

African Union countries have already committed to devoting 15 percent of their budgets to health and we hope that this new working relationship with the G8 will signal willingness to meet and exceed those commitments. At the G20 Summit, leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies also recognized the role that all governments, including developing country governments, must play in supporting maternal and child health initiatives. While it was disappointing that the G20 did not specifically mention the Muskoka Initiative, it did announce that it is forming a Working Group to examine how it can play a greater role in development issues-a step in the right direction.

Not be outdone, Bono, U2 lead singer and co-founder of ONE, issued a statement saying that:

Prime Minister Harper’s plan for the G8 on maternal mortality is not everything that’s needed to tackle the moral affront of millions of mothers dying in childbirth, but it is a start on a job that world leaders need to finish when they gather at the UN in September for a special session on the Millennium Development Goals.

So what can be achieved with the money and the political commitments that we did manage to get from the G8 and G20? The communiqué says that this funding will help developing countries to prevent 1.3 million deaths of children under the age of five, prevent 64,000 maternal deaths, and enable access to modern methods of family planning by an additional 12 million couples.

Along with the G8’s stated new focus on accountability, the funding targets and promises to monitor progress towards achieving reductions in maternal and child mortality and expanded access to reproductive health services will also give advocates specifics that we can hold the G8 accountable for. Finally, as we move towards the September 2010 UN High-Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs where governments will be asked to make additional renewed commitments to achieve the MDGs by 2015, this focus on maternal and child health is important. The Secretary General of the UN has launched a Joint Action Plan to Improve the Health of Women and Children, and advocates are pressing for the serious financial and political commitments that will be needed to achieve the goals.

The G8 and G20 have helped put maternal and child health on the map at this critical time. But awareness raising and promises are not enough. The protestors on the streets were yelling, “Whose streets? Our streets!” We must take up the call, “Whose lives? Women’s lives!” No woman should have to die giving life. We know what to do to improve maternal and child health. The governments of the G8 and G20 put themselves forward as the richest and most powerful leaders in the world. But that leadership won’t mean anything if they won’t commit to saving women and children’s lives.


Call on the Government of Iran to stop the imminent execution of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani sentenced to death by stoning

Equality Now is deeply concerned about Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

Information received by Equality Now suggests that Ms. Mohammadi-Ashtiani has been sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery with two men. The verdict is final and could be implemented at any time according to credible sources. Ms. Mohammadi-Ashtiani is said to have been in jail in Tabriz for the past five years. She was initially sentenced to 99 lashes on 15 May 2006 by a court in the city if Osku in the North West Iranian province of East Azerbaijan for the lesser crime of having “illicit relations” with the two men, in other words, engaging in conduct that did not constitute sexual intercourse. However, on 10 September 2006 her case was taken up again by a different court, the Sixth Branch of the Penal Court of East Azerbaijan Province, where the charge of adultery was brought against her.

Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani denied the charge and, as far as Equality Now is aware, no relevant evidence was admitted against her. She was convicted solely on the basis of the judge’s opinion that she had committed adultery and was sentenced to death by stoning.


Iranian law indicates that a second charge on the same offence of which a person has already been convicted may not be brought. In this case Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani has already been lashed for the offence of having illicit relations. We have been informed that two of the five councilors appointed by the court stated that in their opinion there was no legal proof for the charge of adultery.

Stoning to death violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party. The ICCPR clearly prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. It also limits the imposition of the death penalty “only for the most serious crimes.” The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee have determined that a wide range of specific offences fall outside the scope of the “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be imposed and this includes adultery. Equality Now opposes the criminalization of private acts in which consensual adults engage.

Recommended Actions

Please write to the Iranian officials below calling for Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s immediate release, the commutation of all sentences of death by stoning and the prohibition by law of all cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, such as flogging and stoning in accordance with Iran’s obligations under the ICCPR. Urge the officials also to initiate a comprehensive review of the Civil and Penal Codes of Iran to remove all provisions that discriminate against, or have a discriminatory impact on, women, including those regarding adultery and fornication, in accordance with Iran’s own constitutional provision for equality before the law.


His Excellency Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani
Head of the Judiciary
Vali Asr Avenue, above the intersection Pasteur,
Azizi Street 2, No. 4,
Office of Public Relations and Judicial Procedures

Equality Now will forward letters to Iranian officials on behalf of anyone who does not wish to include her or his personal contact information. Please send letters to

Please also contact the Iranian embassy in your country. The following link may help you find the contact information:

In the United States please contact:
Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran
(Housed in the Embassy of Pakistan)
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Phone: (202) 965-4990, (202) 965-4992, (202) 965-4993, (202) 965-4994, (202) 965-4999
Fax: (202) 965-1073

In the United Kingdom please contact:
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1PT
Phone: 0207 225 3000
Fax: 0207 589 4440

mswordSample letter

Please keep Equality Now updated on your efforts and send copies of any replies you receive to

(There is also a recent posting on the WLUM website at and someone has set up a facebook group and a petition at and a number of newspaper articles including Campaign for Iranian woman facing death by stoningIranian family say adultery conviction was bogus and that woman has already been subjected to 99 lashes)