Archive for August 13th, 2010

There are unconfirmed reports that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been tortured

Amnesty International criticized the TV “confession” of an Iranian woman on Wednesday night in which Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, awaiting execution by stoning for adultery, appears to implicate herself in the murder of her husband.

The interview was broadcast on Wednesday 11th August, on the ’20:30′ program by Seda va Sima, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

Televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used by the authorities to incriminate individuals in custody. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes under torture or other ill-treatment.

“This so-called confession forms part of growing catalogue of other forced confessions and self-incriminating statements made by many detainees in the past year.” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Statements made in such televised exchanges should have no bearing on Iran’s legal system, or the call to review her case. This latest video shows nothing more than the lack of evidence against Sakineh Ashtiani”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Amnesty International understands that last week, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s lawyer, Javid Houtan Kiyan, submitted a 35-page request for a judicial review of her case, a response is expected on or around 15 August.

“It appears that Iran’s authorities have orchestrated this “confession”, following the call for a judicial review and now appear to be inventing new charges of murdering her husband,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.

Unconfirmed reports that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has recently been tortured or ill-treated while in Tabriz Central Prison underscores Amnesty International’s concern.

“Having Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani broadcast in this manner calls into question the independence of the judiciary, at least vis-a-vis the state broadcaster, and its ability to adhere to Iran’s own laws. If the judiciary in Iran is to be taken seriously, this “confession” needs to be disregarded and assurances given that it will not affect the review of her case” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Sign the petition to save Sakineh’s life at

See also:

Ashtiani outrage spurs Iran to commute stoning sentences to hanging
Tehran carries out series of judicial reviews but lawyer fears women who have not attracted media attention will be executed


Iranian Woman given 15 years in prison for ‘crimes against God’

Last year, an Iranian woman called Farah Vazehan went on some of the demonstrations that took place against the regime, in summer 2009. After one of the demonstrations, her house was raided and she was arrested and sent to prison. On August 5th 2010, a revolutionary court heard her case and someone called Judge Salavati sentenced her to 15 years in Evin Prison (which is notorious for torturing its inmates)for: (i) attending a public demonstration and (ii) carrying out crimes against God.

Farah has a 19 year old daughter who has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy at the moment.

Please sign the petition

From the Editors

How are women faring on “equality”? What remains unequal? And is equality really the summit for progressives and feminists, or only one more mountain to climb?

With the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote upon us — and August 26th is designated as Women’s Equality Day – On The Issues Magazine invited writers, artists and poets to consider the elusive search for equality and its flip side, double standards in our lives, for “EQUALITY: How much further away?”

Despite impressive gains, women in the U.S. and around the world are still seeking full equality in political, religious, civic, social, personal, work, financial and artistic realms. But if equality were to arrive or women were to arrive at it, will our goals as feminists and progressives be met? Before her death in 1998, former U.S.Congressional Rep. Bella Abzug said that women should change “the nature of power,” rather than power changing “the nature of women.” But with rare exceptions, the reality is that women still don’t hold the reins of power.

Even the suffragists who labored for women’s voting rights had more in mind. In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, listing a range of injustices encountered by women. Borrowing from the Declaration of Independence, she wrote of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” she wrote. Among her 16 “injuries and usurpations” are some still deeply relevant – relegating women to subordinate positions in church and State, applying a different code of morals to men and women, and attempting to destroy women’s “confidence in her own powers.”

After securing the vote in 1920, activists immediately turned to organizing in other spheres, writing the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (still not passed), and using the courts and legislatures to end discriminatory practices. The work, of course, is not done. In this edition, Carolyn Cook writes about how Hillary Clinton’s presidential run drew her to get involved in a new campaign for the ERA Say “I Do”: Constitutional Equality is Forever. Cindy Cooper explores the laws and still-pending concerns on sex discrimination in Gender Equality: Devil in the Details, while Beverly Neufeld writes about a refreshed movement for equal pay in Best City for Working Women: In Our Checkbooks.

In our first video essay, Ann Farmer looks at nontraditional employment, stepping into the garage with a woman mechanic in Equality Under the Hood: Car Repair is Women’s Work.

But there are many areas in the U.S. that the law does not reach at all. Religion is one. Angela Bonavoglia, an author who has researched extensively the Catholic Church and women, explains not only how the Vatican is using an iron fist against woman of faith but why it matters to those outside its purview, in Women Challenge Gender Apartheid in the Catholic Church. Eleanor Bader looks at the ways that women in conservative Jewish communities are quietly removing gender barriers in Snood by Snood, Tight-Knit Orthodox Piety Loosens Up.

Marcy Bloom and Ariel Dougherty remind us of two other areas that are beyond the scope of the government. In Health Inequality: Gates Foundation Bans Abortion, Bloom describes how one decision of a generous donor will sentence some women to ugly deaths. Dougherty writes in Girls Kick: Moving the Media’s World Cup Goal Posts that girls’ sports dreams are squelched by pathetically low media coverage.

Loretta Ross, a frequent writer for On The Issues Magazine, applies a multifaceted (“intersectional” to academics) analysis to the goals of the women’s movement from her perspective as an African American feminist. In the struggle against oppression, equality is but one marker along the way to undivided justice for all peoples of the world, she writes in A Feminist Vision: No Justice-No Equity.

Other contributors take a sharp aim at double standards, often with a good dose of humor.

Megan Carpentier dissects the suddenly-popular (if unproven) notion that it’s the male gender that is facing bias in Alright Then, Let Men Compete, while Elizabeth Black writes in bittersweet terms about the ways that women are still criticized for sexual enjoyment in Good Girls, Bad Girls: The Kinkiness of Slut-Shaming.
Marie Shear takes on dozens of linguistic slights and putdowns in “Little Marie”: The Daily Toll of Sexist Language. (Her essay brought to mind a comment by the crusading medical writer Barbara Seaman, who declared that she could not understand why researchers on women’s sexuality described “hard” and “soft” data; more appropriate, she said, would be “wet” and “dry” data.)

Other articles apply a long view. Lu Bailey finds hope in the common sense of parents who bristle at Hollywood stereotyping in Defeating Racism and Sexism with the Politics of Authenticity. Mary Lou Greenberg explains her view that the concept of equality does not go nearly far enough in addressing the degradation of a consumerist and capitalist society in Beyond Equality to Liberation.

Our art and poetry sections bring especially unique perspectives. Co-Poetry Editor Judith Arcana selects works from four poets who eloquently portray the lives of women, real and mythological, as they circle the edges of their lives and try to find places to breathe. Maria Padhila, Penelope Scambly Schott, Wendy Vardaman and Sondra Zeidenstein share the rugged dilemmas and not-so-delicate dances that women encounter.

“The Art Perspective,” curated by Art Editor Linda Stein, features a retrospective of a highly acclaimed international artist who frequently addresses inequities in wealth, labor and gender roles in Regina Frank Is Present. In multiple-part audio and video displays, Frank describes how she creates her works, often placing herself as a physical presence inside the art.

The work of other artists is represented throughout the magazine, including Roz Dimon, seen here and here, Robin Gaynes-Bachman, Barbara Lubliner, Kathleen Migliore-Newton, seen here and here, Victoria Pacimeo, Mark Phillips, Inga Poslitar, Marjorie Price and Deborah Ugoretz.

Lastly, we take a look at ten stories on equality from our archives (print, 1983-99; Online, 2008-present), including an investigation by Sally Roesch Wagner into the shared-power experienced by Native American women in pre-colonial societies, Merle Hoffman’s concept of Roe v. Wade as the Medical Equal Rights Amendment for Women, the links between Right-wing anti-gay and anti-women’s rights propaganda, and the vivid description of a “pee-in” to protest the lack of women’s toilets at Harvard. These and other writings are described and linked in From Our Files on Equality.

Equality, and what it means, turns out to be a rich and layered subject, with each question leading to another. We will continue to explore new perspectives on it in the Café of On The Issues Magazine, and we invite your articles, essays and creative thinking, as well as your letters and comments. Write to: On the Issues at In addition, we invite you to send us short videos on the topic of nontraditional employment. Send inquiries to On the Issues at

    Pornography had started influencing us long before it came out of the underground and crept into Wall Street boardrooms a couple of decades ago.

    But now, with porn stars bagging the status of ‘crossover artistes’, XXX has seeped into our very sexual identities, convincing obsessive users that the art of lovemaking begins and ends like the way it is shown on screen. Gail Dines, American anti-porn activist and professor of sociology, exchanges notes with Arghya Ganguly about her new book, ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’ and how the multibillion-dollar industry is shaping people’s lives, sexuality and relationships …

In your book, you say that in American society, porn is probably the most articulate teller of sexual stories for men. In your land of vibrant literature, it’s a bold statement to make…

Yes. It is bold, but it’s a statement I stand by. Boys are not going to great works of literature or art to learn about sex; they are going to porn. They first learn about sex in a culture steeped in porn imagery, so they develop a pornographic way of looking at women’s bodies at a young age. Just watching TV, going to the movies, or playing video games introduces boys to images that reduce women to sex objects. With this pornographic gaze well established by adolescence, boys graduate to actual porn. Most porn on the internet is hardcore, and boys are catapulted into a world of body-punishing sex that is based on the dehumanisation of women. We have no alternative images in the culture that counter this way of looking at women, so this one becomes dominant.

The message porn sends to men is that they are entitled to access women’s bodies. In porn, the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation. Whether it be choking her or brutal intercourse, the goal of porn is to illustrate how much power he has over her. The narrative about women is that they are all whores by nature, ready and willing to do whatever men want. In this world, women are never concerned about pregnancy, STDs, or damage to the body, and are astonishingly indifferent to being called whores. This is an uncomplicated world where women don’t need equal pay, healthcare, retirement plans, or good schools for their children. It is a world filled with one-dimensional women, who are nothing more than a collection of holes.

The story pornography tells about men is much simpler than the one about women, since men in porn are depicted as nothing more than soulless, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. No matter how uncomfortable or in pain the woman looks, these men are utterly oblivious to her as a person. She is to them just a set of orifices. These stories get delivered to men’s brains via the penis. The younger the boy is when he first views porn – the average age of first viewing is 11 – the more likely these stories are going to form the core of his sexual identity.

You also talk about how women have internalised the men’s gaze and they spend hours in front of the mirror due to it. ‘Porn penises’ have also become the standard against which men judge themselves. Do you suppose it will be a good idea to rehabilitate the youth by showing Renaissance art – for instance, Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – which mostly feature modestly endowed men?

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which culture is commercialised through the mass media, so there is little room for fine art. A better idea would be for men to stop using porn. They do measure themselves against male porn performers, and many feel like sexual losers. Their penises are not as big, nor can they perform the same way as the Viagra-fortified penises in porn. Many feel let down by actual sex, because they get used to masturbating to industrial-strength sex that is supposed to give their partners screaming orgasms. Next to this, real sex looks and feels bland and boring. I don’t think we need to ‘rehabilitate’ men; rather we need to raise their consciousness as to the harm of porn. I believe that the more men learn about the ways in which porn affects their sexual identity, the more they will think before clicking on a porn site. Girls and women have indeed internalised men’s gaze, and they are increasingly turning themselves into objects. This makes absolute sense when you think about the images that they are bombarded with. Flip through the pages of popular women’s magazines and you’ll see slight variations on a theme: a heavily made-up, young, attractive, technologically perfected woman devoid of body hair, cellulite, age lines or physical disabilities. She’s minimally clothed, with a seductive look plastered on her face. Whether it be an almost naked Britney Spears writhing around on stage or a Victoria’s Secret model clad in a plunging bra and thong, women and girls today are overwhelmed by images of themselves as sex objects whose worth is measured only by their ‘hotness.’

Do you agree with the historical argument that if the Great Depression and WW II didn’t occur then Playboy wouldn’t have been able to successfully advertise its anti-woman ideology?

Yes. It was no accident that Playboy became so successful in the 1950s.The obvious question here is how a porn magazine became a best seller in what was one of the most conservative decades of the second half of the twentieth century. To understand this, it is pivotal to map out some of the economic and cultural themes that marked this era. The post-World War II America required a consumer population that would spend money to build the economy. However, the targeted group – the emerging white suburban middle class – was born during a depression and raised during a war, circumstances that lead to frugality. To nurture consumerism, businesses adopted a number of techniques, not the least of which was a massive marketing campaign, to turn frugal people into spenders. The expansion of television helped spread the ideology of consumerism through advertisements and sit-coms, which were often thirty-minute ads for how to furnish a suburban home. However, women were typically targeted by television, so there were few avenues for luring men into buying products they did not need.

Enter Hugh Hefner, a failed cartoonist who – by design or accident – hit on an idea that meshed beautifully with the needs of capitalism. He created a lifestyle magazine for men that placed consumerism at the centre of the new identity of the upwardly mobile male. Playboy spent much of its early years crafting a magazine that taught men what clothes to wear, what furniture to buy for the office, what food to cook, and, most important, how to consume to a level that would attract women, whose goal was to marry out of the working class. Playboy promised men that if they bought the products they would get the real prize: lots of women, just like the ones in the centerfolds. Playboy thus not only commodified sexuality, it also sexualised commodities.

Why has the US government been insouciant with respect to porn? Is it because ‘Pornland’ is a capitalist’s dream?

Porn is indeed a capitalist’s dream, since it is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year machine with ties to other major industries. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence debate. The porn industry sells the idea that women who enter the industry do so because they love sex and enjoy what they are doing. What we don’t hear about are their economic circumstances. Jenna Jameson is a major recruitment tool for the porn industry. She is a walking ad for what a woman can supposedly achieve by doing porn. I don’t think the solution to porn will come through the government. In a capitalist society, the role of the government is to protect the rights of corporations, not the people. If we are going to tackle this problem, it has to be through a mass movement.

Is it fair to conclude that dinners, vanilla sex and post-coital affection are passe due to capitalism and its tag team partner, porn?

I would say what we are witnessing is a move away from relationships toward a hook-up culture where sex, rather than an ongoing relationship, is the expectation. The increasing pornification of our society has been instrumental in shifting heterosexual relationships. Given its lack of commitment and intimate connection, hookup sex is a lot like porn sex, and it is being played out in the real world. If porn and women’s media are to be believed, these women are having as good a time as the men. But research is finding that women do hope for more than just sex from a hook-up – many express a desire for the encounter to evolve into a relationship. Sociologist Kathleen Bogle, for example, found in her study of college-age students that many of the women ‘were interested in turning hook-up partners into boyfriends’, while the men preferred it ‘with no strings attached’.

Do you approve of film schools having porn in their curriculum?

I don’t think educational institutions should support the porn industry in any way. I do, however, believe courses on porn are appropriate for a college classroom as long as they critically explore different ways of thinking about porn, not just ones that celebrate it. Showing movies or stills can be tricky, given the effect it may have on students. In my classes, I show stills, but only after much discussion and the establishment of a clear set of guidelines that allow students to not attend or to leave if they feel uncomfortable or upset. I also worry about students who have a history of abuse, since such images can trigger memories. Given that we live in a porn culture, we should be providing our students with media literacy skills.

Do you reckon that feminists fighting for sexual liberation in the ’60s and ’70s erred somewhere, because all they got is sexuality that has its roots in porn?

Feminism fought for a sexuality based on equality and respect, and what we got was a pornified, plasticised, formulaic sexuality that is an industrial product rather than a reflection of women’s authentic desires. This is not the fault of the feminist movement, but the result of a predatory porn industry that has become the main producer and disseminator of sexual images, ideologies, and messages. I have been doing work in this area for over twenty years, and I never expected porn to get so mainstream or cruel and brutal so quickly. Remember also that the feminism of the ’60s and ’70s was not just about sex, but about radical economic, political, and social change. This feminism understood that without equal access to material resources, women would always be oppressed. Today, feminism talks a lot about sex, but not much about the economic and social conditions of women’s lives.

    The XXX effect

    The global porn industry was estimated to be worth around $96 billion in 2006 with the US market worth around $13 billion. Each year, over 13,000 porn films are released and, despite their modest budgets, pornography revenues rival those of all the major Hollywood studios

    A key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies. There are 420 million internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn web sites and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily. However, officials estimate DVD sales were down by 50 per cent in the last year due to a weak economy, piracy and free or cheap porn on the Internet.

Dear Craig,

Although we have not met, we are certain you would not want what happened to us or to thousands of girls like us to ever happen again.

Craig, I am AK. In 2009, I met a man twice my age who pretended to be my boyfriend, and my life as an average girl— looking forward to college, doing my chores, and hanging out with my friends—ended. This “boyfriend” soon revealed he was a pimp. He put my picture on Craigslist, and I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels, 10 hours with 10 different men every night. This became my life. Men answered the Craigslist advertisements and paid to rape me. The $30,000 he pocketed each month was facilitated by Craigslist 300 times. I personally know over 20 girls who were trafficked through Craigslist. Like me, they were taken from city to city, each time sold on a different Craigslist site —Philadelphia, Dallas, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. My phone would ring, and soon men would line up in the parking lot. One Craigslist caller viciously brutalized me, threatening to dump my body in a river. Miraculously, I survived.

Craig, I am MC. I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28 year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold many girls my age, his house was called “Daddy Day Care.” All day, me and other girls sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist, he made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock —and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car.

I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren’t of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths. Craig, we write this letter so you will know from our personal experiences how Craigslist makes horrific acts like this so easy to carry out, and the men who carry out, and men who arrange them very rich. Craig, we know you oppose trafficking and exploitation. But right now, Craigslist is the choice of traffickers because it’s so well known and there are rarely consequences to using it for these illegal acts. We’ve heard that the Adult Services section of Craigslist brings in $36 million a year by charging for these ads. These profits are made at the expense of girls like us, who are lured, kidnapped, and forced to feed the increasing demand for child rape. New traffickers are putting up ads every day, because they know it’s less risky and more profitable to sell girls on Craigslist than to deal drugs.

Please, Craig, close down the Adult Services section. Saving even one child is worth it. It could have been us.



Survivors of Craigslist Sex Trafficking

Want to Take Action to Help Girls—Visit: and; or

Craigslist is hub for child prostitution, allege trafficked women

The online classified advertising site, Craigslist, is facing accusations that it has become a hub for underage prostitution after two young women placed an advertisement in the Washington Post saying they were repeatedly sold through the site to men who “paid to rape” them.

The allegations came as a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist – named after its owner, Craig Newmark – to stop a criminal investigation over its “adult services” section which is alleged to carry thousands of prostitution ads daily.

In an open letter to Newmark placed in the Washington Post, the two women appealed for him to shut Craigslist’s adult services section.

The ad was partly paid for by Fair Fund, a group working with young women who have been sold for sex. It described Craigslist as “the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking”. Fair Fund said it had checked the women’s accounts and could vouch for them. It said AK had met the US attorney general, Eric Holder.

Craigslist’s chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, said it worked tirelessly with law enforcement agencies to identify ads that exploited children, manually reviewed every adult service ad before posting and required phone verification by the person placing it.

Two years ago, under the threat of legal action by about 40 US states, Craigslist began charging $10 (£6.25) per posting for adult services ads, whereas most of the site is free. Some of the revenue goes to charity. That did not reassure groups working with children forced into the sex trade.

Thousands of ads continue to be placed each day that list charges for encounters. Many include words that the Fair Fund says are flags for underage prostitution such as “fresh” and “inexperienced”.

Last month, dozens of anti-prostitution groups led protests outside Craigslist’s San Francisco HQ to demand an end to sex trade ads.

Last week, Newmark was confronted in the street by a CNN reporter with ads from Craigslist that appeared to offer girls for sex, and the case of a 12-year-old girl forced into prostitution and sold on the site until she was freed in a police raid north of Washington in June. A 42-year-old man was charged with human trafficking. Newmark declined to respond.

The website is under criminal investigation in South Carolina, where the attorney general, Henry McMaster, described Craigslist’s alleged promotion of prostitution as a “very serious matter”. On Friday, a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist to block the investigation. The same day, the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, called for Craigslist to scrap sex adverts.

Buckmaster has accused McMaster and other law enforcement officials of “grandstanding” and attempting to impose an outdated sexual moral code.

Part of a longer article at

As the U.N. investigates new allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most troop contributing countries continue to evade accounting for how they handle disciplinary actions.

A senior U.N. official who asked for anonymity told IPS, “Although there have been statistical reductions in the number of allegations, sexual abuse involving peacekeepers is still rampant, despite pronouncements that they have been curbed.”

In DR Congo, two peacekeepers – reportedly an Indian and a Tunisian – have been accused of sexual abuse, although their identities and the specifics of the cases are protected under the U.N.’s confidentiality policy.

According to the United Nations Conduct and Disciplinary Unit, of the 45 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against U.N. peacekeepers brought in the first six months of this year, 18 involved minors.

The charges were reported to the 39 troop contributing countries. However, only 13 governments have responded to the U.N. regarding their progress in investigating the charges and taking action, according to the New York Times.

The year so far…
• Out of the 45 allegations reported for the first half of 2010, 39 are pending and 4 have been substantiated.
• Out of those 45 allegations, 19 involve adults, 18 involve minors, and 8 are unidentified.
• From 2007 to June 2010, there have been a total of 346 allegations against civilian, military and police personnel.
• From 2007 to June 2010, there have been a total of 257 follow-ups with member states, but there have only been 58 total responses.

In 2009, the U.N. sent 82 requests for information on actions taken by national authorities concerning misconduct related to sexual exploitation and abuse, and received 14 responses.

In 2008, the U.N. sent 69 such requests and received eight responses on action taken, while in 2007, 67 requests were made and 23 responses received.

“The U.N. cannot tackle this issue alone,” Anayansi Lopez of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told IPS. “It needs the full support of all member states to ensure that zero tolerance is a reality.”

Currently, there are about 124,000 peacekeepers deployed around the globe, Lopez said.

However, according to the senior U.N. official, not only are the allegations “a blemish on peacekeeping operations… there could be hundreds more that have been undocumented primarily due to the remote locations of the operations.”

Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel first came to light in the 1990s in the Balkans, Cambodia and Timor Leste, and in West Africa in 2002 and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2004.

Official reports publicly surfaced in 2004, with the U.N. mission in DR Congo the first to be singled out followed by Haiti, Liberia and other peacekeeping missions around the world.

In DR Congo, approximately 150 allegations were filed against U.N. troops. The offences – some of which were captured on videotape – included pedophilia, rape, and prostitution, according to a classified U.N. report that was obtained by the Washington Post.

Yet comprehensive record-keeping and data tracking of such allegations and subsequent actions did not begin until 2006, Lopez told IPS. This left an approximately decade-long delay in formally tracking the allegations.

One year later, in 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that in Haiti, “girls as young as 13 were having sex with U.N. peacekeepers for as little as one dollar”.

Some 114 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti were removed from their posts after those allegations surfaced.

In July 2008, the Department of Field Support launched the Misconduct Tracking System, a global database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.

In December 2007, the General Assembly adopted a Resolution on Criminal Accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Missions to address the extension of national jurisdiction by member states to cover criminal misconduct of U.N. officials or experts on mission.

However, a high-level source told IPS, “Sierra Leonean and Sri Lankan efforts are the only serious responses to these allegations that are publically known. Most member states lack sincere commitment to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse as evident by their actions.”

The U.N. has a three-pronged strategy to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse: prevention of misconduct, enforcement of U.N. standards of conduct and remedial action.

Last month, Under-Secretary-General Susanna Malcorra from the Global Field Support office of DPKO discussed the revision of support strategy in terms of procedure and financing. Her discussion did not include procedures to address the allegations.

Malaysia’s first female Islamic court judges will have the same powers as their male counterparts, an official said Monday, dispelling concerns their role would be curtailed.

The government announced the appointment of two women to the Sharia bench last month as proof of its commitment to transforming the Islamic legal system, which runs parallel to civil courts in the Muslim-majority country.

But a committee of 20 senior Islamic judges then met to determine their exact role, with one top judge saying they would not be allowed to rule on criminal or divorce cases.

“The matter was fully deliberated by the committee of chief Sharia court judges of Malaysia and it decided that the women enjoy the same powers as the men judges,” said Sharia Judiciary department official Mohamad Na’im Mokhtar.

He said that under legislation governing the Islamic justice system in Malaysia, there was no provision to differentiate between men and women when appointing judges.

“The female judges can hear all criminal or civil cases that fall under the Islamic court’s jurisdiction,” Mohamad Na’im told AFP, adding they would also rule on divorce cases.

Rights groups have complained that women face discrimination in Islamic divorce proceedings, inheritance and child custody cases, and that courts are slow to penalise husbands who fail to pay alimony.

Mohamad Na’im said judge Rafidah Abdul Razak, 39, who has been appointed to the Kuala Lumpur Sharia court bench, began her duties on August 2 while Suraya Ramli, 31, will start at the Sharia court in the administrative capital of Putrajaya on August 12.

Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that a law allowing same-sex marriages in Mexico City is constitutional, rejecting an appeal by federal prosecutors who argued it violated the charter’s guarantees to protect the family.

The justices’ 8-2 ruling handed a legal victory to hundreds of same-sex couples who have been married in Mexico’s capital since the landmark law took effect March 4. When approved last December, it was the first law in Latin America explicitly giving gay marriages the same status as heterosexual ones, including adoption.

The court, however, must still rule on the adoption clause and whether the ruling will affect states outside of the capital. It is expected to address adoption on Monday.

“We are very happy,” said Mexico City lawyer Leticia Bonifaz, who argued Mexico City’s case. “It fell to us to carry to a conclusion a struggle that has taken a long time.”

Justices who voted on the majority side stressed that while Mexico’s constitution enshrines protection for families, it does not define what a “family” is.

“It does not appear to me to be unconstitutional,” Justice Jose Gudino said during Thursday’s session. “The concept of the family established in the constitution … is an open concept.”

Jaime Lopez Vela, a leader of the group Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender, was among a group of activists who celebrated the ruling outside the court.

“Now we hope that the final ruling declares it all constitutional,” he said, referring to adoption.

The law was opposed by Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church and the conservative government of President Felipe Calderon.

Rev. Hugo Valdemar, the spokesman for Mexico City’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said “we regret this ruling because in our opinion, it affects the fundamental nucleus of the family.”

Federal prosecutors had cited an article in Mexico’s constitution that suggests – but does not state – that families are constituted by men, women and children. The article states: “Men and women are equal before the law. This protects the organization and development of the family.”

Justice Guillermo Ortiz, who argued against the law, said “marriage is reserved exclusively for couples who can procreate, because one of the big issues of marriage is the protection of children.”

But another judge, Jose Fernando Franco, argued that “procreation is not an essential element of marriage.”

“Those who wish to procreate are free to do so, not only within marriage but in any way they see best, and this happens and can happen in heterosexual marriages, and those that are not, or among single persons,” Franco said.

The justices who voted to uphold the law differed in their reasons why: Some stressed the constitution’s protection of an individual’s right to choose a marriage partner, and others the right of local legislatures to enact laws governing the issue.

Justice Luis Aguilar Morales argued against framing the ruling around the individual rights issue, something that might force other states to adopt similar measures.

“If Mexico City wants it a certain way, that does not necessarily mean that the rest of the states have to do the same,” Aguilar Morales said. The issue will apparently be worked out in subsequent discussion and the writing of the final ruling.

Armando Martinez, president of a local Catholic lawyers’ group, said his organization will be even more concerned if the court rules ultimately upholds the part of the Mexico City law that lets same-sex couples adopt kids.

“That would directly affect the rights of children,” Martinez said. “We will seek impeachment hearings against any justices that vote in favor of adoption.”

City authorities said that as of earlier this week, 320 couples had been married under the law: 173 weddings between men and 147 between women.

Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples with a law approved in July. Mexico City remains the only city in Mexico with a similar law.

Slack Implementation and Lack of Oversight Causes Suffering and Death

Thousands of women and girls in Argentina suffer needlessly every year because of negligent or abusive reproductive health care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this week.

The 53-page report, “Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina“, documents the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape. The most common barriers to care include long delays in providing services, unnecessary referrals to other clinics, demands for spousal permission contrary to law, financial barriers, and in some cases outright denial of care.

“Women need dependable care throughout their reproductive lives,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But in Argentina, it’s more like a lottery: you might be lucky enough to get decent care but you are more likely to be stuck with deficient – or even abusive – services.”

As a direct result of these barriers, women and girls in Argentina often cannot make independent decisions about their health, and many face unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies as a result. Forty percent of pregnancies in Argentina end in abortions, which are often unsafe. Unsafe abortion has been the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country for decades.

The report identifies a lack of oversight and accountability for carrying out existing laws and policies as the main problems in the persistent denial of proper care. Doctors and other medical personnel who deny women services to which they are entitled, or who apply arbitrary conditions for receiving the services, rarely – if ever – are investigated or penalized.

“Argentina’s reproductive health policies are certainly not perfect, but if they were implemented they would prevent quite a lot of the suffering I saw in researching for this report,” Vivanco said. “The government needs to put a lot more effort into monitoring how these policies are carried out and punishing abuse.”

Human Rights Watch’s report also criticizes Argentina’s reproductive health policies for ignoring key constituencies such as women and girls with disabilities. With its recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Argentina has taken on specific international obligations in this area that are not being met, Human Rights Watch said.

“Women and girls with disabilities face all the same barriers as women without disabilities, and then some,” Vivanco said. “Apart from straight-up access issues ­- are there ramps at clinics, or is information translated into Braille or sign language, for example ­- there is a larger question of prejudice. Some doctors just don’t think women with visual or hearing disabilities, have sexual relationships or can remember to take their contraception.”

The Argentine government has recently taken steps to remedy some of the issues highlighted in “Illusions of Care,” though some of the policy changes were later retracted. In May, the National Health Ministry created a free call-in number to answer questions about where to find reproductive health care services and register complaints. In July, the ministry announced its intention to make sure that abortions are carried out for women and girls whose lives or health are threatened by their pregnancies, or who have been raped. The day after the announcement, however, the government retracted its statements, noting that it did not intend to guarantee access after all.

“The Argentine government seems to be slowly waking up to the notion that laws on reproductive health mean nothing unless they are enforced,” Vivanco said. “But unless changes are constant and clear, women and girls will continue to suffer and, in some cases, die.”

1956 march a victory for all South Africans

South Africa celebrated Women’s Day in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the 1956 anti-pass march led by Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophie de Bruin.

Hundreds of women in Pretoria replicated the 1956 women’s anti-pass law march from the city centre to the Union Buildings. Led by Tshwane executive mayor Gwen Ramokgopa, the marchers paid tribute to the pioneers of women’s equality under the theme “Working together for equal opportunity and progress for women”.

Ramokgopa encouraged women to follow in the footsteps of the 1956 marchers and said they needed to be involved in relevant initiatives. She called the march a “day of victory for women”.

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Helen Zille: Women’s Day statement

Today we pay tribute to the women of South Africa. They are the daughters and granddaughters of the women of 1956 who had the courage to stand up for themselves, and each other, as many South African women have done — before and since.

Over half a century later, on Women’s Day, we have an opportunity to assess our progress in expanding opportunities for women. There is cause for some celebration, but much needs do be done.

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South Africa to act on workplace gender equity

President Jacob Zuma has called for action to address transformation in South Africa’s workplace, saying the country is not achieving the kind of gender parity required by its democratic rule.

Addressing a packed Women’s Day event at East London’s Absa Stadium on Monday, Zuma pointed to a recent employment equity report, compiled by the Department of Labour, which found that transformation in the workplace, particularly in the private sector, was slow.

Unless something was done urgently, he said, South Africa would struggle to achieve its set targets of workforce gender balance.

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Winnie lashes ANC and its failed policies

In an interview Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lashed out at the African National Congress (ANC) for failing to implement its own policies, especially those that impact women.

“It is time for the ANC to go back to the drawing-board and to assess how it will realistically implement policies,” Madikizela-Mandela said in the article.

The National Executive Committee member said the ANC should be giving themselves a better reflection after 16 years in government.

She said the party needed to revisit their strategies and tactics in the upcoming national general council meeting in September, by getting concrete suggestions from ministries as to how they would deliver on their promises.

Madikizela-Mandela passed judgement on the country’s record of gender empowerment saying that Lilian Ngoyi, a women’s liberation icon, would be turning in her grave.

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Women still suffer alone

Women’s Day, along with the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, is rapidly becoming a special little female ghetto.

It’s time to put sexual violence on the public media Increasingly, these are the only two occasions during the year when some brief discussion around the status of South African women becomes possible.

Otherwise, the political space is largely taken up with men’s battles to be the Big Boss, dodgy tenders and kickbacks, nationalisation debates and general rudeness and incivility.

These are all important – even occasionally entertaining – issues but they push sexual violence right off the public agenda.

For rape is not the individual tragedy of the woman or child concerned, but a matter of serious political concern. Consider the role of the state in the following:

Last year a study by the Medical Research Council (MRC) revealed that one in four men was willing to admit to a researcher that they had raped at least once (and some more often).

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Women in Afghanistan suffer “extremely high rates of domestic violence” which include forced marriages and physical attacks, Afghan and United Nations officials announced one week after a report by a top Afghan health advisor revealed that suicide among Afghan women had increased about 20 times since the 1970s.

Nearly 2,000 cases of violence against women were reported between October 2006 and mid-2009, according to an updated Violence against Women Primary Database Report launched on Thursday by the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), with support from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Information Management System (AIMS).

The database includes information on incidences of physical attacks and emotional abuse, rape and kidnapping, forced sexual intercourse by a husband, polygamy, forced engagement and forced marriage, and restricted mobility and curtailment of women’s participation in public life.

Of the reported cases, nearly a quarter showed that women had temporary physical injuries; in more than 20 per cent of the cases, the woman ran away and 2.5 per cent of the cases resulted in death or attempted suicide.

Approximately 40 per cent of the reported cases in the database showed that no follow up was done and the outcome of the violence was “unknown.”

Among the recommendations, the authors of the report based on the database findings called for “zero tolerance” of men in positions of power who mistreat or abuse women, particularly those in police and military who are approached for assistance by women already victimized.

Speaking at the report launch, MoWA Acting Minister Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar and UNIFEM Country Director Christine Ouellette praised the revised database and the resulting report.

“The availability of this database…in addition to the special emphasis given to gender equality and empowerment of women during the recently held Kabul Conference, are testimony to the concerted efforts of the Government and other stakeholders to address violence against women,” Ouellette said, noting the 20 July conference where the Government of Afghanistan launched a series of national priorities and programmes in the areas of security, governance, social and economic development and better service delivery to citizens.

The launch of the revised violence against women database comes one week after a report authored by a health affairs advisor for President Hamid Karzai revealed that suicide among Afghan women had increased by some 20 times over the past 40 years, counter to the international suicide rates which have remained stable.

“Evidence suggests an increasing trend of suicide in Afghanistan, especially among women, and using the method of self-immolation,” Faizullah Kakar wrote in The Elevated Prevalence of Depression and Risk of Suicide among Afghan Women.

Nearly one-third of Afghan women between 15 and 35 years of age suffer from depression and psychological problems, Kakar said.

He blamed “war-related stress, displacement stress, repatriation stress, insecurity and addictions to hashish and opium,” as well as a culture of traditional marriage.

“For these women, social stresses such as forced marriages turn into the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back,'” Kakar concluded.

Among his recommendations to the Government of Afghanistan to counter this trend is an “effective and coherent national strategy” which provides social support to high-risk individuals.

Plainclothes officers detained a Chinese activist for sex workers’ rights a few days after she publicly called for prostitution to be legalized, her sister said.

Ye Haiyan was nabbed at the offices of her community group, the China Women’s Rights Workshops, and told she would be held for two or three days of “studies,” her sister, Ye Sha, told The Associated Press.

Dissidents in China are often detained by authorities with the explanation that they are “going for studies” or “taking a vacation.” Usually, they are kept at a guesthouse to prevent them from moving about freely during sensitive dates.

Last week, Ye Haiyan and a few supporters asked people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where she is based, to sign a petition in support of legalizing prostitution, according to an account on her group’s website. She also called for Aug. 3 — Tuesday — to be marked as “Sex Workers’ Day.”

Ye Haiyan argued that making prostitution legal would afford sex workers better protections.

When reached on her mobile phone, Ye Haiyan declined to comment, saying it was not a convenient time for her to talk. Phones rang unanswered in the administrative department of Wuhan’s public security bureau.

Prostitution is rampant in China despite frequent government crackdowns, and sexual services are openly offered in massage parlors, karaoke bars and nightclubs.

Until last month, when the Ministry of Public Security issued a ban, police would sometimes organize “prostitute parades” to shame suspected sex workers. The ban came after an outcry over photos of women being paraded barefoot in the streets of Dongguan in Guangdong province, handcuffed and led by a rope around the waist.

The first female Somali district chief in Northeastern Kenya has fled her district in fear. Male elders outraged by the idea of a woman presuming to political leadership threw stones at her and made life unbearable. It’s dangerous where she is now too.

Before she sought refuge two months ago at the compound of her provincial district commissioner, Amina Muhumed Sirat tried to carry out her duties as the first district chief of Meri, in the northeastern part of Kenya.

She would wake up before 6 a.m. to tend to household chores. Then the 29-year-old Somali would don her uniform and get to the office by 8 a.m., where she would help members of her district resolve disputes involving family, business and land matters. Some days she would officiate at a public function.

But two months ago–10 months after her appointment in July 2009–she gave up and fled the persistent hostilities of the male elders in her community; men who had known her all her life. They would throw stones at her when she tried to walk along the street or carry out an official function.

The district commissioner’s compound–300 kilometers away–became the temporary refuge for herself, her husband and their young son. She does not even dare visit the division she is supposed to administer.

Sirat’s province in Northeastern Kenya, one of the country’s seven administrative regions, is dominated by ethnic Somalis who are Muslim.

In this community, Sirat says, most men think women’s place is in the kitchen, not political office.

The Habasweini division where she has sought refuge is also a threatening place for her.

At Habasweini–where Sirat says she does nothing but try to keep safe–her life has been threatened twice. Once her house was invaded and everything inside destroyed.

District Commissioner Gabriel Ochuda, 46, says it is still a taboo among the Somalis for a woman to lead. But he says he is doing what he can to change that.

He says he has been engaging the hostile elders of Sirat’s community and trying to persuade them to accept her as their chief. He said she is very qualified to do the job.

Abdi Noor Abdi, an elder in Sirat’s Meri district, says women in leadership positions goes against Islamic teachings.

“For a man it’s different because there is no time that we are going to take maternal leave. Whereas for women they have to and they have a lot of responsibilities at home,” he said.

Sirat graduated with a diploma in community development from the University of Nairobi in 2007.

For some the degree represents a ticket to well-paying jobs in government or the private sector.

But Sirat says she wanted to give back to her community of about 30,000 people. She opted to join the provincial administration. Having grown up there, she thought she understood the problems of the people and she wanted to make a difference.

She landed the chief’s job after a competitive interview conducted by provincial administrators.

She says her parents, who encourage her to succeed, have also been estranged from their friends.

“Despite being happy for Sirat’s achievement, I’m scared for her life. I want her to live a normal life but she can’t do that as long as she remains a chief,” her father said.

He says that according to Somali culture, a woman is not supposed to hold any public office, but that some aspects of his culture are outdated.

Even though she is not on any active duty, Sirat dresses in her official khaki uniform– a long skirt and black headscarf with a beret on top.

“I’m decently dressed, I don’t wear tight skirts and I do cover my hair,” Sirat said. “And I still do my wifely duties, getting home early to take care of my son and my husband.”

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The move follows a decision by the state government of Malacca to allow under-age marriages as a way of preventing the abandonment of babies, and unwanted pregnancies.

Under Malaysian law, Muslim couples wanting to marry must first be tested for the HIV virus.

Ivy Josiah from Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation, says it is this examination that alerted women’s groups to the number of under-age girls getting married.

“There was, shockingly, 32 girls under 10 years of age (who) undertook the premarital HIV test in 2009,” she told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program. “In the 15-19 year old group, 1,911 boys and 6,815 girls were tested.

“This is not right, even though it’s allowed for in the Islamic shariah law.”

The organisation recently established Malaysia’s first “baby hatch” to accept abandoned infants, following an increase in the number of reported cases of babies being abandoned.

Datuk Haji Harusanni Zakaria, Head of the Mufti Council in Perak state, says he understands why Malacca’s Islamic Religious Council decided to relax conditions for young Muslim girls to marry.

“This is according to our religion, this is to save her and the child.”

But Yasmin Masidi, of the Sisters of Islam, says the move is a kneejerk reaction to what is primarily a health and education issue.

She said: “I think it’s necessary to understand there is already a clause within shariah law in Malaysia that allows Muslim girls under the age of 16 and Muslim boys under the age of 18 to marry but with the permission of the Shariah Court.

“What the Malaccan Islamic Council did was to relax the conditions for these minors to marry.

“As far as Sisters of Islam is concerned, we feel the absolute minimum age to marry is 18 years . . . Our position really is that in the Koran, marriageable age is linked to sound judgement and maturity of mind. Puberty alone is really not sufficient.”

The Malaysian Government has issued a statement saying under-age marriage is morally and socially unacceptable.

While it says child marriages should not be encouraged as they are detrimental to the development and wellbeing of the child, the government has so far refused to change the law.

Women’s groups say the law contravenes UN human rights treaties ratified by Malaysia.

According to the police, sexual crimes have escalated nationwide in the last few years, and rape tops these offences.

In 2003, 1,479 police reports were lodged by rape victims. The figure doubled to 3,098 in 2007.

Statistics compiled also show that sexual crimes against the young have jumped, especially rape involving girls aged 16 and below.

According to DSP Zaiton Che Lah; head of the Sexual Crimes Unit under the Sexual Crimes and Children Investigation Division (D11), about 50% of the total number of rape cases each year involve victims aged 16 and below.

A check with various women’s groups, however, reveals that this is far from new and may very well be a conservative figure.

As Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang executive director Loh Cheng Kooi highlights, although the number of rape cases reported has increased, there are many cases that are still unreported.

One reason for this, she says, is because about 80% of sex offenders are either close or known to the victims, such as family members, relatives, neighbours or school bus drivers.

And as these sexual predators hide behind unassuming personas or keep a low profile among the adults in the community, many parents are caught unawares when they “attack” their targeted victims.

This, says Loh, makes it difficult for the young victims to come forward for help as they worry that they will not be believed.

Abby de Vries, programme officer at the All Women’s Action Society (Awam) warns that we should be worried about this phenomenon.

“Usually, the younger they are, the more difficult it is for them to convince the adults that they were raped or sexually abused. Why is this happening? Why do they feel like they cannot tell anyone?”

Most sexual offenders are not only familiar to the targeted victims but they are also good at manipulating them.

Befriending the victim and luring her with gifts or money are classic tactics among sexual predators, she says. However, combined with the inherent culture of shame in our society, it only leads to victims’ reluctance to seek help.

Social works manager with Women’s Aid Organisation, Wong Su Zane argues that whether the victims have received a gift or money from the perpetrator is irrelevant.

The issue is whether a crime has been committed against them, she says, or whether the victims have been forced to perform a sexual act without their consent.

She believes the fear to report is deeply entrenched in victims due to the lack of a system that is supportive of them.

“Whenever a rape happens, the police will ask the victims about what they have done or what they didn’t do to lead to the crime. So the first thing that comes to the mind of most victims is that it is their fault and they could have done something to prevent it.”

The fear is further exacerbated by the advent of technology, she shares.

“Now, when I advise those who seek help from WAO to lodge a police report, their reaction is always: ‘If we do that, the whole world will know!’ They say reporters will be there or someone will blog about it.”

Loh agrees that living in the age of the Internet and mobile technology has created new challenges in the fight against rape.

But most parents either don’t know how to prepare their children to deal with these changes or have no time to prepare their children.”

De Vries agrees that sexual offenders have indeed moved on to new technologically sophisticated modus operandi to trap and force victims into sexual submission.

Pictures and video clips are used to force the victims to continue the sexually abusive “relationship”.

Worse, she adds, the growth of mobile technology and social media network have made it so ubiquitous in our daily life that many young people are unware of the risks.

We are to blame for the hike in the violence against women and young girls, says women’s rights activist and Empower executive director Maria Chin Abdullah.

As she sees it, Malaysian society has failed to respond to the new wired world where children have a wider accessibility and exposure to violence and sex.

Parents and schools who suspect that something sexually insiduous is happening to their children to come forward to seek help from the police.

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A United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report has highlighted the world’s failure to include women in decision-making in the HIV and AIDS response, despite a significant rise in the epidemic among women.

According to Ines Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM, accelerating progress in the response to HIV is impossible when women are invisible in decision-making.

“Through our work on the ground we have repeatedly heard the voices of women as they provide concrete examples of what can work on the ground in preventing or reducing the epidemic, but these voices are missing in policy responses,” said Alberdi.

Entitled Transforming the National AIDS Response: Advancing Women’s Leadership and Participation, the report provides a clear assessment of the challenges women — particularly HIV-positive women — face in fully participating in policy-setting mechanisms and identified strategies which can be adopted to advance their involvement.

Alberdi further highlighted the importance of effective participation of women, especially HIV-positive women, in being part of the solutions and in finding sustainable, effective strategies to address HIV and AIDS.

Almost half of the 31.3 million HIV-positive adults in the world are women, with the numbers rising rapidly each day.

According to the report, 60 per cent of adults living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, while in the Caribbean HIV prevalence rates among women have increased from 46 per cent in 2001 to 53 per cent in 2008, making it the second most affected region after sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, about 40 per cent of newly reported HIV cases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2006 were among women.

But in spite of this rising trend, and women often being at the front-line of the epidemic, several factors restrict women’s engagement in finding solutions to the pandemic.

According to the UNIFEM report, the women interviewed cited stigma, lack of access to information, the burden of care giving and women’s multiple responsibilities in the home as well as illiteracy, as contributing factors.

“As this report demonstrates, getting a seat at the table where decisions are made on issues like how to access treatment in remote villages, how to educate communities about prevention of HIV, how to reach out to women who often face violence or discrimination if they reveal their status, is often next to impossible for an HIV-positive woman,” said Tyler Crone, lead author of the report.

On the opening day of the XV111 International Conference, a panel of 10 HIV infected women made recommendations as a roadmap for governments, donors, civil society and others involved in the AIDS response to ensure women’s participation.

Among the recommendations are for infected women, home-based caregivers and young women be recognised as key stakeholders in the AIDS response. They also recommended that there be reserved formal places for full participation and leadership in decision-making bodies.

It was also recommended that investments be made in organisations and initiatives led by HIV-positive women, especially community-based ones.—-UNIFEM_7842264

A U.S.-based rights group has urged the Philippines to reform a tough anti-abortion law that it says has spawned widespread underground procedures that kill about 1,000 women each year in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

An estimated 560,000 women in the Philippines in 2008 sought abortion involving crude and painful methods such as intense abdominal massages by traditional midwives or inserting catheters into the uterus, said a report by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

About 90,000 women suffer from abortion complications and an estimated 1,000 die each year, the report said, adding that complications are among the top 10 reasons women seek hospital care.

The Roman Catholic church in the Philippines has stridently opposed the use of contraceptives and abortion. The existing law forbids abortion and is unclear about any exceptions in which it might be permitted, effectively making it a total ban, the report said. The law imposes up to six years imprisonment for women who commit intentional abortion and for doctors or midwives who help them.

And while post-abortion services are legal, women who seek them are often harassed or stigmatized even by health care workers, the report said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is an advocacy group that says it works to advance reproductive freedom as a human right. It said its report was based on interviews with women who had had abortions, hospital authorities, political leaders, law enforcers and secondary data. A 2008 report by the U.S.-based nonprofit Guttmacher Institute in cooperation with the University of the Philippines Population Institute, cited the same figures as Monday’s report.

Philippine health and justice officials did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

Melissa Upreti, one of the new report’s authors, said the Philippines is among a handful of countries including Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador to prohibit and criminally punish abortion without providing clear legal exceptions including when a pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s health, if the woman is a victim of rape or incest, or in cases of fetal impairment.

Even Spain, whose 1870 Penal Code provision on abortion became the basis of the Philippines’ 1930 law, has reformed its laws to recognize abortion on several grounds, said Upreti, the Center’s Asia program regional manager.

The World Health Organization says worldwide, the impact of unsafe abortion was “a major health concern” that claims the lives of 67,000 women yearly. It has urged countries to deal with the preventable problem that stems from reasons including unmet family planning needs and restricted access to safe abortion services.

“Access to safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right of women,” a WHO journal added.

“The Philippine government has created a dire human rights crisis in the country,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights

She said it was “time to break the silence around abortion in the Philippines and for the human rights community to put pressure on the government to decriminalize abortion and immediately improve the medical care that women receive.”

Florence Tadiar, a physician who heads the Institute for Social Studies and Action, said the ban has scared doctors and health workers from performing abortion even for medical reasons. Women who have had unsafe abortion, meanwhile, “will not go to the hospital unless they are dying.”

Alfredo Tadiar, a former judge and adviser to an international lawyers’ group said while women have been charged for abortion in the country, he has not heard of anyone actually sentenced or sent to jail.

Last month more than 2,000 women from across the country came together for a protest march demanding passage of the women’s reservation bill in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing monsoon session of parliament. More than 350 NGOs took part in the rally. Donning blue caps with ’33 Percent’ written on it, women, joined by men, sang songs and shouted slogans as part of the protest.

One of the speakers, Ranjana Kumari, director Centre for Social Research, said they would not give up their struggle till the bill is passed.

“This is not the first time we are protesting. It is a struggle and we are not going to give up. If the bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha, why is this delay in the Lok Sabha,” Kumari told the news agency.

Communist leader Brinda Karat, writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, actresses Sharmila Tagore and Shabana Azmi, and Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, among others, also joined in to show their support.

Javed Akhtar was loudly cheered by the crowd during his speech. “It is highly shameful that we have to ask for a right which should have been given to us without asking. But since this is not so, we have to raise our voice. I appeal to the government to take this decision in this session of Lok Sabha otherwise we will blame all those who were against the bill,” said Akhtar.

The rally comprised women from the villages, students from schools and colleges in the city – and everybody was determined to get their ‘right’.

“This is a fight for justice and not just an issue of women’s right. The women of this country are demanding what they should have been given long back,” said actress Shabana Azmi.

A few of the activists went to meet President Pratibha Patil.

“It is because of our constant struggle that this bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha even after so many people objected to it. In the name of consensus this bill should not be sabotaged,” Brinda Karat told the news agency.

The women’s reservation bill seeks to reserve 33 percent of seats in parliament and the state assemblies for women. The government hopes to introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha during the monsoon session.

The bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha March 9 during parliament’s budget session amid protests by the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal-United.

These parties are demanding a quota within a quota for Dalits, backwards and minorities.

It was the mid-1980s and the international women’s movement was sweeping across the globe. From the struggles of women’s suffrage and political rights groups which started in the 18th century, the fight had evolved into a campaign for equality, and to end gender discrimination.

In this charged atmosphere, prominent women’s groups in Malaysia were born.

Pockets of women came together to help create a more equal playing field for other women, and they set up centres in the country’s capital.

One exception was the Women’s Crisis Centre (WCC, now known as the Women’s Centre for Change), which took root up north instead, in Penang.

This year, WCC, as well as JAG (the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality), an umbrella organisation comprising five influential women’s groups in the country, celebrated their silver jubilees, still as stoic as ever about protecting and empowering women in society.

As with most organisations, the WCC started out as a small group of volunteers wanting to reach out to others.

In 1984, a handful of women and men (yes, men) in Penang banded together to start an aid group for abused women. Banking on their different talents and expertise, they started counselling services for victims of domestic violence in a room located at the carpark of the former King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on Macalister Road.

“The founding group actually had a good cross-section of people equipped to help abused women, including a social worker, a lawyer and an academic,” says current WCC executive director Loh Cheng Kooi. They came in on a voluntary basis, to counsel, answer phone calls and handle emergencies both at the office and in people’s homes.

The group was formally registered on July 1,1985, and soon, the members realised they had to do more than just cater to the needs of battered women.

“JAG started its first campaign against violence against women in 1985, which we were a part of. WCC also held its very first public forum in 1986 on ‘Women in Crisis’, that was attended by 180 people. That was the start of our community outreach programmes and legal advocacy,” Loh says.

These two areas of focus – advocacy and outreach – are equally important to WCC, which changed its name to the Women’s Centre for Change in 2002, to reflect current developments.

In its first year, WCC reached out to 13 women through face-to-face counselling and telephone calls. “We hired our first paid staff member in 1986 to help co-ordinate all the activities,” Loh says.

Awareness of its existence grew through talks and by word of mouth and it was finally able to buy its first women’s shelter in 1990. The shelter was set up because in some serious cases “there was a need for the woman to remove herself from the home, but she did not have any family support system.”

The first shelter was located in Gelugor, and that same year, WCC moved its office to its current location on Jones Road. It grew in numbers too: in 1995, it had 17 committee members, who reached out to 273 clients.

The following year, the centre chalked two milestones with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

When the act was passed, WCC became the first women’s organisation to help set up a One-Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) at a government hospital. At its the launch at the Penang Hospital, the-then Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng announced that henceforth, all state hospitals had to set up an OSCC for sexual abuse survivors, Loh recalls.

At the start of the next decade, WCC recorded 1,471 clients. In 2002, with the Internet swiftly gaining ground, the centre decided it was time to extend its services via the Web.

“We started counselling through email. Since then, we get emails from all over the country, including Sabah and Sarawak, seeking information or advice on various issues.” That year, too, WCC moved its shelter to its present, undisclosed location.

In 2005, a single mothers’ support group was initiated to help former domestic violence victims raise their self-esteem, become financially self-sufficient and improve their parenting skills. WCC also began to monitor the disturbing figures of rape cases in the country.

The Rape Survivors Support Network, a collaborative project between WCC and the Penang Hospital, was launched in April 2008 to provide swift help to rape victims, says WCC programme director Prema Devaraj.

“Rape is centred on control and power, not so much sexual gratification, as some people assume. What we try to do with victims is give the power back to them.”

But the decision to accept help can only be made by the victims, so WCC only goes to the OSCC when a victim chooses to talk to someone. Four staff members and two volunteers are on call round-the-clock. Since it was set up, the network has worked with some 80 rape survivors.

On Jan 19, 2009, WCC fulfilled its dream of reaching out to abused women on Penang’s mainland with the opening of the Women’s Service Centre (Pusat Perkhidmatan Wanita or PPW) in Seberang Prai.

The centre, funded by the Penang Women, Family and Community Development committee, is tasked to WCC, which now also provides counselling and legal advice to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Last year, WCC’s Jones Road office and the PPW together conducted 2,709 counselling sessions for women.

Currently, WCC offers counselling in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil, as well as various local dialects. Its team of 12 committee members, eight staff (including three social workers cum project officers) and over 30 active volunteers still runs Penang island’s sole domestic violence shelter, which provides refuge to an average of 10 women and 15 children a year.

When WCC was formed in the 1980s, several other pioneer women’s groups like the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Women Development Collective and Sisters in Islam also took root.

Banding together in 1985, they established JAG, then called the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women. It has since changed its name to the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality. Through JAG, WCC has aided and spearheaded campaigns for legal reforms for the protection and empowerment of women.

After its inception, JAG kicked off with a major campaign to push for amendments to existing laws concerning rape.

Subsequently, the police force started setting up sexual assault units in all the main police stations, where female officers were on hand to deal with cases of sexual violence.

In 1994, JAG celebrated again when Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), although it was another two years before the Act was implemented.

But weaknesses in the DVA soon surfaced and JAG pushed for further amendments in 1999.

In the late 1990s and into the new millennium, JAG and WCC continued lobbying for domestic crimes to be treated as crimes of family violence, as opposed to other criminal violence acts.

When the Child Bill was formulated in 2000, WCC sent 14 recommendations for the proposed bill. That year also saw the start of the landmark Copthorne case, in which four former employees of Copthorne Orchid Penang brought a suit against the hotel for wrongful dismissal.

Supported by WCC, the women testified about their experiences in the Industrial Court. Seven years later, the court found in favour of the four claimants on Oct 30, 2007, and awarded them RM308,642 in back wages and compensation in lieu of reinstatement.

To date, a proposed amendment on sexual harassment under the Employment Act has seen its first reading in Parliament, but WCC’s campaign continues. (See Pushing for protection, SM6).

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community was formed in 2001, closely followed by what Loh calls the most important event for women in Malaysia.

“In 2002, we finally got an amendment to Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender. This was singularly the most important thing that had happened for women in Malaysia.”

Unfortunately, there was no subsequent move to change all the other existing laws that are discriminatory to gender to match this new Federal Constitution amendment, she adds.

For example, Article 15 of the Federal Constitution allows a foreign spouse of a Malaysian man to apply for citizenship, but not the foreign spouse of a Malaysian woman.

In 2004, the Dewan Rakyat approved a Select Committee to review the Penal Code (Amendment) 2004 and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) 2004 bills and make recommendations. JAG promptly pushed for the criminalisation of marital rape, among other issues.

In 2006, JAG started campaigning for a wider Gender Equality Law, which is still being considered by the lawmakers.

Today, WCC members are familiar faces around the George Town courthouse, as they go about helping rape and other sexual violence victims get their day in court.

Extracts from a longer article at