Archive for September 13th, 2010

The authors of a new book, Half the Sky, say the slavery and abuse of women is the greatest moral outrage of our century

In it, they argue that the world is in the grip of a massive moral outrage no less egregious in scale or in the intensity of despair than the African slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries or the genocides of the 20th. They believe this outrage is a key factor behind many of the most pressing economic and political issues today, from famine in Africa to Islamist terrorism and climate change. Yet they say the phenomenon is largely hidden, invisible to most of us and passing relatively unreported. At worst it is actively tolerated; at best it is ignored.

The fodder of this latterday trade in human suffering is not African people, but women. Which is why they call it “gendercide”. If the supreme moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery, and of the 20th century the fight against totalitarianism, then, they write, “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world”.

The contention is as startling as the idea of a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist buying up prostitutes. I put it to them that, to some people, the claim will seem overblown. After all, you don’t go lightly comparing the plight of women in developing countries today with slavery or, by implication, the Holocaust.

“This idea is a couple of decades in gestation,” Kristof says. “Over those years, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that this really is the greatest moral challenge of this century.”

“When you hear that 60 to 100 million females are missing in the current population, we thought that number compares in the scope and size. And then you compare the slave trade at its peek in the 1780s, when there were 80,000 slaves transported from Africa to the New World, and you see there are now 10 times that amount of women trafficked across international borders, so you start to think you are talking about comparable weight.”

Yet this huge injustice was going on under their noses, largely unreported, dismissed as “women’s issues” by the mainstream media. “We’ve thought a lot about the failure to see this,” says WuDunn. “Partly, it’s because the news is defined by what happens on a particular day, and a lot of the most important things in the world don’t happen on a particular day . . .”

“And it’s partly that our definition of what constitutes news is a legacy of the perspective of middle-aged men,” adds Kristof. “It may well be that one major reason why high-school girls drop out of school around the world is that they have trouble managing menstruation, and probably one reason nobody has cottoned on to this is that people who run aid organisations and write about it have never menstruated.”
At the end of the book, in similar vein, they give a list of action points that readers can take within 10 minutes to make a difference. And they set us a personal challenge: will we join a historical movement to eradicate sex slavery, honour killings and acid attacks, or are we content to remain detached bystanders? It is the 21st-century equivalent of that ultimately probing 20th-century question: “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/aug/19/women-slavery-half-the-sky

NB Some women’s groups have pointed out the use of photographs by the authors of women who have suffered violence are an unnecessary intrusion

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It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.

A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for “honour” and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the “honour” (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women’s groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for “dishonouring” their families is increasing by the year.

Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds “honour” killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.

Over 10 years ago, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission was recording “honour” killings at the rate of a thousand a year. But if Pakistan seems to have the worst track record of “honour” crimes – and we must remember that many countries falsely claim to have none – Turkey might run a close second. According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women – 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 – were killed in “honour” crimes and feuds. Other Turkish statistics, drawn up more than five years ago by women’s groups, suggest that at least 200 girls and women are murdered every year for “honour”. These figures are now regarded as a vast underestimate. Many took place in Kurdish areas of the country; an opinion poll found that 37 per cent of Diyabakir’s citizens approved of killing a woman for an extramarital affair. Medine Mehmi, the girl who was buried alive, lived in the Kurdish town of Kahta.

British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of “honour” in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone – 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions. Many women are ordered by their families to commit suicide by burning themselves with cooking oil. In Sulimaniya hospital in 2007, surgeons were treating many women for critical burns which could never have been caused by cooking “accidents” as the women claimed. In 2000, Kurdish authorities in Sulimaniya had decreed that “the killing or abuse of women under the pretext of cleansing ‘shame’ is not considered to be a mitigating excuse”. The courts, they said, could not apply an old 1969 law “to reduce the penalty of the perpetrator”. The new law, of course, made no difference.

In Jordan, women’s organisations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more “honour” killings than Muslims – often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims.

And, of course, we should perhaps end this catalogue of crime in Britain, where only in the past few years have we ourselves woken to the reality of “honour” crimes.

Scotland Yard long ago admitted it would have to review over a hundred deaths, some going back more than a decade, which now appear to have been “honour” killings.

Part of a longer article at http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-crimewave-that-shames-the-world-2072201.html

This is part of a series of articles in UK newspaper the Independent:
* One woman’s nightmare, and a crime against humanity
* Relatives with blood on their hands
* The lie behind mass ‘suicides’ of Egypt’s young women
* A place of refuge from fear and guilt
* The truth about ‘honour’ killings

Campaigners against prostitution and sex trafficking appeared to have won a victory over the weekend when Craigslist, the powerful online advertising website, capitulated to mounting pressure and removed its “adult services” content from US servers.

The move is an important concession in the fierce debate in America between free speech and first amendment advocates and those seeking to clean up the web and protect vulnerable girls and women from exploitation. It follows a sustained campaign by prosecutors across the US to have the sex advertisements removed.

In the absence of comment from Craigslist, it is not clear whether the shift will be permanent. It is also unclear what the concession means for other countries, including the UK, where “erotic” services remained available today. However, the fact that the site’s executives placed a “censored” block over its adult services link in the US suggests that, in word at least, they have not given up the fight.

The sex services portion of the website, previously called its “erotic” section, was criticised as a thinly veiled clearing house for prostitution. It exposed Craigslist to several damaging scandals, the most serious of which was the killing in April last year of Julissa Brisman, a 25-year-old masseuse from New York, in a Boston hotel. Philip Markoff, her alleged murderer, was dubbed the Craigslist killer because he had arranged to meet her through the site. He killed himself in jail last month.

Brandon Petty pleaded guilty last month to sexually attacking with a knife four women who had advertised for sex through Craigslist. He faces up to 45 years in prison.

Also last month, an advert was placed in the Washington Post and another paper under the headline “Dear Craig”, in which two women said they had been forced into prostitution with punters attracted through the website. One of the women said she had been sold by the hour at lorry rest stops while the other said she had been a victim of sex trafficking from the age of 11.

Chief prosecutors from 17 states across the US clubbed together on 24 August to write a joint letter to the website complaining that “ads trafficking children are rampant on it”. They accused the site of profiting from the “suffering of the women and children who continue to be victimised by Craigslist”.

Though Craigslist has faced an intensifying public relations crisis, it is shielded from prosecution by a federal law that protects internet providers from the actions of their users.

According to web advertising monitors AIM group, Craigslist made $45m from its sex ads last year, about a third of its total profits. The website insists it has responded to concerns by introducing in the past year a system of weeding out the most egregious adverts, claiming to have rejected 700,000 items since May 2009.

“Craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations,” the chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, recently said on his blog.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/05/craigslist-sex-ads-anti-prostitution

Believe it or not, abortion is still illegal in most of Australia! And a young couple in Cairns, Queensland is being prosecuted for “procuring” an abortion through the use of RU-486, a drug that is commonly prescribed in the U.S. For decades, Australian officials didn’t take action against women who chose to terminate a pregnancy. But under pressure of the international “Right to Life” movement, including groups that originate in the U.S., the right of women to control their own bodies is under tremendous attack.

Radical Women in Melbourne, Australia is part of a nationwide organizing effort to get the charges dropped against the Cairns couple and to get anti-abortion laws off the books. You can help by signing the online petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/Stop-the-abortion-prosecution/. Please forward this message to your friends and promote it on your Facebook and MySpace pages and Twitter account. The deadline for signatures is October 1.

To read more about this issue and the October 9 National Day of Action Rallies in Australia, please visit the Radical Women website at http://www.radicalwomen.org/Oct_9_Callout.html. There you can download a petition to circulate, endorse the nationwide Day of Action, and read more about the Cairns case.

National Radical Women
625 Larkin St. Ste 202, San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone 415-864-1278 * Fax 415-864-0778
RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com
http://www.RadicalWomen.org

See also: Happy Women’s Rights Day!

Seven women in Mexico serving prison terms of up to 29 years for the death of their newborns were freed last week after a legal reform enacted in the state of Guanajuato lowered their sentences.

The women’s cases case drew national attention in Mexico and their release is unlikely to staunch the fiery debate about whether some conservative states are trying to overzealously enforce bans on elective abortion by charging women who may have suffered miscarriages.

The women are largely poor and uneducated, and they claim they suffered miscarriages — not viable births — and did nothing to harm their unborn children.

“They are innocent, they all suffered miscarriages,” said women’s rights activist Veronica Cruz, who championed their cases.

State prosecutors maintained to the end that the women’s trials were fair, that their babies were born alive but died because of mistreatment or lack of care, a crime defined under state law “homicide against a relative.”

The women were not absolved, but rather released under a legal reform passed after the state government concluded that their sentences “were inappropriate, given that they were excessively punitive and ranged from 25 to 35 years.”

The reform reduced the sentences to 3 to 8 years, the time already served by the women.

“The important thing was to have them freed,” Cruz said. “They will talk and decide if they want to undertake any other action,” to pursue a reversal of their sentences.

The Guanajuato state government said it will help the women get on with their lives after some spent as long as 8 years in prison.

However, the state’s reputation for conservatism made many suspicious.

While Guanajuato still allows abortion under very limited circumstances, like rape, rights activists say that in practice even that possibility is often denied women.

Activist Rosalia Cruz Sanchez says doctors fearing prosecution often require a woman impregnated by rape to produce a letter from prosecutors confirming that. She said authorities often delay until the window for such an abortion — 12 weeks in most states — has passed, forcing the woman to bear the child.

Abortion on demand in the first trimester is legal only in Mexico City, under a 2007 law that has enraged the country’s conservatives and sparked a wave of state right-to-life laws.

While the “Guanajuato Seven” have received largely favorable media coverage, not everyone was cheering about the legal reform that led to their release.

In a statement, two pro-life groups — the Yucatan Pro Network and The Center for Women’s Studies — said that “homicide against a relative will never be a woman’s right.”

It is “worrisome that now a woman attacking the life of her child would be considered a non-serious crime, as long as she does it within 24 hours after it is born.”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gwlqCTH27c7bNv925zRTxUNsnhuwD9I3GER00

The International Campaign for Human Right in Iran called for the immediate release of prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was arrested at Evin prison on 4 September 2010, and for all charges against her to be dropped.

Sotoudeh is a leading human rights lawyer widely respected for her efforts on behalf of juveniles facing the death penalty and for her defense of prisoners of conscience. Sotoudeh, a mother of two, had earlier been charged with threatening national security. Her office and home were searched on 28 August and her assets frozen.

Nasim Ghanavi, Sotoudeh’s lawyer, told the Campaign that Sotoudeh was summoned to Evin Prison court on charges of “propaganda against the state,” and “collusion and gathering with the aim of acting against national security.”
Ghanavi accompanied Sotoudeh to the court summon on 4 September but was not permitted to be present during questioning. After her questioning, Sotoudeh was arrested and held in Evin prison.

“This arrest is nothing more than a crude, arbitrary political move to make it more comfortable for the Iranian government to persecute its citizens,” stated Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.

A few days before her arrest, Sotoudeh told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran how the authorities were creating bogus tax problems for human rights lawyers as a way to provide pretexts for their prosecution.

“I was referred to the taxation bureau and while there I noticed in addition to my name, they are conducting special investigations into thirty human rights lawyers,” she said. Sotoudeh provided Shirin Ebadi’s tax bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars on her Nobel Peace Prize money as an example, noting as well the irony that human rights cases were all represented on a pro bono basis, and none of the lawyers receive any money from the clients they defend in human rights case. ”The accusation machine is continuing to work fast, further limiting the conditions for human rights defense. The ultimate goal is to shut down all defense of human rights,” she added.

As a member of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, Sotoudeh defended victims of child abuse. She has also defended journalist Issa Saharkhiz and human rights activist Parvin Ardalan. Following her attempt to save the life of Arash Ramanipour, who was hung in January 2010 for crimes he had allegedly committed under the age of 18, she went on record to reveal the illegal process of conducting his execution. At that time, she was threatened that if she publicly spoke on the cases she represented, she would be arrested.

She has also opposed the “Family Protection Bill,” legislation under consideration by the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) that would allow men to marry additional wives without the consent of their first wife. The proposed legislation is opposed by many women’s rights activists and others as encouraging polygamy. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supports the bill.

The Iranian government has arrested numerous human rights lawyers, including Mohammed Ali Dadkah, Mohammad Oliayifard, Mohammad Seifzadeh, and most recently, Mohammad Mostafei, who was forced to flee the country during his defense of Sakineh Ashtiani, sentenced to be stoned to death.

“Nasrin Sotoudeh needs to be restored to her family and to her vocation, and the Iranian authorities must end their transparently illegal attack against human rights lawyers,” Rhodes said.

http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2010/09/release-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh/

See also: Iran: women on the frontline of the fight for rights

The war has had any number of hidden costs for Iraqis. One that few outside Iraq might notice or even consider a significant problem: More women are finding themselves over 30 and single after seven years of bloody turmoil that made marriage more difficult, killing many young men and blowing apart social networks.

In Iraq’s conservative society, women are expected to be married in their teens or early 20s. Women who cross the 30-year threshold and are single face powerful social stigmas and live under heavy limitations.

Generally, they must continue living with their parents or other family. If they are not wealthy, educated or employed, they are often reduced by relatives to servitude — cleaning, washing, cooking and watching over small children.

Work opportunities are limited. At jobs or in public, unmarried women are sometimes seen as vulnerable, without the protection of a husband. Some almost never leave their houses.

There are no figures available for the number of single females in their 30s in Iraq, but women’s rights activists say it is beyond question that a disproportionately large number of them exists.

Being female, single and over 30 was already common because of Iraq’s decades of conflict, including the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But their number is believed to have significantly grown since 2003. Besides the young men killed in violence, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — many of them fighting-age males — fled the country.

Also, suicide bombings, sectarian slayings, death squads and gunbattles disrupted social networks for marriage. People feared leaving their homes, so young people had little chance to meet potential spouses.

Family visits, traditionally an opportunity for the men to meet future spouses have become rare during the height of the violence.

The Shiite-Sunni violence also meant that cross-sect marriages have become much less frequent.

Economic woes have also left many young men unable to afford the heavy expenses they must traditionally pay for marriage — including buying or renting and furnishing a home.

Jinan Mubarak, the head of a leading non-governmental women’s organization in Baghdad, said the problems unmarried women face get little attention as the government focuses on helping the hundreds of thousands of widows left by wars.

“Single women are constantly harassed at work and at home because of their perceived vulnerability,” she said. “They are exploited by their families too.”

Women’s activists are publicly debating solutions to promote marriage, like having the government offer cash incentives to men prepared to marry older women or take second wives, allowed under Islamic law.

Mubarak cautiously backs one proposal for the government to pay a one-off sum of money to men who marry a woman over the age of 35. But she recognizes such a policy has its dangers for women.

“Women are not merchandise for sale, there must be guarantees of good intentions on the part of the men if we allow this to go ahead,” she said.

To encourage marriage amid economic hard times, authorities and charities often organize mass weddings free of charge for couples unable to afford private parties and offer them wedding presents of cash or domestic appliances.

But another women’s rights activist, Hanaa Adwar, says such gestures won’t solve the deeper problems for unmarried women. “The real solution is in security, the revival of the economy and tackling unemployment,” she said.

Unmarried women “must be given vocational skills to earn a living and get help to start small projects and be integrated in society,” she said.

Part of a longer article at http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Female-single-over-30-Iraqis-count-cost-of-war-646740.php

* Death threats, hate emails await women candidates
* Right to vote, education for women at risk

Nima Suratgar had only just entered her name on a list of candidates for Afghanistan’s Sept. 18 parliamentary election when the first of scores of abusive and threatening emails arrived in her inbox.

Entitled “The Famous Afghan Prostitute For Parliament”, the anonymous email — which was also sent to media outlets and election officials — comprised a vicious four-page attack on Suratgar’s private life, urging voters not to support her.

This marked only the beginning of the 39-year-old Kabul teacher’s worries.

“Oh, that email, that was just the start,” said Suratgar from her modest campaign office in the Afghan capital. “I get emails and phone calls every day now from men threatening to kill me if I don’t stop running for parliament.”

Such threats underline the tenuous grip women have on their hard-won rights — the right to vote and education among them — since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Talk of reconciliation with the Taliban only underscores the fragility of that grip.

Suratgar is not alone and represents what election observers have called a worrying and widespread trend of intimidation of female candidates by insurgents and hardline conservatives bent on deterring women from participating in this month’s poll.

While men are not immune — four male candidates and some 15 campaigners have been killed — Afghanistan’s largest observer group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), warned last month women faced particular risks.

Out of 10 threats observers reported targeting specific candidates, 9 were aimed at women, FEFA said. One woman was forced to suspend her campaign in a rural province in central Afghanistan after receiving death threats and moved to Kabul.

On Aug. 29 armed men killed five campaigners working for female candidate Fawzia Gilani in Herat in the west of the country. It was not immediately clear whether the attacks were carried out by insurgents or political rivals.

For most of the women vying for a seat in parliament’s lower house, however, the threats are more subtle.

Robina Jelali, 25, an ex-Olympic runner and now head of a women’s charity in Kabul, said Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society made it harder for women to succeed.

“Women don’t have access like men. We cannot go to most places, especially at night, and visit our supporters. Men can go wherever and whenever they like,” said Jelali.

Unlike Suratgar, Jelali has not received any threats on her life but each day she goes out on the campaign trail she sees her posters either torn down or defaced with red paint, a common complaint of most female candidates.

“They do this because I am a woman and I am young,” she said.

Educated, working and outspoken, Suratgar and Jelali, like most of the 406 female parliamentary candidates, represent everything a woman should not be in the eyes of not only Taliban insurgents but for much of Afghanistan’s male-dominated society.

Afghanistan’s constitution says a quarter of the seats in the wolesi jirga, the lower house of parliament, should be for women — or 68 out of the total of 249.

Despite the threats and obstructions, Jelali and Suratgar, like many women in Afghanistan, remain pragmatic and determined.

“I love my country and my people. I can’t sit here and be quiet and do nothing after seeing what is happening to my country. I also urge other women to get involved,” said Suratgar.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SGE6850G8.htm

See also: Women in Afghanistan need our support

The number of assaults is twice that previously reported in the country’s east, Atul Khare told the UN Security Council.

Aid workers who reached a village captured by rebels in late July found that 242 women and children had been raped in the course of four days.

A unit of two dozen armed UN peacekeepers stationed less than 20 miles away did nothing to stop the assaults.

“While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed,” Mr Khare, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said after returning from a trip to eastern Congo.

“Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”

The UN’s mission in Congo, MONUSCO, is its largest and most expensive in the world, but has regularly been criticised for being ineffective, weak and badly managed.

Peacekeepers have in the past been sent home after they were accused of sexual abuse of children in areas they are supposed to be protecting.

The UN had earlier said that it was not aware of the most recent attacks until after Congolese and Rwandan rebels had left Luvungi town, despite running at least one patrol there while the attacks were ongoing.

But emails reportedly sent between the UN’s humanitarian office, other UN agencies and aid organisations allegedly alerted officials to the rebel takeover, and of at least one rape.

Ban Ki-moon expressed his “outrage” at the attacks and dispatched Mr Khare to investigate last week.

During his visit, the chief peacekeeper found reports of the mass rape or sexual violence against at least another 267 people, including men and children.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo’s two decade civil war, which was supposed to have ended with a peace deal in 2003.

But violence continues as armed groups battle for control of lucrative mines producing metals vital for consumer electronics, including mobile phones, laptops and games consoles.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/democraticrepublicofcongo/7989198/UN-peacekeepers-failed-to-stop-500-Dr-Congo-rapes.html

“Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, we see a continued crisis of safety and security in the displacement camps that has exacerbated the already grave problem of sexual violence. In May and June, MADRE joined delegations coordinated by the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN) to Haiti to investigate the problem of rape and other gender-based violence in the camps. We found that women are being raped at an alarming rate-every day-in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Government, the UN and others in the international community have failed to adequately address the situation. Women, especially poor women, have been excluded from full participation and leadership in the relief effort.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), MADRE, TransAfrica Forum and the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia law schools released this Report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape. The report aims to bring to light the crisis and guide governments, international organizations and other stakeholders in providing for even more effective protection and promotion of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

To access the report, please click on this link http://www.madre.org/images/uploads/misc/1283377138_2010.07.26%20-%20HAITI%20GBV%20REPORT%20FINAL.pdf

For further information, please visit MADRE http://www.madre.org/index.php

From http://www.awid.org/eng/Women-in-Action/New-Resources/A-New-Report-MADRE-Our-Bodies-Are-Still-Trembling-Haitian-Women-s-Fight-Against-Rape

Forensic Exams Should Respect Survivors’ Rights to Health, Privacy, and Dignity

Many Indian hospitals routinely subject rape survivors to forensic examinations that include the unscientific and degrading “finger” test, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. It urged the Indian government to ban the practice, used to determine whether the rape survivor is “habituated” to sexual intercourse, as it reforms its laws on sexual violence.

The 54-page report, “Dignity on Trial: India’s Need for Sound Standards for Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examinations of Rape Survivors” documents the continued use of the archaic practice and the continued reliance on the “results” by many defense counsel and courts. The practice, described in outdated medical jurisprudence textbooks used by many doctors, lawyers, and judges, involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim’s vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the so-called “laxity” of the vagina. These findings perpetuate false and damaging stereotypes of rape survivors as “loose” women. Defense attorneys use the findings to challenge the credibility, character, and the lack of consent of the survivors.

“This test is yet another assault on a rape survivor, placing her at risk of further humiliation,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government should heed demands of Indian activists to abolish this degrading and useless practice.”

Finger test findings are scientifically baseless because an “old tear” of the hymen or variation of the “size” of the hymenal orifice can be due to reasons unrelated to sex. Carried out without informed consent, the test would constitute an assault, and is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

“I was so scared and nervous and praying all the time: ‘God, let this be over and let me get out of here fast,” the report quotes one rape survivor as saying as she described her experience of a forensic examination.

The Indian government amended its evidence law in 2003 to prohibit cross-examination of survivors based on their “general immoral character.” The Indian Supreme Court, whose decisions are binding, has described opinions based on the finger test as “hypothetical and opinionative,” and has ruled that they cannot be used against a rape survivor.

Although these developments have helped curtail the practice, the Indian government has yet to take steps to ensure that all states eliminate it. There are no nationwide guidelines or programs to standardize forensic examinations and to train and sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to survivors’ rights. But the Indian government is currently reviewing laws regarding sexual violence, presenting a unique opportunity for change.

“The Indian government has paid little attention to how health care and forensic services are delivered to survivors of sexual violence,” Kashyap said. “The Indian government should set right this injustice with a comprehensive policy and program for such services.”

The report is based on 44 interviews in Mumbai and Delhi with activists, rape survivors and their parents, prosecutors, other lawyers, judges, doctors, and forensic experts. Research also included a review of forensic examination templates used in those cities, and an analysis of 153 High Court judgments on rape that referred to the finger test findings from 18 states. It finds that the finger test-related information continues to be collected and used.

Forensic examinations are a harrowing experience for many rape survivors, who are shunted from one hospital or ward to another for various aspects of the examination. Often doctors insist that the survivor must make a police complaint when she approaches them directly, which can intimidate her. Further, inserting fingers into the vaginal or anal orifice of an adult or child survivor of sexual violence during a forensic examination can cause additional trauma, as it not only mimics the abuse but can also be painful. Some doctors in India conduct the finger test with little or no regard for a survivor’s pain or trauma, Human Rights Watch found.

Many High Court judgments reveal that doctors have testified in court that having one or two fingers inserted into the vagina is “painful” or “very painful” for the survivor. And when the survivor did not experience any pain – if two fingers could be inserted “painlessly” or “easily” – then she was described as being “habituated to sex.”

“Survivors of sexual violence have the right to legal recourse without being further traumatized in the process,” Kashyap said. “The health and criminal justice systems should work together to ensure that they do not perpetuate damaging stereotypes of survivors.”

The Maharashtra and Delhi governments continue to recommend the finger test in their forensic examination templates. For example, as recently as June 2010, the Maharashtra state government introduced a standard forensic examination template that includes a series of questions about the hymen, including the number of fingers that can be admitted into the hymenal orifice.

Early this year, the Delhi government introduced a forensic examination template that asks questions about the hymen, including whether it is “intact” or “torn,” the “size of the hymenal orifice,” whether the vagina is “roomy” or “narrow” and has “old tears,” and even asks the examining doctor to give an opinion whether the survivor was “habituated to sex.” Much of the Delhi template resembles a template created by the Indian Medical Association and disseminated to doctors across the country between 2006 and 2008.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence” recommends that health care and forensic services be provided at the same time, and by the same person, to reduce the potential for duplicating questions and further traumatizing the survivor of sexual assault. It states that health and welfare of a survivor of sexual violence is “the overriding priority” and that forensic services should not take precedence over health needs. It also says forensic examinations should be minimally invasive to the extent possible and that even a purely clinical procedure such as a bimanual examination (which also involves the insertion of two fingers into the vagina) is rarely medically necessary after sexual assault.

The Indian government should use its ongoing reform process for laws relating to sexual violence to prohibit the finger test and standardize the medical treatment and forensic examinations of survivors of sexual violence in line with the rights to health, privacy, dignity, and legal remedy, Human Rights Watch said. The government should introduce special programs to sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to the rights of survivors, and set up multidisciplinary teams in every government hospital with doctors trained to be sensitive to survivors and with training and equipment to conduct forensic examinations in a manner that respects survivors’ rights.

Part of a longer press release at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/09/06/india-prohibit-degrading-test-rape

Summary

Persecution experienced by women often differs from that experienced by men, but the asylum system still tends to regard it through a lens of male experiences. Gender-related persecution may give rise to claims for international protection. However, states do not always take it into proper account. To this must be added inappropriate interview settings, the use of irrelevant country of origin information and lack of training of officials. Although member states are stepping up their work in order to streamline a gender understanding into public decision-making, policy and operations, this effort is not always reflected in the asylum procedure.

Certain forms of harm (gender-based forms of harm or violence) are more frequently or only used against women or affect women in a manner that is different from men. These include, inter alia, sexual violence, societal and legal discrimination, forced prostitution, trafficking of human beings, refusal of access to contraception, bride burning, forced marriage, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and (forced) female genital mutilation and enforced nakedness/sexual humiliation.

A woman may be persecuted because of her gender (gender-related persecution), for example where she refuses or fails to comply with social, religious or cultural behaviour expected from a woman (floggings for refusing to use a veil, female genital mutilation, honour killings of adulterous women, etc.)

The Parliamentary Assembly is invited to call upon member states to ensure that gender-based violence and gender-related persecution is appropriately taken into account in any asylum determination process. They are also called upon to set up their asylum system in such a way as to ensure gender sensitivity. The Assembly also calls on the Committee of Ministers to, inter alia, instruct the appropriate inter-governmental body in the Council of Europe to carry out a study on the approach of member states to gender-related claims in the asylum process and provide them with guidelines.

Read the report in full at http://assembly.coe.int/Mainf.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc10/EDOC12350.htm