Archive for October, 2010

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The European Parliament by a large majority passed a Resolution in favour of substantially increasing European minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave provisions. In what supporters are lauding a great victory for the women and men living in Europe, the Parliament approved an increase of maternity leave provisions from 14 weeks to 20 weeks and the introduction of two weeks leave for new fathers, both fully paid.

‘This is an incredibly important victory for parents, both mothers and fathers, as it will for the first time shift the costs of maternity from individual women to society as a whole’, says Brigitte Triems, President of the European Women’s Lobby. ‘It is also a sign that our representatives in the European Parliament take progress towards equality between women and men and the future of our societies seriously. We welcome the commitment in particular of those MEPs who championed the text, but also of the Parliament as a whole, which today showed that it is ready to take political decisions which may be unpopular in certain quarters but which in effect favour long-term gains in equality between women and men and socio-economic sustainability.’

The revision to the so-called ‘Maternity Leave Directive’ was first tabled in 2008. The duration of leave and the costs of remuneration have been highly controversial, in particular with British business groups, and the vote was expected to be very close. Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s Impact Assessment of the proposed legislation concluded that the investment for European economies was highly sound, with increases in women’s employment rates alone set to more than offset the costs.

‘If backed by European governments, this legislation will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of women across Europe’, explains EWL Secretary General, Myria Vassiliadou. ‘Sufficiently long leave allowances, pay and protection from dismissal upon return will ensure women do not have to sacrifice their careers in order to raise a family.’

Currently in Europe, women’s employment rates drop by more than 12% when they have children. The OECD found in 2006 that in countries where the maternity leave provisions are longest, female employment rates were also highest, with over 80% in Iceland and over 70% in Denmark and Sweden – well above the OECD average of 57%.

At a time of widespread concern about Europe’s ageing population and the costs of pensions, increasing women’s participation in the labour market as well as birth-rates has become paramount to economic sustainability. The member states with high female employment rates are also countries where fertility rates are higher.

‘The Members of the European Parliament have sent a very strong message to our governments that priority must be given to long-term, equal and sustainable investments in Europe’s biggest resource: its people, women, men and children,’ said Ms. Triems. ‘We trust national governments will take note.’

Gender equality associations are also very pleased about provisions for paid paternity leave. According to Ms Vassiliadou, ‘Fathers not only have a right to be with their new-born children, but should also be encouraged to contribute equally to their care. Guaranteed and paid paternity leave is a step in the right direction towards an equal distribution of social rights and responsibilities between women and men.’

According to the legislative Resolution adopted today, fathers are provided with two weeks non-transferable leave at full pay. The first six weeks of maternity leave are also non-transferable, but a couple can request to share the remaining 14 weeks.

For more information, please contact Leanda Barrington-Leach, EWL Communications and Media Officer,, T: (+32) 488 41 94 21, and see

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. EWL membership extends to organisations in all 27 EU Member States and 3 of the candidate countries, as well as to 21 European-wide organisations, representing a total of more than 2500 associations.

Over 25 women’s organizations from across Maharashtra came together on Wednesday to protest against the women’s policy that the state government is in the process of framing. The state government has decided to bring in a new policy to tackle problems related to gender disparity. The policy aims to take into consideration the problems related to the skewed sex ratio.

Women’s groups want the state women’s commission and the department of women and child welfare to formulate the policy.

“An independent department of women and child development was set up in the state in June 1993. This department has been the nodal agency for formulating the women’s policies. In spite of this, a government corporation, Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM), with the limited mandate of implementing various women empowerment programmes through self-help groups has been entrusted with the task,” said Kiran Moghe, state president of Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana.

The groups also questioned the effectiveness of policies that had been framed earlier. “The state first adopted a comprehensive women’s policy in 1994 during chief minister Sharad Pawar’s tenure. After that, another one was framed in 1998 and then in 2001. How effective were these policies? Has the government reviewed the implemented of these policies? If yes, the review should be made available to the public,” said Sonya Gill of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

“The policy is null and void if proper budgetary provisions are not made to ensure that it is implemented properly,” said Varsha Deshpande of the Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal.

Federal Supreme Court Ruling Effectively Endorses Wife Beating

A decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court upholding a husband’s right to “chastise” his wife and children with physical abuse violates the right of the country’s women and children to liberty, security, and equality in the family – and potentially their right to life, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, citing the UAE penal code, sanctions beating and other forms of punishment or coercion providing the violence leaves no physical marks.

Human Rights Watch called on the government urgently to repeal all discriminatory laws, including any that sanction domestic violence.

“This ruling by the UAE’s highest court is evidence that the authorities consider violence against women and children to be completely acceptable,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Domestic violence should never be tolerated under any circumstances. These provisions are blatantly demeaning to women and pose serious risks to their well-being.”

The October 5, 2010 court ruling, a copy of which Human Rights Watch obtained, states that, “Although the husband has the right to discipline his wife in accordance with article 53 of the penal code, he must abide by conditions setting limits to this right, and if the husband abuses this right to discipline, he shall not be exempt from punishment.”

Article 53 of the UAE’s penal code acknowledges the right of a “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Shari’a. Similarly, article 56 of the UAE’s personal status code obligates women to “obey” their husbands.

The case was initiated with a trial of a man for kicking and slapping his 23-year-old daughter and slapping his wife at the Sharjah Court of First Instance in December 2009. According to the judgment, “medical reports confirmed the evidence of wounds to the daughter’s right hand and right knee, and evidence of wounds to the wife’s lower lip and injuries to her teeth.”

This court found the man guilty of violating article 2/339 of the penal code and fined him 500 dirhams (US $136). This penal provision on crimes against persons states that whoever assaults another person, if the assault did not reach the degree of seriousness to cause illness or disability, shall be sentenced to prison for a term not exceeding one year and a fine not to exceed 10,000 dirhams (US$2,722)

The Sharjah Court of Appeals upheld the decision on February 14, but the man appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the man guilty of abusing his daughter because she is no longer a minor and too old to be disciplined by her father. The court also found the man guilty of “abusing his Shari’a rights” when disciplining his wife because of the severity of that attack. The judgment states that, “The court, convinced of the appearance of injuries on the bodies of the plaintiffs, has overridden the defendant’s right to discipline due to his use of severe beatings.” In effect, the Supreme Court validated the penal code’s legalization of domestic violence, but found that in this case the abuse went too far.

In 2004, the UAE signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The convention’s General Recommendation on Violence against Women regards gender-based violence as a form of discrimination between men and women and calls on governments to take effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women, regardless of whether the act is private or public. The UAE also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1997. Article 19 of the CRC states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of violence, whether physical or mental.

“The UAE Supreme Court’s ruling lets stand a law that is degrading, discriminatory, and outright dangerous for women and children,” Khalife said. “The UAE needs to come to grips with reality of domestic violence, repeal all discriminatory provisions sanctioning violence against women and children, enact laws that criminalize such behavior, and provide appropriate services to victims.”

According to All Women’s Action Society Malaysia (Awam), employers tend to have the perception that women become unproductive once they were pregnant.

“But this is completely unacceptable and it shows that the companies are ignorant about labour laws,” said senior programme officer Abigail De Vries.

She said a number of women had approached Awam over the years with similar issues.

“The problem is not uncommon but more should be done to eradicate discrimination of women at the workplace,” De Vries added.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said it condemned employers who discriminated against women because of their gender.

“Dismissing a female employee because she is pregnant, or treating her so badly that she sees no other option but to resign, is punishing a woman for claiming her reproductive rights,” said WAo’s programme officer Sarah Thwaites, adding the government currently does not monitor the extent of this trend of forcing pregnant women out of their jobs.

“The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Labour Department should encourage women who have been discriminated against to come forward and make complaints to their offices throughout the country,” she said.

Thwaites added that employers needed to know that they may face legal repercussions as everyone had the right to work and raise a family without being bullied and discriminated against.

As participants from the U.S. at the 25th National Gathering of Women (XXV Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres) in Paraná, Argentina we denounce the attacks by rightwing Catholics on feminists at the workshops on “Women, Contraception and Abortion” which resulted in a number of injuries and the hospitalization of one activist.

This gathering is an historic victory by Argentine women and is a crucial place for the sharing of experiences as well as for strategizing on how to advance the fundamental rights of women as full human beings. The infiltration of the huge meeting by religious fanatics, a provocative and dangerous assault on freedom of speech, was an outrageous violation of women’s right to engage in much-needed discussions on how to win the basic right to control their own bodies.

Over the last four decades, Latin American women have won great advances in access to contraceptives and abortion. The ultra-right Catholics apparently consider it their mission to turn back the clock and reverse women’s hard-won victories.

Rightwing religious fundamentalism increased internationally in the 1970s in reaction to the worldwide revolutionary upsurge. Today, it is spurred on by the global economic crisis and the reliance of capitalism on women’s free labor in the home and cheap labor in the marketplace for super profits.

The seemingly ever-growing number of religious reactionaries often has the full collusion of bourgeois governments, including that of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Through women’s sweat and sacrifices in the home, where they produce and care for the next generation of workers, and due to their drastically under-paid status in the workforce, untold wealth and global profits flow freely to keep capitalism and its crony governments afloat.

We stand with women all across Latin America who refuse to back down in the face of rightwing repression. At the enormous assembly in Paraná, feminists said “No more!” to the provocation of church-backed infiltrators and physically ousted them from the building where the workshops on “Contraception and Abortion” were being held. That same night, thousands of women mounted a march that stretched over 10 blocks singing chants against the dictatorship of the church and for women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies, including the right to abortion. The massive presence of police and military forces, posted in front of churches to “guard” them from protesters, was a display of government support for the anti-abortion fanatics.

As socialist feminists from the U.S., we are inspired by the militancy and tenacity shown by Argentine women this past weekend. We are engaged in a similar fight against the ultra-Catholics and evangelical Protestants on our own soil and are defending abortion clinics from attacks nationwide.

For forty years Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party have organized united fronts with other groups and individuals against similar campaigns by the right wing that target women, lesbians and gays, Blacks, Jews, and radical activists. We have learned that feminists, leftists, unionists and racial and ethnic minorities, representing wide-ranging political perspectives can and must work together to defeat our common enemies.

We support the call of Argentine feminists for legal, safe and free abortion and for the separation of church and state.

No more rightwing assaults on the Gathering of Women!
Long live global feminism!

Emily Woo Yamasaki, Radical Women
Laura Mannen, Freedom Socialist Party

Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section

One small study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, rather than take on the whole industry, the institute only focuses on what’s produced for children and who’s involved in those productions.

Over the years, the institute’s studies have shattered any illusion that children’s programming doesn’t share the same prejudices of adult entertainment.

The institute’s most recent study is the largest content survey ever done of U.S.-produced children’s films. And since the United States produces 80 per cent of all movies in the world, it’s the largest ever, anywhere. (Download

It was done by Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who analyzed films released in the United States and Canada between Sept. 5, 2006, and Sept. 7, 2009.

They and more than 80 students looked at all G-rated, English-language fictional narratives and the 50 top grossing PG and PG-13 movies.

What they found is that the world portrayed in kids’ shows is dominated by men — or at least males, since some of the kids’ characters are animals and even cars.

Of the 5,554 speaking roles, 71 per cent of the characters had men’s or boy’s voices.

But in three years’ worth of children’s movies ranging from fictional narratives to dramas and cartoons, the most shocking conclusion is how the few female characters are portrayed.

Whether they’re fish, penguins, stuffed animals or people, the female characters are mostly young, sexy, beautiful and passive sidekicks. Eye candy.

A quarter of the female characters wore sexy attire. One in five was partly nude.

The tiny-waisted female bodies depicted veer so substantially from the norm that researchers noted there is “little room for a womb or for any other internal organ.”

Even in their small numbers, female characters are disproportionately young. One in five is under 21, nearly double the number of male characters that age. But after 40? Women fall off the cliff, says Smith, who presented her research at Vancouver’s SexMediaMoney symposium.

Smith and the Davis Institute aren’t just interested in how females are depicted in children’s programming, they want to know why and how to change it. Again, they’ve got the statistics to make their case.

Women behind the scenes — the content creators who include producers, directors, writers, camera operators and so on — are even rarer than females onscreen. Again, the statistics seem shocking in an age when people have come to believe that the equality battles have all been won.

In those three years’ worth of children’s movies, the content creators were almost all men. They comprised 93 per cent of the directors, 87 per cent of the writers, 80 per cent of the producers.

So why does that matter? Because even where there was a single female director or writer, the percentage of female characters rose.

But here’s the more significant statistic — and it’s the point that Madeline Di Nonno, the Davis Institute’s executive director, drives home in meetings with media executives. When there are two or more women behind the scenes, the number of onscreen female characters jumps.

Two seems to be a tipping point akin to the 30 per cent that female politicians say is necessary for their voices and issues to be heard and taken seriously.

So why should it matter whether there’s a strong female character in Finding Nemo, Madagascar or Ice Age? Why does it matter if the female characters in children’s shows are hyper-sexualized?

A multi-year study by Rand Corp. found, for example, that the teens who watch the most sex on television are the first to have sex and the first to get pregnant.

Like little boys, girls need strong role models, too. They need more than just Dora the Explorer and teeny-bikini-clad Little Mermaid. And the way to get there is to provide more opportunities for those children’s mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and even grandmothers to write and produce those characters for them.

Part of a longer article at

See also: SEXMONEYMEDIA an international symposium on women in the media

Women’s rights groups came together to denounce the government’s plan to decriminalize prostitution and allow sex workers to set up small businesses, challenging the administration’s stance by asking whether it wished to boost the sex trade industry or reduce it.

At a press conference centered around the theme of “Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation,” members of The Garden of Hope Foundation and the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation called for Executive Yuan Premier Wu Den-yih to withdraw plans to completely decriminalize the sex trade by the end of this year.

They stressed that until the social community reaches a consensus on the issue, the government should not implement a timetable and make relevant policies or legislation in haste.

Premier Wu has responded to the claims by clarifying that discussions on the topic are currently in the public hearing stage and have not yet become legislative policies.

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) said four public hearings have been conducted since August and that the current announcements were made in line with expert and scholarly opinions at the hearings.

The MOI announced on Wednesday its plan to decriminalize the sex trade and allow prostitutes to operate small-scale business brothels in proposed “sex zones.”

Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation director Kang Shu-hua described the government’s declaration as shirking management responsibilities from the central government to its local counterparts, a sign of the government making the sex trade a legitimate industry, thus jeopardizing the disadvantaged women by exposing them to the control of crime syndicates.

Lee Li-fen, a spokesperson for End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) Taiwan said that written in the Grand Justices Council Adjudication Act is the idea that the administration will help disadvantaged women with vocational training, counseling, education, employment or other means to enhance their work capacity and economic situation in order to eliminate sex trade as a means of livelihood.

However, the MOI policy has not only inadvertently presented prostitution as the central means of livelihood for vulnerable women, Lee argued, but also demonstrates that the administration cares only for policies that are easy and expedient though completely ignoring the wellbeing of disadvantaged women.

According to Wang Yue of the Garden of Hope Foundation, the MOI is leaning towards the one-woman brothel model of Hong Kong by trying to integrate sex work with public life, thus condoning the industry of sexual transactions. By opening this window, Wang described the government as ushering in the operations of the underworld, giving more opportunities to crime syndicates in the issue of human trafficking.

All the women’s rights group who attended the “Coalition against Sexual Exploitation” were firmly against the legalization of the sex trade. Describing themselves as strong advocates in reducing the sex industry, the women did say they were for the punishment of clients, who on top of being penalized, should contribute “social monetary donations” to foundations for disadvantaged and sexually abused women.

Taiwan’s existing law bans prostitution, although if caught in the act, sex workers are the ones punished while their clients are free from persecution.

Thousands of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo marched against mass rapes, which have become increasingly prevalent in the country as a weapon of war. According to CNN, many of the marchers were rape survivors. The march took place in Bukavu, located in eastern Congo and followed a peace and development forum, reports Agence France Presse.

World March of Women, together with local women’s groups, organized the march. Organizers aimed to use the event to fight the stigma often faced by rape victims and to draw global attention to the use of rape as a tactic of war. Congolese women’s activist Nita Vielle commented to CNN,”they have had enough…enough of the war, of the rape, of nobody paying attention to what’s happening to them.” World March of Women representative, Celia Alldridge, told CNN, “it’s just great to have so many women out on the streets. We believe that women should not be made prisoners in their own homes.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been named the “rape capital of the world” by the United Nations. According to CNN, there were 15,000 women raped by armed rebel groups in eastern Congo in 2009. Between July 30 and August 2 of this year alone, more than 300 people, mostly women, were raped in the country’s North Kivu province. The United Nations has condemned the lack of civilian protection provided by Congolese police, military, and UN stabilization forces in the area. Since the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in 1998, tens of thousands of civilians have been raped.

See also: British women march in The Democratic Republic of Congo in solidarity with Congolese women, issue call for end to violence

Poor, rural, Quechua-speaking women in the Peruvian province of Anta who were victims of a forced sterilisation programme between 1996 and 2000 have filed a new lawsuit in their continuing struggle for justice.

In May 2009, Jaime Schwartz, the public prosecutor investigating the case against four former health ministers of the Alberto Fujimori administration (1990-2000), decided to shelve the investigation. He said the case involved alleged crimes against the victims’ life, body and health, and manslaughter, and that the statute of limitations had expired.

But the plaintiffs in the case had brought accusations of genocide and torture, which as crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation. The attorney-general’s office upheld Schwartz’s decision, overruling the complaint lodged against it by the victims and the human rights organisations providing them with legal advice.

Now the Women’s Association of Forced Sterilisation Victims of Anta, a mountainous province in the southern department of Cuzco, has decided to combat impunity with a new strategy: it is presenting a new lawsuit against those responsible for family planning policy in the last four years of the Fujimori regime.

The Association’s approximately 100 members are rural women whose testimonies have revealed the hidden side of the National Programme for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, imposed by coercion and deceit under the guise of an anti-poverty plan.

The study documented for the first time the systematic use of sterilisation practices that particularly targeted poor, indigenous, rural women.

As a result of the publication, Tamayo received threats from the government. She had to leave the country and went to live in Spain, but has now returned to Peru to advise the Anta Women’s Association on the new lawsuit.

The Peruvian state has admitted that 300,000 sterilisations were performed under the VSC programme. The ombudsman’s office has collected direct testimony from 2,074 women who were sterilised without their consent between 1996 and 2000.

In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.

The state acknowledged its responsibility, recognised the abuses committed under the family planning programme, undertook to investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the campaign, and promised to pay reparations to Mestanza’s family.

But the attorney-general’s office dragged its feet on the promised investigation, which made little progress before it was shelved by the public prosecutor in 2009. Meanwhile Alejandro Aguinaga, one of the accused, a former health minister and personal physician to Fujimori, was elected to Congress in 2006 and is now vice president of the legislature.

Fujimori is in prison for 25 years, convicted of several charges of corruption and human rights violations.

The state’s failure to carry out this part of the friendly agreement “is prolonging the pain of thousands of victims, because the accused are carrying on as respectable members of society when they really should be called to account in the courts,” said Tamayo, who is also a researcher for the Spanish chapter of the global rights watchdog Amnesty International.

“This time, those responsible for the forced sterilisation plan will be sued individually for crimes against humanity and torture,” she said.

Each of the accused will also be charged “for war crimes, because the coerced sterilisation was carried out in the context of the 1980-2000 armed conflict (between the military and leftwing guerrillas), when the armed forces were used to threaten and terrorise” the civilian population, Tamayo said.

Specifying international crimes (which include crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and war crimes) will allow “other countries to prosecute the accused, if the Peruvian state continues to protect them,” she said.

“The IACHR has already indicated that forced sterilisation is a matter of international law,” the rights activist said.

Tamayo said the lawsuit will be brought by the victims in Anta, because in that province “sterilisation was implemented door to door, the health authorities were given ‘quotas’ of sterilised women that they were required to meet, and all the victims belonged to the same indigenous ethnic group.”

This shows that “those who designed the programme defined its targets with abominable precision,” Tamayo said.

Part of a longer article at

The outcome of a trial against a Cairns couple for procuring an abortion has turned the tables on the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Queensland government.

The Cairns jury swiftly returned a “not guilty” verdict on October 14 and the question now being asked is “what real crimes are exposed by this case?”

For many, the real crime is the fact that the anti-abortion laws from 1899 have not been repealed.

Judge William Everson at one stage in the trial referred to the archaic nature of the laws and defence barrister Kevin McCreanor explained in his closing statement “like most things designed by mankind, the law is not perfect”.

McCreanor said the laws under which the Cairns couple was charged began in 1861 in England and were enacted in 1899 in Queensland. Safe terminations of pregnancy by medical means were unknown at the time, he explained.

He said politicians have not changed the law in 111 years and now the state government had persisted in prosecuting this young couple.

But he said the state government did not control the courts. It would be the combined wisdom of 12 women and men of the jury that would determine the couple’s fate. And they did. They found that the couple was not guilty of a crime for making this choice.

A real crime is that access to abortion drug RU486, which is listed on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines, was severely restricted in Australia for 10 years while many other countries made it available.

In 1996, the government of former prime minister John Howard, in exchange for Senator Brian Harradine’s vote to privatise Telstra, removed RU486 from Australia’s standard drug approval process. The use or import of RU486 was prohibited without the personal permission of the federal health minister.

It took 10 years and concerted campaigning until, in February 2006, a private members’ bill across party lines in the federal parliament overturned the Harradine amendment.

Doctors in Australia could now apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to prescribe and supply RU486.

But no Australian drug company has tried to market RU486 in Australia.

Women seeking to terminate pregnancies have been denied access to safe drugs that are used around the world.

It is a crime that, depending on where a woman lives in Australia, her choices regarding both medical and surgical termination of pregnancy varies widely. If RU486 were available nationally, it would help reduce unequal access to abortion services for Australian women — especially rural women.

By criminalising drugs and services that only women need to access, the Queensland government upholds the idea implied by the 19th century law makers, all of whom were men, that women must be protected from themselves.

Prosecutor Michael Byrne used similar arguments in his closing statement in the Cairns trial. He said the law was required because some people needed to be protected from themselves.

Byrne compared the crime of taking the abortion drug and its potential complications to someone shooting a gun in a crowded room — even if it did no harm, it is still a crime.

The courtroom public gallery groaned at this.

It was an analogy that tried to criminalise women who make the decision to not continue with a pregnancy without “authorisation, justification or excuse”, as outlined in the criminal code. Byrne described the young woman’s decision as a “lifestyle choice”.

The prosecution’s distinction between illegal “lifestyle” and legal “life threatened” abortion drew heavily on conservative views about women’s sexuality and reproductive rights. But the right of a woman to control her own fertility is not a “lifestyle” choice: it is a fundamental human right.

Restrictions on abortion, such as those in the Queensland criminal code, can easily become forms of intimidation.

Anti-abortion laws make women’s choices more difficult to realise. They are in direct opposition to the idea that women can be trusted to make autonomous decisions about what happens to their own bodies. They say the state knows better about what should happen to a woman’s body than she does.

This is why these laws should now be repealed. Women’s choices about what happens to their own bodies must be respected if women’s equality and autonomy is to be respected.

In fact, the real crimes in this case are too many to list. They also include the nightmare that the young couple has endured from when they were charged in April 2008 until their acquittal on October 14. They include the fact that a Queensland government Taskforce on Women and the Criminal Code recommended in 2000 that these laws be repealed and the government took no action for the past 10 years.

One of the disappointing aspects of the trial was that there was little cross-examination of the police witnesses. No one asked who decided, between discovery of the evidence of the empty blister packs by a police search in early February 2008 and the interview of the couple on March 30, to proceed with anti-abortion charges in April 2008.

A deciding factor in the verdict was Everson’s direction to the jury about the meaning of “noxious”. Under the Queensland Criminal Code, it is an offence for a woman to “administer to herself any poison or noxious thing” to cause a miscarriage.

Byrne had argued for a more old-fashioned definition of “noxious” as “injurious, hurtful, harmful or unwholesome” and that a noxious substance would be intended to cause the expulsion of the fetus from the woman’s body and change the state of the woman’s body. In contrast, the judge defined “noxious” as “harmful or injurious to health or physical well-being”, but said that it must be “noxious” to the woman, without reference to a fetus that may or may not be present.

The jury had to decide if the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs taken by the young woman were harmful or injurious to her health or physical well-being. The judge cited the evidence of an expert witness Professor Nicholas Fisk, who had stated that RU486 was not harmful to the person taking it.

The dust is settling from the Cairns trial and the lay of the land is a little clearer for all to see.

The Queensland government has avoided its responsibility for repealing the anti-abortion sections of the state’s crimes act. It said the Cairns case was not about legal abortion and tried to mask the real issues by lying about drug importation and unsafe medications.

The government says it can’t win support for repeal on the floor of parliament. But a jury drawn from a small regional city in the far north of the state saw through these lies, as do many more Queenslanders.

A protest outside the Cairns courthouse, where a vigil tent had been set up, provided a place for many in Cairns to show their support for a woman’s right to choose. And many hundreds did.

The community campaign bodies that have been active over the past 18 months in Queensland — Pro Choice Cairns, Pro Choice Queensland and Pro Choice Action Collective in Brisbane — have all vowed to continue the campaign to completely decriminalise abortion.

See earlier postings

See also: Queensland doctors call for abortion law certainty
Queensland’s abortion laws are a barrier to a doctor’s first duty – best patient care, the Australian Medical Association says.

Women’s groups across Italy are angered by the news that the country ranks 74 in the new report of 2010 World Economic Forum on gender equality ranking.

The report shows Italy ranks worst in the whole of Europe for equality between men and women and behind countries such as Ghana and Malawi, and Vietnam from the developing world.

“I think it’s in theory we are moving in the right way but then in practice there is still much to be done. The thing is more cultural than legal. For example women still face some troubles in working, specially at some levels, and combining their private lives as mothers and their lives as workers,” Maria Stasi, an Italian lawyer, told a Press TV correspondent.

The report which says how income, resources, and opportunities are distributed between the sexes also gave particular praise to the Philippines in Asia, and Lesotho in Africa which were both in world’s top ten.

Italy dropped two places from 2009 and the report is particular critical of the fewer opportunities available to women in business and politics. The report comes as little surprise to many businesswomen in Italy who claim their earnings and promotion prospects are not as high as those of men and that they are treated worse than their male counterparts.

Currently over half of university graduates in Italy are female. But for those levels to be translated into leaders in the work place and politics significant steps still need to be taken.

The world economic forum report placed Iceland, Norway, and Finland as its top three countries, with high rankings for fellow European nations Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany.

Pakistan, Chad, and Yemen were at the bottom of the 134-nation forum rankings.

See also:

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The European Union (EU) is committed to strengthening anti-trafficking legislation, and delivering more residence permits to human trafficking victims, European Commission said in Brussels.

On the occasion of the European anti-trafficking day, the European Commission expressed its strong will to combat human trafficking and strengthen the related legislation.

“It is clear to all of us that trafficking in human beings is a crime that cannot be tolerated in any form in Europe, or anywhere else,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, Commissioner for Home Affairs, adding that “trafficking in human beings is the human slavery of our time.”

On 29 March 2010, the commission adopted a new proposal for a directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting the victims. The directive, which is currently under negotiation with the European Parliament and the European Council, will provide a common legal framework for the fight against trafficking in human beings.

As human trafficking is almost always a cross-border crime and victims are often recruited in countries outside the EU, the commission suggested cooperation over the borders should be enhanced and human trafficking should be an integral part of Europe’s external relations.

The commission also said it will continue to give financial support to cross-border projects aiming at improving prosecution, prevention, and victim protection, both inside the EU and around the world in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In addition to selecting the first EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, the commission is expected to adopt an Integrated Strategy on the fight against trafficking next year, which will define all important anti-trafficking actions that cannot be addressed through legislation.

The EU is also considering issuing more residence permits to victims to enhance their protections and help them cooperate with authorities in dismantling trafficking networks. An anti- trafficking website will also be launched very soon to display European anti-trafficking policies and legislation, in order to help all those involved in fighting trafficking in human beings.

The Syrian government should immediately release Tal al-Mallohi, a 19-year-old high school student and blogger held incommunicado without charge for nine months, Human Rights Watch said today. She has been held by Syria’s security services since being detained on December 27, 2009.

State Security (Branch 279), one of Syria’s multiple state security agencies, summoned al-Mallohi to Damascus for interrogation in December and immediately detained her. Two days later, members of State Security went to al-Mallohi’s house and confiscated her computer, some CDs, books, and other personal belongings. Since the arrest, the security services have not allowed her family to communicate with her and have not offered any explanation for the arrest.

“Detaining a high school student for nine months without charge is typical of the cruel, arbitrary behavior of Syria’s security services,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A government that thinks it can get away with trampling the rights of its citizens has lost all connection to its people.”

It is unclear why the authorities have detained al-Mallohi. According to her family, al-Mallohi, who is in her last year of high school, does not belong to any political group. Some Syrian activists have expressed concerns that security services may have detained her over a poem she wrote criticizing certain restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria. Her blog, which contains poetry and social commentary, focuses mostly on the plight of Palestinians and does not address Syrian political issues. Her homepage shows a picture of Gandhi with the quote, “you will remain an example.”

On September 1, al-Malouhi’s mother issued a public appeal to President Bashar al-Asad urging him to provide her with information about her daughter.

See also:

The Afghan blogosphere is small but female practitioners say their words are closely monitored. The backlash to what they say helps define a range of off-limit topics, from criticizing religion to advocating for women’s rights.

Women can’t stop rape. We’ve been trying for decades.

From the early days of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminists have launched anti-rape campaigns. But, while rape crisis centres continue to promote the message that rape is not a women’s issue – rather it’s a social problem that can only be rectified by a change in the male mentality into one that acknowledges men’s power to stop rape – few people seem to be listening.

In Australia, we’ve seen evidence of male sexual violence inherent in Rugby League and several elite boys colleges, while in Canada, photos of the gang rape of a teenage girl were posted to Facebook.

According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life. Seventy per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a family member, friend or workmate. Of the remaining 30 per cent of sexual assaults most are committed by a person the victim meets socially or goes out on a date with. For one in 10 adult women who are sexually assaulted the perpetrator will be their current or past intimate partner.

Why these men believe it’s ok to rape or sexually assault a woman or girl is bound up in conceptions of gender normativity and the imbalance of power between men and women that flows from such assumptions: Masculinity is associated with dominance and virility while femininity is deemed passive. Men’s sexual prowess is regarded as something ‘natural’, while women’s sexuality must be controlled.

One of the negative outcomes of the current obsession with ‘raunch culture’ is the slut-shaming of women and girls who dare to be sexual – sometimes with many different partners; who dare to explore their sexuality and desires – sometimes in public.

A recent example is the ThinkUKnow campaign created by the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and developed by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia. While its motives may be honourable – protecting young people from unwanted images of themselves being distributed without their consent – the delivery is not. A short video, ‘Megans Story’ shows a teenage girl walking into class happy and confident after ‘sexting’ her boyfriend. Her confidence turns to shame and humiliation as the sext is forwarded to her classmates and teacher, and she runs out of the room in tears. The message is clear: If a boy behaves inappropriately (by forwarding a private sext of his girlfriend), the girl is to blame, not him.

This is a spin-off of the victim-blaming mentality that says a woman was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing, or because she left a party with a group of men.

When are we going to see a prolific national campaign to educate boys and men that it’s their responsibility for not raping or sexually assaulting girls or women? When is it going to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum to teach boys from a young age that it’s not ok grab a girl’s breasts or genitals unless she explicitly gives permission? When are we as a society going to redefine what ‘makes a man’ and reject the hyper-masculine qualities that see women violated sexually as an activity that bonds ‘real’ men together?

Let’s be clear: The rape of women by men is not about men’s uncontrolled lust – it’s about power and domination that stems from fear and hatred of the female and the feminine.

On 29 October national Reclaim the Night rallies will be held across Australia and other parts of the world in which women march through the streets to protest against men’s sexual violence. These events first took place internationally in 1976 and the fact they still need to happen today is a sad indictment of men’s refusal to acknowledge and use their power to stop rape.

Some men have made an effort in this area, such as Men Can Stop Rape, an international organisation that aims to redefine masculinity by mobilising men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women, but they are few and far between.

By and large, preventing rape is still put on women’s shoulders. Well-meaning college campuses distribute advice to female students on how to avoid being sexually assaulted: don’t get drunk or stoned, don’t leave a party with a group of guys or alone, carry a whistle. The problem is, it’s all about controlling women’s behaviours, not those of men.

A Facebook friend recently circulated a document that turns the tables and offers “100 per cent foolproof tips to prevent rape/sexual assault”. It includes helpful suggestions to potential rapists such as: “Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself assaulting someone, ask a friend to stay with you when you are in public” or “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”

Facetious as some of the advice may be, it’s a stark reminder that there is only one way to stop rape: Don’t do it.

Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger

To combat prostitution and sex trafficking, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services in 1999. Its record since then stands out amid the failures of legalized prostitution elsewhere in Europe.

At a time when some governments are trying – and failing – to combat sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution, Sweden’s innovative approach stands out as an exemplary model of lawmaking that reduces prostitution, penalizes men, and protects women.

As human trafficking became an increasing global problem in the 1990s, Sweden took an intensive look at its prostitution policy. It concluded that a country cannot resolve its sex trafficking problem without targeting the demand for prostitution. In 1999, Sweden passed landmark legislation that made it illegal to buy sexual services.

The legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”

Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.

The key to the law’s effectiveness lies not so much in penalizing the men (punishments are modest) but in removing the invisibility of the buyers and making their crimes public. Men now fear being outed as prostitution users.

Sweden’s success

In July, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the first 10 years of the law. While acknowledging that much remains to be done, the report’s findings are overwhelmingly positive:
• Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases.”
• There is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet.
• Extensive services exist in the larger cities to assist those exploited by prostitution.
• Fewer men state that they purchase sexual services.
• More than 70 percent of the Swedish public support the law.

Initially critical, police now confirm the law works well and deters other organizers and promoters of prostitution, especially traffickers, who find in Sweden an intolerant environment in which to sell women and children for sex. Based on National Criminal Police reports, Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking have not increased during the past decade. [Editor’s note: The original version of this sentence wrongly suggested that National Criminal Police reports made this comparison.]

Sweden’s progress contrasts sharply with the dismal results of other European countries that have professionalized pimping, brothels, and additional aspects of the prostitution industry.

Failures of legalized prostitution

In 2002, Germany decriminalized the procuring of prostitution, made it legally easier to establish brothels and other prostitution enterprises, lifted the prohibition against promoting prostitution, and proposed contracts and benefits for women in prostitution establishments.

In 2007, a federal government report found that the German Prostitution Act had not improved conditions for women in the prostitution industry nor helped them to leave. It had also failed “to reduce crime in the world of prostitution.” Finally, the report stated that “prostitution should not be considered to be a reasonable means for securing one’s living.”

The government is now drafting an impoverished version of Sweden’s law that would merely punish buyers of those forced into prostitution or who are victims of trafficking. Which raises the question: Why would a buyer ask her if she’s a victim – and why would she tell him?

Netherlands’s experiment with legalization has been equally grim. Two reports in 2007 and 2008 heralded official disenchantment with the results of a 2000 law that made prostitution and the sex industry legal.

The government-commissioned 2007 Daalder report found that the majority of women in the window brothels are still subject to pimp control, and their “emotional well-being is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects.”

A 2008 Dutch National Police report states it more strongly: “The idea that a clean, normal business sector has emerged is an illusion…” Like the Germans, the Dutch are now proposing an amendment that would penalize the buyers, but only those who purchase unlicensed persons in prostitution. Still, it’s an oblique indication that the concept of penalizing buyers is gaining ground.

The Nordic model

The failed policy of legalization of prostitution in Europe helped the Swedish model to become the Nordic model in 2009 when Norway outlawed the purchase of women and children for sexual activities. Results were immediate and dramatic one year after the Norwegian law came into force.

A Bergen municipality survey estimated that the number of women in street prostitution had decreased by 20 percent with indoor prostitution also down by 16 percent. Bergen police maintain that advertisements for sexual activities have dropped 60 percent. Effective monitoring of the telephone numbers of buyers who respond to such ads not only enables police to identify and charge buyers but also exposes a wider network of criminal groups involved in child prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking. In Oslo, the police also report that there are many fewer buyers on the street.

The same year as Norway, Iceland passed a strong law criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. Earlier in 2004, Finland approved an anemic version of the Nordic model. This left Denmark as the outlier with no legislation targeting the demand for prostitution.

Criminalizing demand works. Police report that it becomes less profitable for pimps and traffickers to set up shop in countries where their customers fear the loss of their anonymity. Less profit means less prostitution and less violence against women.

Not only in Europe but also in the Philippines and Korea, the prostitution policy tide is turning from legalization to addressing the demand for prostitution. The United Nations has prohibited their peacekeepers and related personnel from buying women for sexual activities in prostitution, even if prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction in which they serve.

Countries that want to fight sexual exploitation cannot sanction pimps as legitimate sexual entrepreneurs and must take legal action against the buyers.

By Janice Raymond, professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the board of directors of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared at

When Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva was selected to be President of Kyrgyzstan, she became the first woman head of state in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian region.

And she also took on a mission. Her mission is to pave the way for parliamentary democracy in a country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Union.

Her first task was to stabilise the situation arising out of the ethnic clashes in the southern city of Osh, which is her hometown. Her next job will be to conduct free and fair parliamentary elections, and then clear the way for her people to elect a new president.

“Electing a woman as the head of state shows our thinking is changing and that our nation is ready for real democracy,” poet and journalist Olzhobay Shakir told IPS.

On Apr. 7 this year Roza Otunbayeva was selected to head a Russian- supported Kyrgyz interim government, following widespread rioting in capital Bishkek and the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

“She was a compromise candidate, the only one with a clean image,” political scientist Alexander Knyazev told IPS. Political analyst Turat Akimov agrees. “All the men were seen as being corrupt and dictatorial. They were forced to choose the only woman among them.”

Hope for a peaceful transition to democracy might seem misplaced given that Otunbayeva first tasted political power on a wave of political unrest. In 2005, she had been one of the key leaders of the ‘Tulip Revolution’ which led to the overthrow of former president Askar Akayev.

Otunbayeva says she learnt a great deal about calming violence when she went as part of a UN peace mission to Georgia. From 2002 to 2004, she had been involved in bringing harmony between hostile groups following the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

In a struggle that had then extended for a decade, casualties had been high and tensions extreme.

“We organised meetings of women from both ethnic groups who had lost their sons in the fighting. These were difficult negotiations, but in the name of peace and life they agreed to sit and talk to each other,” says Otunbayeva.

“We also arranged talks between former soldiers who had fought against each other. As a result, people gained the courage to go ahead and carry on a dialogue. I have seen conflict from up close,” she told the local newspaper Lemon.

Five years later, as president, she had to deal with ethnic clashes in her own backyard. In May-June this year the southern towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad were rocked by violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

Otunbayeva was forced to declare a state of emergency on Jun. 12 in an attempt to control the situation. The clashes killed up to 2,000 people, and rendered some 400,000 homeless.

She had sought help from Russia, but even after calling the Kremlin leaders five times, no assistance was forthcoming. Russia only sent a few troops to guard its own military installations.

But she managed to stabilise the situation and held a national referendum Jun. 27. Given the unsettled conditions, the voter turnout was an impressive 65 percent. The electorate almost unanimously supported the new draft Constitution, and confirmed Roza Otunbayeva as interim president.

She is not eligible to run for president now, and her term will end Dec. 31 next year.

“The right decision will be for her to create conditions for peaceful polling,” political analyst Bermet Bukasheva told IPS. “A leader should not use administrative powers to remain in office. She should oversee the transition to democracy as a neutral figure.”

To achieve this, Otunbayeva would have to ensure that the two ethnic groups live peaceably. She will also have to provide the homeless with shelter through the long winter.

She had promised in her inaugural speech Jul. 4 that she would “cooperate constructively with all political forces, and support pluralism, freedom of speech and human rights.” She has reiterated this aim many times since. But it might be a difficult promise to keep in a country where thousands of families have lost their homes and loved ones.

There was too little time to do all this before the parliamentary elections Oct. 10. Besides, some of the political leaders are Otunbayeva’s associates, and it is hard to imagine her as an unbiased facilitator.

But Otunbayeva is a consummate diplomat. She honed her skills when she headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs three times, and also as ambassador to the U.S. and to the UK, as well as being chairperson of the former Soviet commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). (END)

“Voice for the voiceless” is the slogan adorning the walls of Liberia’s first and Africa’s second radio station for women.

Situated down a bumpy, dirt track on the edge of the capital, Monrovia, the Liberia Women Democracy Radio (LWDR), claims it wants to advance women and promote change. In a country trying to rebuild itself after 14 years of civil war in which women bore the brunt of the violence, they remain the most vulnerable group in society.

“Before the radio station, we couldn’t get our voices heard. The big people wouldn’t take our problems seriously,” says Deborah Reeves, a mother of four in Monrovia. “Now they hear them over and over.”

The 30 year old lives on Pagos Island, a stretch of land surrounded by swamps completely cut off from the rest of the city. On an island without electricity, public schools, a police station and not one health centre, the four thousand inhabitants struggle to even make a living.

“I’ve seen things on this island that aren’t right in a civilised world,” exclaims Reeves as she shelters in the community church with around forty other women.

“We’re a forgotten community, just fending for ourselves.No one sees us. It’s like we’re not even here.”

Reeves has brought people from the community together to talk about how they, as women, can use the radio station to tell their stories in an attempt to get authorities to act. As they sit in the stifling heat, some with their babies strapped to their backs, others with a small child at their knees, slowly, one by one, they get the courage to stand up to tell their story.

One speaker, more a teenager than a woman, describes how she started walking to the nearest clinic when she felt her first contraction. It was dark, she was on her own and she had a two to three hour trek ahead of her. She ended up giving birth on the way.

As she stands in front of the women, with passion and sadness in her eyes, she explains how she tried to get the baby to take its first breath.She had no idea how to do it, so she lay there on the road as the baby died in her arms.

“I didn’t want to talk today,” she says. “But this is just disgracing women.”

This story is just one of thousands.

“In the rural areas, women are not heard,” says Lady Mai Hunter, as she looks over her microphone in the production studio at LWDR. These are the hard to reach groups the station wants to broadcast to. Funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and facilitated by the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), LWDR broadcasts to eight of Liberia’s fifteen counties. Their aim is to increase their transmitter power and reach out to women all over the country.

At 22 years old and already a young mother herself, Hunter knows all too well the struggles women in Liberia still face. “We have a female President and outside of Liberia people think that everything is okay for women here, but it’s not. Sexual exploitation, rape and wife battering are all big problems here.”

In 2006, Liberia voted in Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. While this in itself is a great inspiration for women all over the country, female voices are still rare in high level discussions on peace and security. For President Sirleaf, LWDR is a way to get those often forgotten voices aired.

“I’m extremely pleased and I understand we’re the second women’s radio station on the continent and that again pleases us in that we’ve broken ground in this regard,” says Sirleaf she.

However, the president is aware of the challenges Liberian women face. “We still have some serious problems in Liberia; serious problems regarding rape, regarding the retention of girls in school. I hope through this station they will be able to focus on these problems.”

Rape is the number one reported crime in Liberia and children are often the victims. A recent survey of rape survivors in Monrovia found three out of eight were under the age of twelve, while one in ten was under five. But issues like rape, teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation and prostitution are rarely, if ever, talked about on other stations across the country.

The media, run almost exclusively by men, seldom touch on these subjects, preferring to pontificate about politics and policy making. With the next elections in October 2011, LWDR is calling for women to start playing a crucial role in shaping their country’s future.

And so far, the Liberia Women Democracy Radio station is providing a glimmer of hope for women like Deborah Reeves. “LWDR is an eye opener for us. To be frank, women face such terrible conditions in this country and their voices are never heard. Now, if I’m hurt, I can use the radio to tell my story and reach authorities who can help us.”

With one in three women around the world being beaten, coerced into sex or abused, more must be done to ensure the human rights of women, a member of the United Nations expert body monitoring compliance with the international pact on eliminating discrimination against women said today.

“Significant progress has been achieved with respect to women’s human rights but we know that much more needs to be done throughout the whole world,” Zou Xiaoqiau, the vice chair of the 23-member UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, told reporters in New York.

She expressed alarm over the fact that violence against women is prevalent in many parts of the world, pointing out that the scourge is on the rise.

Characterizing the statistics as “frightening,” Ms. Zou noted that many rapes go unreported due to stigma and trauma, with charges being dropped against a rapist in some countries if he marries his victim.

In addition, some 2 million girls between the ages of five and 15 are introduced into the commercial sex market annually, and forced or unprotected sex puts women at risk of acquiring HIV, AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Ms. Zou, who presented the report of the Committee to the General Assembly yesterday, also spoke out against communally-sanctioned violence, such as honour killings, which claim the lives of thousands of young women every year.

The Committee regularly reviews each country once it becomes a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Currently, 186 countries have accepted the Convention, which was adopted in 1979.

“The Committee is committed to combating and ending discrimination and violence against women in all its forms,” Ms. Zou stressed, appealing to the States parties to fulfil their obligations under the pact and adopt its additional protocols to “ensure that women are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve and demand as human beings.”

She also welcomed the creation of UN Women, or the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which merges four UN entities: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).

Established in July by a unanimous vote of the General Assembly, the first UN super-agency on female empowerment will oversee all of the world body’s programmes aimed at promoting women’s rights and their full participation in global affairs.

Headed by former Chilean president Michele Bachelet, it will help Member States implement standards, provide technical and financial support to countries which request it, and forge partnerships with civil society. Within the UN, it will hold the world body accountable for its own commitments on gender equality.

Despite successful campaigns to promote gender equality, China continues to struggle with high rates of domestic violence, which experts say impacts not only families but society as a whole.

One-third of Chinese households cope with domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, according to a national survey by the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), the largest women’s non-government organisation in China.

The study found that the violence mostly takes place in rural areas, in young families and in households with lower educational levels. Men commit 90 percent of the violent acts, the study found.

Another study conducted by the China Law Institute in Gansu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces found that one-third of the families surveyed had experienced family violence and that 85 percent of the victims were women. It found that domestic abuse was so prevalent that both men and women identified it as a part of normal family life. Just 5 percent of respondents said their marriage was unhappy.

Domestic violence “has a pernicious influence on families and society as a whole. It threatens social stability, imperils marriages and threatens children’s well-being,” said Xu Rong, chief of the projects section at the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women.

In rural areas in particular, the long-standing idea that women should be in subordinate positions to men is a primary contributor to abuse. In China, as in many other countries, domestic violence is considered a private matter and this makes it difficult for women in distress to seek help.

Domestic violence is also a main contributor to high rates of suicide among women in rural areas.

According to a report posted on Da Ai Net, a news portal that focuses on mental health and family education, about 157,000 Chinese women kill themselves each year, and the rate of suicide is three to five times higher in rural areas than urban centres.

According to one survey based on 260 cases of suicide among rural women, 66 percent had been victims of domestic violence. Xie Lihua, editor of ‘Rural Women’ magazine and secretary-general of the Development Centre for Rural Women, attributed the violence to the traditional belief that boys are more valuable that girls, the subordinate position of women in the countryside and the lack of assistance available to abused women, according to Da Ai Net.

But there is evidence that domestic violence is prevalent in higher-income families as well. A survey by the Guangdong Municipal Women’s Federation showed that of 548 cases of household abuse, 111 had members with college diplomas, 72 were public servant households and 88 of the households had incomes above 2,000 yuan (298 U.S. dollars) per month.

China’s constitution stipulates that “women in the P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China) enjoy equal rights to men in all spheres of life.” But until recently, there were no laws specifically addressing domestic violence in China, said Li Yinhe, China’s first female sociologist who currently works as a researcher and mentor to doctoral students at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Sociology.

In 2001, an amendment to the marriage law included the term “domestic violence” for the first time in Chinese law. In that same year, stipulations about domestic violence appeared for the first time in an amendments to the General Provisions of the Marriage Law.

China has since signed The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and has its own stand-alone laws that ban domestic violence against women and children.

An alliance of civil society organisations was recently created to conduct a project they call ‘Domestic Violence in China: Research, Intervention and Prevention’, and Chinese courts are starting to tackle the problem.

In August 2008, a court in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, issued China’s first court order on the protection of personal safety when it prohibited a husband from beating or humiliating his wife.

Xu, whose work focuses primarily on suicide prevention in rural areas, said that despite still high rates of domestic violence, there have been significant improvements in recent years. Notably, increased rural incomes have helped alleviate the problem somewhat.

Still, much more needs to be done.

Li said China needs to increase funds for women’s shelters and promote gender education. Xu added that China should also strengthen its laws against domestic violence, and promote prevention and protection. “We need to spread the idea that domestic violence is illegal across the whole society,” Xu said. (END)