Archive for October 26th, 2010
A women’s peace delegation – led by Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams – wrapped up a seven-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The delegation of 10 women – mostly American – traveled to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Haifa and Nazareth, and met with women peacebuilders, as well as the Israeli military, members of the Knesset, lawyers, Israeli settlers, staff from the United Nations and community leaders. Their goal was to learn first-hand the challenges to peace—and how some women are overcoming those barriers.
“We learned that there is a partner in peace,” said Williams. “Against the backdrop of violence and daily humiliations, there are women working on the ground in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories who use nonviolent protest and dialogue as a means to building a more just and equitable situation. For real peace to happen, these women must be part of the official peace process.”
The delegation visited the region as the US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials—which began on September 2—continued without much substantive progress. Most of the women’s groups the delegation met with have called for civil society, including women’s organizations, to be an integral part of that process. They are also calling for the negotiations to be more ‘transparent’.
“Most of the people in power derive their power from the conflict,” noted one activist from Isha L’Isha, a grassroots organization based in Haifa that includes both Israeli and Palestinian women. “We need to ensure that people without power—but committed to ending the conflict—are also heard in the peace process.”
The group—along with other women’s groups in Israel—has called for no less than 30 percent of direct participation by women in all level of negotiations to ensure greater transparency and more attention to the needs of civilians, including women. As well, they are asking that a plan for reconciliation between the two communities be part of any final agreement.
The women activists in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Gaza echoed the words of their Israeli counterparts during meetings with the delegation in Ramallah, and during visits to three well known sites of nonviolent resistance to occupation: Bi’lin, Ni’lin and Hebron.
“When I am alone I feel weak,” one woman in Ramallah told the delegation, which was hosted in the West Bank by Palestinian leader Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. “But here together with [all of you] I feel strong.” The delegation heard testimony from 300 women who joined the delegation at a conference on gender justice organized by the Palestinian NGO, Health Development Information Policy Institute (HDIP). The conference also connected with women in Gaza through a video-conference.
Earlier in the weak, staff at the UN told delegation members that the situation in Gaza is a “dignity crisis” and noted that most residents of Gaza are refugees. They estimate that 80% of the people in Gaza are reliant on UN food aid. Babies die at the checkpoints waiting to get into Israel for medical help, and thousands of children are not being educated because of the ban on bringing new building supplies into Gaza to build new schools. On top of all that, with an unemployment rate of close to 45%, Hamas leadership is making things worse by closing businesses that employ both men and women.
Yet, the delegation heard that despite all these obstacles—women are not deterred.
“A high point for me was hearing all these Palestinian women saying ‘Don’t be diverted. We can have peace, a strong democracy’”, said Janaan Hashim, a delegation member and lawyer from Chicago. “Women will be a major part in [making peace] happen.”
Towards the end of the week-long visit to the region, the delegation met with women settlers in Gush Etzion, located in the southern part of the West Bank. Their goal in visiting the settlement was to better understand the scope of the settlement issue.
“The settlements are a much larger machine than I had realized,” said Jody Williams. “They are a massive apparatus—and now I understand much more clearly what a serious impediment to the peace process these so-called ‘outposts’ really are.”
The day the delegation arrived to Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted the freeze on building settlements—one of the most contentious issues in the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“A visit to Hebron painfully revealed the way in which the commercial center of this Palestinian city of 400,000 had been virtually closed down by the Israeli authorities in order to protect freedom of movement for 450 radical Jewish settlers, provocatively living in the middle of this Palestinian city,” said Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a delegation member from Minnesota, in an opinion editorial she wrote for the Star Tribune.
Settlement Watch, a project of the Israeli group Peace Now that monitors and protests the building of settlements, estimates that settlers have built 100 ‘outposts’ on occupied territories—at the cost of approximately 556 million dollars a year.
“The route of the wall/separation barrier is frequently determined by the needs of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank rather than by security needs alone,” noted Rabbi Eilberg. But Eilberg is not discouraged.
“As Palestinians and Israelis alike wait to see whether the latest round of talks will finally chart a course toward the end of the conflict, I leave the region with both deep pain and profound respect for the many unsung heroes on the ground who courageously work for a just peace,” said Eilberg.
Mairead Maguire, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work in ending sectarian violence and bringing peace to Northern Ireland, had planned to be part of the women’s peace delegation. However when she arrived to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport last week, Israeli officials refused her entry into the country and tried to deport the 66-year-old activist. Maguire’s lawyers appealed the deportation. Seven days later—in which Maguire lived in a detention cell at the airport—the Israeli Supreme Court refused Maguire’s appeal and she was deported.
The delegation plans to release a full report on its visit to Israel and Palestine.
According to a draft Oct. 1 memo obtained by the Star, Ottawa has determined these careers once considered “morally offensive” should be put on the federal government’s Job Bank, which is also available for use by the provinces.
The surprise memo from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has set a few tongues wagging among those wondering how these careers suddenly became respectable, and how Conservatives could allow this to happen.
“This is such a contradiction for the holier than thou family values gang to all of a sudden endorse an escort service as a legitimate occupation for unemployed Canadian women,” NDP MP Pat Martin said.
Terri-Jean Bedford, the dominatrix who went to court and got Canada’s prostitution laws thrown out, said these are legitimate occupations and “it’s high time that people stop being so judgmental about another person’s occupation.”
“There are a lot of unsavory occupations that I would never apply for. Soldier being one of them and politician probably being another,” Bedford said.
The job posting change is at odds with the Conservatives’ outrage over the recent federal court decision stating that Canada’s prostitution violated the Constitution. The government immediately appealed the decision, saying “prostitution is a problem that harms individuals and communities.”
“This is appalling activity by our government because what they are really doing is promoting the subjugation of woman for the most part,” Charles McVety, the president of Canadian Christian College, told the Star.
“It is also hypocritical that this would this would be done under a Conservative government,” he said.
The draft policy, which has yet to be implemented, stated that the following occupations will “be acceptable for posting on Job Bank”:
• Exotic dancer, erotic dancer, nude dancer, striptease dancer and table dancer.
• Escort, chat line agent, phone agent for personal services and telephone agent for personal services.
Many of these occupations in a 2003 memo from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRDC) were described as being “morally offensive by the majority of Canadians.”
It is not the first time that strippers have caused problems for the federal government of the day.
In 2004, the opposition called for then immigration minister Judy Sgro’s resignation over her office’s decision to extend a residence permit to a Romanian stripper, and Ottawa’s controversial program to allow foreign strippers to get special work visas.
“The Conservatives were all over that,” recalled McVety, “that’s why I’m a little incredulous that a Conservative government would do this.”
* Women are being asked to prostitute themselves after applying for vacancies in job centres, the Government has admitted
* Porn TV presenter job advertised in Jobcentre
* Equality impact assessment for accepting and advertising employer vacancies from within the adult entertainment industry by Jobcentre Plus
In the aftermath of last month’s landmark court decision that lifts the barriers to free trade in the sex trade, women’s rights activists are facing off.
They’re split over whether the ruling will make sex workers safer — or merely pump up profits for pimps and help organized crime to traffic women.
Examples of the divide?
“It is with stupefaction and anger that feminists have learned of the ruling,” the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres said in a media release.
“Worldwide, it is impoverished brown women whose bodies are being bought and sold,” argued the South Asian Women Against Male Violence (SAWAMV) in its statement. “This decision is not what we or our sisters want.”
And from the opposing corner?
“It’s wonderful that the court has recognized the harm of the laws, and has freed sex workers from the threat of criminal prosecution,” said the Pivot Legal Society, which has been fighting in the B.C. courts to overturn the country’s prostitution laws.
At the heart of this dispute is a wide ideological gap between feminists who believe that no woman is a commodity to be bought and sold and those who insist that, as with abortion, a woman has the right to control her body — while not risking life and limb.
That’s why Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down as unconstitutional the bawdy house provision, which, arguably, by preventing sex workers from sharing premises, increased their risk of exposure to violence. Gone, too, is the “living off the avails” section, which criminalizes those being supported by a sex worker. While that was meant to target pimps, it also affects a prostitute’s live-in family, including partners, parents and adult children, as well as security guards who might protect her.
Also declared unconstitutional is the communication law, which experts say put street sex workers in the greatest danger because it did not allow them to safely screen “dates” before jumping into their cars.
“That’s a huge step forward,” says B.C. sex worker rights activist Tamara O’Doherty. “There used to be this idea we have to criminalize sex workers for their own good. So we (with opposing views on the court decision) do have this partly common ground.”
But there isn’t much of it.
“For me it’s not complicated to understand why there’s a divide: it’s two visions,” says Diane Matte of Montreal’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation.
Matte has a street-level view of the industry, and says it isn’t a pleasant sight.
That makes it difficult for her to understand why feminists would support the victorious plaintiffs — members of the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) — in the Ontario constitutional challenge.
“The SPOC women do not hide the fact that they want to open brothels,” Matte notes. “In other words, they want to prostitute other women. Why is that okay?
“I’m sorry, but why should I, as a feminist, support that a woman wants to sell another woman? And that doesn’t even look at the question of why men should have the right to buy women — and children — whenever and wherever they want. That’s why it’s impossible to reconcile these two visions.”
What abolitionists such as Matte want is to follow the so-called Nordic Model, one in operation in Iceland and Sweden, which has decriminalized sex workers while criminalizing their clients.
Others don’t buy that solution.
“As a criminologist I can guarantee you that that doesn’t work because it doesn’t remove the criminal element from prostitution,” says O’Doherty, who teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Making demand illegal, she says, only serves to drive sex workers underground.
Still, abolitionists believe that demand can be legislated out of existence.
“I don’t see sex work as natural or inevitable; it’s a practice we have constructed,” says Suzanne Jay of the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. “We can dismantle it and create another system of relationships.”
When the state gets involved in a vice, does ‘no’ mean ‘yes’?
Last week’s Ontario Court decision striking down the laws forbidding the operation of brothels, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on the avails of prostitution (which both the federal and Ontario governments have announced it will appeal) is the latest benchmark in the attempted normalization of behaviour that used to be more roundly condemned by the state.
Why it would be wrong to legalize prostitution
If prostitution were a job freely chosen, as the pro-legalization forces would have us believe, it’s unlikely that the average age of entry into that workforce would be 14.
Canadian sex workers win decriminalisation: a victory for women’s right to safety everywhere
The High Court in Ontario, Canada, yesterday abolished the laws banning street soliciting (communicating for the purposes of prostitution),working together from premises (bawdy house) and living off the avails of prostitution as they make sex workers more vulnerable to violence. The decision was a result of a legal challenge brought by three sex workers who argued that the laws endangered their health and forced them into unsafe working conditions. It is a victory for women and sex workers everywhere who have been campaigning for decriminalisation of grounds of health and safety.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged South Asian leaders to prevent violence against women and remove obstacles on the path to women empowerment.
“South Asian countries have almost identical problems regarding women’s rights issues due to socio-economic and political reality of this area,” she said after inaugurating the seventh South Asian ministerial conference on women’s rights.
Hasina pointed out that trafficking of women and children is a major problem and emphasised on combined efforts for its stop.
The prime minister mentioned her government’s measures in this regard, saying, “The government is very sincere about women empowerment and their rights.”
“The process of modernising the women development policy is underway,” she added. “Existing law to stop violence against women were amended and new laws passed in this regard.”
Hasina mentioned the development policy of the government includes removal of gender inequality in every phase of life and ensuring development through empowerment of women.
“The government is working on poverty reduction and the development of education, health and manpower by empowering women,” she said.
She also mentioned the government programmes launched to ensure free education for women, including stipends and financial aids to buy books, have increased the rate of education for women at primary and secondary levels.
Regarding child and maternal mortality rate, Hasina said, “Bangladesh has got the MDG-4 award for its success in this area. The government has allotted Tk 3.31 billion in the current fiscal to compensate nearly a million widows and divorcees.”
Hasina said that the presence of 19 women members in the parliament, including herself, the opposition chief, deputy leader of the parliament and five ministers, speaks a lot about women empowerment in Bangladesh.
She also pointed out that 30 percent of seats in local government organisations are reserved for women.
State minister for women and children affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury was also present.
Despite promising progress on many of the Millennium Development Goal targets, national averages mask large disparities in terms of gender, income and location, with large numbers of women and girls being left behind, especially in rural areas. Coinciding with the UN High-level Summit on Millennium Development Goals, data from the forthcoming Progress of the World’s Women 2010/2011, Access to Justice , released by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, part of UN Women) today, spotlights how many women and girls, particularly in rural areas, continue to live in exclusion and poverty.
“Ending discrimination against women and enhancing gender justice are at the heart of meeting the MDGs,” said Ms. Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM (part of UN Women). “With five years remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, this Summit challenges world leaders to commit to actions to accelerate progress. There is no shortage of promising practices to end inequalities between women and men, but there remains a critical shortage of resources to scale up investment of best practices that work.”
The findings and analysis calls for urgent action in four areas that are critical to gender justice and the MDGs:
1. Women-friendly public services to meet women and girls’ rights to education, health and food –
– Education: Secondary education is especially important for girls because it enables them to access jobs, lowers their chance of getting HIV and gives them more of a say in decisions within the household. For example, in Nicaragua, while nearly three-quarters of rich urban girls go to secondary school, for poor girls in rural areas, that figure is only 6 percent.
– Abolishing user fees and introducing cash incentives make a difference. In Malawi, a conditional cash transfer programme not only increased girls’ school attendance but also reduced HIV prevalence rates among programme beneficiaries by 60 percent compared to non-beneficiaries, attributed to girls engaging in less “transactional sex” with older men.
– Reproductive health: Data shows that poor women in rural areas are particularly unlikely to have access to skilled health personnel at the birth of their children. In Nepal, while nearly 70 percent of rich urban women have access to skilled attendance, only 5 percent of poor rural women do.
– Female service providers help to improve access for women and girls. Indonesia’s “midwife in every village” programme, in which 54,000 midwives have been trained over seven years, has halved the maternal mortality rate.
2. Land and jobs for women ensuring the right to decent livelihood, through access to economic assets –
– In Tajikistan, the government has taken important steps to increase women’s control over land, through providing them with practical support to make land claims, including legal aid, and awareness raising among officials and religious leaders. Between 2002 and 2008, the proportion of farms headed by women rose from 2 percent to 14 percent.
– Although female farmers play a critical role in food security in developing countries, OECD statistics show that of the US$18.4 billion spent on agricultural aid between 2002 and 2008, donors reported that just 5.6 percent included a focus on gender.
3. Increasing women’s voice in decision-making — more women in leadership positions from the community to the global level –
– Women’s lack of voice in the public sphere starts in the home. Early marriages have the biggest impact, leading to disempowerment of girls throughout their lives. In Colombia, women who married before the age of 18 are 47 percent more likely to report having no say in household decisions, compared to women who married later.
– Positive action or special temporary measures work. They have shown to rapidly increase female representation in corporate decision-making as well as politics from Rwanda to Norway. Globally, women make up only 18.6 percent of parliamentarians. However, 29 countries have now reached or exceeded the 30-percent mark. Of these, 24 have used quotas.
– In the United States of America across 10 key sectors, including politics, business, law, the media, and the military, women make up an average of just 18 percent of leaders.
4. Ending violence against women and girls, which too many women and girls face daily, stunting their opportunities, curtailing their mobility and denying them rights –
– Violence against women is widely regarded as a missing MDG target, undermining efforts to reach all the goals. For example, one in four women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy.
– The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), managed by UNIFEM on behalf of UN System, is the only multilateral grant-making mechanism exclusively devoted to supporting efforts to end violence against women and girls. Since 1996, it has supported 304 programmes in 121 countries and territories with more than US$50 million in grants. In 2009 alone, more than 1,600 applications were received, but the Fund could meet less than 4 percent of the demand. One of the goals of the UN Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women is to raise US$100 million dollars by 2015, and it is imperative to reach this target.
Many apologies for the gap in postings.
Damp autumn England had left womensphere volunteers with tedious colds and snuffles.
We will try to catch up with news we have missed.
In the meantime please contact us if you want to pass on information or have a query.