Archive for December 29th, 2010
Extract from a longer opinion piece by Carol Hanisch
Feminism (USA) has always been a problematic term in the struggle for women’s liberation, and now with such unlikely public figures as Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga embracing it, it’s become more so. When can or should the feminist label be applied? A look at the recent history of the term may help put the question in perspective.
In the 1960s, many of us involved in getting the Women’s Liberation Movement off the ground didn’t at first want to call ourselves feminists because the term was applied to establishment liberal groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). These groups concentrated on legal and lobbying solutions, mostly in the areas of employment and careers, and while we appreciated their work, we had a much broader goal for our movement: the total liberation of all women in every area of our lives, including those considered too “personal” for public discussion and action. Also in contrast to the liberal groups, most of us agreed that women’s liberation could not be achieved under capitalism, though we thought progress certainly was possible and necessary and needed to be fought for in the present, that it would actually help bring about the other social and economic changes we wanted.
At the same time we took the name “Women’s Liberation,” we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from other women’s rights groups and we wanted to study and learn from feminist history and our feminist foremothers. We ended up using both terms — feminist and women’s liberation — though not completely interchangeably. We thought of ourselves as the Women’s Liberation Movement within a broader feminist movement.
The radical WLM led the way in making feminism immensely popular by using consciousness-raising to focus on the nitty-gritty male supremacy that women experienced in their everyday lives — some aspects of which, like abortion, were not then discussed in public. (The case for the success of these radical ideas is made in the 1975 Redstockings book,Feminist Revolution.) As its popularity grew, the feminist bandwagon became overcrowded with a myriad of offshoots: cultural feminists, lesbian feminists, lesbian separatist feminists, matriarchal feminists, eco-feminists, anti-nuke feminists, peace feminists, anarcho-feminists, animal rights feminists, third wave feminists, Jewish feminists, and the list goes on — even the anti-abortion Feminists for Life. Some, in our view, bore little relationship to the real struggle for feminist or women’s liberation demands, but were women self-segregating themselves to fight for other goals.
With the marginalization of the Women’s Liberation Movement by liberal forces, a milder “women’s movement,” minus “liberation”– and now even often minus “movement” (in practice if not if intent) — arose proclaiming that “feminism is anything a woman says it is.” It became mostly about the individual woman — individual choice, personal expression, and individual career success — with little relationship to the need for a collective, united, social movement to liberate all women. This tendency, there from the beginning, gained strength as the Women’s Liberation Movement, radical in its collective approach to attacking the roots of male supremacy, was pushed into near oblivion in the early 1970s. The militant multi-issue groups with their willingness to probe and expose every nook and cranny of women’s oppression were either marginalized or became single issue organizations, advocating in only one area and often distancing themselves from women’s liberation as a radical, grassroots movement.
Today, there is even a group aptly called “ifeminists” (individualist feminists), which claims it is for women’s equality while simultaneously associating itself with anti-government libertarians and Ayn Rand. It supports all kinds of “individual choices” for women, from abortion to porn, while opposing such “government intervention” as police and court interference in wife-battering.
Then there is the question of the relation of feminism to issues of war and peace. Many feminists consider peace to be a feminist issue (I don’t). Their criteria, however, is often inconsistent. Some who see Clinton as a feminist claim Palin can’t be a feminist because she supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Clinton, who championed mildly progressive women’s and family issues as a senator, is a war hawk as Secretary of State. Rare is the woman who gets into the Good Old Boys Club who doesn’t reinforce the system she started out to reform.
A movement needs a certain amount of consensus to move forward, and if it can’t even decide what direction that is, it is not a force to be reckoned with and will achieve little. What’s more, if its leaders are going to call that chaos a good thing, what hope is there? It also needs more than belief in women’s equality and encouraging words. It needs accompanying theory and action. Knowing that the yearning for equality has not left most women’s souls (even if the Movement that fought for it to become a reality is in disarray), opportunists of both sexes play off feminism in many spheres. Lack of consensus throws the door wide open.
It may be that by now the word “feminism” is so distorted by those claiming the label — including its enemies — that it is impossible to define or use the word without writing a whole book about it. But anyone who thinks we’re post-feminism and it doesn’t matter anymore is asleep at the wheel. We can’t afford to abandon the term and concept of feminism because of the real advances that have been made for women in its name, and the rich historical legacy that we must defend. And we need a name for what still needs to be done, a still monumental task. We need to use the terms “women’s liberation” and even “male supremacy” again, even if it means a very big fight.
Carol Hanisch was a founding member of New York Radical Women in 1968 and has been agitating for the liberation of women ever since. She is probably best known for writing The Personal Is Political and for proposing the idea for—and writing a critique of—the 1968 Miss America Protest. She was also managing editor of the Redstockings book Feminist Revolution and editor of the journal Meeting Ground. She has also been active in civil rights, working class and environmental movements. Website: http://www.carolhanisch.org and email: email@example.com.
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on 18th December 2010 to name and shame individuals and parties to armed conflict that are “credibly suspected” of committing rape or other forms of sexual violence.
The council said it intends to use the list, to be compiled by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “for more focused United Nations engagement with those parties,” including imposing targeted sanctions.
The resolution adopted by the council reiterates deep concern that despite its repeated condemnation, rapes and attacks on women and children caught in conflict continue to occur “and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”
The council action follows the rape of 303 civilians — 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and 3 boys — in 13 villages in eastern Congo between July 30 and Aug. 2. Even in the conflict-wracked region, where rape has become a daily hazard and some women have been sexually assaulted repeatedly over the years, the numbers released by the U.N. were shocking.
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. envoy trying to combat sexual violence in conflict, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, saying the new system of monitoring and accountability should “shatter the vicious cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence.”
She stressed that the naming and shaming “must apply equally whether the victim is an eight-year-old girl or an 80-year-old grandmother.”
“Today’s resolution will help ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity,” she said. “Instead of serving as a cheap, silent and effective tactic of war, sexual violence will be a liability for armed groups. It will expose their superiors to increased international scrutiny, seal off the corridors of power and close all exits to those who commit, command or condone such acts.”
The International Criminal Court has added rape and sexual violence to the list of war crimes. Congo’s former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is currently on trial at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, for murder, rape and pillage committed by members of his private militia in Central African Republic in 2002-2003. Wallstrom said the number of alleged rapes exceeds the number of killings.
Last month, she said there should be more prosecutions for rape during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Only 12 cases have been prosecuted out of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 victims in Bosnia, which shows “the magnitude of the problem,” she said.
Human Rights Watch called the council’s decision to publish an annual list of alleged perpetrators “a tremendous step toward ending this horrendous practice.”
“Today is a big day for women worldwide,” Marianne Mollmann, the organization’s women’s rights advocacy director, said in a statement.
The new resolution will provide the international community “with an additional tool to offer justice to thousands of victims of wartime rape,” she said.
The resolution reiterated the council’s demand “for the complete cessation with immediate effect by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence” and called on parties to armed conflict “to make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence.”
Earlier this year Millicent Gaika, a 30-year-old South African woman, was tied up, beaten, strangled, tortured and raped for five hours by a man as he screamed that he would “cure” Millicent of her lesbianism.
Ndumie Funda, a local community activist whose lesbian partner was murdered in the course of a similar “corrective rape,” reached out to Millicent through a small local charity she set up to rescue and support survivors of “corrective rape.” But last month they both had to go into hiding after the South African government released the perpetrator they had helped to jail on 60 rand (less than $10) bail.
Ndumie, Millicent and others decided to fight back against the rapists and the lack of accountability for their crimes. From a Cape Town safehouse for survivors of ‘corrective rape,’ the women created a petition on Change.org targeting South African Justice Minister Jeffrey Radebe.
Please, they wrote, declare ‘corrective rape’ a hate crime, which would both empower and require South African police to take a harder line on the vicious crime.
More than 500 “corrective rapes” are reported in South Africa each year, and more than 30 South African lesbians have been murdered because of their sexuality over the past decade. Worse, for every 100 men charged with rape in South Africa, 96 of them walk free.
We can help here. Last year, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority went on record refusing to formally declare ‘corrective rape’ a hate crime, saying “It is not something that the South African government has prioritized as a specific project.”
But with enough international pressure on the South African government, such heinous crimes might finally be taken seriously.
More than 2,000 Change.org members have added their name to the petition created by Ndumie and Millicent.
Thank you for taking action,
The Change.org Team
P.S. Every time a new person signs the petition, the Justice Minister’s office automatically gets an email. So once you join, will you forward this to friends and family, and post on Facebook, so that they hear a global outcry?
Over the past couple of months Delhi, has been witnessing an average of one rape case almost everyday and experts have attributed the alarming trend to two major factors – a low conviction rate and lack of better and preventive policing.
Citing rape to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the county, they say it takes an enormous amount of time to bring to book the guilty.
According to police records, over 400 rape cases have been reported in the capital in the year 2010 alone.
“There is a problem in policing here. Police do not register crime freely and there is rarely adequate investigation done in cases of molestation,” says Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer.
“People do not become rapists all of a sudden. Rapists have a history in molestation and other petty crimes. But since complaints against them are not registered by police early on, they go on to become bigger criminals and rapists,” she says.
The conviction rate in rape and molestation cases in India is a dismal 27 per cent. Long drawn trials and pressure on the families of victims are some of the major reasons for this. Police norms and behaviour are a deterrent to many rape victims who do not lodge any complaint against the crime at all.
Senior CPM politburo member Brinda Karat favours “time bound judicial process” to deal with rape cases.
“Conviction rate in rape cases and policing in general is poor in Delhi. It can be better. Also, we need more social awareness not only in Delhi but all over the country against crime against women,” she says.
The Delhi Women’s Commission has written a letter to the chief justice of India to set up fast track courts for rape cases.
“We have requested the CJI to deliver the verdict in a rape case within six months through fast track courts. It will be a deterrent for the criminals,” says its chief Barkha Singh.
The commission is also set to launch an awareness programme through its ‘MahilaPanchayats’ to raise awareness regarding crimes against women in the capital and ask people to help the victims of molestation and rape.
“We are also trying to get cars with tinted glasses banned in the city. Such vehicles are breeding grounds for crime while on the move,” adds Singh.
Last week, a teenage girl was abducted and gang raped in a moving vehicle after she protested their lewd remarks in the Sultanpuri area of northwest Delhi.
Days earlier, a BPO employee was abducted and raped by four men in south Delhi and a 22-year-old woman was abducted and raped by six men in northeast Delhi.
Psychiatrist Samir Parikh blames the increasing number of rapes on the mentality of “getting away with anything”.
“The rising number of cases suggest that the fear of consequence of action is on decline and the perception of ‘get away with anything’ is growing. Why is it that in Delhi young girls in buses don’t find any support when they are harassed?” he asks.
Kiran Bedi, who has set up her own NGO and says that in matters relating to crime against women, the bail should be conditional.
“Guarantee should be high in case of bail in rape cases and in case of repeat crimes, the guarantor should also be punished,” adds Bedi.
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” — Mahmoud Fathalla, Former President of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 1997
Researchers at the World Health Organization have recently documented a substantial 48% decrease in the numbers of unsafe abortion deaths. In 2008, 47,000 women a year lost their lives from complications of unsafe abortion, compared to 70,000 in 2003. But the bad news is that unsafe abortions have not decreased and are still the predominant way that women end pregnancies in developing countries. Abortions appear to a bit less unsafe because more women are turning to safer medical abortion pills to induce their own abortion.
Unsafe abortion deaths are a direct consequence of antiquated and cruel laws against abortion. About 21.6 million unsafe abortions occurred worldwide in 2008, almost all in developing countries where abortion is illegal. (This compares to 19.7 million in 2003, with the rise due to the increasing number of women of childbearing age in the world.) Among women who survive unsafe abortion, an estimated 8.5 million suffer complications, with 1 in 4 needing medical attention.
In contrast, death from unsafe abortion has been virtually eliminated in western industrialized countries that have legalized abortion, and the complication rate is extremely low. When abortion is legalized in a country, there is typically a dramatic decline in maternal deaths and complications due to abortion. This pattern has been repeated numerous times since the 1950’s when abortion was first legalized in former Eastern Bloc countries.
Legal abortion saves women’s lives and improves their health because without it, women risk their safety by resorting to unsafe illegal abortion. The right to abortion also advances women’s equality, liberty, and other human rights, freeing women to pursue an education and career and to participate fully in public life. Access to abortion allows women to better plan and provide for their families, which benefits the entire community and society. Unplanned births of unwanted children can be very crippling to women and families, leading to higher rates of poverty and dysfunction, including child abuse. These factors make the provision of safe and legal abortion a vital public health interest that negates any justification for criminalizing the procedure.
Yet here we are, one decade into the 21st century, and almost every developing country in the world continues to enforce a near-total criminal ban on abortion. Abortion is illegal primarily in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia, as well as a tiny handful of developed countries like Poland and Ireland. However, all countries with more liberal abortion laws still retain abortion as a criminal offence with exceptions, or have enacted further legal restrictions that make it difficult to access.
If the intent behind banning abortions is to stop or reduce them, it’s been a total failure. In 2007, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute found that overall abortion rates around the world are similar, regardless of whether or not abortion is illegal in a country. This is because countries with strict anti-abortion laws have well-developed black markets for abortion. The global average abortion rate for women of childbearing age (15-44) was 29 per 1,000 women in 2003, with the highest number of abortions occurring in countries where it’s highly restricted and in countries with poor access to contraception. Eastern Africa’s rate was 39 per 1,000 women, while South America’s rate was 33.
In countries with fewer restrictions where legal abortion is widely available, the rates are generally much lower, plus we see a decline in abortion rates as contraception use rises. Canada is the only democratic nation in the world with no abortion law or restrictions, but it has a low abortion rate of 14.1 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That compares favourably to western Europe’s rate of 12, the lowest abortion rate in the world and the region with the most liberal abortion laws. In contrast, the American rate is 19.4 (for 2005) and U.S. women must navigate through a thicket of abortion restrictions. There isn’t a shred of evidence that such restrictions are effective or helpful for women or society; instead, they create arbitrary obstacles and delays for women seeking abortion care.
Who should we blame for this global travesty of injustice and for the continuing suffering and deaths of women? The obvious culprits, of course, are the Vatican, conservative countries, various Catholic and fundamentalist religious organizations, and right-wing politicians. But perhaps a better question is: Why does the world allow these entities to inflict such a terrible toll on women’s lives and health, year after year? The most obvious culprit in this case would appear to be sexism and patriarchy, which are very much alive and well in our modern age, and still socially acceptable compared to racism. Traditional views on women’s motherhood role are the main reason that women’s rights and equality still lag far behind the rights of minorities and other vulnerable groups. Much of the world still clings to the deeply-held assumption that women’s dignity and humanity is tied to being a mother, even though this subordinates women to a biological function. Moreover, our male-dominated patriarchal societies still try to guarantee paternity by controlling women’s sexual and reproductive behaviour at the expense of their freedom and human rights.
The United Nations’ position on abortion reflects the world’s hostile attitude towards safe abortion as an essential part of women’s reproductive rights and the cornerstone of women’s health and survival. Although the UN’s purpose is in part to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion,” the UN has essentially abandoned women who need abortions by caving to pressure from right-wing forces.
A woman dies from domestic violence every 63 minutes in Russia, with more than 650,000 women beaten by their husbands and other relatives each year, a non-governmental organisation reported earlier in December.
The violence “results in the death of 14,000 women each year” in Russia, the ANNA women’s support group said in a report.
“In other words, this translates into another woman being killed by her husband once every 63 minutes,” the organisation’s president Marina Pisklakova told AFP.
She said the rate had remained relatively stable since 1995, although the interior ministry only began issuing official domestic violence figures in 2008.
For comparison, a woman is killed in a British domestic violence case once every three days, according to the Refuge women’s centre.
Pisklakova said the violence in Russia could be partially explained by a patriarchal society “in which women are accustomed to violence, which they treat as simple marital conflict.”
Though aware of the problem, Russian authorities have done little to help, Pisklakova said.
“There is one 35-bed (female) shelter in a Russian capital of 10 million inhabitants,” she said.
‘Control and Sexuality’ by Ziba Mir-Hosseini & Vanja Hamzić
The International Solidarity Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is pleased to announce the publication of Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts by Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzić. Copies can be purchased in the WLUML webshop for £12.00, and if you follow the link, you can download a sample chapter (the introduction) here: http://www.wluml.org/node/6869
Control and Sexuality by Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzić examines zina laws in some Muslim contexts and communities in order to explore connections between the criminalisation of sexuality, gender-based violence and women’s rights activism. The Violence is Not Our Culture Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws network present this comparative study and feminist analysis of zina laws as a contribution to the broader objective of ending violence in the name of ‘culture’. It is hoped that the publication will help activists, policy-makers, researchers and other civil society actors acquire a better understanding of how culture and/or religion are invoked to justify laws that criminalise women’s sexuality and subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of punishment.
“It is most timely that this publication should emerge when issues of culture and human rights are being debated in many venues in the international arena: within the United Nations; in national and transnational, mainstream and alternative media outlets; and across social and political movements. Some cultural practices may be particularly detrimental to the rights of women and girls. All harmful practices, regardless of provenance and justification, must be eliminated. All human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-related. It is my hope that by building upon the progressive, equitable and just aspects of culture which are inherent to all, this book can make a substantial contribution towards the promotion of rights, under law and custom.” Farida Shaheed, UN Independent Expert on Cultural Rights
(this is a comment piece by Meredith Tax)
The International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened its doors in 2002. Five years earlier, people in the global women’s movement had organised a women’s caucus for gender justice to bring about this happy event, and the existence of the ICC is in no small part the result of their concerted efforts. Some of the best feminist lawyers in the world, including the late Rhonda Copelon of the international women’s human rights law clinic of the City University of New York, worked on creating the court, and the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the court – made a qualitative leap forward by integrating gender-based violence into its definitions of international crimes. The statute had provisions to ensure that evidence would be gathered in a way that protected witnesses and did not cause additional trauma, gave the court authority to award reparations, and required the prosecutor to appoint advisors with legal expertise on sexual and gender violence.
Unfortunately, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s first prosecutor, has shown little grasp of the statute he is supposed to be enforcing. He came to the court to implement a treaty unique in its attention to gender, and his first case ignored gender altogether. This case, in which Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, is accused of drafting child soldiers, has already dragged on for four years. It has been almost thrown out of court twice because the prosecution evidence was so poorly prepared, and last year, Lubanga’s defence team charged that prosecution researchers in Congo got some witnesses to fabricate evidence. This charge could result in the whole case coming to nothing.
Equally serious was Moreno-Ocampo’s failure to include rape among the charges, even though young girls abducted by Lubanga’s troops were routinely forced to have sex with their commanders. Women’s human rights activists tried to persuade the prosecutor to include crimes of sexual violence among the charges, but he wouldn’t listen. Now, because Lubanga was not charged with rape, defence attorneys do not have to allow questions about those crimes.
The ICC’s second Congo case, that of Jean-Pierre Bemba, is flawed in a different way. The Rome Statute provides that rape can be charged as a crime in itself and also as a form of torture or genocide; such multiple charges were intended to capture the many dimensions and the full harmfulness of the act. However, in the Bemba case, the judge in the pre-trial chamber has refused to allow multiple charges of rape; she threw out the charge of torture, partly because the indictment was poorly drafted and the prosecutor’s office showed insufficient evidence.
All this underlines the importance of another provision of the Rome Statute, also violated by Moreno-Ocampo – the early appointment of high-level experts on gender as a permanent part of the prosecutor’s staff. Those who drafted the Rome Statute knew from experience that mainstreaming crimes against women was a new idea, and lawyers and judges would need to be trained for the work. But instead of appointing gender experts, integrating them into his staff and letting them shape cases, Moreno-Ocampo delayed any such appointment for six years.
Finally, in November, 2008, as criticism of him mounted, he appointed Catharine MacKinnon as special gender adviser – not a staff position, but a consulting one with no attendance requirement. It was a peculiar appointment in other ways. MacKinnon had not been directly involved in the process leading to the creation of the court and the mainstreaming of gender in the Rome Statute. Her main claim to fame in the US, where she is a polarising figure, has been in sexual harassment law, and through her activities during the “porn wars” of the eighties, when she sought to criminalise pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights. She carried her analysis of the centrality of porn into the Yugoslav wars, arguing, on dubious evidence, that Serbian militias in Bosnia were provided with special porn to psych them up for mass rapes.
At the ICC, it has begun to appear that MacKinnon’s main assignment is to blow smoke. In a speech in September 2009, she said (http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/2B344A20-EBDC-406C-8837-3973274F4501/280839/speech110909.pdf pdf):
“The most striking quality of the pursuit of these [gender-based] crimes by the ICC to date has been that they are there: their centrality to every prosecution so far, in a way that clarifies how the sexual abuse becomes a specific instrumentality in each conflict.”
This is a whitewash of the way gender was neglected in the early years of the court, as evidenced in the Lubanga case.
When the modern human rights movement began, its normative victim was an eastern European male prisoner of conscience. In the nineties, women activists shone light on violations based on gender, and the definition of a human rights victim became broad enough to include sexual violence by both state and “non-state actors” – militias, paramilitary groups, religious fundamentalists, even fathers and brothers and husbands. The Rome Statute is one of the major markers on that road. But the “war on terror” has returned us, in many ways, to status quo ante: today, the normative human rights victim is once more a male prisoner, this time in Guantánamo; human rights offences by states are back at centre stage; and crimes against women and children are again being marginalised.
The ICC’s deficiencies are one symptom of this slippage in the progress of women’s human rights. The struggle between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty is another. We live in a world where the internal processes of human rights organisations, whether Amnesty or the ICC, lack transparency, and where discussions about them are increasingly confined to experts. While the context of women’s human rights work has been transformed by the “war on terror”, the rest of the human rights movement has not caught up, and the global women’s networks that existed in the nineties have become fatigued and lack funding.
At an international conference at McGill University in 1999, Rhonda Copelon observed that “human rights, like law itself, are not autonomous, but rise and fall based on the course and strength of peoples’ movements and the popular and political pressure and cultural change they generate.” We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed back to a narrow mid 20th-century vision of human rights, least of all in the ICC. Ocampo-Moreno’s term as prosecutor expires in 2012. It is time for activists to begin to mobilise, and lobby for a replacement who will have a better grasp of the gender provisions so meticulously written into the Rome Statute.
Hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder in Beirut, demonstrating their support for a women’s rights campaign that has swept the city earlier this month.
It’s called a human chain, and activists say it visually represents their cause: Men and women standing together against domestic violence. Most of the 200 people lining the streets of Beirut are wearing white banners, or white scarves saying, “Be a real man: United in ending violence against women.”
Anthony Keedi, one of the organizers, says that the ribbons are a part of a worldwide campaign designed to get men to speak out against domestic violence. And, although White Ribbon Campaigns, have been going on around the world for many years, this is the first time it has been introduced in the Middle East. He says Lebanese men often support the cause once they understand it to be a human rights issue, rather than exclusively a women’s issue.
“They realize that, yeah, they might have stood for this all along,” said Keedi. “They just haven’t spoken about it. And now they’re realizing that it is their job. It’s a sense of ownership. It is my obligation to speak about it because these are my principles.”
This demonstration was one of many in Beirut over the past two weeks and part of a global campaign against domestic violence called: “16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women.” In Beirut, the campaign also included the presentation of a pilot study by activist organizations, Kafa (Enough) Violence and Exploitation and Oxfam.
The study indicates that most men in Lebanon grow up as either witnesses or victims of violence and that domestic violence is found equally in Lebanese families, regardless of socio-economic status or religion. It also shows that Lebanese men generally define violence only in terms of beatings or rape- not psychological or verbal abuse. And the men in Lebanon are, as one activist put it, bombarded with norms of masculinity.
Kafa has also focused the local anti-domestic violence campaign on gathering support for a change in the Lebanese law. Currently, there are no laws in Lebanon designed to protect women from violence inside their homes. If adopted by Parliament, activists say the law will protect women by allowing them to report abuses confidentially, seek protection orders against their husbands, and create private family courts. During the campaign, organizers passed out a petition supporting the law that now, after two years of campaigning, has about 10,000 signatures.
Activist Marita Kassis says that although many governments in the Middle East, like Lebanon, have signed international human rights agreements, treaties have done little for the women here. She says women in Lebanon need new local laws, and to change the way society views violence against women.
Aid agencies and donors are failing to take into account the relief and security needs of women displaced by disasters and conflicts, according to Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
For example, in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, cultural practices mean Pashtun women cannot be seen by men who are not family members. So when the worst floods in the country’s history devastated their homes in July, they faced serious problems.
Unless the aid agencies on the ground had female assessment teams and other staff in place, these women were “invisible” and could not even visit the toilets during the day, Rasmusson told AlertNet in an interview.
The assistance they received – including clean water, food, sanitation and access to maternity care – was limited, she said.
“Worse, during Ramadan, women were fasting from sunset to sunrise, but they were also looking after the kids so the kids didn’t have food or drinks for 12 hours. Many babies and small children were totally dehydrated,” recalled Rasmusson, who visited the region in August.
This is just one example where women’s humanitarian needs have been overlooked, said the head of the NRC, an organisation that promotes and protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their homes.
Around the world, millions of women uprooted by war live in fear of abuse and discrimination, aid workers say.
There are more than 43 million people displaced by conflict, three quarters of them estimated to be women and children, according to NRC. Some have fled to another part of their own country and others have crossed borders.
“Women are exposed to assault and injustice in all kinds of environments, and by anyone from a military soldier to family members,” Rasmusson said. “And often perpetrators go free, so there is little risk in abusing, raping, kidnapping or killing women.”
A binding Security Council resolution, passed 10 years ago, calls for women and girls in conflicts to be protected from rape, but only around 20 countries have implemented it. A recent U.N. report said sexual violence is an increasingly common weapon of war.
Simple measures such as making sure camps for the displaced are well-lit, building toilets within compounds, and letting civilians – instead of armed troops – run the camps can help provide safety for women, Rasmusson said.
But displaced women’s voices are not being heard, often because of “a total lack of understanding of the situation on the ground”, she added.
Donor indifference also means funding for activities to protect women from violence and discrimination has been decreasing.
With Pakistan’s flood response, for example, only 13 percent of the money needed to protect women has been provided, and in Zimbabwe, only 10 percent of this work is funded.
“Few donors are willing to fund protection activities because they’re not visible. The food, the shelter, the water, the health – all visible, tangible, concrete,” Rasmusson said.
One factor hampering displaced women’s security is the increased militarisation of protection, which is seen as the job of armed personnel even though it encompasses physical and mental safety as well as human rights, Rasmusson said.
She cited Democratic Republic of Congo as an example, saying U.N. peacekeepers there have a “contradictory mandate”. Although protecting civilians is part of their mission, they were involved in military operations last year with the Congolese army “which is one of the main perpetrators” of sexual violence against women, the top refugee official said.
“What kind of signal is that sending when you have people who are supposed to protect you supporting those who are violating your rights?” she asked.
From March to December 2009, U.N. troops backed the DRC military in an operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo’s east. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, accused the army (link:http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/02/eastern-dr-congo-surge-army-atrocities) of widespread rape and brutal killings during that time.
The rising trend of displacement in urban settings, like Kabul and Mogadishu, also leaves women and children more exposed, because of higher crime levels in cities and difficulty of access for aid agencies.
Protecting women more effectively requires a deeper understanding of the role of men in conflict, Rasmusson said, as they change from providers to warriors once they take up arms. And that aggressive role may well continue even after conflict has ended, leading to a rise in domestic violence.
Rasmusson urged peace negotiators to make more effort to seek and incorporate displaced women’s voices and needs into peace agreements and other post-conflict processes.
“We have seen time and time again (that) only women can communicate their own needs – not the men, not the foreigners, not all the international experts negotiating these peace agreements,” she said.
Reactions to the steady stream of headlines about unwanted babies have ranged from an expansion of sex education in schools to calls for stiffer penalties and the opening of the country’s first “baby hatch,” where infants can be left to be cared for by others. One state government has offered financial support for younger teenagers to marry, angering women’s groups that have been campaigning against child marriage.
Under the Shariah, or Islamic, law that applies to the Muslims who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, premarital sex is forbidden, with penalties including up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit, about $1,600, or six strokes of the cane. Premarital sex is not punishable for non-Muslims, but it remains socially taboo.
Abortion is illegal unless the woman’s physical or mental health is endangered. Anyone who abandons a child under 12 faces up to seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Despite recent news media attention to the issue, the number of babies being abandoned in Malaysia has not shown a significant spike this year. The police have recorded 76 cases from the beginning of this year through Oct. 1, compared with 79 cases in 2009 and 102 in 2008.
But in August, the cabinet asked the attorney general’s office to look more closely into cases where babies died after being abandoned, to determine whether those responsible should be charged with murder, a crime that carries the death penalty in Malaysia.
Taking another approach, Mohamad Ali Rustam, chief minister of Malacca State, south of Kuala Lumpur, recently announced plans to give 500 ringgit to couples under the age of 18 if they marry.
In Malaysia, Muslim girls under 16 and boys under 18 may marry with permission from a Shariah court. Non-Muslims must be at least 18, unless they have permission from their state’s chief minister, in which case they may be as young as 16.
From 2000 through 2008, 1,654 marriages were registered involving girls aged 16 and 17, although women’s rights advocates believe the incidence of child marriage may be higher.
A Unaids report released this year showed that 7,176 Muslim girls and 2,029 Muslim boys aged 19 and below underwent H.I.V. screening in 2009, which is compulsory in most states for Malaysian Muslims who are applying to marry.
Mr. Mohamad said he hoped that providing teenage couples with money to help pay for a wedding ceremony would discourage premarital sex and thus reduce the abandonment of children born out of wedlock.
Groups that advocate raising the marriage age to 18 for all Malaysians, regardless of gender or religion, have condemned Mr. Mohamad’s move.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women’s Aid Organization, a nongovernmental group, said that allowing those under 18 to marry contravened Malaysia’s obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country’s own legislation. “Child marriage is against every right of the child,” she said.
Both the U.N. convention and Malaysia’s Child Act define a child as anyone under the age of 18.
The Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development is investigating reports that a 14-year-old girl was recently given permission to marry by the Shariah court, but there are no plans to raise the marriage age to 18 for Muslim girls.
“We hope that the Shariah judges will continue to exercise their discretion judiciously,” said Heng Seai Kie, deputy minister for Women, Family and Community Development.
Other efforts are focused on education and logistical support.
The number of teenage pregnancies, regardless of marital status, has risen slightly in Malaysia in recent years, with 16,207 live births registered in 2007, compared with 15,752 in 2005.
Nongovernmental organizations have long called for schools to provide students with more knowledge about sex and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Currently, students learn only the basics of anatomy and reproduction in biology and physical education classes, and abstinence outside marriage is promoted.
Starting next year, however, primary school students will spend 30 minutes a week and high school students will spend 40 minutes twice a month in “Reproductive Health and Social Education” classes.
The lessons will continue to emphasize abstinence before marriage, but secondary students will also learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
Ms. Heng, the deputy women’s minister, said that while the government wanted to discourage premarital sex, it did provide support for unwed women and girls who became pregnant. It operates four shelters for unmarried girls under 18, and two for pregnant women 18 and older, at which free food and accommodation are provided. She said the country also maintained up to 60 welfare centers that offered assistance to unwed mothers and their babies.
The government’s response has failed to impress advocates like Ms. Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization. While she welcomed the greater focus on sex education, she deplored the attempts to encourage young teenagers to marry and said punitive measures, like charging people with murder if the baby they abandoned died, would not help address the problem of child abandonment.
“If the message is that you might get caned for having sex outside marriage, or you might even be executed because you have abandoned a baby and the baby dies, or we will force you to get married — never mind if you are under 18 — if these are the messages that are going out, then certainly no one is going to come forward,” she said.
To increase the chances of survival for abandoned babies, Malaysia’s first “baby hatch,” a place where mothers can leave their unwanted babies, opened in May. Fifteen babies have been left so far.
The hatch, based on a design already in use in Germany and Japan, features an alarm that is activated when a baby is placed inside. It is located on the premises of Orphan Care, a nongovernmental organization that arranges for the babies to be placed in children’s homes or adopted.
Orphan Care is hoping to open another baby hatch in Kuala Lumpur and a third at a government hospital on the outskirts of the capital. “I think if more hatches open, if they are more accessible and in different cities, we can save a few more lives,” said Adnan Mohammad Tahir, the organization’s president.
Part of a longer article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/world/asia/09malay.html?_r=1&src=twrhp