Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a year-end op-ed piece for an Australian newspaper, he talked about the future of a world body facing a new generation of threats: climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and human rights.

But, wittingly or unwittingly, he left out one of the biggest political success stories of the world body: the creation of a separate body, UN Women, to promote gender empowerment worldwide.

The new U.N. agency, armed with a projected 500-million- dollar annual budget and headed by Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet, began functioning at the beginning of the New Year.

But there has been no fanfare or political celebration inside the world body – even as the secretary-general is being accused of bypassing the importance of the landmark event.

“It would have been a tremendous opportunity to draw attention to UN Women … after all, the creation of an entirely new agency devoted to half the world’s population is something to be noted and celebrated,” said Paula Donovan, a co-director of AIDS-Free World, one of the early active campaigners for the new agency.

“But there’s not a word on UN Women,” she complained in a letter to Bachelet, jointly authored with Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. “And that’s only the half of it. The other half provokes disbelief,” says the letter.

The agency was inaugurated on the first working day of 2011 at the U.N. since Monday was a New Year holiday.

In a paragraph that summarises the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the secretary‑general lists seven of the eight goals. “The only one left out is, astonishingly, the goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women. How is that possible?” the letter notes.

The creation of UN Women was hailed as a phenomenal success judging by the decades-old negotiations.

Asked to respond to the criticism, deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS: “The secretary‑general has made clear his commitment to women’s issues, and he pushed strongly for the establishment of UN Women.” His commitment to UN Women can be seen through his efforts to win approval for that entity and his search for a strong leader for UN Women, which he found in Michelle Bachelet, said Haq. “He has spoken extensively on women’s issues, and its absence from one op-ed does not imply any lessening of his commitment on this crucial issue,” he declared.

In the op-ed piece, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald Dec. 31, Ban says the United Nations today leads what seems at times like a double life.

“Pundits criticise it for not solving all the world’s ills, yet people around the world are asking it to do more, in more places, than ever before ‑ a trend that will continue in 2011. It is not hard to see why,” he wrote. “The conventional wisdom will tell you that the MDG targets ‑ reducing poverty and hunger, improving the health of mothers and children, combating HIV/AIDS, increasing access to education, protecting the environment, and forging a global partnership for development ‑ are simply unattainable. In fact, we are controlling disease ‑ polio, malaria and AIDS ‑ better than ever, and making big, new investments in women’s and children’s health ‑ the key to progress in many other areas,” the article reads.

In her letter to Bachelet, Donovan says the greatest challenges for women will come from within. “And that was demonstrated, right at the outset of your tenure, by a classic act of unthinking negligence on the part of the secretary‑general himself. Alas, it is all too typical. Dr. Bachelet, you have your work cut out for you. And your work starts at the top,” says the letter, which carries the heading: “Can we help with your biggest challenge: educating the secretary‑general?”

Asked whether Ban was paying lip service to the cause of gender empowerment, Donovan told IPS: “I wish it were a fluke, but sadly, it’s been a pattern since he took office. I really wonder whether he believes that he’s ticking off the gender box when he makes a passing reference to maternal health – as though that were the sum total of women’s rights,” she added.

Article continues at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54039

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Joint Action Group For Gender Equality (JAG) is greatly concerned with recent announcement in Star (Dec 29) that the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) intends to take action against Azwan Ismail for posting a video on YouTube entitled “I’m Gay, I’m OK” as part of a video campaign launched in response to accounts of suicides and attempted suicides by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) teenagers and adults.

We are appalled that government authorities have not condemned the threats of murder and violence against Azwan Ismail and other members of Seksualiti Merdeka who were involved in the campaign, but instead have fanned violence and hatred with homophobic and discriminatory statements.

Women have never been strangers to discrimination. That is why women’s groups seek to uphold Article 8 of the Malaysian federal constitution that clearly guarantees that, “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law.”

JAG stands by Seksualiti Merdeka’s attempt to reach out to Malaysians who face overwhelming feelings of loneliness, fear or hopelessness resulting from the stigma and discrimination against them for being LGBT. They should not be persecuted for trying to address a human issue with understanding and compassion.

JAG is deeply concerned with the culture of hatred and intolerance bred in Malaysian society today against those who are different, be it on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. This demonisation of the “other” goes against the true inclusive and tolerant spirit of being Malaysian.

As Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated:

“Neither the existence of national laws, nor the prevalence of custom can ever justify the abuse, attacks, torture and indeed killings that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender persons are subjected to, because of who they are or are perceived to be.

“Because of the stigma attached to issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity, violence against LGBT persons is frequently unreported, undocumented and goes ultimately unreported and unpunished. Rarely does it provoke public debate and outrage. This shameful silence is the ultimate rejection of the fundamental principle of universality of rights.”

Azwan Ismail is not the first gay Muslim man in Malaysia nor will he be the last. Being gay is not a crime, however, hate speech as per Sections 211 and 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and making threats to commit acts of violence as stated in Section 503 of the Penal Code are crimes under Malaysian laws.

We urge Malaysians to stand up to such hatred and violence and reach out to all those who are discriminated against in peace and compassion.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) comprises Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sisters in Islam (SIS), All Women’s Action Society (Awam), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) and Perak Women for Women Society.

http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/152034

The government has proposed a cash-incentive plan to encourage families to have girls.

As India’s middle class grows, more families are using modern technology to ensure they have a boy, according to gender and population experts. Confronted with a decrease in the number of girls born, the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has decided to crack down on the illegal practice of so-called female feticide.

India outlawed the practice of doctors using technologies like ultrasounds to tell patients the sex of their unborn child in 1994. Abortion based on certain grounds is legal, but having one based on sex is not.

Despite the law as well as gains in girls’ education and employment opportunities across India, the practice has continued and even grown as more people have access to ultrasounds. The child sex ratio, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the 0 to 6 years age group, dropped from 945 girls in 1991 to 927 girls in 2001, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund based on the census. When just looking at the sex ratio at birth [2], for the period 2006-08, the ratio drops to 904 girls per 1,000 boys.

Sex determination leads to a missing 500,000 to 700,000 girls across India each year, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

The state government has since announced a proposal to encourage families to have girls [4] by providing cash incentives. On the birth of a girl child, 5,000 rupees ($114) will be deposited into a bank account under her name, according to local media reports. Once the family ensures the girl completes her schooling and does not marry before the age of 18, she will have access to the money. The finance department has not yet approved the program, which would initially be for families living below the poverty line, according to the Times of India.

Cash incentives have similarly been used in India to encourage women to give birth in hospitals or other medical institutions and have been credited with an increase in institutional deliveries.

However, social activists in Mumbai question the effectiveness of providing cash incentives to encourage women to have a girl child when the families that need to be targeted are not the poor but rather the middle class and affluent.

Poor families ensure they have a boy by having large families, whereas the middle and upper classes now want fewer children and therefore resort to sex determination, according to Sayeed Unisa, a professor with the International Institute for Population Sciences, a Mumbai-based training and research center in the area of population studies.

There is a long-held belief in many Indian communities that at least one boy is needed to support the parents when they can no longer work and to light their funeral pyre. Girls, on the other hand, can be viewed as a burden given the rising costs of dowries and weddings.

Social activists say the skewed sex ratio shows how little girls and women are valued in many segments of Indian society. Many families still invest less in girls, affecting everything from their nutrition to their education and employment opportunities.

Discrimination occurs throughout a girl’s life in India, and sex determination represents the worst form of it, said A.L. Sharada, program director of Population First, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organization working on population and health issues.

Studies have shown that female feticide is not a result of families being against having a girl child, but more that they feel they must have at least one boy. Birth order therefore has a deep impact on female feticide as the sex ratio becomes more skewed when a family already has one or two girls and is trying for a final boy child.

A study by the Christian Medical Association of India found that if a family already had two girls, the chance the third child would be a girl reduced to 219 girls for every 1,000 boys. The study was based on births at a public hospital in Delhi for the year 2000-2001.

The skewed sex ratio has become so bad in certain communities that families have resorted to buying wives from poorer areas. A young bride was bought for less than $25 in Haryana, one of India’s worst affected states, according to a recent report in London’s Daily Telegraph.

Such trafficking for marriage is becoming more common as sex ratios worsen. Some families, she added, can only afford one bride and share her among multiple family members.

To combat female feticide, social activists say there must be more monitoring of clinics and implementing the law against sex determination, the judiciary and medical professionals need to be sensitized to the issue, and an environment must be created where people can come forward to complain about non-compliance with the law. In addition, there must be more spaces and opportunities in communities to question gender stereotypes.

Extracts from a longer article at http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/101216/female-feticide-sex-selective-abortions-gender-ratio

(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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/dec/13/international-criminal-court-moreno-ocampo

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.

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/VVOS-8BYMXJ?OpenDocument

This Report Card presents a first overview of inequalities in child well-being for 24 of the world’s richest countries. Three dimensions of inequality are examined: material well-being, education, and health. In each case and for each country, the question asked is ‘how far behind are children being allowed to fall?’

The report argues that children deserve the best possible start, that early experience can cast a long shadow, and that children are not to be held responsible for the circumstances into which they are born. In this sense the metric used – the degree of bottom-end inequality in child well-being – is a measure of the progress being made towards a fairer society. Bringing in data from the majority of OECD countries, the report attempts to show which of them are allowing children to fall behind by more than is necessary in education, health and material well-being (using the best performing countries as a minimum standard for what can be achieved).

In drawing attention to the depth of disparities revealed, and in summarizing what is known about the consequences, it argues that ‘falling behind’ is a critical issue not only for millions of individual children today but for the economic and social future of their nations tomorrow.

http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/619

Download report in PDF:
• (pdf) Full text – Kb 1512 http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.pdf
• (zip) Compressed – Kb 752 http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.zip

9/12/2010
Senegal: Reviewing implementation of UN WOMEN and Millennium Development Goals
“We are moving beyond simply asking for gender equality, that was then! we are now calling for technical and specialized skills to use effective tools in bringing the political will into reality across all sectors in terms of gender” A quote statement by HE Mrs Awa Ndiaye, Minister of State, for Gender and Relations with African Women Associations and Foreign. Dakar, Senegal, on Nov 30, 2010.

8/12/2010
International: Structures of Violence: Defining Intersections of Militarism & VAW
On the occasion of the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders on November 29 and the 10th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) critically reflects on Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women, the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence for 2010. The experience of discrimination, intimidation and attack of women human rights defenders lies at the intersection of their gender identity and their position as dissenters in their societies, particularly when working on women’s or sexual rights.

8/12/2010
Israel/Palestine: Coalition of Women for Peace Report “All-Out War: Israel Against Democracy”
CWP published a new report today, titled “All-Out War: Israel Against Democracy.” This comprehensive report documents the increasing political persecution of peace and human rights organizations and activists, and describes the connections between the assaults led by Israeli government officials, security forces, courts, journalists, and extreme-right organizations in this well-orchestrated offensive on democracy. The report was published in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English. To download the full report (in English): http://coalitionofwomen.org/home/english/articles/Political_Persecution_Report/AllOutWar-internet-ENG.pdf

7/12/2010
Iran: Unprecedented Death Sentence for Christian Pastor on Charge of Apostasy
The Supreme Court of Iran should immediately reverse the apostasy conviction and death sentence of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and release him from prison, theInternational Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The judiciary should also release another pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, who faces a similar prosecution.

7/12/2010
Bahrain: Targeting and harassment of human rights defenders
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses deep concern about the Bahraini authorities persistence in targeting and harassing human rights defenders, which was shown recently in the ill treatment inflicted upon the president of BCHR, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, through selective security measures practiced against him. Mr. Rajab was detained for about one hour by national security agents upon his departure to Greece through Bahrain National airport, after being threatened, his personal laptop and mobile phone were forcibly confiscated (in addition to the rest of the electronic devices that were in his possession), all files and information on these devices were copied, even family pictures and files related to his human rights work.

6/12/2010
Malaysia: Sisters in Islam statement on reports of child marriage
Sisters in Islam (SIS) expresses its utmost concern over news reports of a 14-year-old child married off to an adult man in July this year. This only came to light when the child and the man who married her participated in a mass wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on 4th December 2010, where couples were given RM1,000 and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom was in attendance as guest of honour.

6/12/2010
UK: Hate crime against Ahmadi Muslims
It’s not known exactly how many Ahmadis have settled in Britain – because many are too fearful to even admit they belong to the religion. They are a small, peaceful community who came here after fleeing persecution in Pakistan. But many Ahmadis are now living in fear for their lives – because they claim a campaign of hatred against them by other, extremist Muslims, is being exported from Pakistan onto the streets of the UK.

3/12/2010
Aceh: Local Sharia Laws Violate Rights
Two local Sharia laws in Indonesia’s Aceh province violate rights and are often enforced abusively by public officials and even private individuals, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The country’s central government and the Aceh provincial government should take steps to repeal the two laws, Human Rights Watch said.

2/12/2010
Afghanistan: Female prisoners not released in absence of male relative
Zarghoona* has completed her three-month sentence at a prison in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, but she is not allowed home because no male relative has shown up to guarantee that she will not run away from home again. “All my family has abandoned me. I am dead for them but they [prison authorities] say they will only release me to a man from my family,” the woman told IRIN in a phone interview facilitated by an official who preferred anonymity.

2/12/2010
Pakistan: Sherry Rehman submits bill seeking end to death penalty under existing blasphemy laws
Amid announcements by the religious forces in the country to resist any move to change the blasphemy laws, former information minister and Pakistan People’s Party MNA Sherry Rehman has submitted a bill to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy laws.

More at http://www.wluml.org/section/news/latest

The disproportionate burden of HIV/Aids borne by women and girls in most developing countries requires urgent attention. At the heart of the problem is profound gender inequality and inequity, coupled with the systematic disempowerment of women, condoned by society for generations.

Although a global problem, it is particularly evident in developing countries and the HIV/Aids epidemic, therefore, is merely exposing the underlying failures of society.

Comprehensive sexual education for adolescent boys and girls is probably the single most important intervention in correcting gender stereotypes and imbalances and for preventing violence against women and the further spread of HIV.

Unfortunately, reproductive health services for women and girls in developing countries are universally not up to standard. Services that need urgent attention include family planning, antenatal, perinatal and postnatal care, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the cervix and access to safe and legalised abortion. In fact, criminal abortion is rife and extremely dangerous in developing countries, accounting for about 12% of all maternal mortality.

Female condoms have also not been given a chance as an important female-controlled method of preventing HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. When women are properly counselled and trained in the use of female condoms, there is a high acceptance and demand for their availability. The female condom is particularly effective in violent or non-consensual relationships. Much greater investment into its research and development needs to be made.

Much publicity has been given to the microbicide gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir in the prevention of HIV infection. The fact that it appears to be 40% effective shows promise for the female-controlled method of prevention.

Comment by Dr Brian Brink, chief medical officer of Anglo American and the chair of the International Women’s Health Coalition

http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-11-26-social-inequity-behind-female-hiv-prevalence

The International Solidarity Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is deeply shocked that a court in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan, has sentenced a 45-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to death on the charge of having committed “blasphemy”. Although illiterate, she has been accused of denying the institution of prophet-hood by citing copious examples from the key texts of Islam. We join local human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities in calling for Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws. We also appeal to the authorities to guarantee the safety of Asia Bibi and her family from the rage of local extremists, as well as investigate the violent persecution of the Christian community in the Punjab.

Asia Bibi is a farm worker in a village of Ittanwali in Nankana, about 75 kilometres west of Lahore. By Asia Bibi’s own account, her women co-workers tried to force her to embrace Islam on 8 June, 2009. This led to a discussion on the religious beliefs of the two communities and following a heated exchange between her and three Muslim women, the complainant Qari Muhammad Sallam, with the testimonies of these women, lodged a First Information Report (FIR) on June 19, 2009, under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Both sections state punishment by life imprisonment or capital punishment. Following the judicial process, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by an additional sessions court in Nankana district. Mrs Bibi was also ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 Pakistani rupees (£2,180). Now the family is appealing against the judgment in the Lahore High Court. SK Shahid, Asia Bibi’s counsel, said that he has filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court against the lower court’s judgment. “How can we expect from a non-Muslim to follow beliefs of the Muslims?” he asked. Various human rights groups are also likely to become party to the appeal, calling for the repeal of the judgment.

Mrs Bibi said that during the investigation held by Special Prosecutor Muhammad Amin Bokhari, she begged for pardon as she had never heard of the crime of blasphemy before. Mrs Bibi explained that she has not had access to a lawyer in jail and even on the day of her final verdict she was not accompanied by a lawyer. In court she was made to put a thumb print on the papers she was unable to read.

The Blasphemy laws have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries. Incidents of mob violence against non-Muslims, especially Christians, have also increased in this part of Punjab over the last few years, engineered by local extremists groups to give impetus to their religious and political base.

Blasphemy Laws in their present form were promulgated arbitrarily by the military dictator, Zia al-Huq, more than twenty years ago. Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist in 1996, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws.

Take action here: http://www.wluml.org/node/6789

Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office
http://www.wluml.org
wluml@wluml.org

Female Prisoners Get Less Time Out of Cells; Family Visits Restricted

Syria’s prison authorities should immediately transfer women detained in the predominantly male `Adra prison to a facility for women, Human Rights Watch said last week. The authorities are holding at least 12 women among an estimated 7,000 men.

Syrian rights activists in touch with families of some of the detained women told Human Rights Watch that the women are held in a section of the prison under the control of Political Security, one of Syria’s multiple security agencies. They are only allowed out of their cell twice a week and family visits are subject to the approval of Political Security. Two female guards reportedly supervise the women directly, but male guards for the other prisoners have verbally harassed the women, the activists said. Male prisoners are allowed out of their cells for at least two hours twice a day and can receive weekly visits without Political Security review, male former prisoners told Human Rights Watch.

“We don’t know why Syria is keeping these women in `Adra prison, but we do know that their situation is precarious and they are being treated worse than their male counterparts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations-issued Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners say that, “Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions,” and, “No male member of the staff shall enter the part of the institution set aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer.” Syria has prisons for women, including a main facility in Douma, located in the suburbs of Damascus. Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine why some women are in `Adra prison.

Among the women in `Adra is Tuhama Ma`ruf, 46, a dentist detained there since February 10, 2010, to serve the remaining part of a sentence issued by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) in 1995 for membership in the unlicensed Party for Communist Action (PCA). Syria’s security services detained Ma`ruf in 1992 as part of a crackdown against the PCA, which no longer exists. Authorities released her on bail in 1993, but the SSSC sentenced her in 1995 to six years for “membership in an illegal organization.” At the time, Human Rights Watch criticized the trials against PCA members for due process violations and for criminalizing peaceful political activity.

Ma`ruf did not turn herself in after the sentence was issued in 1995 and lived clandestinely for the next 15 years. Security forces arrested her on February 6 and placed her in `Adra to serve the remaining five years of the sentence. Ma`ruf’s lawyers petitioned for her freedom, arguing that her sentence should be commuted because of the passage of time, but the SSSC prosecutor’s office rejected her request.

“Ma`ruf was sentenced to prison solely for her peaceful political activism, which is protected under international human rights treaties that Syria has ratified,” Whitson said. “The authorities should release her.”

The Syrian activists said that other female detainees in `Adra whose identities they know include Yusra al-Hassan, detained since January without any formal accusation or judicial referral. Her husband is being held by the United States in Guantanamo. Other female detainees in `Adra reportedly include members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) as well as women convicted on drug or prostitution-related charges.

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/11/12/syria-transfer-women-out-male-prison-0

We (Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson) have just visited the Gaza Strip where we met many courageous people trying to live relatively normal lives despite the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli blockade. The blockade was imposed to punish the Hamas-led government, but it is women and children who are paying the highest price.

In our conversations with a range of women, we learned that despite the apparent “easing” of restrictions by Israel and Egypt, important socio-economic indicators such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and family violence are getting worse. Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists. These restrictions are not being imposed through the introduction of laws, but rather through party-led initiatives that are enforced without any system of accountability. For example, there is no legal decree stating that all schoolgirls must wear a headscarf, yet those who don’t wear it are harassed. Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics. In Gaza, women already struggle to be heard. The absence of women from politics in turn fuels perceptions of women as passive; they are seen as victims of the ongoing conflict, rather than active participants in shaping opinions and political processes. Despite the extremely challenging circumstances in which they live, it was therefore encouraging to meet a remarkable group of women in Gaza who are working hard to counter prevailing stereotypes. They are doing it in particular through a UN mechanism called 1325.

Ten years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which recognized that sustainable peace could not be achieved in any conflict without the full participation — and protection — of women. We were impressed to see that women’s groups in Gaza are working hard to mobilize support for the democratic principles of Resolution 1325. At the heart of this resolution is the conviction that women, like men, have a right to participate as decision-makers in all aspects of governance: Women have a right to a voice in institutions that are democratic and accountable, including those that govern peacemaking.

Women’s groups in Gaza told us that they are doing their best to raise awareness about Resolution 1325 among local leaders. They have provided training to women on the ground in how to exercise their political rights. They have documented human rights violations and violence against women, and they participated in the UN investigation, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to establish whether war crimes were committed during the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. However, they don’t feel that there has been any positive improvement in the lives of Gazan women.

Women activists are clamoring for help from beyond Gaza: “What we do ourselves is not enough”, they told us. “We need help to make sure that our voices are heard in the outside world.” These women are very keen to join networks worldwide who are working on Resolution 1325 and women’s rights more generally; They want to stand in solidarity with women around the world and feel that they are not alone. They want to reach out to the wider international community, but they are penned in — the blockade prevents them from doing so.

This is one, largely unrecognized, price of the blockade of Gaza: It is hampering women’s efforts to cooperate and build a movement that can effectively advance gender equality. The effect extends beyond politics; the disempowerment of women hinders post-conflict reconstruction, reduces the likelihood that it will be sustainable, and prevents any meaningful progress on development.

As Elders, we call for the immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siege is a denial of dignity; it is the denial of rights of a people, particularly its women, who yearn to be free.

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Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson are both members of The Elders. Mary Robinson was the first woman President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Lakhdar Brahimi is a distinguished diplomat and mediator. He was Foreign Minister of Algeria from 1991 to 1993 and has led UN missions in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-robinson/gazas-blockade-silences-v_b_785145.html

Faith-based organizations are playing increasingly prominent roles in service delivery. However, the premise that such organisations promote gender equality and the empowerment of women needs critical re-examination.

Faith-based organizations play a central role in welfare provision and delivery in many parts of the world. They account for roughly 50 percent of health service provision in many African countries and play a significant role in the provision of education in South Asia, Latin America and Africa. The role of these organisations in AIDS treatment in Africa has also received recognition, providing 40% of HIV care and treatment services in countries such as Lesotho and almost a third of the HIV/AIDS treatment facilities in Zambia. There is an increasing interest on the part of many actors, not least donors and policy-makers, in using and promoting faith-based organizations delivering services to advance a variety of agendas.

The case for enlisting faith-based organizations to advance gender equality rests on three central claims. First, the possibility of calling upon religious leaders and organizations who can, through their high profile and legitimacy, endorse positive social change UNFPA (2008), for instance, provides some impressive case studies of recruiting religious leaders on AIDS campaigns and reproductive health awareness initiatives.

However, partnership with male leadership fails to guarantee that an equality agenda will be adopted, as the experience of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria( FOWMAN), a prominent faith-based organization shows. An alliance between FOWMAN and Islamic scholars and government has rendered the movement dependent on powerful men for legitimacy.

Second, the social networks provided by faith-based organizations and the help women receive through membership in churches and mosques can be crucial to their daily survival. Building social capital through membership in religious groups, however, raises concerns over social cohesion and the politics of exclusion in multi-faith communities.

Finally, a faith-based approach to development is claimed to allow for a more holistic understanding of needs that takes account of both material and spiritual dimensions. However, the distinction between spirituality and religious observance is often blurred when there is pressure to conform to one particular understanding of how faith should manifest itself in mores, behaviours and relationships.

Three conundrums are worth noting in relation to faith based organisations delivering services. While some provide women with a spiritual and social repertoire that may act to empower them, they may simultaneously prescribe (and circumscribe) the ways in which they are expected to exercise their agency. Furthermore, the assumption that FBOs working at the grassroots level necessarily emanate from the grassroots and respond to local concerns is questionable. The third conundrum concerns the implications of what may be termed as the “food-for-faith” relationship. These will be discussed in turn.

Start of a much longer article which continues at http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/faith-in-service-what-has-gender-got-to-do-with-it

Mr Stephen Lewis, a former United Nations Envoy on HIV and AIDS for Africa challenged the membership of five countries on the UN Agency on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Executive Board.

He explained that he disapproved of the membership of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bangladesh, Iran and Democratic Republic of Congo on the Executive Board because of their anti-gender laws and practices.

The UN Women was formed to support the Commission on the Status of Women and other inter-governmental bodies in devising policies and also helping member states to implement standards.

It is also to provide technical and financial support to the countries and assist them to forge partnerships with civil society.

Speaking at an international women’s conference in Accra on the theme: “Quality versus Quantity; How far have we come in promoting Africa women’s participation in politics,” Mr Lewis said the five countries’ membership ‘amounted to international trafficking of the rights of women.’

The Women’s Conference was organized by the African Women Development Fund to celebrate its 10th anniversary was attended by leading accomplished African women, including the Liberian President, Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ; Vice President of Malawi, Mrs. Joyce Banda, Ministers of State and Parliamentarians.

He said: “In Saudi Arabia, women are not entitled to drive; women require a male guardian’s consent to have a passport and to travel abroad. In a Saudi Court of Law, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

“Its impossible to know from day to day where Libya falls on any given issue, the rights of women included, and its presence on the Board is akin to farce, Bangladesh is a country that stands against gender equality…and now they sit on the Board of UN Women.

“Democratic Republic of the Congo’s membership is a true travesty of the integrity of the UN Women; rape has been used unimpeded as a strategy of conflict throughout the war. And even though Iran lost the election to be a member, it was included in a block of 10 countries for an election by acclamation.

“Iran is a country where domestic violence is legal; marital rape is legal. A charge of rape can indeed be brought by a woman, but four male witnesses are required, or three men and two women, and if the charge fails, the woman who made the accusation receives 80 lashes.”

The UN Women is also mandated to hold the world body accountable for its own commitments on gender equality. The UN Women will be officially established on January 1, 2011.

The 41 board members were selected on the following basis: 10 from Africa, 10 from Asia, four from Eastern Europe, six from Latin America and the Caribbean, five from Western Europe and six from contributing countries.

Elected from the African Group were Angola, Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Lesotho, Libya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea and Timor-Leste were elected from among the Asian States.

Estonia, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine were elected from among the Eastern European States, while Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden were elected from the Western European and Other States.

In addition, the Council elected Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada and Peru from the group of Latin American and Caribbean States.

The Council also elected Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, United Kingdom and United States from among the “contributing countries,” for three-year terms beginning today.

Headed by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, UN Women is the merger of 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).

http://www.ghananewsagency.org/s_politics/r_22502/

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) issued a short report on the campaign for November 28′s Egyptian Parliamentary elections, saying women have a number of complaints that must be looked into for a better election.

According to the leading women’s organization in Egypt, they have “received many complaints from female candidates of the National Democratic Party who were excluded from nomination in the upcoming elections.”

The organization listed the complaints from the potential candidates:

1. NDP’s exploitation

The party made the best use of some female candidates by taking donations from each candidate of up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds. This is why there are calls for the return of the money.

2. Nominating candidates out of the electoral college, based on criteria of relatives and not on partisan basis

The party excluded some female candidates in favor of others who are relatives of some secretaries in the party. Moreover, many women in Beheira claimed that they were excluded in favor of others who came out of the Electoral College.

3. Prevent entering the headquarter to look at results of the Electoral College

ECWR received a complaint from one of the National Democratic Party’s female candidates in Assuit who has been excluded from nomination in the elections. She said that she was prevented from entering the secretariat of the NDP in Cairo when she went there to know the number of votes that she gained; this happened after she went to the secretariat of the party in Assuit and was informed that ballot boxes had been moved into Cairo.

4. Changing the nomination category

ECWR received a complaint from one of the National Democratic Party’s female candidates in Kafr El Shekh for labor seat within the quota system. She said that the party chose her for the professional seat, though she submitted her documents for the labor seat. Thus, it became necessary for her to change the category of her nomination, though the party has affirmed to her before that she will be nominated as labor candidate in Assuit.

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights is still following the election process and is receiving complaints from women in all the Egyptian governorates.

http://bikyamasr.com/wordpress/?p=20533

The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) warmly welcomes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi back into active political and public life and we hope to soon celebrate the reinstatement of her inalienable rights, especially her freedom of movement. Though her release brings us joy and hope, we also clearly recognize that this alone does not fully ensure democratic progress for the country unless all political prisoners are released unconditionally.

In 1990, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the country’s first election in decades by a landslide. The military regime did not honor the election result and she has been kept under house arrest for 15 of the last 20 years. Even while under house arrest, she has demonstrated unwavering and determined political leadership, provided inspiration and garnered respect from the people of Burma and democracy-loving people around the world. The recent expression of public support leading up to her release shows that although she was kept out of the publics’ eye, she is always in their hearts. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a true role model of the kind of leadership Burma is desperately yearning for; someone who can facilitate trust building, cooperation, dialogue, and progress.

WLB calls for her release to be unconditional but final and her security must be guaranteed. Though her liberty rekindles hope, the SPDC must meet other essential benchmarks of democratic progress. She is one of many political prisoners, and one of millions of women in Burma struggling against military rule.

The recent election is a clear example that the military regime’s focus is to ensure power through all methods of manipulation and control, and this election must not be recognized. The military regime’s ongoing attacks against civilians, even in recent days, are a clear sign they do not mean to bring peace to the country and this is unallowable. We urged the SPDC to cease all hostilities and stop fighting in the ethnic areas. The international community must continue to firmly call for the release of all political prisoners, an end to crimes against humanity, and genuine national reconciliation with effective action until the SPDC response the calls.

WLB believes that all women in Burma will continue to face injustice and violence as long as the junta is holding on to power. Therefore, we urge all the people of Burma to work together and rise up using peaceful means to end the military dictatorship in Burma.

WLB honors Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her tireless work in pursuit of democracy in Burma and will continue to work alongside her until our mutual aims are achieved.

For More Information:
Lway Aye Nang: + 6680 115 9598
Tin Tin Nyo: +66810322882
Thin Thin Aung: +91-9891252315

http://www.shanland.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3314:the-womens-league-of-burma-welcomes-daw-aung-san-suu-kyis-release-and-demands-ongoing-action-to-ensure-freedom-for-all-of-burma&catid=mailbox&Itemid=279

See also:
* Aung San Suu Kyi: Undiminished by years of house arrest – interview with BBC
* Video of BBC interview
* Aung San Suu Kyi calls for dialogue with Burma’s junta – Various videos via Guardian web site

Plus:
* The victory of the junta-backed party in the Nov. 7 elections for Burma–which the military government calls Myanmar–comes as no surprise to Charm Tong.
It only reiterates the belief that she and many others hold that the polls were conducted to legitimize the military regime. That means the continuation of military rape and sexual violence in conflict-affected areas of eastern Burma that Tong has been trying to stop for more than 10 years.

On the 8th November we sent a World March of Women (WMW) declaration denouncing the deportation of activists (including a WMW activist, Nice Coronación) who were trying to enter South Korea to take part in events parallel to the G20 meeting in Seoul. A Korean visa was also denied to Bushra Khaliq, Pakistani activist who was also going to represent the WMW in Korea.

Since then, the South Korean government, on behalf of the other G20 countries, has once again acted to supress criticism and democratic debate, by refusing the entry of our IC member, Jean Enriquez from the Philippines, into the country. She was deported back to Manila on the 10th November, very early in the morning.

We denounce the humiliating treatment to which Jean and other Philippines activists have been subjected by the South Korean government. We will continue to struggle against the G20 and the capitalist, sexist, racist system which it represents.

Women on the March until we are All Free!

Click to read Jean Eriquez’s account on her deportation http://www.marchemondiale.org/alliances_mondialisation/mobilisations/deported-journal/en and the paper of the presentation she would do in Seoul http://www.marchemondiale.org/alliances_mondialisation/mobilisations/jeans-presentation/en.

World March of Women Declaration: Deportation of activists acting against the G20 summit in South Korea

On the 11th and 12th November the fifth meeting of the G20 takes place in Seoul, South Korea. Made up of 19 “developed” and “emerging” nations (United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, South Korea, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) and the European Union, the G20 emerged in 2008 as a new “power structure” aiming to fix the capitalist system shaken by the financial crisis, without the participation of majority of “developing” and poor countries.

But people know there’s no solution for the crisis without real wealth and power distribution. In this framework, social movements around the world have been organizing G20 Counter Summits since 2008.

On the 8th November, the Korea Women’s Alliance (KWA) and Korean Women’s Association United (KWAU), national reference groups of the World March of Women, organized the Gender Justice Action against the G20 Seoul Summit in order to debate the gender blindness of the G20’s agenda, and feminist alternatives to the current global financial architecture. The WMW organized a representative delegation with activists from Pakistan, the Phlippines and Japan.

But the G20 – through the South Korean government – has swung into action to avoid any democratic debate, by unjustifiably denying visas for progressive activists from Asian and African countries, including our sister Bushra Khaliq from Pakistan. They also deported 7 Philippines activists, including our sister Nice Coronacion.

“These deportations and the denial of visas of many our colleagues signifies the failure of the G20 and cowardice of the G20 governments. Refusing to listening to women’s voices is not acceptable, so we cannot accept any legitimacy of the G20″, said Fumi Suzuki, from the World March of Women in Japan.

As Jean Enriquez, member of the WMW’s International Committee stated, “the South Korean Government and the G20 have exposed themselves as violators not only of economic rights, but of political rights as well”. The last G20 summit, held in Toronto, Canada, last June, is still fresh in our minds, where over 900 activists were arrested to avoid the expression of critical voices.

We, activists from the WMW, denounce G20 efforts to create and give authority to this new “power structure”, in an attempt to hide the illegitimacy of the multilateral institutions, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). We raise our voices against the false solutions to the economic, financial, social, political crises and affirm that democracy is impossible as long as wealth is concentrated to such an extent in the hands of the few.

Our minds and hearts will be turned to Seoul, where we know that our sisters will be struggling to change women’s lives and to transform the world!

Women on the March until we are All Free!

Source http://www.worldmarchofwomen.org/news/mmfnewsitem.2010-11-08.5675494454/en

Women from a dozen countries convened in New York last week to share their struggles to implement state legislation and empower women at the grassroots level to put an end to gender- based violence (GBV) worldwide.

Hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Nov. 4-5 high-level consultation entitled ‘Delivering as One on Violence Against Women: From Intent to Action’ addressed the triumphs and tribulations of the Inter-Agency Task Force’s pilot programme on GBV.

Since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched ‘UNiTE to End Violence Against Women’ in 2006, various U.N. agencies, civil society organisations and national coalitions have taken up the struggle, with renewed vigour.

The pilot programme, launched in Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Jamaica, Paraguay, Chile, Fiji, Jordan, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines, was based on the supposition that greater cohesion across regions and between organisations was needed to yield the greatest benefits for women’s security. The pilot sought to connect multiple stakeholders through joint programming in the 10 countries.

“We have to first turn victims into survivors and then into activists and advocates. … You have to put the issue of VAW [violence against women] within the context of women’s low status in the world and of women being treated like disposable commodities. To challenge that perception, you have to challenge the very foundation of patriarchy.”

“The joint programme allows stakeholders to jointly assess progress and decide what has worked and what has not. They allow multi-sectoral approaches to addressing issues that are often dealt with by a single entity”.

Virtually every participant echoed this sentiment and expressed dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic nature of competing U.N. agencies that often replicate each other’s work and fail to pool their efforts effectively.

The two-day consultation covered a lot of ground, touching on everything from Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) to the engagement of men and boys in ending GBV, and ended with several positive conclusions.

Representatives from each of the pilot countries discussed experiences across a range of regional, religious and cultural realms, highlighting the successes of the programme.

In Rwanda, this initiative led to the creation of the ‘Isange One-Stop Center’ based at the Police Hospital in Kigali, a shelter-cum-rehabilitation center for abused, battered women.

In Paraguay, several leaps were taken towards bringing issues of GBV and VAW into the mainstream, including a manual for journalists, round-table discussions at the national level on trafficking of women and children, and workshops for media personnel involved in TV and radio programming.

In Jamaica, an after-school programme focused on educating young men on the importance of working in solidarity with women towards ending violence. Boys came up with slogans like “Abusers are losers” and “Don’t fight it out, talk it out.”

This is a tremendous step for youth in a country that is saturated in the culture of ‘dance hall’ music, which posits women as sex objects and binds male identity to images of aggression, violence and masculinity.

Tom Minerson, executive director of the Toronto-based White Ribbon campaign, referred to the “disadvantages of the advantages of being a man.” According to Minerson, educating young men on the harmful effects of the system of male power and privilege can transform gender identities and generate compassion and an enlightened sense of self for men.

But despite a few victories dotting the battlefield on which women wage a daily struggle for respect, equality and survival, the overall picture is still extremely grim.

Every single country reported a host of barriers to broader implementation of the pilot programme, including consistent lack of funds, disorganisation within U.N. agencies, cultural and governmental blockades – particularly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East – and low awareness on a national level.

Pamela Averion, the national programme officer for UNFPA in the Philippines, discussed the disconnect between legislation and reality on the ground. Although the Gender Development Index in the Philippines for 2010 was 99.6 percent of the Human Development Index, 90 percent of reported pregnancies were unwanted and ended in abortion.

And although the Philippines ranks 59th out of 108 countries on the gender empowerment measure, men dominate 90 percent of all political positions in the country.

The Philippines emerged 9th out of 134 countries in a study on the global gender gap, but one out of every five women experienced gender-related domestic violence and almost half of those women believed that husbands were justified in abusing their wives. These are only a few of countless disheartening yet unavoidable statistics. In Yemen, for example, a marriage bill was passed in 2008 making it illegal for girls under the age of 18 to be married. Imams across the country quickly collected over five million signatures of citizens opposed to such a constitutional change and the bill was quickly overturned.

Despite ongoing efforts by activists and ordinary women around the world, the road towards women’s equality looms interminably ahead. Women, and their male allies all over the world, are weary from the march, but cannot afford to drag their feet.

Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53473

See also: Encouraging police to tackle violence against women in Rwanda

With a view to assessing progress made by States in meeting their obligations under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the next report (from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya) to the Human Rights Council, due in March 2011, will focus on women human rights defenders and those defenders working on women’s rights and gender-issues.

The report will seek, in particular, to identify the specific risks women defenders and those defenders working on women’s rights and gender-issues face as well as their specific security and protection needs.

To this end, the Special Rapporteur (SR) would be grateful if you could answer the attached questionnaire. Deadline for responses: November 30, 2010.

The SR has also requested information from member States. SR’s report will later be made public here

The Special Rapporteur would greatly appreciate receiving your responses at your earliest possible convenience, preferably no later than 30 November 2010. Responses received after this date will not be reflected in the 2011 report. Responses may be addressed to the Special Rapporteur at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (defenders@ohchr.org; fax: +41 22 917 90 06).

The English, French and Spanish versions of the questionnaire are available to download from http://www.awid.org/eng/Women-in-Action/Calls-for-Participation2/Call-for-Contributions-Responses-Questionnaire-on-Women-Human-Rights-Defenders-and-those-working-on-Women-s-Rights-and-Gender-Issues

A new Amnesty report launched in Jakarta on Thursday 4 November details the fatal consequences of denying access to sexual health services for women in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

Left Without a Choice describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian women and girls by putting reproductive health services out of their reach.

Amnesty International’s research shows discriminatory practices and problematic laws are prohibiting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and endorsing marriage for girls younger than 16. The law requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion even in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally available contraceptive services to unmarried women and also to childless married women.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“Restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights are placing severe and potentially deadly obstacles in the way many women and girls can access reproductive health information and services.

“Indonesia must do more to ensure that old stereotypes and mindsets are replaced with a more forward-looking recognition of the problems and needs facing their wives, sisters and daughters.”

Interviews with Indonesian women and girls, as well as health workers, highlighted how restrictions increase unwanted pregnancies and force many women and girls to marry young, drop out of school, or seek an illegal abortion. An estimated two million abortions are performed in Indonesia every year, many of them in unsafe conditions.

Key statisitcs:

Indonesia’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) is amongst the highest in the East-Asia Pacific region.

At 228 per 100,000 live births, Indonesia’s MMR is overall at least four times higher than in neighbouring countries, such as China (56), Malaysia (41) and Thailand (44).

According to official government figures, unsafe abortions are responsible for between five and 11 per cent of maternal deaths in Indonesia.

A woman or girl seeking an abortion (the legal age for criminal responsibility in Indonesia is eight), or a health worker providing one, may be sentenced to up to four and 10 years’ imprisonment respectively

Domestic violence in Indonesia is a serious problem. In 2010, Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence against Women reported a 263 per cent increase in the number of reported cases (143,586 cases) of violence against women compared with the previous year (54,425 cases).

Part of a longer article at http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19068

See also: Abortion is about balancing rights – religious medics don’t get the final say
The religious rights of a small group of medical professionals do not trump those held by the remainder of the citizenry

In This Issue
– UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet Addresses Security Council
– Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security
– Women Matter for Building Peace: Petition on UNSCR 1325
– Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals
– UNIFEM around the World
– o UN Trust Fund Announces Additional US$10 Million in Grants
– o New Awards for Public Sector Efforts to Provide Gender-Responsive Service Delivery
– o Global Virtual Knowledge Centre – New Features
– o Liberia: First Women’s Radio Station Opened
– o Tanzania: Supporting Women’s Participation as Candidates and Voters
– o Mexico: Young Women’s Forum at the World Youth Conference
– o Mexico: High-Level Meeting on Prioritizing the Rights of Women Migrant Workers
– o Pakistan: Responding to the Humanitarian Emergency
– o UNIFEM National Committee Members Visit Programme Partners
– o Georgia: Women Connecting for Peace
– Recent Speeches & Statements
– Recent Publications
– Featured UNIFEM Videos
– Job Vacancies

English: http://www.unifem.org/news_events/currents/issue201010_en.php
Español: http://www.unifem.org/news_events/currents/issue201010_es.php
Français: http://www.unifem.org/news_events/currents/issue201010_fr.php