Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

In the experience of women’s rights activists around the world, religious fundamentalists strategically use physical and psychological violence to undermine those who oppose their policies. Fundamentalist violence can range from highly visible attacks against abortion doctors or LGBT people to the support of military actions to excusing domestic violence.

Religious fundamentalisms are on the rise in every region of the world, and can be found in every religion. In the experience of 8 out 10 women’s rights activists worldwide, religious fundamentalisms have had a negative impact on the rights of women. But activists are fighting back.

In a ground-breaking new publication, AWID presents feminist strategies of resisting and challenging religious fundamentalisms, based on research that draws examples from across regions and different religious traditions. Building on this extensive research, the report examines the factors that help religious fundamentalisms grow and the strategies fundamentalists use to promote their vision and strengthen their social and political power. It unmasks those strategies through feminist analysis and provides proposals and examples of how women’s rights activists and their allies in other movements can work effectively towards a future without fundamentalisms.

http://awid.org/eng/About-AWID/AWID-News/Towards-a-Future-without-Fundamentalisms-New-Report-Analyzes-Religious-Fundamentalist-Strategies-and-Feminist-Responses

Download the report “Towards a Future without Fundamentalisms” in pdf 1.23 MB http://awid.org/eng/content/download/93090/1041955/file/Towards%20a%20Future%20without%20Fundamentalisms.pdf

Advertisements

Sudanese police arrested dozens of women protesting last month against laws they say humiliate women after a video of a woman being flogged in public appeared on the Internet.

Floggings carried out under Islamic are almost a daily punishment in Sudan for crimes ranging from drinking alcohol to adultery.

But vague laws on women’s dress and behaviour are implemented inconsistently. One case sparked international furore when Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese U.N. official, invited journalists to her public flogging for wearing trousers.

The video, which was removed by YouTube, showed a crying Sudanese woman being lashed by two policemen in front of onlookers in a public place. She was made to kneel and the police laughed during the punishment.

“Humiliating your women is humiliating all your people,” the women shouted as they were being arrested on Tuesday.

Around 50 women sat down outside the justice ministry holding banners and surrounded by riot police telling them to move.

Three plain-clothed security men threw the BBC correspondent to the ground, confiscating his equipment.

All the women were arrested and taken to a nearby police station. Their lawyers were prevented from entering, but senior opposition politicians were allowed to go inside.

The women said they had tried to get permission for the protest but had been refused. The police declined to comment.

“The authorities here take the law into their own hands. No one knows what happens inside these police stations,” said one of their lawyers, Mona el-Tijani. “This video was just one example of what happens all the time.”

Sudan’s justice ministry said it would investigate whether the punishment was administered properly.

It was not clear what offence the woman being lashed had committed. Officials from the ruling National Congress Party offered conflicting explanations in the local press.

http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/sudan-police-arrest-women-protesting-at-flogging-video

Women in south Sudan have been targeted in a string of abusive attacks by police cracking down on Western clothes. Many of the attacks over the Christmas period were by newly graduated members of southern Sudan’s police force.

Thousands of new cadets have finished police training courses backed by the United Nations, coinciding with the first reports of abuse in the southern capital, Juba, often directed at women wearing shorts and miniskirts.

The north eastern African country held a referendum on January 9 over whether its mostly Christian south should become independent from the Muslim north which is ruled by the strict Islamic sharia law.

But foreign women have also been targeted by police. On Wednesday, an non-uniformed man ordered a German woman to go home because she was wearing a dress that he decided was too revealing. He said: “If I see you like that pass here again, I will take you,” she told the International Herald Tribune newspaper.

Over the Christmas weekend, Joseph Lubega and his wife were out shopping when a uniformed police officer slapped his wife across the face, he said. The officer slapped her again. Then a third time.

“The reason, he said, was the blouse,” said Mr Lubega, a motorcycle driver from Uganda working in the southern Sudanese capital. “It had an open back.”

Talking about the attacks, Information Minister Benjamin Marial said: “In southern Sudan, you can dress in anything, everyone is free.” He said that the attacks were unjustified and that the officers involved have been set right. “This is not the policy of the government of southern Sudan, and we have taken the preliminary measures,” he said. “Sometimes police get out of control. These were individuals.”

A southern Sudanese army officer said that the police had been told to ‘counsel’ women on their dress, and that the officers had “mistaken the advice they were given.”

“Police have arrested women and girls for their dress on many occasions,” said Human Rights Watch researcher, Jehanne Henry. She added that in the past, police commissioners had authorized arrests of people with “bad behaviour,” which also included men wearing low-slung jeans and dreadlocks. “Police have a lot of work to do to educate and train officers in the applicable laws,” Ms Henry said.

January’s referendum was the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of fighting between north and south over religion, way of life and oil that killed two million people.

http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/charity-news/women-attacked-by-clothes-police

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

‘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

In solidarity,
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Solidarity Network
http://www.wluml.org
wluml@wluml.org

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

Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day.

Belief in witchcraft is relatively common in Ghana but there was widespread revulsion at the killing.

Hemmah, from Tema, was allegedly attacked by a group of five people, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, Ghana’s Daily Graphic reported.

Three women and two men have been arrested. They are Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, photographer Samuel Ghunney, 50, Emelia Opoku, 37, Mary Sagoe, 52, and pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55.

The suspects say the death was an accident and deny committing any crime. They claim they were trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the woman by rubbing anointing oil on her but it accidentally caught fire.

Newspaper pictures showing the woman’s injuries have caused anger in Ghana. The incident has been condemned by human rights and women’s activists.

Comfort Akosua Edu, of the country’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, said: “The commission finds the action of the perpetrators of this atrocious crime as very barbaric and one that greatly dims the nation’s human rights record. That they came and met her in their room does not in any way warrant branding her as a notorious witch who deserved to be subjected to such an ordeal.”

She added: “It is very disheartening that some men of God, whose responsibility it is to help save lives, could orchestrate the killing of innocent souls, all in the name of God.”

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/29/ghanaian-woman-burned-death-witch

See also: Who killed Amma Hemmah?

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 Rev. Michael Kimindu, the Metropolitan Community Churches’ minister, said human beings were prone to worldly shortcomings and, therefore, need help from religious leaders to overcome temptations.

“It is common to hear a leader saying they are interested in the few who are righteous than many who are weak in faith. Religious leaders who look at abortion as immoral miss the point of seeking the other sheep,” Kimindu said at the regional conference on eliminating unsafe abortion in Africa held at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons in Accra last week.

Kimindu, who is also the coordinator of Other Sheep East Africa, a coalition fighting for Christians’ human rights, with offices in Uganda and Tanzania, suggested that human sexuality and rights be included in theological studies to help religious leaders understand human sexual and reproductive rights.

“If the so many religious groups on this continent embraced human rights and left judgement to God, Africa would be the happiest place to live in on earth.”

Participants expressed concern about the negative attitude that religious leaders have towards safe abortion. This, they argued, would increase maternal deaths in Africa since women will continue dying from complications resulting from unsafe abortions.

Kimindu noted that sometimes parents of a pregnant girl need help from religious leaders, but they choose to keep quiet for fear of being labelled supporters of sin.

“To say that all abortion is murder of a life that God has created when, for instance, a woman has been raped, is to say that God is responsible for the rape.”

The one-week conference under the theme, Keeping our promise: Addressing unsafe abortion in Africa, attracted over 250 participants across the continent.

Ipas, a global women’s rights advocacy NGO, in collaboration with African Network on Medical Abortion, African Women’s Development and Communication Network, Marie Stopes International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Ghana’s health ministry and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa organised the conference.

http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/738555

Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said 14 was too young, and someone that age would not be able to live up to the expectations of such an institution.

“A marriage is not just about having a wedding. It is more than that. At 14, one is too young to understand what marriage is all about. There is responsibility and a lifetime of commitment, as a wife, and later on as a parent. The syariah court must be more cautious when granting approvals in such cases,” she said when contacted.

The New Sunday Times had front-paged the picture of 14-year-old Siti Marham Mahmod, and husband Abdul Manan Othman, who participated in a 1Malaysia wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on Satueday.

The couple had tied the knot in July after getting the consent of the Syariah Court.

The couple’s union has also sparked concern among women’s organisations who have called on the government to address irregularities in the Child Act 2001 and the civil and Islamic family laws if it was serious in preventing child marriages.

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said the government should amend both the civil and Islamic family laws and set the minimum age for marriageability at 18 years for both genders. “There must be no exceptions,” said Josiah.

Under civil law, girls between 16 and 18 years old can marry, but it must be endorsed by the menteri besar or chief minister.

The minimum age under the Islamic Family Laws is 18 for men and 16 for women. However, the law also allows those younger to marry but with permission from the syariah judge under special circumstances.

“The Child Act 2001 defines that anyone under 18 years old is a child. We must stop using culture or religion as an excuse if the government is serious about protecting children from child marriages,” she said.

Empower Malaysia’s executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said permitting child marriages contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the government had an obligation to uphold.

“Why be a part of the CRC or CEDAW if we are going to do things differently? Marriage is too big a commitment for a 14-year-old,” she said.

Maria said an early marriage would force the child to go straight into adulthood and enter a union, depriving him or her of a complete intellectual and emotional development.

Women in Action Malacca (WIM) president Rachel Samuel said it was unlikely a child understood what a marriage entailed when even adults needed time to adjust to being married.

“Those who are married and studying in universities, for example, see how different their lifestyles are compared to their single peers. It will be very tough for a child to juggle between being a wife and having to attend school, and later becoming a mother at an early age,” she said.

Samuel was all for raising the minimum age to 18, to enable a child to get the basic education and some experiences which will better prepare him or her for married life.

http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles//06mmb/Article/

The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the relaxation of the Vatican’s stance against condom use.

Pope Benedict XVI said the use of condoms is acceptable to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

“The Pope’s statement is in line with evidence that condoms are highly effective in preventing infection with the HIV virus. If used correctly and consistently, the male condom is the most efficient protection against the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” said WHO director for Western Pacific region Dr. Shin Young-soo.

Shin said the papal statement would help ease the reluctance of several sectors to use condoms. He acknowledged, however, that the pope was not endorsing the use of condoms as a means for birth control.

WHO records show that the prevalence of HIV in Asia Pacific had reached 20 percent among sex workers and up to 30 percent among men having sex with men.

“The truth is there for everyone to see. Unprotected sex is a central driver of the AIDS epidemic in Asia,” Shin said.

In a report of the Asia Commission on AIDS in 2008, it was estimated that some 75 million men in the region patronize sex from 10 million sex workers and, at the same time, have sex with 50 million regular or casual partners.

WHO had warned that in Western Pacific, HIV infection will continue to rise if countries will not focus on people with “risky lifestyles.”

WHO said 130,000 to 150,000 new infections related to high-risk lifestyle occur every year in the Western Pacific region.

These include infections through unprotected sex, sharing drug needles, and men having sex with men.

“While condom use remains the core strategy for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among sex workers, essential and affordable sexual and reproductive health services should also be made available to sex workers to address a host of other issues,” it said.

These services include voluntary HIV counseling and testing, STI diagnosis and treatment, cervical cancer prevention, prevention of parent-to-child transmission, contraception counseling, abortion and post-abortion care, as well as specialized support to the transgender community.

It is estimated that some 1.4 million people in Western Pacific were diagnosed with the AIDS virus. Ten years ago, the number of cases was 680,000.

Worldwide, some 33.4 million people are living with HIV.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman also welcomed the new papal statement on condom use, saying it supports his advocacy of family planning through the use of contraceptives.

“This is a very welcome development as it signals the liberalization of the stand of the Catholic Church when it comes to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Lagman, principal author of the highly contested Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.“The moderation of the Church’s position on condoms to prevent the spread of a deadly disease may ultimately evolve to include the use of condoms and other contraceptives to prevent high risk pregnancies,” he added.

Lagman then said the use of contraceptives is a lesser evil than committing abortion and having increased incidents of maternal death. “Family planning and contraception save lives by helping women avoid high risk pregnancies which often end in maternal and infant death or morbidity,” he said. Citing data from the National Statistics Office, he said maternal deaths in the Philippines account for one out of every seven deaths of women of reproductive age. He noted that a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund showed that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be prevented if women who want to use contraception are given access to it.

The study also showed that helping women plan their families can prevent one million infant and child deaths every year worldwide because closely spaced pregnancies threaten infant survival.

Lagman also cited another study showing that regular and proper use of contraceptives reduces the incidence of abortion by 85 percent.

“Clearly, a pregnancy that is planned and wanted will not be aborted. It is therefore only logical to conclude that the more women can avoid unintended and mistimed pregnancies through effective family planning, the less the incidence of abortion will be,” he said. Despite the endorsement from the Vatican, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vows to continue opposing the RH bill “because that is our moral duty,” said Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, vice chair of the CBCB Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL). With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=633505&publicationSubCategoryId=63

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

The Violence is Not our Culture Campaign (VNC) and Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) are gravely concerned over the recent announcement made by the official Iranian television channel on alleged self-incriminating statements by Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani and several others on state TV last 15 November. We join the rest of the international community in denouncing this latest move by the Iranian authorities which adds more injustice to the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani.

In her third TV appearance to be stage-managed by the Iranian official media, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani described herself as “a sinner”, and described her supporters abroad as “defending me without any reason. I do not even know these people.” Her son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, was also shown confessing to lying about his mother’s treatment in prison. Her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kiyan, in an audio narration also ‘confessed’ to having told Sajjad to lie about the case. Both Sajjad and Javid have yet to be seen or visited by their families and lawyers since their arrest.

The two German journalists who were also arrested with Sajjad and Javid have allegedly also admitted, through a Persian voiceover, that they had been deceived by Mina Ahadi, a Germany-based Iranian woman campaigning on Sakineh’s case, who instigated their trip to Iran.

The journalists are currently detained in Tabriz and are facing charges of espionage.

Our human rights concerns

The following are our specific concerns on this latest development on the case of Sakineh in addition to what we have already stated in our previous statement issued last 12 November. http://www.wluml.org/node/6773

1. We are convinced that these ‘confessions’ shown on Iranian TV were made under duress and should not be accepted as evidence in court against Sakineh and others implicated in her case. Non-admission of evidence taken under duress is in accordance with Article 14(g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party.

2. We affirm that peaceful means of exercising the rights to freedom of expression and association, such as campaigning for the freedom and right to life of prisoners like Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, are to be upheld. Those who were implicated in the case of Sakineh and detained by the Iranian authorities without reasonable charge should be released immediately and unconditionally. If they have committed a criminal offence under Iranian law they should be tried promptly and fairly and in a manner consistent with the standards set forth by the ICCPR. They should be granted immediate access to lawyers of their choice and to their families.

3. We reiterate our call for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that best practices of due process and the rights to a fair trial are protected in all cases, and especially those punishable by the death penalty. We also call for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence to be dropped on humanitarian grounds, and for the government of Iran to consider implementing a moratorium on the death penalty for adultery cases.

We urge our allies and supporters to continue their actions by telephoning, emailing and/or sending a letter to the Iranian authorities as described in our previous Call to Action: UPDATE: Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani case: another test of Iran’s flawed justice system.

http://www.wluml.org/node/6792

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

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

The Polish minister for equality has been accused of homophobia for outing a gay man on television and saying Catholic schools should have the right to sack gay teachers.

Elżbieta Radziszewska made the remarks about gay teachers to Catholic newspaper Gosc Niedzielny. She said that Catholic schools should be allowed to sack or refuse to employ gay or lesbian teachers, although she later said she would defend a teacher sacked from a state school for his or her sexual orientation.

She appeared on a breakfast show on TVN24 but provoked further anger when she apparently outed Krzysztof Śmiszek, the deputy president of the Polish Society of Anti-Discrimination Law (PSAL).

The pair were arguing about her remarks on gay teachers when Ms Radziszewska used Mr Śmiszek as an example of why cases should be treated individually.

According to the Warsaw Business Journal, she said: “If, for example, Mr Śmiszek, in a situation when we know that he is a member of the homosexual society and an activist for the Campaign Against Homophobia and it’s no secret who his partner is…”

Ms Radziszewska was asked by the programme’s presenters whether she should be on the other side of the argument but she apparently said that was the way she saw it. She later apologised but said Mr Mr Śmiszek’s sexual orientation could easily be discovered on the internet.

Mr Śmiszek has reacted furiously to her comments and intends to sue.

“This is pure homophobia,” he told daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Tuesday. “In no other EU country would such a person still hold their post. I do not hide my sexual orientation, but it’s my private business. My personal rights have been violated.”

Several members of Ms Radziszewska’s Civic Platform colleages in the coalition government have criticised her, although others on the right claim she is the victim of a witch-hunt.

She has also been criticised by women’s groups, who accused her of not doing enough for women’s equality.

Homosexuality is legal in Poland but couples cannot adopt children and there is no legal recognition of their relationships. The Polish capital Warsaw hosted EuroPride this year.

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/09/23/polish-equality-minister-outs-gay-man-on-television/

Chechen women said the holiday, established by the region’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov a year ago, was marred by rules he had previously imposed, restricting their rights by enforcing traditional Muslim customs in the volatile region.

Dark-haired women in floor-length satin gowns, their faces framed by white hijabs, were given prizes for motherhood and awarded medals for sons lost to war in a concert hall decorated with Chechen flags in the republic’s capital Grozny.

Outside the building a group of bareheaded women, prevented by guards from entering, tried to catch a glimpse of the Chechen folk dances inside while pink fireworks illuminated the Grozny skyline.

A spate of recent attacks on Chechen women for not wearing headscarves, which rights groups and assailants alike said were orchestrated by authorities, led to accusations that the celebrations were laced with hypocrisy.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rely on Kadyrov to maintain order in Chechnya, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two devastating wars with government forces.

Analysts say Kadyrov has tried, sometimes contrary to Russian law, to impose an increasingly radical vision of Islam in Chechnya, where alcohol sales are highly restricted and authorities encourage polygamy.

Many women said that during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Sept. 10, they had been harassed by men for not wearing headscarves, in street raids that some of the assailants said were ordered by religious authorities.

Kadyrov, a devout Sufi Muslim, had previously praised such activism, telling state TV he was grateful to men who shot women with paintball pellets in June for going bareheaded.

Analysts say that while 90 percent of Chechnya’s 1.1 million people are Muslim and the majority identify themselves as believers, applying Islamic rules by force could raise tension.

Part of a longer article at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE68J1QE.htm

A Jewish widow ran into an unexpected snag when she was planning to remarry. A rabbi said that according to ancient law, she would need to marry her brother-in-law unless he freed her in a ceremony known as halitza.

In order to marry, the couple, who are not particularly religious, had to register at the stringently religious Rabbinate, the sole government agency with the authority to grant Jewish marriage permits. No civil marriage exists in Israel and non-Orthodox marriages performed in the country are not recognized by the state.

When the widow presented the registrar with her late husband’s death certificate, he asked if her deceased husband had any children. When she said no, he asked whether her late husband had any brothers. When she said yes she was told she needed to do the halitza ceremony otherwise she wouldn’t be able to marry, ever.

According to the Torah, if a man dies without leaving children, his brother must marry his widow in a ceremony called yibbum. To prevent such forced marriages–which reportedly still occur, though very rarely, in highly traditional Sephardic Jewish communities–most rabbis strongly encourage halitza, in which a man’s brother relinquishes all claims to his sister-in-law.

In the ceremony, which is meant to be public, the woman kneels before her brother-in-law and removes a special handmade shoe from his foot. She is then required to spit on the ground next to him and recite several verses.

The plight of agunot–women whose husbands cannot or will not grant them a “get,” a Jewish divorce–is fairly well known because it affects thousands of women.

Halitza impacts far fewer. Each year halitza only affects about one or two Jewish women in the United States and between 15 and 20 in Israel, estimates the Rabbinate.

Although Jewish law requires all widows in this position to do halitza, some cases fall through the cracks and the ceremony isn’t performed, said Rivka Lubitch, a rabbinical court advocate whose articles often challenge the rabbinic status quo.

Rare as it is, halitza continues to evoke feelings of helplessness in the women it touches.

Lubitch, who also works at the Center for Women’s Justice in Jerusalem, said that marrying a brother-in-law protected some women in the old days. But she said the commandment became a practice that could be used against women by forcing them to marry against their will.

The custom also creates opportunities for abuse. Although less common than in the past, there continue to be stories of men who have no intention of marrying their brothers’ widows but extort money from them in return for their freedom.

Even in cases of goodwill, halitza is fraught with anxiety.

Lubitch, who is an Orthodox Jew, has urged influential rabbis to find ways to free both men and women from the burden of halitza.

Part of a longer article at http://www.womensenews.org/story/religion/100921/remarry-jewish-widow-first-kneels-custom

Hamas police ordered a Gaza hotel restaurant closed on Wednesday for allowing a woman to smoke a water pipe on its premises, one of its owners said.

It was believed to be the first time that Hamas Islamists who run the Gaza Strip have enforced their ban, announced in July, on women smoking the traditional tobacco-infused pipes in public.

“They acted as if they caught her red-handed committing a crime,” the hotel’s co-owner said of the encounter between Hamas police and the woman.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said the police “accused us of violating tradition and Islamic values” and ordered the hotel closed for three days. The order was later amended to cover only its restaurant.

A Hamas police spokesman denied the closure stemmed from a violation of the water pipe ban but said the hotels’ owners “committed some violations”, which he did not detail.

The water pipe ban has drawn criticism from human rights groups, which have accused Hamas of limiting public freedoms. Hamas leaders have denied any intention to impose Islamic law in the territory. (Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi)

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE68E1NN.htm

See also:

Closing of tourist places in Gaza for non-compliance with Islamic customs
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is gravely concerned over the unjustified intervention of the Ministry of Interior into public freedoms, closing a number of tourist places in Gaza City, imposing restrictions on their work and arresting one of these places’ owners under the pretext of gender mixture and non-compliance with the Islamic customs. PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to take all necessary measures to ensure and respect public freedoms which are constitutionally guaranteed under relevant international standards.

Israeli and West Bank women risk jail for day at the beach
The day starts early, at a petrol station alongside a roaring Jerusalem road. The mood among the 15 Israeli women is a little tense, but it’s hardly surprising – they’re about to break the law and with it one of the country’s taboos. They plan to drive into the occupied West Bank, pick up Palestinian women and children and take them on a day trip to Tel Aviv.Today’s is the second such trip – another group of women went public with a similar action last month. It is hoped that these will become regular outings, designed to create awareness of the laws that govern movement for Palestinians, and to challenge the fears that Israelis have about travelling into the West Bank.

A group of women’s rights activists delivered a petition with five thousand signatures to the Iranian parliament urging the legislative body to “bar polygamy.” ILNA reports that the petition was delivered by 40 women who called on the parliament to halt al efforts in “promoting temporary marriages and polygamy.”

One of the activists announced that their efforts in the past week to meet with the parliament’s Legal and Judicial Commission had failed but the secretariat of the parliament had finally accepted the petition.

According to this report, efforts to collect more signatures continue and other women’s groups will deliver them to the parliamentary office in the coming days.

The Legal and Judicial Commission of the parliament is set to review the controversial articles of the Family Protection Bill regarding temporary marriages, polygamy and lump-sum alimony (mehrieh) on Tuesday.

Women’s activists along with a group of former women parliamentarians pushed the parliament to review these articles last month.

Women’s rights websites also published a letter signed by over 330 “men defending equal rights.”

The signatories state that the articles of this bill are discriminatory and “while they degrade women, they are also an insult to men because the proposed law presumes that men are only motivated by their sexual desires.”

The statement goes on to add that they believe men must struggle alongside women for equal gender rights.

The Family Protection Bill was introduced into the parliament three years ago at which time protests from women’s groups forced the lawmakers to shelve it. However, in the past months, Iranian hardliners have managed to re-introduce it into the parliament and re-ignite the controversy.

Source http://www.eurasiareview.com/201009268539/iranian-parliament-receives-petition-to-scrap-polygamy.html