Archive for the ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ 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

(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 ( 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.

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 and the paper of the presentation she would do in Seoul

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!


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

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 (; fax: +41 22 917 90 06).

The English, French and Spanish versions of the questionnaire are available to download from

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of a longer article at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accra, Ghana September 28-30, 2010

“WE the 47 leaders representing women’s human rights organisations, national women’s machineries and the media from 12 African countries in the West Africa sub-region1;PARTICIPATING in a three- day workshop in Accra, Ghana entitled “Beyond Beijing +15: Implementing and Resourcing the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020)” organized by the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD) and Women in Law and Development (WiLDAF- West Africa);

COMMENDING the collaborative efforts of FEMNET, NETRIGHT, AAWORD, and WiLDAF-WA with the support of the government of Ghana and UNIFEM;

UNDERSCORING the objectives of the said workshop listed below as follows:
* TO DISSEMINATE and discuss the outcome of the 15 year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) at regional and sub regional level;
* TO POPULARISE the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 as an opportunity for states to deliver on their various commitment to women’s rights and empowerment;
* TO CATALYSE the development of action plans for operationalising the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 at national and regional levels;
* TO DELIBERATE on strategies for increasing funding for women’s rights agenda in order to deliver on commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment during the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 and;
* TO EXPLORE new opportunities for networking and movement building in order to support the work the gender machineries and women’s right organisations to deliver on the objectives of the Women’s Decade.
* TAKING COGNISANCE of the outcome of similar sub regional workshops convened by FEMNET in May 2010 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo for Central Africa, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in June 2010 for East and Horn of Africa;

WELCOMING the decision of African Union (AU) Heads of State that 2010-2020 will be recognized as the ‘African Women’s Decade’ and launched in Kenya in October, 2010;

MINDFUL of the general goal of the Decade, which is to cascade, in concrete terms, the execution of commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment from the grass-roots, national, regional to continental level;

ALSO WELCOMING the decision by AU Heads of State to establish an African Women’s Fund to facilitate realization of the objectives of the Decade;

FOCUSING on the ten themes of the decade which include fighting poverty and promoting economic empowerment of women and entrepreneurship; agriculture and food security; health, maternal mortality and HIV and AIDS; education, science and technology; environment and climate change; peace and security and violence against women; governance and legal protection; finance and gender budgets; women in decision making positions; and young women’s movement; and discussing issues around these ten themes;

DEEPLY CONCERNED that 15 years after the Beijing World Conference on Women, and 10 years since States committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), insufficient progress has been registered in West Africa on issues around women’s economic empowerment, health, participation in development processes, and representation in decision-making;

DISTURBED that women’s issues and machineries charged with women’s affairs continue to be marginalized and under-resourced, and this has led to very slow implementation of international and regional commitments made to women’s empowerment and gender equality;

FIRMLY CONVINCED that the African Women’s Decade needs to bring about transformative change in the lives of African women, girls, and the community at large, requiring high level commitment, prioritisation and increased resources from African governments to make sure that women’s priorities and concerns are funded and monitored at all levels;

TAKING COGNISANCE of the participation of West African women’s organisations in the evaluation process of the Paris Declaration on Aid effectiveness and gender equality, adopted during a West African women’s consultative meeting in Lomé in June 2008;

* Develop comprehensive, multi sectoral, national plans of action for the African Women’s Decade, ensure budgets are allocated to implementing the plans, and further ensure the plans are integrated into the national development plans/ poverty reduction strategy papers;
* Recognise the contributions of African civil society organisations particularly women’s rights organisations for the complementary role they are playing to promote gender equality at national, sub regional and regional levels;
* Ensure that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) constitute 50% of organizing committees for the African Women’s Decade at all levels;
* Commit significant resources to the African Women’s Fund so that gender machineries and civil society can utilise the resources to meet the goals of the African Women’s Decade;
* Strengthen the national gender machineries to enable them to work in close partnership with women’s rights organisations to develop the plans of action that will respond to the needs of the African Women’s Decade;

RECALLING the recently established United Nations (UN) Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — also known as UN Women, which is the result of years of advocacy by the global women’s movement,

* An immediate increase in the capacity of UN Women offices at country-level in order to support the realisation of the objectives of the African Women’s Decade;
* Systems to be put in place to ensure women’s rights organisations working on the ground can access funding from UN Women in a timely manner for the effective realisation of the goals of the Decade;
* Mechanisms for civil society participation in the governance of UN Women to be put in place as part of the transitional process over the next 3 months;
* UN Country offices to respond to this new architecture by appointing women with the relevant technical competence in the area of women’s rights, gender and development;
* Member States of the United Nations to ensure the agreed threshold of USD 500 million for the UN Women budget is met by January 2011, with plans to scale up to USD 1 Billion to meet the expanded scope and mandate of the agency;


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged South Asian leaders to prevent violence against women and remove obstacles on the path to women empowerment.

“South Asian countries have almost identical problems regarding women’s rights issues due to socio-economic and political reality of this area,” she said after inaugurating the seventh South Asian ministerial conference on women’s rights.

Hasina pointed out that trafficking of women and children is a major problem and emphasised on combined efforts for its stop.

The prime minister mentioned her government’s measures in this regard, saying, “The government is very sincere about women empowerment and their rights.”

“The process of modernising the women development policy is underway,” she added. “Existing law to stop violence against women were amended and new laws passed in this regard.”

Hasina mentioned the development policy of the government includes removal of gender inequality in every phase of life and ensuring development through empowerment of women.

“The government is working on poverty reduction and the development of education, health and manpower by empowering women,” she said.

She also mentioned the government programmes launched to ensure free education for women, including stipends and financial aids to buy books, have increased the rate of education for women at primary and secondary levels.

Regarding child and maternal mortality rate, Hasina said, “Bangladesh has got the MDG-4 award for its success in this area. The government has allotted Tk 3.31 billion in the current fiscal to compensate nearly a million widows and divorcees.”

Hasina said that the presence of 19 women members in the parliament, including herself, the opposition chief, deputy leader of the parliament and five ministers, speaks a lot about women empowerment in Bangladesh.

She also pointed out that 30 percent of seats in local government organisations are reserved for women.

State minister for women and children affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury was also present.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head a new U.N. body that will seek to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

The body will be known officially as the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, but officials say it will be referred to as U.N. Women.

The General Assembly voted in July, after years of difficult negotiations, to set up the entity, which will merge four separate U.N. divisions now dealing with women’s and gender issues.

“Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus,” Ban said in a statement to media. I am confident that under her strong leadership we can improves the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world.”

Bachelet, 58, headed a center-left administration in Chile from 2006 until March of this year, when she was replaced by conservative Sebastian Pinera. Last year, Forbes magazine rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.

Bachelet, who attended two years of high school in the United States, was arrested in Chile in 1975 along with her mother by the rightist military junta that took over the country in a 1973 coup. Exiled to Australia, she later moved to former East Germany before returning in 1979 to Chile where she studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics.

Ban told reporters that 26 candidates had been considered to head the women’s entity, but diplomats said Bachelet had been a front-runner from the start.

Ban has often spoken of his policy of promoting women’s causes and the selection of Bachelet follows his appointment earlier this year of Margot Wallstrom of Sweden as his first-ever special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

U.N. diplomats said four years of negotiations on the new women’s entity between Western developed nations and developing countries had been tough because of varying views on women’s rights and gender equality.

U.N. Women will focus on supporting inter-government bodies like the Commission on the Status of Women and ensuring that all U.N. agencies and organizations live up to their commitments to gender equality, the United Nations says.

U.N. Women will become fully operational on Jan. 1, 2011.

See also:

Michelle Bachelet New Head of UN Women: Where There Is Poverty ‘the State Cannot Be Neutral’

The choice of Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, to develop and then head a new and potentially powerful United Nations agency for women may well be the most important and smartest appointment Ban Ki-moon makes in his tenure as UN secretary-general.

Judges and other judicial officers in Argentina have begun to receive training on gender equality and women’s rights, as part of a broad programme that could serve as a model for similar initiatives in the rest of Latin America.

The plan, launched last week, will train facilitators to raise awareness on gender questions and promote the incorporation of a gender perspective among judges, prosecutors, court officers and administrative employees of the justice system.

Carmen Argibay, the first woman named to the country’s Supreme Court, said they found instances of discriminatory treatment of women victims as well as trials and sentences that failed to take into account the disadvantages suffered by many women because they live in a “sexist, patriarchal system.”

As an example of a discriminatory sentence she cited a judge’s decision this year that forced a woman to obtain permission from her spouse to get her tubes tied.

But there are also judges who have begun to adopt a gender perspective, based on legal instruments that are available to everyone but have not yet been applied consistently and across-the-board.

For instance, in a ruling this year, six doctors were sentenced for refusing to provide chemotherapy to a 20-year-old woman with cancer because she was pregnant. Her request for a therapeutic abortion was also denied. The young woman died without receiving treatment, and the baby also died.

In, addition, there are judges who are in the vanguard on gender issues and set legal precedents with sentences that help promote specific laws to expand rights to marginalised groups.

One illustration of this phenomenon are the judges who ordered civil registry offices to register gay marriages. The sentences, which were upheld, were backed up this year by a law on same-sex marriage.

In 2004, Argibay became the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. She was joined that same year by Elena Highton, who is currently vice president of the seven-member Court.

Highton was behind the establishment in 2009 of the Supreme Court Women’s Office, which is tasked with training and research on gender issues, and of the Office on Domestic Violence, which provides attention around the clock every day of the year.

As part of the work of the Women’s Office, Argibay presented the start of a series of workshops this month to train gender facilitators within the judicial system, an initiative that has United Nations support.

The participants receive a manual on how to hold their own workshops on justice with a gender perspective, with different training modules involving both theory and practice, which were designed with the participation of experts on justice and gender.

United Nations resident coordinator in Argentina Martín Santiago told IPS that the programme has everything necessary “to become a best practice for replication in all judicial systems in the region.

Taking part in the launch of the workshops were representatives of the Women’s Office as well as Argibay and Highton themselves, in order to underscore the support the programme has at the highest levels of the judiciary. The facilitator training workshops will be held in Buenos Aires.

According to the Supreme Court magistrate, the international conventions and other commitments that enshrine the rights of women, which have been signed by the Argentine state, are not sufficient to guarantee enforcement of these rights.

In the workshops, the future facilitators review the tools and instruments offered by the right to equality before the law and the rights of women, and engage in exercises that allow them to reflect on how gender-based social and labour roles are assigned. They also analyse sexist language and discuss how to avoid discriminatory terms.

“Violence against women is a consequence of seeing the world from an absolutely machista point-of-view,” Judge María Laura Garrigós, one of the women selected to be a gender facilitator, told IPS.

“The judiciary has not yet incorporated that perspective, it’s something we still have to accomplish — a shift in paradigm that will enable us to see crimes in that context,” she said.

Part of a longer story at

Afghanistan’s army got its first female officers in decades last week when 29 women graduated in a class of new recruits who hope to help take the lead role in national security from foreign forces by 2014.

President Hamid Karzai, NATO and the United States have been pushing to expand and train Afghanistan’s army, police and other security forces to allow them to take over during a planned drawdown of foreign troops.

The United States has said it will start its withdrawal in July 2011, although the process may take years.

“I am fully committed to serving my country, the same way as my Afghan brothers currently serving in the army. That is why I decided to join,” said female officer Mari Sharifi after the graduation ceremony at the Kabul Army Training Centre.

The women will not be sent to the frontline of the fight against the insurgency, which is raging at its strongest since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government, and instead will largely be doing administrative work.

Women served in the army of Afghanistan’s communist-backed regime in the 1980s but retreated from military service during the civil war and hardline Taliban rule that followed the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989.

The British officer who oversaw their training said all the new recruits were good and enthusiastic soldiers.

“(They are) all keen as mustard to join the Afghan National Army, and I think you will have seen today a very professional display — and that is the bottom line,” said General David Peterson, Commander of the Army Training Centre.

Afghanistan’s armed forces and police number roughly 300,000, serving alongside about 150,000 foreign troops.

* Death threats, hate emails await women candidates
* Right to vote, education for women at risk

Nima Suratgar had only just entered her name on a list of candidates for Afghanistan’s Sept. 18 parliamentary election when the first of scores of abusive and threatening emails arrived in her inbox.

Entitled “The Famous Afghan Prostitute For Parliament”, the anonymous email — which was also sent to media outlets and election officials — comprised a vicious four-page attack on Suratgar’s private life, urging voters not to support her.

This marked only the beginning of the 39-year-old Kabul teacher’s worries.

“Oh, that email, that was just the start,” said Suratgar from her modest campaign office in the Afghan capital. “I get emails and phone calls every day now from men threatening to kill me if I don’t stop running for parliament.”

Such threats underline the tenuous grip women have on their hard-won rights — the right to vote and education among them — since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Talk of reconciliation with the Taliban only underscores the fragility of that grip.

Suratgar is not alone and represents what election observers have called a worrying and widespread trend of intimidation of female candidates by insurgents and hardline conservatives bent on deterring women from participating in this month’s poll.

While men are not immune — four male candidates and some 15 campaigners have been killed — Afghanistan’s largest observer group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), warned last month women faced particular risks.

Out of 10 threats observers reported targeting specific candidates, 9 were aimed at women, FEFA said. One woman was forced to suspend her campaign in a rural province in central Afghanistan after receiving death threats and moved to Kabul.

On Aug. 29 armed men killed five campaigners working for female candidate Fawzia Gilani in Herat in the west of the country. It was not immediately clear whether the attacks were carried out by insurgents or political rivals.

For most of the women vying for a seat in parliament’s lower house, however, the threats are more subtle.

Robina Jelali, 25, an ex-Olympic runner and now head of a women’s charity in Kabul, said Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society made it harder for women to succeed.

“Women don’t have access like men. We cannot go to most places, especially at night, and visit our supporters. Men can go wherever and whenever they like,” said Jelali.

Unlike Suratgar, Jelali has not received any threats on her life but each day she goes out on the campaign trail she sees her posters either torn down or defaced with red paint, a common complaint of most female candidates.

“They do this because I am a woman and I am young,” she said.

Educated, working and outspoken, Suratgar and Jelali, like most of the 406 female parliamentary candidates, represent everything a woman should not be in the eyes of not only Taliban insurgents but for much of Afghanistan’s male-dominated society.

Afghanistan’s constitution says a quarter of the seats in the wolesi jirga, the lower house of parliament, should be for women — or 68 out of the total of 249.

Despite the threats and obstructions, Jelali and Suratgar, like many women in Afghanistan, remain pragmatic and determined.

“I love my country and my people. I can’t sit here and be quiet and do nothing after seeing what is happening to my country. I also urge other women to get involved,” said Suratgar.

See also: Women in Afghanistan need our support


Persecution experienced by women often differs from that experienced by men, but the asylum system still tends to regard it through a lens of male experiences. Gender-related persecution may give rise to claims for international protection. However, states do not always take it into proper account. To this must be added inappropriate interview settings, the use of irrelevant country of origin information and lack of training of officials. Although member states are stepping up their work in order to streamline a gender understanding into public decision-making, policy and operations, this effort is not always reflected in the asylum procedure.

Certain forms of harm (gender-based forms of harm or violence) are more frequently or only used against women or affect women in a manner that is different from men. These include, inter alia, sexual violence, societal and legal discrimination, forced prostitution, trafficking of human beings, refusal of access to contraception, bride burning, forced marriage, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and (forced) female genital mutilation and enforced nakedness/sexual humiliation.

A woman may be persecuted because of her gender (gender-related persecution), for example where she refuses or fails to comply with social, religious or cultural behaviour expected from a woman (floggings for refusing to use a veil, female genital mutilation, honour killings of adulterous women, etc.)

The Parliamentary Assembly is invited to call upon member states to ensure that gender-based violence and gender-related persecution is appropriately taken into account in any asylum determination process. They are also called upon to set up their asylum system in such a way as to ensure gender sensitivity. The Assembly also calls on the Committee of Ministers to, inter alia, instruct the appropriate inter-governmental body in the Council of Europe to carry out a study on the approach of member states to gender-related claims in the asylum process and provide them with guidelines.

Read the report in full at

A month ahead of the 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) review summit at the United Nations, some women’s groups are voicing concern that member states’ commitment to women’s issues is insufficient and slowing progress towards gender parity worldwide.

In June, a “draft outcome” document was released and has been circulating amongst U.N. groups in anticipation of September’s summit. The document re-affirms the commitment of U.N .member states to achieving the eight MDG goals by the year 2015, as outlined in 2000’s Millennium Declaration.

The 23-page draft details the progress made and challenges that remain in reaching the goals by the proposed deadline. Although there are some areas in which progress has been significant, other areas are falling far short of projected goals. Several women’s advocacy groups are blaming this disparity on the U.N.’s inadequate commitment to women’s rights.

For example, whereas efforts towards MDG 1 (cutting 1990 poverty rates in half by 2015) have seen considerable success, other goals, such as MDG 5 (improving maternal health) are nowhere near the projected success rate. In fact, between 1990 and 2005, maternal deaths were reduced by less than one percent – far from the goal of a three- quarters reduction by 2015.

Similarly, progress towards targets of MDG 3, such as boosting women’s political participation and eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015, has been halting.

The problem, some women’s groups say, is the entire approach towards understanding and addressing problems of gender inequality. Focusing on individual women’s issues, such as maternal mortality and access to education, fails to take the larger picture into consideration – the symptoms are being treated while the infection spreads.

Lysa John, global campaign director of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), told IPS that trying to effect social change this way is useless. “If you want to really do something about gender equality,” she said, “you have to do it in all spheres, rather than making it into a piecemeal issue.”

“This seems to be the problem with the way all of the MDG commitments are being phrased,” she added.

John takes the aim of reducing maternal mortality as an example – in order to achieve this goal, she explained, efforts must focus on the system as a whole. “It’s about revamping the public health system. If the public health system doesn’t work for the poor or socially-excluded communities, it’s never going to work for women anywhere,” she said.

She pointed to the lack of gender parity in political appointments around the globe as a prime example of an underlying inequality that gives rise to specific issues such as these.

The lack of political power, she told IPS, raises the question of “whether one is willing to make women equal partners in the policy-making and budget-allocation processes so that resources are generalised to infrastructure, public access to services for all communities, ending violence against women, and ensuring equality in wages.”

The resistance to the idea of power sharing, she notes, essentially turns women’s issues into “a charity”.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s deputy representative to the U.N., takes a similar stance on the summit draft document. Speaking to WeNews in early August, Truscott explained that the document’s largest failing is in viewing women’s empowerment as “a key goal in itself” and not as “a basic human right”.

Truscott has produced an edited version of the document that includes a stronger focus on human rights, categorising women’s empowerment as a “fundamental value” and “an issue of social justice”.

Both Truscott and John believe that the creation of the agency’s new women-focused entity, U.N. Women, will be instrumental in effecting positive change for women’s rights in light of these setbacks.

In the meantime, the wording of the final document will depend on the input of the 150 member states attending September’s summit.

Regardless of the specific language used, John says, there is much work to be done.

“When the last woman on the ground, who is far from democratic processes on the national and local levels, is able to feel a sense of ownership over local institutions as an equal decision-maker,” she said, “that’s when change has happened.”

As Hamas cracks down on the rights of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip, their sisters in the occupied West Bank are slowly gaining ground. But a bureaucracy, that is sometimes supported by foreign aid, is crippling these advances.

The Hamas authorities in Gaza have been making international headlines as they slowly restrict the rights of women. The restrictions have included banning women from smoking argilah (also known as hookah or water-pipe) in public places and riding pillion on motorbikes. Schoolgirls and women lawyers are now forced to cover their hair, and mannequins displaying female underwear have been banned from Gaza’s shop windows.

In the West Bank, five of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) 24 cabinet ministers are women. Women head two West Bank municipalities. A woman has been appointed commander of one of the Palestinian police stations, and a woman also runs the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

The Governor of Ramallah (Palestine’s de facto capital) Dr Leila Ghanem has several government bodies falling under her jurisdiction. Earlier, she had been a high-ranking official in the Palestinian Security Services.

Nissan FM Radio station has a staff of 20, most of them women, and hosts a Café au Lait programme which broadcasts six hours a day. The radio station focuses its programme content on the rights and interests of Palestinian women.

And in the most significant development in March this year, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad approved new legislation, which would equate “honour killings” of Palestinian women with murder.

Every year, throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, dozens of women are killed by their male relatives for allegedly having an affair or bringing “dishonour” of a sexual nature to the family.

Many of the murders, however, are actually motivated by other reasons. But the men know that even if they are found guilty of an “honour killing” they will get off with an extremely light sentence, in the worst-case scenario. Fayyad approved the legislation following several years of hard work and intensive lobbying by a number of Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations, as well as the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The Interior Ministry has been involved in numerous Palestinian human rights abuses such as torture. It is also accused of abusing civil rights, including denying Palestinians passports based on political allegiances.

The ministry works in conjunction with EU Cops, a contingent of European police and advisors based in Ramallah and funded by the European Union, who help to train and advise Palestinian police and other security forces. According to WCLAC, EU Cops is one of the donors of the new research project to inquire into “honour killings” and other gender-based issues.

“We are not prepared to start from scratch after spending years exploring the issue only to see our efforts – which were approved by the foreign minister – ignored by the PA and some who fund it. It would be unethical as well as an enormous waste of our time and the resources of foreign donors,” Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

Abu Dayyeh added that despite the goodwill of some senior politicians to improve the rights of Palestinian women, Israel’s continuing and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory was destroying the West Bank economically, and negatively affecting Palestinian society.

“Don’t be deceived by the Ramallah bubble where some people are getting rich and driving flashy cars. They are the minority. The majority of Palestinians are suffering great financial deprivation. And in our conservative society, when men can’t be the breadwinners who support their families, they feel emasculated. Then it is often the women who pay the price.

“The number of women suffering from domestic violence has spiked in the last few years. If anything, the plight of women is getting worse despite efforts at certain governmental levels,” Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

Part of a longer article at

1956 march a victory for all South Africans

South Africa celebrated Women’s Day in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the 1956 anti-pass march led by Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophie de Bruin.

Hundreds of women in Pretoria replicated the 1956 women’s anti-pass law march from the city centre to the Union Buildings. Led by Tshwane executive mayor Gwen Ramokgopa, the marchers paid tribute to the pioneers of women’s equality under the theme “Working together for equal opportunity and progress for women”.

Ramokgopa encouraged women to follow in the footsteps of the 1956 marchers and said they needed to be involved in relevant initiatives. She called the march a “day of victory for women”.

Continues at

Helen Zille: Women’s Day statement

Today we pay tribute to the women of South Africa. They are the daughters and granddaughters of the women of 1956 who had the courage to stand up for themselves, and each other, as many South African women have done — before and since.

Over half a century later, on Women’s Day, we have an opportunity to assess our progress in expanding opportunities for women. There is cause for some celebration, but much needs do be done.

Continues at

South Africa to act on workplace gender equity

President Jacob Zuma has called for action to address transformation in South Africa’s workplace, saying the country is not achieving the kind of gender parity required by its democratic rule.

Addressing a packed Women’s Day event at East London’s Absa Stadium on Monday, Zuma pointed to a recent employment equity report, compiled by the Department of Labour, which found that transformation in the workplace, particularly in the private sector, was slow.

Unless something was done urgently, he said, South Africa would struggle to achieve its set targets of workforce gender balance.

Continues at

Winnie lashes ANC and its failed policies

In an interview Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lashed out at the African National Congress (ANC) for failing to implement its own policies, especially those that impact women.

“It is time for the ANC to go back to the drawing-board and to assess how it will realistically implement policies,” Madikizela-Mandela said in the article.

The National Executive Committee member said the ANC should be giving themselves a better reflection after 16 years in government.

She said the party needed to revisit their strategies and tactics in the upcoming national general council meeting in September, by getting concrete suggestions from ministries as to how they would deliver on their promises.

Madikizela-Mandela passed judgement on the country’s record of gender empowerment saying that Lilian Ngoyi, a women’s liberation icon, would be turning in her grave.

Continues at

Women still suffer alone

Women’s Day, along with the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, is rapidly becoming a special little female ghetto.

It’s time to put sexual violence on the public media Increasingly, these are the only two occasions during the year when some brief discussion around the status of South African women becomes possible.

Otherwise, the political space is largely taken up with men’s battles to be the Big Boss, dodgy tenders and kickbacks, nationalisation debates and general rudeness and incivility.

These are all important – even occasionally entertaining – issues but they push sexual violence right off the public agenda.

For rape is not the individual tragedy of the woman or child concerned, but a matter of serious political concern. Consider the role of the state in the following:

Last year a study by the Medical Research Council (MRC) revealed that one in four men was willing to admit to a researcher that they had raped at least once (and some more often).

Article continues at

The first female Somali district chief in Northeastern Kenya has fled her district in fear. Male elders outraged by the idea of a woman presuming to political leadership threw stones at her and made life unbearable. It’s dangerous where she is now too.

Before she sought refuge two months ago at the compound of her provincial district commissioner, Amina Muhumed Sirat tried to carry out her duties as the first district chief of Meri, in the northeastern part of Kenya.

She would wake up before 6 a.m. to tend to household chores. Then the 29-year-old Somali would don her uniform and get to the office by 8 a.m., where she would help members of her district resolve disputes involving family, business and land matters. Some days she would officiate at a public function.

But two months ago–10 months after her appointment in July 2009–she gave up and fled the persistent hostilities of the male elders in her community; men who had known her all her life. They would throw stones at her when she tried to walk along the street or carry out an official function.

The district commissioner’s compound–300 kilometers away–became the temporary refuge for herself, her husband and their young son. She does not even dare visit the division she is supposed to administer.

Sirat’s province in Northeastern Kenya, one of the country’s seven administrative regions, is dominated by ethnic Somalis who are Muslim.

In this community, Sirat says, most men think women’s place is in the kitchen, not political office.

The Habasweini division where she has sought refuge is also a threatening place for her.

At Habasweini–where Sirat says she does nothing but try to keep safe–her life has been threatened twice. Once her house was invaded and everything inside destroyed.

District Commissioner Gabriel Ochuda, 46, says it is still a taboo among the Somalis for a woman to lead. But he says he is doing what he can to change that.

He says he has been engaging the hostile elders of Sirat’s community and trying to persuade them to accept her as their chief. He said she is very qualified to do the job.

Abdi Noor Abdi, an elder in Sirat’s Meri district, says women in leadership positions goes against Islamic teachings.

“For a man it’s different because there is no time that we are going to take maternal leave. Whereas for women they have to and they have a lot of responsibilities at home,” he said.

Sirat graduated with a diploma in community development from the University of Nairobi in 2007.

For some the degree represents a ticket to well-paying jobs in government or the private sector.

But Sirat says she wanted to give back to her community of about 30,000 people. She opted to join the provincial administration. Having grown up there, she thought she understood the problems of the people and she wanted to make a difference.

She landed the chief’s job after a competitive interview conducted by provincial administrators.

She says her parents, who encourage her to succeed, have also been estranged from their friends.

“Despite being happy for Sirat’s achievement, I’m scared for her life. I want her to live a normal life but she can’t do that as long as she remains a chief,” her father said.

He says that according to Somali culture, a woman is not supposed to hold any public office, but that some aspects of his culture are outdated.

Even though she is not on any active duty, Sirat dresses in her official khaki uniform– a long skirt and black headscarf with a beret on top.

“I’m decently dressed, I don’t wear tight skirts and I do cover my hair,” Sirat said. “And I still do my wifely duties, getting home early to take care of my son and my husband.”

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