Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Malta’s strict anti-abortion laws will not be affected by the recent judgment of Europe’s supreme court relating to abortion in Ireland, according to a Maltese judge who sat on the case.

The European Court of Human Rights last week found that a sick woman’s human rights were breached when she sought an abortion in Ireland but was forced to go to the UK instead.

However, Judge Giovanni Bonello, one of the judges deciding on this case, told The Times the judgment had “no relevance at all” to Malta.

Although Ireland, like Malta, has strict anti-abortion laws, its Constitution allows abortion if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life in danger. It is this exception which the Strasbourg court had to evaluate because the woman claimed she was unable to obtain proper medical advice to terminate her pregnancy.

“The violation consisted in Ireland denying the woman a personal right guaranteed by the Constitution of her own country,” Judge Bonello said.

The case concerned a woman who underwent chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The cancer was in remission when she got pregnant. Before realising she was pregnant, the woman had undergone some tests contraindicated during pregnancy.

She feared the tests would have harmed the foetus and the cancer would reappear if she carried the baby to term.

According to Judge Bonello, the Irish state had not put in place any legal and practical structures through which a woman could actually make use of a legally recognised right to abortion if her life was in danger.

On the contrary, in Malta, he added, the law criminalised all forms of abortion, even those intending to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother.

“The Strasbourg court did not have to face this issue and said absolutely nothing about it. Nothing has changed in so far as Malta is concerned,” Judge Bonello said.

Human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia believes the difference in legislation between Malta and Ireland will make it very difficult for either the pro-life movement or those who favour abortion to use this judgment for their cause.

This has not stopped pro-life lobby group Gift of Life renewing its call for the Constitution to be changed to ensure the right to life is protected “from conception” so as to make it very difficult for abortion to ever be made legal at some point in the future.

As expected, the Strasbourg court’s judgment on such a sensitive issue created a media sensation. However, Judge Bonello lamented what he described as a “radical misinterpretation and distortion” of the judgment.

“Nowhere does the judgment suggest that there is a right to abortion, much less that abortion is a fundamental human right,” he said.

The judgment concerned three women, two of whom desired to have an abortion in Ireland for reasons of “well-being” but could not have it performed in the country. The third concerned the sick woman.

Irish law does not allow abortions for reasons of “well-being” and the court dismissed the request of the first two applicants.

Judge Bonello said the court decided the issue of abortion was one which involved “grave moral, ethical and religious considerations” and as a result an international court should not interfere with domestic regulation.

However, Dr Comodini Cachia said the European court’s decision on abortion cases involving women who had to terminate their pregnancy for health reasons did raise pertinent questions about the fate of Maltese women who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

“The message seems to be that even if there is a risk to her life the woman will not be given any assistance or even advice related to termination of pregnancy. Essentially her life is at risk and that is it,” Dr Comodini Cachia said, dreading the prospect of being a doctor who is faced with a situation of having his hands tied by the draconian law.

“While the State is provided with a lot of discretion as to issues of morality and values, yet one may wonder whether that same State would be fulfilling its obligations in respecting the life of the woman and the family life of her partner and other children where there is clear evidence that a pregnancy would jeopardise her life and health,” Dr Comodini Cachia said.

This conundrum has not been resolved by the European court and yet even if a case ever makes it to Strasbourg the outcome is anything but a straightforward decision.

In Malta, abortion is a criminal act that punishes the woman and the doctor. There are no legal provisions that permit abortion if the woman’s life is in danger.

The criminal code states that anyone found guilty of inducing a miscarriage or consenting to an abortion faces a prison sentence of between 18 months and three years.

Doctors who perform an abortion or prescribe medicines to cause an abortion face a prison term of between 18 months and four years and perpetual interdiction from the profession.

A woman dies from domestic violence every 63 minutes in Russia, with more than 650,000 women beaten by their husbands and other relatives each year, a non-governmental organisation reported earlier in December.

The violence “results in the death of 14,000 women each year” in Russia, the ANNA women’s support group said in a report.

“In other words, this translates into another woman being killed by her husband once every 63 minutes,” the organisation’s president Marina Pisklakova told AFP.

She said the rate had remained relatively stable since 1995, although the interior ministry only began issuing official domestic violence figures in 2008.

For comparison, a woman is killed in a British domestic violence case once every three days, according to the Refuge women’s centre.

Pisklakova said the violence in Russia could be partially explained by a patriarchal society “in which women are accustomed to violence, which they treat as simple marital conflict.”

Though aware of the problem, Russian authorities have done little to help, Pisklakova said.

“There is one 35-bed (female) shelter in a Russian capital of 10 million inhabitants,” she said.

Prostitution is so popular (and socially accepted) in Spain that a United Nations study reports that 39 per cent of all Spanish men have used a prostitute’s services at least once. A Spanish Health Ministry survey in 2009 put the percentage of one-time prostitute users at 32 per cent: lower than the UN figure, perhaps, but far higher than the 14 per cent in liberal-minded Holland, or in Britain, where the figure is reported to oscillate between 5 and 10 per cent. And that was just those men willing to admit it.

To meet this vast demand, an estimated 300,000 prostitutes are working in Spain – everywhere from clubs in town centres to industrial estates, to lonely country roads to roadside bars, the last often recognisable by gigantic neon signs of champagne bottles or shapely females, flashing away in the darkness. And recently, on the French border, Club Paradise opened with 180 sex workers, making it the biggest brothel in Europe.

As the clubs get larger, the clients get younger. According to studies carried out for the Spanish Association for the Social Reintegration of Female Prostitutes (Apramp), back in 1998 the typical client was a 40-year-old married male. By 2005, however, the average age had dropped to 30 – and it appears to be getting lower. “The kids are going because they see it as a quick way of getting what would take a lot longer to happen if they went to a disco,” Alvaro says. “You’ve got the money, you choose the woman you want and it’s all over and done with.” His own logic is even more brutal: “I go when I don’t have a girlfriend.”

There is no single reason, though, why prostitution should be so popular in Spain. Historically it has long been seen as an expression of individual freedom – first as a pressure valve for the strait-laced family-focused environment of the Franco years (when prostitution was quietly ignored), and then consolidating itself after the dictator died. Then, as now, brothels would be listed in the yellow pages, albeit under the coy title of “nightclubs”, and nobody batted an eyelid. Among the young men of the Spanish provinces, even in the late 1980s, sleeping with a prostitute was no longer something you did as way of losing your virginity: it could actually be seen as cool.

In the 1990s, magazines such as Interviú, which prides itself on its investigative journalism, would think nothing of publishing “erotic guides to Spain”. Even today, all-male business dinners can end up in the local “club”. “Every now and then I have to take clients,” says one accountant who did not want to be named, “but it’s OK. They take credit cards.”

If the roots of Spain’s acceptance of prostitution ultimately lie with the sexual and personal repression of the Franco years, the most curious hangover from the sexual revolution is that, even today, most “‘serious” newspapers carry adverts for prostitutes. In the Madrid issue of one major national daily, 75 or 80 per cent of small ads are for prostitutes, offering all manner of services with prices from ¤20 to ¤200. Plans to eliminate the so-called “contact ads” appear to be on a kind of permanent hold, partly justified by the precarious economic state of Spain’s print media.

However, the underbelly of a trade which is legal in Spain but not recognised as an actual job is far from pleasant, with human trafficking constantly rearing its ugly head. In 2009 alone, Spain’s Ministry of the Interior detected 17 international crime rings involved in sexual trafficking in Spain. Between January and April of this year, according to the newspaper El País, the authorities identified 493 cases of women sold into sexual slavery.

Yet that makes no difference, it seems, to the clients who pour through the doors of the brothels. “There is a clear lack of awareness as to what is going on,” says Marta Gonzalez, a spokeswomen for the Madrid-based NGO Proyecto Esperanza, which helps women who have been victims of trafficking. “Clients don’t realise that many of these women could be victims of trafficking. Lots of people would be more wary if the prostitutes were clearly under lock and key or had obviously been subject to physical abuse. They don’t realise that all it takes is a death threat to their families back in Nigeria or Brazil, and the woman is already being coerced into prostitution.”

The laws in Spain are of little help either, with prostitution currently a permitted activity – but with no labour rights. “They’re already frequently leading a double life or are considered social outcasts and often are in dire need of money,” said a Spanish Red Cross social worker running a healthcare programme for prostitutes. “Add the lack of legal rights, and they’re a clear target for exploitation.”

On top of that there’s Spain’s recession. “Economically the women I’m dealing with are at the end of their tether, and the lack of other employment possibilities makes everybody more nervous about keeping clients. In the process they put themselves at risk, too. They’ll be more willing to accept it when a client doesn’t want to use a condom, for example, to be sure they get him to sleep with them.”

When prostitution and trafficking overlap, the legal situation grows even more discouraging. “Glitches in the legislation mean that an identical crime is punished less severely here than, say, in Germany.” Ms Gonzalez says. “Forcing someone to prostitute themselves in Spain gets from two to four years in prison here, while human trafficking gets five to eight. But because the latter charge often can’t be proved effectively because of poor legislation, the criminal gets the lower sentence.”

Meanwhile, Spain’s sex trade continues to flourish. And, in one way, it is literally more visible than ever: recently, in an attempt to cut the number of road accidents, the police in Lerida, Catalunya, issued the prostitutes working in out-of-town lay-bys with fluorescent waistcoats.

Part of a longer article at

A blazing row over feminism erupted Tuesday between Family Minister Kristina Schröder and Germany’s leading women’s rights campaigner, Alice Schwarzer, following an interview by the minister that had other women politicians bristling too.

Schwarzer, the 67-year-old leading feminist and founder of the women’s journal EMMA, blasted Schröder in an open letter as a “hopeless case” and “simply unqualified.”

Schröder, 33, is the youngest woman ever to sit in Germany’s cabinet. In an interview this week with Der Spiegel magazine, the conservative Christian Democrat took issue with some of Schwarzer’s assertions in the latter’s famous feminist book, Der kleine Unterschied und seine großen Folgen, or “The Small Difference and its Great Consequences.”

The minister questioned Schwarzer’s purported view that “heterosexual sex was hardly possible without the subjugation of the woman.”

“It is absurd when something that is essential to the survival of humanity is defined as subjugation. That would mean that without the subjugation of woman society could not continue.”

Schröder also said: “I don’t find it convincing that homosexuality should be the solution to the disadvantage of women.”

The radical feminist tendency to reject relationships between men and women was not a solution for inequality, she said.

“I believe that early feminism at least partially overlooked that partnership and children bring happiness,” she told the magazine.

The minister also rejected the idea of quotas to improve women’s standing in the workplace, calling it a “political capitulation.” She blamed some women’s own choices for the fact that they earned less than men.

“The truth is this: Many women prefer to study German philology and humanities, while men study electric engineering – and that has consequences when it comes to wages. We can’t forbid companies from paying electric engineers more than a philologist.”

Schröder told Der Spiegel that a new part of her policy would be providing more support to boys, who are falling behind girls in schools. Government policies have neglected boys and men, she said.

The Family Minister’s comments were not appreciated by feminist leader Schwarzer, who made a brutal retort in an open letter to Schröder, also published by Der Spiegel.

“I consider you to be a hopeless case. Simply unqualified,” Schwarzer wrote.
“Whatever the motive of the chancellor might have been in appointing you of all people – it cannot have been competence and empathy for women.”

Schwarzer accused Schröder of using “cheap clichés” about “the most momentous social movement of the 20th century,” which Schröder, among many other young women, could thank for their personal success in their careers.

She went on to blast Schröder for employing “populist wisdom” and “outrageous nonsense” about Schwarzer’s book.

She said she had waited for the past year for deeds and action from Schröder, but “in vain.”

“The only exciting news from your office was your change of name from Köhler to Schröder,” she said, referring to the minister’s name change after she got married in February.

Meanwhile Green party parliamentary group leader and candidate for Berlin mayor Renate Künast said she was “dumbfounded” by the Family Minister’s comments, calling them “crude and antiquated.”

Another opposition politician, Social Democrat deputy leader and Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, called the interview “nonsense.”

“Mrs. Schröder has absolutely no understanding of the historic meaning of feminism,” she told Der Spiegel, adding that she was also uninformed about the modern problems of women.

The deputy leader of the socialist Left party, Katja Kipping, weighed in on the debate with equal vigour, questioning Schröder’s knowledge of the movement, saying it had “never been about man-hating, but about fighting the patriarchy – that is, structures that discriminate against women.”

We, undersigned, hereby express our concern about the situation in Hungary regarding non-hospital birth. It is shameful that Dr. Ágnes Geréb and other midwives providing responsible assistance to homebirthing families could become the victims of a show trial beneath the dignity of a democratic state.

We think that prosecuting midwives because of a regrettable case that could have happened in a hospital is unacceptable. The rate of neonatal mortality in Hungary for out-of-hospital birth is 1 out of a thousand, while 8 out of a thousand for hospital birth (international statistics are in line with the Hungarian data: in countries where assisted, planned out-of-hospital birth is regulated, maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity rates of homebirth are better or at least as good as corresponding rates of hospital birth.)

Midwives in our country face several legal and professional problems due to the current lack of appropriate legislation, therefore their activity is not judged according to protocols developed and adopted by midwives, but according to the protocols of another and completely different approach, that of medicalized obstetrician paradigm. In this present unlawful situation not only families choosing homebirth are negatively discriminated, but also those dedicated professionals, who assist them as midwives.

The Hungarian Parliament failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation by not creating the legal, financial, institutional and educational framework for planned, assisted out-of-hospital birth. The legal deficiency subsists, and this outrageous situation cannot be justified by the fact that the College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians tenaciously stands against homebirth despite international recommendations, scientific evidence and the opinion of experienced professionals. Citizens of Hungary who would like to make responsible and free choices regarding the location and circumstances of their birth, find themselves is dishonoring situations, although the Constitution guarantees their right to self-sovereignty.

We request that competent authorities and professional bodies promote effective cooperation of parties, and reconcile this discreditable situation.

We also request that the Judiciary Administration fairly and impartially run the trial, staying away from the unlawful persecution of professional midwives assisting homebirth.

Sign the petition at

* Midwife Agnes Gereb taken to court for championing home births in Hungary
* The right to a home birth in Hungary

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi unveiled measures targeting immigrants and prostitutes last week, drawing derision from the Italian opposition who want him to resign in a scandal involving teenage girls at his villa.

A decree passed by his cabinet allows authorities to deport citizens of other EU states after 90 days if they do not meet conditions such as having a suitable income and an address.

The move will extend a crackdown on Roma people, which has been criticised by rights groups as discriminatory, and follows similar moves in France earlier this year when dozens of Roma were put on flights to Romania.

The new measures will also allow police to expel any immigrant working as a prostitute on the street but not affect prostitutes working indoors.

Berlusconi is at the centre of a scandal involving an 18-year-old Moroccan runaway named Ruby. Ruby has said she was paid 7,000 euros ($9,900) after she attended a party at Berlusconi’s private villa near Milan when she was 17 years old.

Ruby has denied having sex with Berlusconi and said she had told him she was 24 years old.

His wife filed for divorce last year, accusing him of associating with minors.

The prime minister has shrugged off the storm of criticism which has come his way over the incident, even stoking the outrage with his trademark brand of provocation by remarking “it’s better to like beautiful girls than to be gay”.

Part of a longer article at

See earlier postings:

Women at the International Women’s Istanbul Meeting protested Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his speech at the Istanbul Congress Centre. They rose to their feet and held up banners reading “More of us are being killed when you say we are not equal” and “The men’s love kills three women per day”.

The women protested quietly. Security personnel in the hall took the banners and removed the women from the venue.

Members of the Feminist Collective underlined that 236 women were killed in the first seven months of 2010. “Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to tell women to give birth to three children whereas he does not mention the women who died”, they criticized.

The women reminded Erdoğan’s statement made in a meeting with women organizations in Istanbul where he said, “I do not believe in gender equality”. The women questioned “Prime Minister Erdoğan’s policies to be implemented to provide safety for the life of women”.

“We do not ask Prime Minister Erdoğan to work on the women’s ‘disposition’ or on ‘how many children they should have’. We want him to fulfil his duty and prevent violence against women, oppression and discrimination. We want to hear that steps are being taken and policies are being implemented that guarantee our right to life and life safety. We want to hear that very urgently because on every day that passes with all these announcements, another three women are being killed”.

The women made a press release including the following issues:

* According to the standards of the European Union (EU), one women’s shelter should be opened per 7,500 people. Hence, there should be 7,500 shelters in Turkey, but in reality there are 38. They have a total capacity of 867 people.

* In the Gender Equality report of the World Economic Forum Turkey ranks in 126th position among a total of 134 countries.

* The number of women murders increased by 1,400 percent within the past seven years. There is no action plan to stop this development. In fact, the legislature and the executive do not even have an according agenda.

* At court, the murders benefit from an unjust mitigation of punishment because of provocation. The women are killed by their husbands after they come back from the police, from shelters and prosecutors.

Part of a longer article at

The European Parliament by a large majority passed a Resolution in favour of substantially increasing European minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave provisions. In what supporters are lauding a great victory for the women and men living in Europe, the Parliament approved an increase of maternity leave provisions from 14 weeks to 20 weeks and the introduction of two weeks leave for new fathers, both fully paid.

‘This is an incredibly important victory for parents, both mothers and fathers, as it will for the first time shift the costs of maternity from individual women to society as a whole’, says Brigitte Triems, President of the European Women’s Lobby. ‘It is also a sign that our representatives in the European Parliament take progress towards equality between women and men and the future of our societies seriously. We welcome the commitment in particular of those MEPs who championed the text, but also of the Parliament as a whole, which today showed that it is ready to take political decisions which may be unpopular in certain quarters but which in effect favour long-term gains in equality between women and men and socio-economic sustainability.’

The revision to the so-called ‘Maternity Leave Directive’ was first tabled in 2008. The duration of leave and the costs of remuneration have been highly controversial, in particular with British business groups, and the vote was expected to be very close. Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s Impact Assessment of the proposed legislation concluded that the investment for European economies was highly sound, with increases in women’s employment rates alone set to more than offset the costs.

‘If backed by European governments, this legislation will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of women across Europe’, explains EWL Secretary General, Myria Vassiliadou. ‘Sufficiently long leave allowances, pay and protection from dismissal upon return will ensure women do not have to sacrifice their careers in order to raise a family.’

Currently in Europe, women’s employment rates drop by more than 12% when they have children. The OECD found in 2006 that in countries where the maternity leave provisions are longest, female employment rates were also highest, with over 80% in Iceland and over 70% in Denmark and Sweden – well above the OECD average of 57%.

At a time of widespread concern about Europe’s ageing population and the costs of pensions, increasing women’s participation in the labour market as well as birth-rates has become paramount to economic sustainability. The member states with high female employment rates are also countries where fertility rates are higher.

‘The Members of the European Parliament have sent a very strong message to our governments that priority must be given to long-term, equal and sustainable investments in Europe’s biggest resource: its people, women, men and children,’ said Ms. Triems. ‘We trust national governments will take note.’

Gender equality associations are also very pleased about provisions for paid paternity leave. According to Ms Vassiliadou, ‘Fathers not only have a right to be with their new-born children, but should also be encouraged to contribute equally to their care. Guaranteed and paid paternity leave is a step in the right direction towards an equal distribution of social rights and responsibilities between women and men.’

According to the legislative Resolution adopted today, fathers are provided with two weeks non-transferable leave at full pay. The first six weeks of maternity leave are also non-transferable, but a couple can request to share the remaining 14 weeks.

For more information, please contact Leanda Barrington-Leach, EWL Communications and Media Officer,, T: (+32) 488 41 94 21, and see

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. EWL membership extends to organisations in all 27 EU Member States and 3 of the candidate countries, as well as to 21 European-wide organisations, representing a total of more than 2500 associations.

Women’s groups across Italy are angered by the news that the country ranks 74 in the new report of 2010 World Economic Forum on gender equality ranking.

The report shows Italy ranks worst in the whole of Europe for equality between men and women and behind countries such as Ghana and Malawi, and Vietnam from the developing world.

“I think it’s in theory we are moving in the right way but then in practice there is still much to be done. The thing is more cultural than legal. For example women still face some troubles in working, specially at some levels, and combining their private lives as mothers and their lives as workers,” Maria Stasi, an Italian lawyer, told a Press TV correspondent.

The report which says how income, resources, and opportunities are distributed between the sexes also gave particular praise to the Philippines in Asia, and Lesotho in Africa which were both in world’s top ten.

Italy dropped two places from 2009 and the report is particular critical of the fewer opportunities available to women in business and politics. The report comes as little surprise to many businesswomen in Italy who claim their earnings and promotion prospects are not as high as those of men and that they are treated worse than their male counterparts.

Currently over half of university graduates in Italy are female. But for those levels to be translated into leaders in the work place and politics significant steps still need to be taken.

The world economic forum report placed Iceland, Norway, and Finland as its top three countries, with high rankings for fellow European nations Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany.

Pakistan, Chad, and Yemen were at the bottom of the 134-nation forum rankings.

See also:

Women literacy rate higher than men in UAE
Abu Dhabi, Oct 13 (IANS/WAM) The literacy rate of women is higher than men in the UAE, a report said Tuesday. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global

Nordics lead in eliminating gender inequality
NEW YORK — Four Nordic countries lead the world in eliminating inequality between men and women and the United States entered the top 20 nations for the

Canada back among top 20 in gender gap
Canadian women are narrowing the gap with men, but Canada was still ranked behind the United States in an annual Global Gender Gap survey released Tuesday.

Korea Flounders Near Bottom in Gender Equality
Korea climbed 11 notches on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index as an increasing number of women hold senior government posts, but the country still

RP’s Gender Gap Ranking Highest in Asia — WEF Survey
MANILA, Oct. 12 (PNA) — The Philippines’ ranking in a survey that measures the gap between men and women remained the highest country from Asia,

‘Motherhood Gap’ in wages hits women hard
Women who exit and re-enter the workforce to have children tend to experience wage losses of three per cent per year of absence, says a new TD Economics

Global Gender Gap Index: Iceland tops, France drops, and US breaks into top 20
Iceland is No. 1 and Yemen is ranked last in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures gender equality.

The European Union (EU) is committed to strengthening anti-trafficking legislation, and delivering more residence permits to human trafficking victims, European Commission said in Brussels.

On the occasion of the European anti-trafficking day, the European Commission expressed its strong will to combat human trafficking and strengthen the related legislation.

“It is clear to all of us that trafficking in human beings is a crime that cannot be tolerated in any form in Europe, or anywhere else,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, Commissioner for Home Affairs, adding that “trafficking in human beings is the human slavery of our time.”

On 29 March 2010, the commission adopted a new proposal for a directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting the victims. The directive, which is currently under negotiation with the European Parliament and the European Council, will provide a common legal framework for the fight against trafficking in human beings.

As human trafficking is almost always a cross-border crime and victims are often recruited in countries outside the EU, the commission suggested cooperation over the borders should be enhanced and human trafficking should be an integral part of Europe’s external relations.

The commission also said it will continue to give financial support to cross-border projects aiming at improving prosecution, prevention, and victim protection, both inside the EU and around the world in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In addition to selecting the first EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, the commission is expected to adopt an Integrated Strategy on the fight against trafficking next year, which will define all important anti-trafficking actions that cannot be addressed through legislation.

The EU is also considering issuing more residence permits to victims to enhance their protections and help them cooperate with authorities in dismantling trafficking networks. An anti- trafficking website will also be launched very soon to display European anti-trafficking policies and legislation, in order to help all those involved in fighting trafficking in human beings.

To combat prostitution and sex trafficking, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services in 1999. Its record since then stands out amid the failures of legalized prostitution elsewhere in Europe.

At a time when some governments are trying – and failing – to combat sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution, Sweden’s innovative approach stands out as an exemplary model of lawmaking that reduces prostitution, penalizes men, and protects women.

As human trafficking became an increasing global problem in the 1990s, Sweden took an intensive look at its prostitution policy. It concluded that a country cannot resolve its sex trafficking problem without targeting the demand for prostitution. In 1999, Sweden passed landmark legislation that made it illegal to buy sexual services.

The legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”

Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.

The key to the law’s effectiveness lies not so much in penalizing the men (punishments are modest) but in removing the invisibility of the buyers and making their crimes public. Men now fear being outed as prostitution users.

Sweden’s success

In July, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the first 10 years of the law. While acknowledging that much remains to be done, the report’s findings are overwhelmingly positive:
• Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases.”
• There is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet.
• Extensive services exist in the larger cities to assist those exploited by prostitution.
• Fewer men state that they purchase sexual services.
• More than 70 percent of the Swedish public support the law.

Initially critical, police now confirm the law works well and deters other organizers and promoters of prostitution, especially traffickers, who find in Sweden an intolerant environment in which to sell women and children for sex. Based on National Criminal Police reports, Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking have not increased during the past decade. [Editor’s note: The original version of this sentence wrongly suggested that National Criminal Police reports made this comparison.]

Sweden’s progress contrasts sharply with the dismal results of other European countries that have professionalized pimping, brothels, and additional aspects of the prostitution industry.

Failures of legalized prostitution

In 2002, Germany decriminalized the procuring of prostitution, made it legally easier to establish brothels and other prostitution enterprises, lifted the prohibition against promoting prostitution, and proposed contracts and benefits for women in prostitution establishments.

In 2007, a federal government report found that the German Prostitution Act had not improved conditions for women in the prostitution industry nor helped them to leave. It had also failed “to reduce crime in the world of prostitution.” Finally, the report stated that “prostitution should not be considered to be a reasonable means for securing one’s living.”

The government is now drafting an impoverished version of Sweden’s law that would merely punish buyers of those forced into prostitution or who are victims of trafficking. Which raises the question: Why would a buyer ask her if she’s a victim – and why would she tell him?

Netherlands’s experiment with legalization has been equally grim. Two reports in 2007 and 2008 heralded official disenchantment with the results of a 2000 law that made prostitution and the sex industry legal.

The government-commissioned 2007 Daalder report found that the majority of women in the window brothels are still subject to pimp control, and their “emotional well-being is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects.”

A 2008 Dutch National Police report states it more strongly: “The idea that a clean, normal business sector has emerged is an illusion…” Like the Germans, the Dutch are now proposing an amendment that would penalize the buyers, but only those who purchase unlicensed persons in prostitution. Still, it’s an oblique indication that the concept of penalizing buyers is gaining ground.

The Nordic model

The failed policy of legalization of prostitution in Europe helped the Swedish model to become the Nordic model in 2009 when Norway outlawed the purchase of women and children for sexual activities. Results were immediate and dramatic one year after the Norwegian law came into force.

A Bergen municipality survey estimated that the number of women in street prostitution had decreased by 20 percent with indoor prostitution also down by 16 percent. Bergen police maintain that advertisements for sexual activities have dropped 60 percent. Effective monitoring of the telephone numbers of buyers who respond to such ads not only enables police to identify and charge buyers but also exposes a wider network of criminal groups involved in child prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking. In Oslo, the police also report that there are many fewer buyers on the street.

The same year as Norway, Iceland passed a strong law criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. Earlier in 2004, Finland approved an anemic version of the Nordic model. This left Denmark as the outlier with no legislation targeting the demand for prostitution.

Criminalizing demand works. Police report that it becomes less profitable for pimps and traffickers to set up shop in countries where their customers fear the loss of their anonymity. Less profit means less prostitution and less violence against women.

Not only in Europe but also in the Philippines and Korea, the prostitution policy tide is turning from legalization to addressing the demand for prostitution. The United Nations has prohibited their peacekeepers and related personnel from buying women for sexual activities in prostitution, even if prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction in which they serve.

Countries that want to fight sexual exploitation cannot sanction pimps as legitimate sexual entrepreneurs and must take legal action against the buyers.

By Janice Raymond, professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the board of directors of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared at

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.

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


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

Harassment on the Rise Against Women

Russia should put an end to local rules forcing women in Chechnya to observe an Islamic dress code, says Human Rights Watch.

Since the start of Ramadan in mid-August, Human Rights Watch has received numerous reports from Chechnya about women being harassed in the streets of Grozny, the republic’s capital, for not covering their hair and/or wearing clothes deemed too revealing.

“Forcing women to wear religious or traditional clothing violates their right to personal autonomy, and the Kremlin should end this interference with their private life,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Chechen women, like other Russians, should be free to choose how they dress.”

In the first days of Ramadan, groups of men in traditional Islamic dress (loose pants and tunic) claiming to represent the republic’s Islamic High Council (muftiat) started approaching women in the center of Grozny, publicly shaming them for violating modesty laws and handing out leaflets with detailed description of appropriate Islamic dress for females. They instructed women to wear headscarves and to have their skirts well below the knees and sleeves well below the elbow.

The alleged envoys from the Islamic High Council were soon joined by aggressive young men who pulled on the women’s sleeves, skirts, and hair, touched the bare skin on their arms, accused them of being dressed like harlots, and made other humiliating remarks and gestures. In two cases reported to Human Rights Watch, members of the Chechen law enforcement were among the attackers.

For several years, women in Chechnya have been the target of a quasi-official virtue campaign. The Chechen authorities have banned women who refuse to wear headscarves from working in the public sector. Female students are also required to wear headscarves in schools and universities. Though these measures have not been codified into law, they are strictly enforced and publicly supported by the republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
In June 2010, Human Rights Watch received credible reports of individuals, including law enforcement agents, pelting uncovered women on the streets with paintball guns. At least one of the women had to be hospitalized as a result. In an interview with the television station “Grozny” on July 3, 2010, Kadyrov expressed unambiguous approval of this lawless practice by professing his readiness to “award a commendation” to the men engaged in these activities. He also stated that the targeted women’s behavior deserved this treatment and that they should be ashamed to the point of “disappearing from the face of the earth.”

“When a public official like Ramzan Kadyrov praises this cruel violence, he is openly encouraging physical assault and public humiliation of women,” said Lokshina. “It’s time the federal government stood up for the rights of Chechen women.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees people’s right to freedom of religion, including stating that “no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his [or her] freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his [or her] choice.” Asma Jahangir, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and her predecessor, Abdelfattah Amor, have both criticized rules that require the wearing of religious dress in public. Imposing Islamic dress on women is also inconsistent with Russia’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of conscience.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the governments of Germany, France and Turkey for violating religious freedoms by banning religious symbols in schools and denying Muslim women the right to choose to wear headscarves in schools and universities. By the same token, women and girls should be free not to wear religious or traditional dress.

Amor urged that dress should not be the subject of political regulation. Jahangir has said that the “use of coercive methods and sanctions applied to individuals who do not wish to wear religious dress or a specific symbol seen as sanctioned by religion” indicates “legislative and administrative actions which typically are incompatible with international human rights law.”

More Polish women are travelling abroad to have an abortion to bypass strict laws outlawing the practice in their overwhelmingly Catholic country, a pro-choice group said last month.

Poland, a country of 38 million where the Catholic Church retains considerable clout, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the 27-nation European Union.

It allows terminating pregnancy only at an early stage and when it threatens the life or health of the mother, when the baby is likely to be permanently handicapped or when pregnancy originates from a crime, for example rape or incest.

Official statistics show only several hundred abortions are performed every year, but pro-choice campaigners say underground abortions are very common.

“We estimate… that on average 150,000 abortions are performed per year,” Wanda Nowicka, head of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, told lawmakers at a meeting in the Polish parliament on Thursday.

“Of this number, some 10-15 percent of abortions are performed abroad and this number is definitely growing.”

Doctors from Germany, Austria, Britain and the Netherlands who terminate the pregnancies of Polish women every day also attended the meeting.

“Several thousand Polish women terminate pregnancies in Germany every year,” said Janusz Rudzinski from a clinic in Prenzlau in Germany, near the Polish border.

The doctors said women sought abortions abroad because they were illegal at home and often performed in poor conditions. They also fear social ostracism if they undergo an abortion in Poland, the doctors said.

An illegal abortion in Poland costs 2,000-4,000 zlotys ($640-$1,270), compared to 400-600 euros ($510-$760) in Germany, 280 euros in the Netherlands and 450-2,000 pounds ($700-$3,120) in Britain, they said.

In Prenzlau, visits take 3-4 hours, while in Vienna they take two days.

Poland lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2007 to Alicja Tysiac, who nearly went blind after giving birth to a third child following failed attempts to find a doctor who would perform a legal abortion for her.

Abortion regulations are even more strict in Ireland and they also force thousands of women to terminate their pregnancy abroad, mostly in Britain.

“Officially, abortion tourism (into Britain) in 2009 stood at about 7,000 women … Probably more than a thousand, maybe several thousands of them, were Polish,” said Ann Furedi, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Many of the Polish women who decide to terminate their pregnancy admit also to using contraception regularly despite declaring themselves Catholic, the doctors said.

The Catholic Church strongly opposes contraception as well as abortion. There has been a lot of public debate on these issues, to the dismay of Polish liberals who say this undermines the country’s secular constitution.

“The abortion law in Poland is a perfect example of how the state is unable to liberate itself from the powerful influence of the Catholic Church,” said independent MP Marek Balicki, who served as health minister in a previous leftist government.

President says ban is part of a strategy to fight people trafficking and sexual exploitation rife in Spain

The Spanish government has put itself on collision course with the national press with the announcement that it wants to ban adverts offering sexual services from their classified sections.

The explicit adverts, which fill at least a page in most of Spain’s dailies, are worth €40m (£34m) a year to the struggling newspaper industry.

President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero made the announcement during this week’s state of the nation speech, saying it was part of a strategy to fight the people trafficking and sexual exploitation that was rife in the country.

“As long as these advertisements exist, they contribute to the idea of this activity as normal,” he said.

The Association of Spanish Newspaper Editors responded by saying that the logical policy would be for the government to make prostitution illegal. “If it was illegal, then newspapers wouldn’t carry the ads,” a spokesman said.

If the ads are banned, newspapers will want to be compensated and, worryingly for Zapatero, El País, a staunch supporter of his socialist party, is the paper that earns the most from this form of advertising. With its left-liberal sensibilities and readership profile, El País is the Spanish paper that most resembles the Guardian, and yet it earns €5m a year from advertising prostitution.

Yolanda Besteiro of the Progressive Women’s Federation was scathing about what she regards as the newspaper’s hypocrisy. “No media outlet can proclaim itself a defender of human rights when it publishes this kind of advertising, which makes them directly complicit in this type of slavery,” she said.

The most openly religious daily, ABC, also runs the ads. El Publíco is the only national that does not run them as a matter of policy.

Spain is the only European country where the “quality” press carries adverts for sex. With the migration of most classified advertising to the internet, prostitution now accounts for 60% of the Spanish classified ad market.

Prostitution is big business in Spain, worth an estimated €18bn a year. There are about 200,000 sex workers in the country, nearly all of them immigrants, many of them illegal. Prostitutes are a common sight in cities, and it is impossible to go far along any main road before finding an oddly named “alternate club”, rural brothels that can house as many as 100 women.

Most of the newspaper ads are not placed by individual women but by the mafias – largely from Romania, Nigeria and various Latin American countries – who exploit them. Proof of this emerged this month when police broke up a prostitution network in Madrid after following up ads in various papers. The women were being forced to give half their earnings to pimps, and much of the rest went on paying for their lodgings, leaving them, the police said, “in a state of near slavery”.

See also: Newspaper and magazine editors have called for prostitution to be made illegal if they are to be banned from featuring advertisements for sexual services.

Women’s rights campaigners say the Czech Republic’s new government has effectively told women they have no relevance to the country’s future after the new cabinet was formed – without a single female minister.

Despite a record number of women elected to parliament in elections in May and pre-election pledges by party leaders that they wanted more women in politics, women’s rights activists said they had been given a “slap in the face” after the make-up of the new cabinet was finally agreed last week.

Michaela Appeltova from the PadesatProcent (Fifty PerCent) women’s rights organisation told IPS: “The composition of the government is a symbolic signal that women are not relevant to the future of the country because the current government is going to carry out a whole series of massive reforms in all kinds of sectors, public sector, health etc., and women will have no say in this. Their perspective will be completely lost.”

Despite advances in equal rights over the last two decades, politics, as well as many other professions in the former Eastern bloc state have remained male- dominated, equal rights campaigners say.

As recently as 2002 there had been a cabinet with no women, and the number of women in parliament has been below the European average in previous parliaments. The average number of women in parliaments in countries within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is just under 22 percent. In the outgoing Czech parliament, women made up 17 percent of the total number of MPs.

Campaigners had welcomed the results of the recent elections after a record 44 women were elected to the lower house of parliament.

The number – 22 percent of all MPs – was, say women’s rights groups, especially important in that 14 of those elected had come via a system of preferential votes where voters indicate their support on ballot papers not just for their chosen party but for the candidate of their choice.

They say that this had shown that voters wanted more women in politics, and they had been confident that the three parties forming the new coalition government would translate this support for women into the appointment of female ministers. The right-wing ODS party, which won the most votes of the three coalition parties, had said it had a female candidate for a ministerial post.

But at the end of lengthy negotiations on forming the cabinet, leaders suggested women had been put off the posts by the tough negotiations.

Jana Ciglerova, a prominent writer on equal rights, told Czech media: “It’s an absolute slap in the face. To have a government that has absolutely no women in it is shocking. It’s the third millennium, and yet half of the population is still not represented in the government.”

Others accused government leaders of hypocrisy and cynically promoting female candidates and backing more women in politics simply to get votes. 
Appeltova said: “The voters showed that they wanted more women representing them in power. But now the parties have decided on their government with no women, which completely ignores the will of the voters.”

Alexandra Jachanova-Dolezelova of the Gender Studies NGO in Prague told IPS: “The situation (with women’s rights) will get worse with this cabinet. It is good to have more women in parliament, but the executive power is with the government, which will now be a men’s club.”

The situation is in stark contrast, at least at the top, to neighbouring Slovakia which is about to have its first ever female prime minister.

Iveta Radicova, a 53-year-old former sociologist turned politician, will officially become prime minister when the new coalition government sits for the first time this week. She had last year won the support of equal rights groups when she ran, ultimately unsuccessfully, for the presidency last year.

Although she was careful not to present herself as a women’s candidate in the presidential bid — and has again tried to downplay the significance of her gender as the prime minister-elect — women’s rights groups saw her as a de facto standard-bearer for their movement, and described her as “our candidate”.

But attitudes to women’s rights in the strongly Catholic country remain conservative. Local rights groups complain of a lack of equality in the workplace, and point to the overwhelming male domination of politics. The new Slovak parliament will have 23 female MPs – one less than the previous parliament, and just 15 percent of the total number of MPs in parliament.

Slovak sociologists have said that the election of a woman to the highest ranks of politics in the country will help society by promoting discussion about gender and minorities, while others say that Radicova’s presence as prime minister could help change the political culture simply by breaking the until now almost complete male dominance of the country’s political executive.

Czech women’s rights activists say their own country should look to Slovakia as an example.

“The appointment of a female prime minister in Slovakia is a great example for us and one the Czech Republic should look to follow,” said Appeltova.

But they are meanwhile planning a public campaign including sending an open letter to the coalition parties to try and force the new government to reverse its decision.

“We will not give up on this,” said Appeltova.

A new Spanish law allowing abortion without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy went into effect earlier this month but the Constitutional Court could yet intervene to suspend or change it.

The law, approved by Parliament in February, was the latest item on a liberal agenda undertaken by the Socialist government, which took power in 2004. The measure is seen as bringing this traditionally Roman Catholic country more in line with its secular neighbors in northern Europe.

Equality Minister Bibiana Aido told Cadena SER radio the government was unworried by an appeal by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court challenging the 14-week clause as unconstitutional.

“The government is fully convinced of the constitutionality of the law,” she said.

The Popular Party cited a 1985 ruling from the court that said a woman’s rights could not automatically take precedence over those of an unborn child, and could do so only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or when the mother’s health is in jeopardy.

The Constitutional Court must also decide whether to suspend the law while it studies the appeal. The court said there was no timetable for either decision.

The law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to have abortions without their parents’ permission, although the parents have to be informed. It also wipes away the threat of imprisonment for having an abortion and declares it a woman’s right.

“Above all it is a more secure law, providing legal protection for both women and health professionals,” said Aido. She said it reflected the needs of Spanish society better than the previous law.

Under the previous law, which dated to 1985, women could in theory go to jail for getting an abortion outside certain strict limits — up to week 12 in case of rape and week 22 if the fetus was malformed.

But in effect abortion has been widely available because women can assert mental distress as sole grounds for having an abortion. Most of the more than 100,000 abortions carried out each year in Spain were early-term ones that fell under this category.

Fewer than 1,000 people gathered in Madrid on Saturday to protest the new law, down from the hundreds of thousands of people that have attended protests in recent years.

“The drama of abortion has been in Spain for 25 years, it has caused terrible pain to over a million women, more than a million children have not been born,” anti-abortion campaigner Benigno Blanco told Associated Press Television.

“With this new law this drama is going to get worse. What we want to say is ‘enough of abortion.'”

See also: Spain Approves Abortion Law Sparking Controversy

Earlier this month, Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardotti married her longtime partner Jonina Leosdottir, making her the first head of government in the world to marry a same-sex partner. The couple married last Sunday, which was both the international day for gay rights and the day that a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Iceland went into effect. Sigurdardotti called the new law “cause for celebration for all Icelanders”, according to the Examiner.

The legislation is particularly notable because it goes one step beyond being gender neutral and explicitly states that “woman and woman” and “man and man” are included in the definition of marriage, according to On Top Magazine. The bill, first introduced in March of this year, was voted in by 49 of 63 members of the parliament on June 12. The remaining 12 members of the Icelandic parliament abstained, making the vote unanimous. The law replaces a 1996 law that allowed registered partnerships for same-sex couples. Sigurdardotti and her partner had this type of union prior to their wedding. Married partners will now have all the legal benefits and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples have.

In 2009, Sigurdardotti became the first woman and openly gay Prime Minister in the nation’s history. Sigurdardotti became interim prime minister when Former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned in January as a result of Iceland’s economic collapse. She was then appointed by Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and had previously served as the welfare minister under Haarde. She is currently the only openly gay national leader in the world.

The Scandinavian countries are often recognized internationally for their socially progressive policies and overall tolerance of differing lifestyles. In 2009, for instance, Iceland had the highest gender equality index of the 134 countries that were analyzed in a World Economic Forum study. Frederick Federley, a highly respected Swedish attorney, is openly gay, according to the Associated Press. Denmark started to register same-sex partnerships over 20 years ago and was the first to do so.

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in six other European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and Portugal).