Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

A Swedish law punishing the purchase not the sale of sex, has been so effective it has reduced street prostitution in half, but the Scandinavian country is still facing a growing problem of sex sold over the Internet, a report recently published has said.

“The evaluation shows that the ban on the purchase of sexual services has had the intended effect and is an important instrument in preventing and combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes,” the report said.

The report, handed to Justice Minister Beatrice Ask yesterday, maintained “that prostitution in Sweden, unlike in comparable countries, has not in any case increased since the introduction of the ban” on buying sexual services went into effect in 1999.

While the law punishing the client rather than the prostitute may not have caused a dramatic drop in prostitution as a whole, its true triumph, according to the report, is that “street prostitution in Sweden has been halved.”

See also:
* German’s legalized prostitution brought more exploitation than emancipation to women
* Legalising prostitution is not the answer


Work: defending and strengthening the right to work, despite the economic crisis
4th World Forum on Human Rights, Nantes-France, July 1, 2010
Ruchira Gupta (;

Namaste. I bring greetings from the ten thousand and seventy two girls and women who are members of my organization, Apne Aap in India. Many of them are victims and survivors of prostitution. I bring a message from them to the conference as we debate the strengthening of the right to work at a time of economic crisis.
The women of Apne Aap appeal to all human rights activists not to accept their exploitation as work. They appeal to us to reject the normalization of their sexual exploitation by those who say it is a choice. They say their prostitution and sex-trafficking is not a choice but absence of choice. They did not choose to be born poor, low caste or female. Apne Aap members have decided to use the term ‘women in prostitution’ for adults and the term ‘prostituted child’ instead of ‘child prostitutes or child sex-worker’ for girls and boys.

Apne Aap members feel that:
1. The term sex-worker sterilizes the inherently exploitative nature of prostitution and invalidates the women’s traumatic experiences of subjugation, degradation and pain.
2. The term sex-worker naturalizes and makes acceptable in society the exploitation of women or children.
3. The term sex-worker makes it convenient for different states and governments to ignore the structural social, economic and political policies that force women into prostitution.
4. Very often governments, policy makers and buyers of prostituted sex argue that women chose prostitution as a work option over working in sweatshops, domestic servitude or other forms of hard or cheap labour. They forget, or chose to make invisible, that for women, other options have been limited in terms of highly paid employment (especially when higher education is lacking or husbands/fathers decide or have control over a woman’s time), and prostitution and pornography remain among the more highly paid occupations available to women. They refuse to look at or re-examine the fact that economic and social policies make other lucrative employment unavailable to women and that gender discrimination and occupational segregation funnel women into particular occupations.
5. The term sex-worker categorizes prostitution as a kind of work. They say that Prostitution cannot be categorized as work (even exploitative work in sweat shops or domestic servitude) as it disconnects the self from the activity. It always involves penetration of the body or body invasion. To cope with the experience, many Apne Aap members detach themselves emotionally from their bodies- effectively segmenting themselves, or entering into out of body experiences. So besides risking disease or death they suffer from the deep psychological trauma of alienation from their own bodies.
6. While labour movements can and do guarantee certain minimum conditions and standards for workers, providing for energy and time needed for the worker to be a fulfilled human being, prostitution inherently cannot do so. I will mention four points here:

    a. All labour movements strive for minimum wages. In prostitution there is no guarantee of minimum wages, as the price of a woman comes down with age and time of night, and sometimes location. Moreover, in brothel-based sex there is no such thing as minimum wages. For the first five years, the brothel owner owns the woman or child and keeps her like a bonded slave. For the next five years, she may give half of what she earns, later she is allowed to keep all that she earns but her earning capacity comes down.
    b. All labour movements aspire to certain minimum working conditions. In prostitution, all women face violence that cannot be legislated away as they are ultimately alone with the buyer of prostituted sex. In an upscale legal brothel in Australia, for example, rooms are equipped with panic buttons, but a bouncer reports that the women’s calls for help can never be answered quickly enough to prevent violence by johns, which occurs regularly. In both brothel-based and non-brothel based prostitution, women are forced to speed up the process of earning more money by servicing an increasing number of buyers, sometimes up to 20. They are also forced to provide all kinds of services and high risk activities like sex without a condom as most often they are not in any negotiating position. They are kept locked up in brothels, have no access to medical care or education and often are sold when they are children. Their children play on the floor while they service their buyers. They live in small rooms with barred windows end up with insomnia, repeated abortions, jaundice TB, cigarette burns, HIV and AIDS and trauma. And while some of these conditions can be regulated in brothel-based sex, they cannot be regulated in street-based sex at all. Mortality rates in prostitution are high due to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS and repeated abortions and suicide attempts related to psycho-social trauma. The average age of death of a woman in prostitution in India is now 35 years.
    In Kolkata, I talked with a group of women who had asked for the unionization of prostitution to guarantee workers rights. All the members I interviewed admitted to facing violence when they are alone with the client. “The bed was covered with blood, ‘he stubbed cigarette butts out on my breasts,” “they paid for it, we cannot stop it.” A doctor working for this group told me that he left after having to stitch up the vagina of a fifteen-year-old Nepali girl – for the third time.
    c. All labour movements work to guarantee retirement benefits such as old age pension. Prostitution cannot guarantee old age benefits as there is no defined employer in street based sex and in brothel based sex, the women or child is often sold again and again from one brothel owner to another. The older a women in prostitution gets, the less she is able to earn an income and very often ends upon the streets, with no income, a disease ridden body and a few children. In Germany and in an area near Las Vegas in the US where prostitution has been legalized, government agencies tried to make applicants for unemployment benefits show that they had attempted to find “work” in the so-called “hospitality industry” of prostitution in order to become eligible for such benefits.
    d. Finally and most importantly for labour movements is the question of dignity of the worker. Labour movements have insured that miners do not have to crawl into mines anymore but walk upright. However, in prostitution the woman or child is constantly humiliated physically, emotionally and psychologically. Her price is constantly negotiated as the night wears on or as she grows older. She is forced to sexualize her body for a time –period and then desexualize it again at another time.
    e. The term ‘sex-worker’ gives a false impression of agency and choice exercised by women and children in prostitution. Apne Aap members’ life-experiences reveal that the choice and agency in prostitution, talked about in some policy circles, is a choice allowed by the exploiter in an exploitative situation as in the days of slavery. We can examine the exercise of choice in the life-cycle of a woman in prostitution over a period of 20 years from when she is 15 to when she is 35. This is a hopeful projection, as most Apne Aap members say that the normal time-span that the body of a woman can cope with prostitution is no more than ten years.

• The first five years (15-20): In this period, girls kidnapped, stolen. tricked, sold and lured are locked up in small rooms with barred windows only brought out by the brothel madam to serve up to 15-20 buyers of prostituted sex every night. They are served one meal a day, given some clothes and toiletries, but they are not given any of the money that the buyer pays for them. They are in slave-like conditions and have no choice. In every conversation with them, they talk about wanting to go home.
• The second five years (20-25): There is a period of socialization within the brothels and the women are taught to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. Brothel madams also make sure that they have one or two children so that the women cannot think about returning home anymore. In this period, the women are allowed by the brothel madam to keep half of what they earn. Memories of home become hazy due to repeated violence and psychosocial trauma and they begin to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome, where the small mercies meted out by the kidnapper seem of great moment. With children, suffering from depression and diseases, they do not see a way out. At this time, when asked the women say they want to stay in the brothels and no go back home.
• The third five years (25-30): After ten years of physical abuse, malnutrition and drug and alcohol dependency, the earning capacity of the women comes down. Buyers of prostituted sex look for younger girls. They are allowed to keep all of their earnings but earnings go down and the needs of their children go up. At this time, they want to leave prostitution, but don’t have the life-skills or the physical health to do so. They have no choice.
• The fourth five years (30-35): In this period, the women have no buyers of prostituted sex, no income; have two or three children and disease ridden bodies. They are thrown out of the brothels and end up on the sidewalk. They cannot afford even one meal or even access to a toilet. They have no options and are forced to die on the streets. In a period of 20 years, women talk about wanting to exercise a choice to stay in prostitution for about five years. And even this, exercise of choice or agency is in a situation, where the women feel they have no other options and try to make the best of what there is.

Therefore, Apne Aap members don’t use the term sex-worker. They are in the middle of a heroic struggle with our government and some international foundations to change the Indian anti-trafficking law to punish those who exploit them and to remove all clauses in the law which punish victims on charges of solicitation.

In running this campaign, Apne Aap Women Worldwide has come up against some entrenched interests. Ironically, this opposition has included many HIV/AIDS management projects funded by International Foundations that work in red-light areas and hire pimps and brothel managers as “peer educators” to gain easy access to the brothels for the purpose of condom distribution. They turn a blind eye to the little girls and adult women kept in a system of bondage and control, who cannot say no to unwanted sex let alone unprotected sex. They are more interested in protecting male buyers of prostituted sex from disease rather than protecting women and girls from the buyers. These are the same solutions that colonialist powers used to control syphyllis in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There new challenges thrown up by the economic crisis at a time of rising neo-liberalism is that we are being asked to accept once again the legitimacy of exploitation as work. We are told that if choose to be exploited then we are not exploited. We are never told that a choice must at least have two options. We are then asked to notice and feel empowered by finding “agency” within exploitation. We are told that prostitution is inevitable and we must accept it and negotiate to mitigate its circumstances.

When a problem is very big and profits a powerful group, there is a time-honored temptation to sweep it under the rug by assuming it inevitable. This was true of slavery until the abolitionist movement of the 19th Century, and of colonialism until the contagion of independence movements in the 20th Century.

Now these same forces are at work in attitudes toward the global and national realities of sex slavery. The biggest normalizer of profiteering from the rental, sale and invasion of human bodies is the idea that it is too big to fight, that it has always existed, and that it can be swept under the rug by legalizing and just accepting it. Those who profit — in this case, the global network of sex traffickers, sex tourism operators and brothel owners – are the major force behind the argument to legalize and increase profits that already rival those from the global arms and drug trade. As with the slavery and colonialism of the past, this argument has force with those in power who are so distant from the reality that they don’t know the consequences as well as those who profit from it themselves, whether economically, politically, or as men addicted to dominance.

What will diminish and end this injustice? Exposing its reality: the lack of alternatives for those who are prostituted; the addiction and inability to empathize among those who create the demand and the uniformly disastrous results where ever the selling or renting of human beings for sexual purposes has been legalized and normalized.

Thank you

Kurdish women contribute to the global fight for women’s rights while also struggling for human rights in their own country, an Istanbul deputy from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party said at a summit of European feminists at the end of June.

The “Kurdish feminist movement” has gained significance because the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has prioritized female representation, BDP’s Istanbul deputy Sabahat Tuncel said at the opening session of the 2010 European Feminist Meeting held at Istanbul Technical University’s Maçka Campus.

As a rule, the BDP tries to assign a woman as one of its presidents-general, and out of the 28 female mayors in Turkey, 14 of them are BDP members, Tuncel said, adding that Kurdish men recognize women’s success and motivate them to attain higher positions.

According to the deputy, what she characterized as “Kurdish feminism” has its basis in the larger struggle for Kurdish people’s rights and challenges problems of violence, rape, honor killings and polygamy through demanding equal rights in the political arena.

By establishing nongovernmental organizations, Kurdish women have tried to broaden their outreach within the country despite the racist and nationalistic opposition they sometimes face, Tuncel said.

The 2010 European Feminist Meeting welcomed women from 22 countries to Istanbul to discuss women’s issues as well as the current economic and political situation in Europe.

A national campaign that uses the power of pop culture, media and community mobilisation for outreach against domestic violence India has bagged the prestigious Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

Right’s body Breakthrough’s “Bell Bajao! Campaign” against domestic violence has bagged the prestigious Silver Lion, India’s only win in the film category out of the five shortlisted entries.

The films have been created by Ogilvy & Mather and directed by Bauddhayan Mukherjee of Little Lamb Films.

“Bell Bajao” campaign was launched in August 2008 with the support of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and campaign ambassador and popular filmstar Boman Irani. The campaign is based on true stories of people who joined the movement against domestic violence.

“The Silver Lion provides us with a global platform to spotlight violence against women and to ask men and boys to become partners in ending it,” Mallika Dutt, executive director of Breakthrough said in a statement.

“What makes this win even more wonderful, is the fact that this work was not created because one wanted to win an award. But because everyone from the client to the creative team to the filmmaker believed this was what it would take to put an end to domestic violence,” said Ogilvy & Mather group creative director Zenobia Pithawalla.

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is considered one of the biggest celebration of creativity in communications.

Women in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region said on Friday that police had targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.

The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution.

“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on condition of anonymity.

Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which handles the police force, declined to comment on Friday about the reports.

Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.

The ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist has amassed thousands of personal militia, who enforce his decrees such as periodic bans of alcohol and making women cover their heads in state buildings. “This paintballing is an obvious Kadyrov rule just used to strengthen and tighten his grip over his tiny republic,” prominent human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Reuters.

Russian rights group Memorial, citing witnesses, said in a statement it believed police were behind the attacks that fired the paint at women’s faces and necks. Local media said there were around 12 such attacks.

This week, fliers from the self-proclaimed paintballers appeared in the city of Gudermes, site of Kadyrov’s opulent residence, warning women that if they did not cover their heads the attackers will be “forced to resort to tougher measures”.

“Isn’t it nasty for you, while dressed defiantly, with your head uncovered, to hear various obscene ‘compliments’ and proposals? Think again!” it read, according to a copy posted on Internet news agency Caucasus Knot.

Police also declines to comment on the fliers, some of which were posted on state buildings and bus stops.

The Russian Orthodox Church has called for tougher rules to reduce the number of abortions carried out in a country struggling to combat its fast-dwindling population, media reported.

Analysts say reducing Russia’s high abortion rate — one of the world’s highest — could be one of the keys to saving the country from a demographic disaster.

Russia registered 1.2 million abortions and 1.7 million births last year, according to the Health Ministry.

Since the fall almost 20 years ago of the Soviet Union, which encouraged new births with prizes and money, Russia’s population has steadily dropped. It shrunk by more than 12 million between 1992 and 2008.

“In Soviet times we got used to abortion and we got used to considering it an unavoidable part of our legal reality and that there is no way to the turn back the page,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

“But we see today that it is possible to turn back a great deal,” he added.

Chaplin, a powerful cleric who is close to Patriarch Kirill, said the legislation had to change but declined to say how.

He added that young people unconnected to the church or other spiritual institutions want to see the abortion rate drop.

Though the Soviet Union was the first country in the world to legalize universal abortion in 1920, dictator Josef Stalin outlawed it, from 1936 until the time of his death in 1954, to encourage a boost in the birth rate.

The United Nations predicts that by 2050 Russia’s population will have dropped by almost a fifth from today to 116 million. The U.N. has also said overcoming racism and taking in more migrants could help Russia boost its population.

Health experts also say key factors in the decline are poor diet leading to heart disease, heavy drinking among Russian males and the high incidence of violent deaths.

The average Russian man lives for 60 years, 13 less than his American counterpart.

A conservative opposition party has asked Spain’s highest court on to throw out a new law allowing abortion without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, calling it unconstitutional.

The centre-right Popular Party filed suit with the constitutional Court and asked it to block the law from taking effect as scheduled on July 5 while it deliberates.

The party objects to eight clauses in the legislation, which became law in February when the Senate confirmed passage given late last year by the lower chamber of Parliament.

The law was the last pending piece of a liberal reform agenda undertaken by Spain’s Socialist government since it took power in 2004. It brought traditionally Roman Catholic Spain more in line with its secular neighbours of northern Europe.

The law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to have abortions without parents’ permission, though parents would have to be informed.

Under Spain’s current abortion law, which dates back to 1985, Spanish 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 is malformed.

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

The new law wipes away the threat of imprisonment and declares abortion to be a woman’s right.

In challenging the 14-week clause as unconstitutional, the Popular Party cited a 1985 ruling from the constitutional Court that said a woman’s rights could not systematically take precedence over those of an unborn child, but rather only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or when the mother’s health is in jeopardy.

To establish a period for unrestricted abortion “violates the balance between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn,” Popular Party lawmaker Sandra Moneo said.

The party also argued that letting teens have abortions without parental consent violates parents’ right to have a say in the upbringing of their daughters.

The idea comes from the governor of the Lombardy region, Roberto Formigoni, who says no woman should end a pregnancy because of economic difficulty.

The women would have to prove they are in financial hardship in order to qualify for the 18 monthly payments.

The policy has been welcomed by anti-abortion campaigners, but critics have condemned the move as propaganda.

Mr Formigoni, a political ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he wanted to support “the family, motherhood and births”.

A spokesman for the Italian Bishops’ Conference responded to the new policy by saying: “Anything that respects life is to be applauded.”

Lombardy has set aside 5m euros ($6.1m, £4.2m) for the scheme, officials say. The women will receive 18 monthly payments of 250 euros.

But the policy has also been criticised as a short-term solution to a life-long responsibility.

Writing on the Italian paper La Repubblica’s website, Cinzia Sasso questioned what mothers would do after the first 18 months, and said the number of people that could receive aid under the money allocated was “laughable”.

Sara Valmaggi, an opposition politician, said volunteers who are to work on the project could not act as a substitute for public sector health workers.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978.

Italian television could finally be heading in the direction of feminism with the formation of a new anti-sexism watchdog that will crack down on the gratuitous use of young female flesh by state-funded Rai TV.

The new panel will work ‘independently’ for ensuring “the correct representation of people’s dignity, with particular emphasis on the distorted representation of women”.

Approved by ministers, if the panel spots too much flesh or female stereotyping, it will report back to the Rai commission in parliament, which has the power to censure programme-makers.

“Is this the beginning of a revolution? We hope so. With the creation of the panel to monitor the way women are portrayed on state TV we hope to curb the use of women as mere decorative images,” The Independent quoted Giovanna Melandri, the Democratic Party MP and a member of the Rai commission in parliament, as saying.

Silvia Costa, an Italian member of the European Parliament, agreed, “I’m very satisfied that this amendment that has been approved will allow a more realistic representation of women in our country.”

Even Mediaset, owned by the infamous Silvio Berlusconi, allowed a female presenter a stint on its top-rated evening satire show Striscia La Notizia (Hot off the Press), which despite its pretensions of sophistication, still employs dancing girls in hot pants to flesh out the programme.

“Every five years some politician realises that Italian TV is too sexist, and tries to change that. It never worked and I’m not sure it will work this time,” he said.

“It would be like trying to stop us eating pizza: showing sexy girls on TV is so ingrained in our daily life that it can’t be stopped anymore. I really believe that,” said one Mediaset comedy writer who declined to be named. (ANI)

The first gay marriage in Portugal was celebrated Monday as a lesbian couple exchanged vows in a civil ceremony, one week after a law allowing same-sex unions went into force.

The divorced women, Helena Paixao, 40, and Teresa Pires, 33, were married in Lisbon before about 30 people.

The lesbians, who have two daughters from previous marriages and have been together for eight years, were also the first gay couple to submit a request to be married back in 2006, which launched the debate on legalising homosexual unions in Portugal, a predominantly Catholic country.

After their request was rejected four years ago, the couple began a long legal process but the rejection was upheld by the constitutional court last July.

Portugal’s majority leftist parliament passed the law legalising gay marriages in February. It changed the definition of marriage in the civil code by removing the reference to two people of different sexes.

However, the new law explicitly states married homosexual couples do not have the right to adopt children.

Pope Benedict XVI criticised gay marriage and abortion as “insidious and dangerous threats to the common good” during a visit to Portugal last month.

Portugal follows Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway in allowing same-sex marriages.

Mrs Longhitano says Catholicism is crippled without women A married teacher has become the first woman priest to be ordained in Italy.

Maria Vittoria Longhitano, 35, who belongs to a breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, received the holy orders at an Anglican church in Rome.

She belongs to the Italian Old Catholic Church, a congregation that broke away from Roman Catholicism in the 19th Century.

While the Vatican is opposed to women priests, other Christian groups have long accepted female clergy.

Mrs Longhitano, who will now be known as Mother Longhitano, said she hoped to break down what she described as prejudice in the Roman Catholic church.

“We are talking about an extremely hierarchical system; a male caste with a strong instinct of self-preservation,” she said.

“And this is why there is this general attitude against ordaining women in the Church.”

The Roman Catholic Church says it obeys the directives of Jesus Christ, whose 12 Apostles were all men.

The BBC’s Duncan Kennedy in Rome says some commentators have argued that having more women in the Church may have helped prevent the priest child-abuse scandal of recent years.

Having women ordained in Italy from a fringe Catholic group will not be as divisive as women bishops has been in the Anglican communion, our correspondent says.

For now, its impact is likely to be more symbolic than anything more profound, he adds.

They will assist the small percentage of people who actually report a sexual assault and to encourage other victims to come forward.

The centers, founded by Yeni Yüzyýl University, will also offer expert legal advice and collect accurate physical evidence of the alleged crimes without re-traumatizing victims.

Established within the scope of the Universal Hospital Group, the facilities are ready to begin offering services pending the granting of the necessary permission by the country’s Higher Education Board, or YÖK, according to Professor Ersi Abacý Kalfoðlu.

“It is not easy at all for victims to speak about their victimhood,” Kalfoðlu, a DNA expert and the first professor of forensic genetics in Turkey, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. She said victims’ feelings of shame and the social pressure they face contribute to this difficulty.

According to Kalfoðlu, on average, only 10 percent of sexual assaults around the world are reported, so she can only guess at the number of actual incidents in Turkey, which she said she expected to be very high.

Currently, a rape victim applies to either the police or a state hospital, but there are no dedicated centers where she or he may be transferred after giving testimony. Police generally prefer to send victims to state hospitals because the process at forensic medicine units takes too much time, the professor said.

“But the doctors [at state hospitals] cannot view the matter from the angle of forensic medicine,” Kalfoðlu said. “A gynecologist would know how to attend to childbirth, but he would not know how to collect evidence from a rape victim.”

Though gynecologists know how to examine for virginity and whether or not there is physical damage, they are neither trained nor equipped to collect evidence from the victim’s body and clothes, the professor added.

Three centers in Istanbul may not sound like a sufficient solution to the problem, but the project’s founders hope to expand the effort in the future. Virginia A. Lynch, who first coined the term “forensic nursing,” will teach a program to train nurses in the field at the health faculty of Yeni Yüzyýl University.

“If we can spread these nurses around [to various] hospitals, they would be the qualified personnel alongside doctors to help in collecting evidence,” Lynch said. “Training nurses is more practical than retraining doctors.” A laboratory to examine the evidence at every health facility is not required as long as it is collected properly, she said.

Though the crisis centers aim to better the odds of apprehending rapists, their mission does not end there, Kalfoðlu said. “The victim must be rehabilitated; rape incidents cause serious traumas that should be looked into,” the professor said, adding that such a process is currently nonexistent in Turkey.

Trained doctors, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists will handle the patients at the rape crisis centers, while the university has already founded a Sexual Crime Prevention Research Center that will organize actions and seminars to raise awareness and offer training on the issue. Printed material to help inform doctors and lab personnel will also be provided.

The Alman Hastanesi in Istanbul’s Taksim Square area, Vatan Hospital in the Aksaray district and Kadýköy Hospital in Kadýköy will be the first facilities in the city to host the rape crisis centers. The Alman Hastanesi will be the main center and will contain the laboratory.

Talks are ongoing with the government and the police department to establish constructive cooperation, Kalfoðlu said, noting that the Vatan and Kadýköy hospitals work within the scope of the Social Security Authority, or SSK, while the Alman Hastanesi does not.

“We will try our best to help everybody from different economic statuses,” Kalfoðlu said, adding that the SSK currently does not cover expenses incurred in this area, something that the university will lobby to change.

The justice minister, Francisco Camaño, managed today, despite opposition from the European Commission, supported by a sufficient majority of Member States to adopt the European order of protection for battered women, one of the priorities of the Spanish presidency. His goal now is to conclude in the coming weeks the details of the new standard and reach a political agreement in June, which must be ratified by the Parliament.

In a tense press conference after the meeting of ministers of the EU, a spokesperson said “Some people are ready to advance as quickly as possible instruments for the protection of victims,” the Justice Minister claimed to justify the urgency in passing the European arrest warrant.

“I disagree to the position of commissioner,” said Caamano, who stressed that the Spanish proposal has a “large majority” backup. And the EU executive vice president replied that the “vast majority” of States “has problems” with the initiative of Spain. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” said Reding.

The level of engagement was such that, when after the press conference Caamano tried to say goodbye, Reding was not even looking at him and only after a second attempt took his hand. The aim of the Spanish proposal is that any security measure taken by a Member State to protect a threatened person, a restraining order for an abuser, will also run automatically in another EU country to which the victim has moved.

A feminist group in Ukraine has called on wives, girlfriends and lovers of the country’s new Cabinet ministers to impose a sex ban after accusing the prime minister of being anti-women.

Mykola Azarov defended his decision to appoint an all-male government, saying he needed ‘people who can work 16-to-18 hours a day’ to fix the recession-hit economy.

‘Conducting reforms is not women’s business,’ the new pro-Russian premier insisted. He claimed it was too tough for women who could not say ‘no’.

He also ordered an Orthodox priest to exorcise the spirit of his female predecessor, Orange Revolution princess Yulia Tymoshenko, from his office. ‘It was very hard to breathe in there,’ he said.

His comments sparked fury from the Femen feminist group, which accused the career apparatchik of ‘blatant boorishness’.

‘Femen wants the wives, girlfriends and all females close to government ministers to declare a sex boycott of Cabinet members in protest against the impudent and humiliating treatment of Ukrainian women,’ said the group.

‘People with such an archaic views on women, who constitute more than half of Ukraine’s population, have no right to hold leadership positions.

‘In the whole civilized world, such a statement would be political suicide for any high-ranking official. Such remarks are shameful, not only for top-level politics, but for every man.’

The feminists also took issue with President Viktor Yanukovych – who won power in February’s election – for suggesting that a woman’s place is in the kitchen not politics.

The group likened the attitude to women by the newly-elected Ukrainian government to the policy in Nazi Germany of limiting women to the three Ks – ‘Kuche, Kinder, Kirche’ (kitchen, children, church).

They claimed Ukraine’s was the only government in Europe without a woman minister.

‘We are confident that Ukrainian women will never agree to neglect themselves and will force state leaders to change their views,’ said the group.

On polling day last month, the group staged a topless protest in sub-zero temperatures. They unfurled posters saying ‘Stop Raping the Country’.

The feminists have also protested against sex tourism in Ukraine.

Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold. The law is a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.”

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April).

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland’s first female and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: “Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her.”

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. “Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. “What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women,” she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.”

Part of a longer comment piece at

Dozens of French sex workers proclaiming themselves proud to be prostitutes last week marched to protest a lawmaker’s proposal to legalize brothels in France, arguing that such a law would deny them the freedom to work on their own.

A lawmaker in France’s governing party has proposed reopening brothels just over six decades after they were banned in order to move prostitutes off the streets and provide them with medical, financial and legal protection.

The protesters say the proposal limits their options to make their own decisions — and are demanding, instead, a repeal of a 2003 law that outlaws solicitation.

“We are workers and we want the choice to work as we want,” said Thierry Schaffauser, 27, a sex worker from Paris now living in London. “For doctors, they can work for a company or they can be independent. I think the importance is to let people choose how they want to work.”

Dozens participated in a daylong conference on prostitution at the Senate, organized by a lawmaker opposed to the proposed bill. Lawmaker Chantal Brunel, who proposed the law, was not present.

After the conference, the men and women marched through Paris’ Left Bank, many dressed in their skimpy work attire. Some carried signs reading, “You sleep with us, you vote against us.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Lola Bruna, a 19-year-old sex worker from Paris. They “used to say that this is the oldest job ever, and that’s not for no reason.”

Brothels were legally outlawed in France in 1946. The 2003 law tightened restrictions against prostitution by making solicitation punishable with two months in prison and a euro3,750 ($5,000) fine.

“The question is not, for example, about the brothels,” said Alima Boumediene-Thiery, the Green Party senator who organized Wednesday’s conference. “The question is about the recognition of the rights of these men and women who have made these choices that we must respect.”

European commissioner for fundamental rights refuses to rule out legislation to promote wage equality

The pay gap between men and women in Europe has barely changed for the better in 15 years, the European commission said today, while pledging to narrow the gap significantly within five years.

The situation in Britain was worse than average, with women in the UK being paid 79% of male rates, while across the 27 countries of the EU the figure was 82%, according to a survey from Eurobarometer timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on Monday.

Viviane Reding, a European commissioner for fundamental rights including gender equality, pledged to step up a campaign for equal pay and to combat gender violence, saying she did not rule out European legislation to promote wage equality.

Later this year, said José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, Brussels would deliver a “women’s charter”, a five-year plan aimed at redressing the inequalities in pay which ranged from under 5% in Italy to 30% per cent in Estonia.

The commission said it “plans to raise awareness among employers, encourage initiatives to promote gender equality, and support the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. On the other hand, new legal measures are not excluded.”

Reding said: “I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and in some countries it is even increasing.”

The opinion survey found that 62% of Europeans believed inequality between the sexes was widespread, with between 40% and 44% calling for better care facilities for children and the elderly, flexible working, and straightforward pay rises for women in order to redress the imbalance.

“Tackling the gender pay gap will be one of the main priorities,” said the commission today, vowing “to use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce the gender pay gap”.

Any European law proposals seeking to compel a level playing field would need to win the backing of all 27 governments as well as being endorsed by the European parliament.

Prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would not liberate oppressed women, but might instead lead to their further alienation in European societies. A general ban on such attires would constitute an ill-advised invasion of individual privacy. Depending on its precise terms, a prohibition also raises serious questions about whether such legislation would be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Two rights in the Convention are particularly relevant. One is the right to respect for ones private life and personal identity (Article 8). The other is the freedom to manifest ones religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance (Article 9).

Both articles specify that these human rights can only be subject to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are notably necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing.

Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure – but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.

No doubt, the status of women is an acute problem within some religious communities. This needs to be discussed, but prohibiting symptoms like clothing is not the way to do it, especially as these may not always be the reflection of religious beliefs, but the expression of broader cultural aspects.

Rightly, we react strongly against any regime ruling that women must wear these garments. This is absolutely repressive and should not be accepted. However, this is not remedied by banning the same clothing in other countries.

A serious approach requires an assessment of the genuine consequences of decisions in this area. For instance, the suggestion to ban the presence of women dressed in the burqa/niqab in public institutions like hospitals or government offices may only result in these women avoiding such places entirely.

The fact that the public discussion in a number of European countries has almost exclusively focused on what is perceived as Muslim dress has been unfortunate and created the impression of targeting one particular religion. Some of the arguments have been clearly Islamophobic and that has certainly not built bridges or encouraged dialogue.

Indeed, one effect is that the wearing of a full cover dress has become a means of protesting against intolerance in our communities. The insensitive discussion about prohibitions has provoked a polarisation.

In general, the approach should be that the State must avoid legislating on how people dress themselves. It is, however, legitimate to regulate that those who represent the State, for instance police officers and judges, do not wear clothes or carry symbols which signal a partisan religious or party political interest. Likewise, civil servants in contact with the public should not have their face covered.

This is where the basic line should be drawn.

The European Court ruled recently in this spirit. This was in a case about the criminal conviction of individuals who had worn headgear and religious garments in a public place. The Court found that this conviction constituted a violation of their right to freedom of conscience and religion and that the interference was not “necessary in a democratic society”.1

Beyond this, there are particular situations where there are compelling community interests that make it necessary for individuals to show themselves for the sake of safety or in order to offer the possibility of necessary identification. This is not controversial and, in fact, there are no reports of serious problems in this regard in relation to the few women who normally wear a burqa or a niqab.

A related problem has come under discussion in Sweden. A jobless man of Islamic faith lost his subsidy from a State agency for employment support because he had refused to shake the hand of a female employer when turning up for a job interview. He had claimed religious reasons.

A court ruled later, after a submission from the Equality Ombudsman, that the agency decision was discriminatory and that the man should be compensated. Though this is in line with human rights standards, it was regarded as controversial in the public debate which followed.

It is likely that more issues of this kind will surface in the coming years and, on the whole, it is only healthy that they should be discussed – as long as Islamophobic tendencies are avoided. However, attempts should be made to broaden the discourse to cover essential matters, including how to promote understanding of different religions, cultures and customs. Pluralism and multiculturalism are essential European values and should so remain.

This in turn may require more discussion of the meaning of respect. In the debates about the Danish cartoons from 2005 it was repeatedly stated that there was a contradiction between demonstrating respect for believers and protecting freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 10 of the European Convention.

The Strasbourg Court analysed this dilemma in the famous case of Otto-Preminger-Institute v. Austria in which it stated that those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism. They must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith.

In the same judgment the Court stated that consideration should also be given to the risk that the respect for religious feelings of believers may be violated by provocative portrayals of objects of religious significance and that such portrayals can be regarded as malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance, which must also be a feature of democratic society.

In other words, tolerance is a two-way street.

The political challenge is to promote diversity and respect for the beliefs of others and at the same time protect freedom of speech. If the wearing of a full-face veil is understood as an expression of a certain opinion, we are talking here about similar or identical rights though seen from two different angles.

A prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would in my opinion be as unfortunate as it would have been to criminalise the Danish cartoons. Such banning is alien to European values. Instead we should promote multicultural dialogue and respect for human rights.

Thomas Hammarberg

1. Ahmet Arslan and Others v Turkey, judgment of 23 February 2010.

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Every fourth woman in Bulgaria is a victim of domestic violence, Bulgarian National Television (BNT) said on March 6 2010, two days ahead of International Women’s Day.

Most cases are caused by men seeking to exercise power over their spouses, with other causal factors including lack of money, alcohol, and childhood psychological trauma, according to research cited in a news agency report quoted by BNT.

Stanimira Hadzhimitrova, co-founder of director of the Gender Project in Bulgaria said that violence existed in many forms and was widespread.

Statistics were imprecise because many victims were ashamed or feared retribution while others had the support of friends and relatives.

According to research done by the Gender Project in 2000, in 92 per cent of cases, the perpetrators of domestic violence physical assaults were men. Women were “masters” of psychological and mental abuse that was no less frightening, Hadzhimitrova was quoted as saying.

Forcing someone into prostitution should also be seen as a form of violence and there should be extensive discussion of this issue before there was any decision on regularising sex work, she said.

She called for civic education in schools on the topic of domestic violence.

BNT quoted research showing that it was untrue to claim that domestic violence was limited to less educated and poorer sections of Bulgarian society; it existed at all strata.

There were few convictions because current law failed to provide rapid and effective protection for victims, and prosecutors still tended to regard abuse in the home as a family problem and not as a criminal offence. Further, it was a taboo to discuss domestic violence.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has launched a special webpage dedicated to International Women’s Day 2010.

“Through the whole month of March this page will bring you coverage of EP events dealing with this year’s theme: ending violence against women. MEPs, national MPs, special guests, experts and the public will contribute to the debate in meetings, events and even via Facebook, with ideas on how to prevent violence and help victims. The theme of the campaign – all documents, interviews, photos and video – will always be the same: We can stop it!” the webpage says.

Iran barred renowned poet Simin Behbahani from leaving the country to attend an event marking International Women’s Day in Paris, an opposition website reported.

The website Kalame, which belongs to Green Movement leader Mir- Hossein Moussavi, said she was held for several hours by two intelligence officers at IKA airport in Tehran after she had gone through passport control.

“The authorities asked me a series of questions and then seized my passport and finally gave me a letter referring me to the revolutionary court to get my passport back,” said Behbahani.

“I had prepared a text on feminism and a poem as an homage to women for the event,” added the 82-year-old Behbahani, who was invited by the Paris municipality to Monday’s event.

Behbahani is well known for her poems as well as her struggle for women’s rights in Iran.

Her signature can be found at the bottom of almost all open letters requesting freedom for those detained after the waves of protest which followed the June 2009 presidential election. The opposition claims the elections were rigged.

Barring activists from leaving the country has reportedly occurred more frequently in the past nine months.

A similar incident happened last week when police prevented the son of leading opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi from leaving the country.

Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, a university lecturer, was leaving Iran for London on Friday reportedly for academic purposes when the police at IKA airport in Tehran seized his passport without explanation.