Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, women’s human rights defender of Ciudad Juarez, was murdered while peacefully demanding the compliance of the sentence against the assassin of her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo.

AWID joins hundreds of women’s organizations in denouncing the killing of women human rights defender Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and demanding justice and accountability from the Mexican Government for this act of violence, as well as uncountable others passed unnoticed und unpunished in the face of law.

“On 16 December 2010, a group of men arrived at the main square in the Chihuahua city, and approached Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who was holding a peaceful demonstration for 8 days to demand that the authorities take action to detain her daughter Rubi’s assassin. She ran seeking refuge in the Government Palace; at its doors, one of the men shot her in the head, killing her.

The cause of this murder is the culture of discrimination and violence against women that the Mexican State has maintained in Ciudad Juarez and in Chihuahua over the past two decades. In the past 27 months, Marisela’s main activity was to demand justice for her daughter’s murder, denouncing the authorities as accomplices and negligent of femicide, and demanding that the justice system effectively guarantee women’s right to a life free of violence.

On 28 August 2008, faced with her daughter Rubi’s murder, Marisela began the process to denounce the murder and to demand that the authorities act in accordance with the law, as there were clear suspicions about the identity of the assassin.

Rubi Marisol, 19 years of age, was killed in Ciudad Juarez by her partner, Sergio Rafael Barraza, with whom she had a daughter. Barraza Bocanegra was abussive from the beginning of the relationship, increasing the violence until he killed her, burned her body and threw her in a clandestine trash dump and pig cemetery. He then fled to the state of Zacatecas, trusting that after some time his crime would remain unpunished, as are hundreds of other murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. His crime was not investigated, he was later absolved in the courts, and finally, since he had fled, was found guilty in appeals.

Given the grave irregularities and omissions on the part of the authorities involved in the ministerial investigations, Marisela had the tenacity to look for proof about the events, always within the limits of the law. Sergio Rafael Barraza, personally and in her presence, identified the exact place where he had dumped his victim, confessed to his crime, and asked for forgiveness in a hearing during the oral trial that took place. However, on 29 April 2010, the judges Catalina Ochoa Contreras, Netzahualcoyotl Zuñiga Vazquez and Rafael Baudib Jurado decided to acquit him.

The event shocked Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua. The victims’ families and the local organizations, alongside national and international spaces and organizations, have acted since 1993 to document femicide, denouncing the negligence and complicity of the authorities, constantly presenting proposals and actions for the State institutions to act in accordance with their obligations with the citizens. Just a few months earlier, there was an important accomplishment towards this aim. In December 2009, the Inter-American Human Rights Court condemned Mexico for the disappearances, sexual violence, and murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. The Mexican State had argued in the Inter-American trial that the new justice system in Chihuahua did not repeat the impunity of prior decades. The assassination of Rubi and the impunity despite the weight of the evidence, demonstrates that the situation in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua was worse than in any previous year.

During 2010, every 24 hours a woman has been killed in the state of Chihuahua for reasons primarily to do with the fact that she is a woman. An unprecedented fact is that the vast majority of the cases are in total impunity.

The Inter-American Court also recognized that there is systematic harassment and aggression against families and defenders who demand justice for these cases, and it condemned Mexico for not guaranteeing their protection, allowing crimes to go unpunished and not compensating for damages.

Marisela Escobedo Ortiz always sought justice in a peaceful manner. She used her own resources, economic and human, to conduct the work that the authorities did not do. She conducted all of the investigations to learn the truth and to find her daughter’s murderer. She walked from Ciudad Juarez to Chihuahua to demand that the state Governor, at that time Jose Reyes Baeza, order the necessary actions to detain the assassin. After Sergio Rafael Barraza was acquitted, she initiated the appeal and managed to get the assassin condemned. However, since he was not held in custody, he fled again and began to threaten Marisela. In July of this year, she moved to the Alameda Central in Mexico City to demand that President Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa, seek out and arrest the murderer. In September she went to the National Feminist Gathering held in Zacatecas to call on the authorities to search for Barraza, because there were indications that he was in that state. In November of this year, she testified before the International Mission for Women’s Access to Justice.

She always affirmed that as long as Rubi’s assassin, and all assassins of women, remain free, they would continue to commit these crimes. Her consciousness of the need to take measures to ensure that these acts would not repeat themselves led to the creation of an Investigation Commission for Rubi’s case in the state of Chihuahua, with the goal of identifying the errors committed in the process and take action within the justice system to ensure that this impunity not be repeated. However, all of this was paralyzed during the change in state and municipal governments. On 16 December, Marisela was protesting because the new governor, Cesar Duare Jaquez, had not taken any action regarding her daughter – and other women who were disappeared and murdered – but he had mobilized the entire justice apparatus in support of the families of high-level State officials.

The organizations signing this statement will give continuity to Marisela’s voice and demands:

    * In her memory, we say no more simulation by the authorities.
    * We demand an end to femicide and impunity.
    * We demand compliance with all provisions of the “Campo Algodonero” Judgment, in which the Inter-American Court specifies actions to prevent, investigate and punish appropriately the disappearances, sexual violence and killings against women, and to investigate and punish those who harass and attack the families and organizations who seek justice for those acts.
    * Following the Inter-American Court, we demand guarantees for the integrity and security of all the families of victims of disappearances, sexual violence and killings of women, meaning, of femicide. This involves providing comprehensive care, researching the facts and proper compensation for damages, in an urgent manner for the Frayre Escobar family.
    * Given the very serious increase in violence against women human rights defenders, we hold the Mexican government responsible for any act against them, because so far the State has not investigated or taken action to ensure their basic life and integrity. This includes the police forces of the three spheres of government – federal, state and municipal – that have occupied Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua since 2008, without this resulting in improved safety for women.
    * We denounce that the current debate to approve the Chihuahua state budget resources has not incorporated resources to implement the state law for the right of women to a life free of violence, or to comply with the Campo Algodonero Judgment.

Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was a human rights defender who, after her daughter’s murder, mobilized people and organizations, institutions and powers to put a stop to femicide, always by strengthening the institutions of justice, citizen action, and democracy. Her assassination reveals the criminal lack of protection that the Mexican State maintains against defenders and its lack of effective will to guarantee women a life free of violence.

For list of signatories go to http://www.awid.org/eng/Women-in-Action/Announcements2/Urgent-Statement-on-the-Murder-of-Marisela-Escobedo-Ortiz-women-s-human-rights-defender-of-Ciudad-Juarez

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One year after the earthquake which killed 230,000 people and injured 300,000 on 11 January 2010, more than one million people still live in appalling conditions in tent cities in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the south of Haiti, where women are at serious risk of sexual attacks. Those responsible are predominately armed men who roam the camps after dark.

More than 250 cases of rape in several camps were reported in the first 150 days after January’s earthquake, according to Amnesty International’s 39-page report, Aftershocks: Women speak out against sexual violence in Haiti’s camps. (Download as a pdf file http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_21131.pdf)

One year on, rape survivors continue to arrive at the office of a local women’s support group almost every other day.

Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International Haiti researcher, said: “Women already struggling to come to terms with losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the earthquake, now face the additional trauma of living under the constant threat of sexual attack. For the prevalence of sexual violence to end, the incoming government must ensure that the protection of women and girls in the camps is a priority. This has so far been largely ignored in the response to the wider humanitarian crisis.”

Sexual violence was widespread in Haiti before January 2010 but this has been exacerbated by the conditions since the earthquake, said Amnesty. The limited assistance the authorities previously provided has been undermined by the destruction of police stations and court houses. This has made it more difficult to report sexual violence.

Over 50 survivors of sexual violence shared their experiences with Amnesty International for the study.

One 14-year-old girl, Machou, lives in a makeshift camp for displaced people in Carrefour Feuilles, south-west Port-au-Prince. She was raped in March when she went to the toilet. She told Amnesty:

“A boy came in after me and opened the door. He gagged me with his hand and did what he wanted to do… He hit me. He punched me. I didn’t go to the police because I don’t know the boy, it wouldn’t help. I feel really sad all the time…I’m afraid it will happen again.”

One woman, Suzie, recounted how she was living in a makeshift shelter with her two sons and a friend when they were attacked around 1am on 8 May. Suzie and her friend were both blindfolded and raped in front of their children by a gang of men who forced their way into their shelter. Suzie told Amnesty:

“After they left I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any reaction… Women victims of rape should go to hospital but I didn’t because I didn’t have any money… I don’t know where there is a clinic offering treatment for victims of violence.”

Suzie lost her parents, brothers and husband in the January earthquake. Her home was also destroyed.

Amnesty’s report highlights how the lack of security and policing in and around the camps is a major factor for the increase in attacks over the past year.

The response by police officers to survivors of rape is described as inadequate. Many survivors of rape have said that when they sought police help they were told officers could do nothing.

Gerardo Ducos added: “There has been a complete breakdown in Haiti’s already fragile law and order system since the earthquake with women living in insecure overcrowded camps. There is no security for the women and girls in the camps. They feel abandoned and vulnerable to being attacked. Armed gangs attack at will; safe in the knowledge that there is still little prospect that they will be brought to justice.”

Amnesty is calling for the new Haitian government to urgently take steps to end violence against women as part of a wider plan to address the humanitarian effort. Amnesty’s report insists that women in the camps must be fully involved in developing any such plan.

Immediate steps should include improving security in the camps and ensuring that police are able to respond effectively and that those responsible are prosecuted.

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19163

CEM-H is based in Honduras and is a partner organisation of UK based Central American Women’s Network.

To commenorate the International Day for The Elimination of Male Violence Against Women CEM-H have released the following statement to the international community.

November 25, International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women
Political Positioning Of Feminists In Resistance In Honduras

Center for Women’s Rights CDM
Center for Women’s Studies Honduras CEM-H

As feminist organizations concerned about the grave escalation of violence that envelops the country of Honduras, and the huge number of FEMICIDES, (violent murders of women motivated by gender discrimination) that now amount 285 cases from January to October 2010 and in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we make public to Hondurans and the international community the following:

We express our deepest concern for the grave escalation of violence that is ending the lives of thousands of persons, especially young men, young women, and children of both genders in numbers that exceed real war scenarios around the world and place the country at the top of the list of the most violent countries in the world, with as much as 20 victims a day.

Honduras has the highest rates of violence against women in Central America and as a whole in the Latin American region. The United Nations has coined the term the “triangle of violence” to refer to the three Central American countries with the highest rates of violence against women: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The number of FEMICIDES occurring in Honduras from 2003 to 2010 reaches 1464 victims. 44% of the cases have involved young women between the ages of 15 and 29.

More than half of the FEMICIDES that occur at the national level (55%) take place in the most important cities of the country, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two most developed departments of the country, Cortés and Francisco Morazán, and where the maquiladora industry prospers.

Violence in all its manifestations in Honduras involves disproportionately men in their roles as aggressors in intimate, family, and community relations as well as perpetrators of organized public violence or organized crime. This includes hired murders, gang murders, or the crimes transnational networks of drug trafficking, human trafficking and others. Women’s bodies have become the battleground where men settle their scores, take revenge on each other, and demonstrate their power over women’s lives.

In an overwhelming number of cases, the women and girls that were victims of violence did not bring this violence onto themselves; the brutal aggressions against them and their deaths occurred while they were engaged in their daily activities, in their own homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, or walking down the streets in the main cities that have become the privileged sites of the femicides: 1 in 3 femicides took place in the house of the victim and 2 out 5 in the streets.

80% of the victims were murdered at gunfire, and femicides were the result of multiple crimes at least in 14 cases, with 2 to 4 women and girls killed each time, most of them in their own homes.

Women are killed because they are women; because men feel they have the power and the permission to exert violence over women, even the most extreme and lethal form of violence supported as they are by the impunity the state grants them and by the social tolerance of violence against women that protects them from punishment. Unsolved crimes accumulate as well as crimes that receive no application of justice by the law, and the victims of direct and indirect violence receive no attention nor compensation for the damage suffered. In all reported cases, 95% of them contain no information of the possible aggressor. Of 944 cases of violent deaths of women between 2008 and 2010 recorded by the Unit of Crimes against the Lives of Women of the office of the District Attorney for Women, only 61 court rulings were registered, that amounts to 6.4% of the cases.

Femicides are considered felonies, thus, the Honduran state is the main culprit for the situation of violence of women and the impunity of the crimes against them. We find ourselves today before a collapsed state with weakened, inefficient, and irresponsible institutions. The institutions of the state have demonstrated that they not only pay lip service, but that they have no real commitment to the law. They have no real intention to work to stop, prevent, and punish the violence against women.

As women and as feminists in resistance we call all women and men that believe in peace and justice, and all social and popular organizations and organized women of Honduras and the world to help us build a new Honduras in which rights, peace, equity, respect, and justice is guaranteed for all. Tegucigalpa, November 22 2010

CAMPAIGN FOR THE LIFE OF WOMEN: MY BODY IS NOT A BATTLEGROUND

STOP FEMICIDES: WOMEN ARE BEING MURDERED AND THE AUTHORITIES DON’T CARE

NO MORE IRRESPONSIBLE STATE FUNCTIONARIES AND POLITICIANS!

Please circulate the message to your contact and supporters of the struggle to end violence against women.

A group of advocates and attorneys for displaced women in Haiti submitted a petition calling for urgent action to confront an epidemic of sexual violence in the camps for displaced people. Evidence gathered through multiple on-the-ground investigations has revealed a shocking pattern of rape, beatings and threats against the lives of women and girls living in the camps. This petition for precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls for the IACHR to require that the government of Haiti and the international community take such immediate action as ensuring security and installing lighting in the camps.

Since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake took some 200,000 lives and rendered 1.5 million people homeless, women and girls living in the camps have faced bleak conditions and a constant threat of rape. Lawyers and researchers, partnering with Haitian grassroots women’s groups, have documented testimonies where women have been brutally attacked in their tents or while walking down poorly-lit paths within the camps. Meanwhile, basic preventative measures such as providing lighting, privacy, security and housing have been critically lacking.

Lisa Davis, MADRE Human Rights Advocacy Director and professor of law at CUNY School of Law, said “Women in the camps in Haiti have mobilized to create immediate strategies to combat violence, such as establishing night watch patrols and distributing whistles to deter rapists. But these initiatives are no substitute for governments meeting their obligations to protect women’s human rights. With the capacity of the Haitian government badly undermined even before the earthquake, the international community must join together in seeking a solution to the crisis of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said today, “The ultimate solution here is permanent, safe housing for Haitians. Unfortunately, the international community has reneged on its commitment to provide essential funds for rebuilding and the U.S., in particular, has not delivered even one cent of the reconstruction funding it pledged. Women are being forced to live in extremely unsafe conditions for the foreseeable future and it is a deplorable failure on the part of those who made such a show about standing with the Haitian people in their greatest hour of need.”

Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Assistant Director of Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law said today, “This epidemic of rapes will continue until the international community and Haitian government address the underlying housing crisis. The crowded tent and tarp encampments that house 1.5 million Haitians in Port au Prince provide no security against sexual assault. The Haitian government’s response to the housing crisis has been to assist landowners in evicting families from displacement camps without providing any alternative place to live, further exacerbating security issues. These forced evictions must stop immediately and a comprehensive resettlement plan protecting Haiti’s displaced population must be adopted.”

Lisa Davis served as the primary author of the petition; under supervision from Davis, students from CUNY Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic joined the on-the-ground investigation. Documentation from their interviews with Haitian women has become part of the petition’s record.

To view a redacted copy of the petition, click here http://www.madre.org/images/uploads/misc/1287676543_IACHR%20Petition%20-%20Final%20REDACTED.pdf.

To view the petition in French, click here http://www.madre.org/images/uploads/misc/1288278831_Precautionary%20Measures%20Petition%20-%20French%20Translation%20-%203.pdf.

More details at http://www.madre.org/index/press-room-4/news/human-rights-groups-file-legal-petition-on-sexual-violence-against-women-and-girls-in-camps-for-displaced-in-haiti-525.html

As participants from the U.S. at the 25th National Gathering of Women (XXV Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres) in Paraná, Argentina we denounce the attacks by rightwing Catholics on feminists at the workshops on “Women, Contraception and Abortion” which resulted in a number of injuries and the hospitalization of one activist.

This gathering is an historic victory by Argentine women and is a crucial place for the sharing of experiences as well as for strategizing on how to advance the fundamental rights of women as full human beings. The infiltration of the huge meeting by religious fanatics, a provocative and dangerous assault on freedom of speech, was an outrageous violation of women’s right to engage in much-needed discussions on how to win the basic right to control their own bodies.

Over the last four decades, Latin American women have won great advances in access to contraceptives and abortion. The ultra-right Catholics apparently consider it their mission to turn back the clock and reverse women’s hard-won victories.

Rightwing religious fundamentalism increased internationally in the 1970s in reaction to the worldwide revolutionary upsurge. Today, it is spurred on by the global economic crisis and the reliance of capitalism on women’s free labor in the home and cheap labor in the marketplace for super profits.

The seemingly ever-growing number of religious reactionaries often has the full collusion of bourgeois governments, including that of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Through women’s sweat and sacrifices in the home, where they produce and care for the next generation of workers, and due to their drastically under-paid status in the workforce, untold wealth and global profits flow freely to keep capitalism and its crony governments afloat.

We stand with women all across Latin America who refuse to back down in the face of rightwing repression. At the enormous assembly in Paraná, feminists said “No more!” to the provocation of church-backed infiltrators and physically ousted them from the building where the workshops on “Contraception and Abortion” were being held. That same night, thousands of women mounted a march that stretched over 10 blocks singing chants against the dictatorship of the church and for women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies, including the right to abortion. The massive presence of police and military forces, posted in front of churches to “guard” them from protesters, was a display of government support for the anti-abortion fanatics.

As socialist feminists from the U.S., we are inspired by the militancy and tenacity shown by Argentine women this past weekend. We are engaged in a similar fight against the ultra-Catholics and evangelical Protestants on our own soil and are defending abortion clinics from attacks nationwide.

For forty years Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party have organized united fronts with other groups and individuals against similar campaigns by the right wing that target women, lesbians and gays, Blacks, Jews, and radical activists. We have learned that feminists, leftists, unionists and racial and ethnic minorities, representing wide-ranging political perspectives can and must work together to defeat our common enemies.

We support the call of Argentine feminists for legal, safe and free abortion and for the separation of church and state.

No more rightwing assaults on the Gathering of Women!
Long live global feminism!

Emily Woo Yamasaki, Radical Women
Laura Mannen, Freedom Socialist Party

RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com
http://www.RadicalWomen.org

Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section
fspnatl@igc.org
http://www.socialism.com

Poor, rural, Quechua-speaking women in the Peruvian province of Anta who were victims of a forced sterilisation programme between 1996 and 2000 have filed a new lawsuit in their continuing struggle for justice.

In May 2009, Jaime Schwartz, the public prosecutor investigating the case against four former health ministers of the Alberto Fujimori administration (1990-2000), decided to shelve the investigation. He said the case involved alleged crimes against the victims’ life, body and health, and manslaughter, and that the statute of limitations had expired.

But the plaintiffs in the case had brought accusations of genocide and torture, which as crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation. The attorney-general’s office upheld Schwartz’s decision, overruling the complaint lodged against it by the victims and the human rights organisations providing them with legal advice.

Now the Women’s Association of Forced Sterilisation Victims of Anta, a mountainous province in the southern department of Cuzco, has decided to combat impunity with a new strategy: it is presenting a new lawsuit against those responsible for family planning policy in the last four years of the Fujimori regime.

The Association’s approximately 100 members are rural women whose testimonies have revealed the hidden side of the National Programme for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, imposed by coercion and deceit under the guise of an anti-poverty plan.

The study documented for the first time the systematic use of sterilisation practices that particularly targeted poor, indigenous, rural women.

As a result of the publication, Tamayo received threats from the government. She had to leave the country and went to live in Spain, but has now returned to Peru to advise the Anta Women’s Association on the new lawsuit.

The Peruvian state has admitted that 300,000 sterilisations were performed under the VSC programme. The ombudsman’s office has collected direct testimony from 2,074 women who were sterilised without their consent between 1996 and 2000.

In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.

The state acknowledged its responsibility, recognised the abuses committed under the family planning programme, undertook to investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the campaign, and promised to pay reparations to Mestanza’s family.

But the attorney-general’s office dragged its feet on the promised investigation, which made little progress before it was shelved by the public prosecutor in 2009. Meanwhile Alejandro Aguinaga, one of the accused, a former health minister and personal physician to Fujimori, was elected to Congress in 2006 and is now vice president of the legislature.

Fujimori is in prison for 25 years, convicted of several charges of corruption and human rights violations.

The state’s failure to carry out this part of the friendly agreement “is prolonging the pain of thousands of victims, because the accused are carrying on as respectable members of society when they really should be called to account in the courts,” said Tamayo, who is also a researcher for the Spanish chapter of the global rights watchdog Amnesty International.

“This time, those responsible for the forced sterilisation plan will be sued individually for crimes against humanity and torture,” she said.

Each of the accused will also be charged “for war crimes, because the coerced sterilisation was carried out in the context of the 1980-2000 armed conflict (between the military and leftwing guerrillas), when the armed forces were used to threaten and terrorise” the civilian population, Tamayo said.

Specifying international crimes (which include crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and war crimes) will allow “other countries to prosecute the accused, if the Peruvian state continues to protect them,” she said.

“The IACHR has already indicated that forced sterilisation is a matter of international law,” the rights activist said.

Tamayo said the lawsuit will be brought by the victims in Anta, because in that province “sterilisation was implemented door to door, the health authorities were given ‘quotas’ of sterilised women that they were required to meet, and all the victims belonged to the same indigenous ethnic group.”

This shows that “those who designed the programme defined its targets with abominable precision,” Tamayo said.

Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53177

A group of women on delivered to the Nicaraguan government thousands of signatures collected in Europe by Amnesty International to demand the restoration of therapeutic abortion in this Central American country.

The signatures were turned over at the offices of the governing Sandinista party by leaders of the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion and accepted by a representative of President Daniel Ortega.

The group of women handed over a sample of the 37,000 signatures and also another sample of 6,000 postcards sent in by AI activists acting in solidarity with Nicaragua.

“We hope that President Ortega takes measures … to comply with the recommendations of international entities that have ordered the Nicaraguan state to adjust legislation regarding abortion to be able to save women’s lives,” one of the group’s leaders, Wendy Flores, told Efe.

Flores said that in Nicaragua women had died because “abortion (is) prohibited, (and) by being denied access to health services” and she accused the government of not releasing data about such deaths.

“We hope that the government, with its spirit of solidarity and respecting Christian (behavior), as it says it does, decriminalizes therapeutic abortion to save the lives of a lot of women and so that more children are not orphaned,” Mayte Ochoa, also a leader of the group, told Efe.

Amid the 2006 electoral campaign, which Ortega won, the Nicaraguan Congress heard the petitions of the local Catholic and Protestant churches and prohibited therapeutic abortion, which had been permitted under the Penal Code for more than a century in cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

That decision was criticized by the physicians’ association of Nicaragua, women’s groups, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and the European Union, which demanded a broader discussion of the matter.

Nicaragua’s Supreme Court has yet to rule on a 2007 legal challenge to the constitutionality of the abortion ban. EFE

http://laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=368756&CategoryId=23558

The United Nations is launching a campaign to combat the rape of Haitian earthquake victims living in camps for the homeless, the U.N.’s top official in the country has said.

Edmund Mulet, who heads the U.N. stabilization mission in the country, told the 15-member Security Council that police and soldiers in the U.N.’s peacekeeping force are being trained how to handle rape and other sexual violence at the camps, and to ensure medical care for victims. He said a public relations campaign is under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rape and other sexual attacks.

“I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,” Mulet said, describing actions taken since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a report on Haiti last month.

Mulet said that a 200-member U.N. police force keeps a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, but that it’s impossible to regularly patrol all the camps.

More than 1.3 million Haitians were displaced by the January quake, and many remain homeless, living in camps where women and children are vulnerable to attack.

Mulet also said that the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections must be “credible and legitimate” to ensure security in the still-fragile Caribbean nation.

“Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons’ camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment,” he said.

Sexual attacks at the camps have been a concern since shortly after the magnitude-7 temblor ravaged the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished and least developed country, and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.

The U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 soldiers and police deployed nationwide, is charged with maintaining stability and security in Haiti during reconstruction. The force has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid widespread unrest.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States remains concerned about vulnerable people in the camps and said that efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence “must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process.”

Rice called the U.N.’s progress toward preparing security for the November elections “positive” and said “peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti’s progress.”

Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham also praised peacekeepers’ efforts to ensure electoral security, and said it was critical that the Haitian National Police be involved.

The U.N. force “must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities” so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops “as the main providers of security” in the country.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ignoWPp8ii9QM00GkQOpCZTzO0CwD9I7AIA00

The fight against human trafficking in Latin America is ineffective and has led to the emergence of intra-regional markets for the trade, according to experts and activists meeting in the Mexican city Puebla.

450 academics and activists took part in the Second Latin American Conference on Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings, under the theme “Migrations, Gender and Human Rights”, Sept. 21-24 in Puebla, 129 kilometres south of Mexico City.

In Mexico some 20,000 people a year fall victim to the modern-day slave trade, according to the Centre for Studies and Research on Social Development and Assistance (CEIDAS), which monitors the issue.

The total number of victims in Latin America amounts to 250,000 a year, yielding a profit of 1.35 billion dollars for the traffickers, according to statistics from the Mexican Ministry of Public Security. But the data vary widely. Whatever the case, the United Nations warns that human trafficking has steadily grown over the past decade.

Organisations like the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC) estimate that over five million girls and women have been trapped by these criminal networks in the region, and another 10 million are in danger of falling into their hands.

The United Nations today defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Smuggling of persons, again according to the U.N., is limited to “the procurement of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.”

Latin America is a source and destination region for human trafficking, a crime that especially affects the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia.

The conference host, David Fernández Dávalos, president of the Ibero-American University of Puebla (UIA-Puebla), said in his inaugural speech that human trafficking is a modern and particularly malignant version of slavery, only under better cover and disguises.

On Aug. 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to implement a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, because it is “among the worst human rights violations,” constituting “slavery in the modern age,” and preying mostly on “women and children.”

The congress coincides with the International Day Against the Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Children on Thursday, instituted in 1999 by the World Conference of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW).

Government authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mexico concur that criminal mafias in this country have been proved to combine trafficking in persons with drug trafficking, along both the northern and southern land borders (with the United States and with Guatemala, respectively).

Most Latin American countries have established laws against human trafficking, and have ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, in force since Sept. 29, 2003.

In Mexico, a federal Law to Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons has been on the books since 2007, but the government has yet to create a national programme to implement it, although this is stipulated in the law itself.

The Puebla Congress, which follows the first such conference held in Buenos Aires in 2008, is meeting one month after the massacre of 72 undocumented migrants in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which exemplified the connection between drug trafficking and trafficking in persons, and drew International attention to the dangers faced by migrants in Mexico.

IOM investigations and research have found that Nicaraguan women are trafficked into Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Honduran women are trafficked into Guatemala and Mexico.

Women from Colombia and Peru have been forced into prostitution in the southern Ecuadorean province of El Oro, according to a two-year investigation by Martha Ruiz, a consultant responsible for updating and redrafting Ecuador’s National Plan against Human Trafficking.

Out of the 32 Mexican states, eight make no reference to human trafficking in their state laws. Mario Fuentes, head of CEIDAS, wrote this week in the newspaper Excélsior that the country is labouring under “severe backwardness and challenges in this field, because it lacks a national programme to deal with the problem, as well as a system of statistics.”

Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52940

Heartened by the passage of a same-sex marriage law in Argentina, women’s organisations in this South American country stepped up their demands for the legalisation of abortion, on the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some 1,000 members of the Juana Azurduy Women’s Collective, better known as Las Juanas, filed a “collective and preventive” writ of habeas corpus at different courtrooms around the country, demanding that the criminalisation of abortion be declared unconstitutional.

They also asked the courts to press the legislature to bring the law that penalises abortion into line with international norms that recognise a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.

In Argentina, abortion is a crime punishable by prison, except in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape, the expectant mother’s life is in danger or she is mentally ill or disabled.

But every year some 460,000 to 600,000 women resort to abortion in this country of 40 million people, according to the report “Estimate of the Extent of the Practice of Induced Abortion in Argentina”, prepared by experts from the University of Buenos Aires and the Centre for Population Studies.

In Latin America, abortion is only legal in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico City. With the exception of Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua, where abortion is illegal under any circumstances, in the rest of the countries in the region “therapeutic” abortion is legal in certain cases, such as rape, incest, fetal malformation or risk to the mother’s life.

Nevertheless, more than four million illegal abortions a year are practiced in the region, according to different sources, and 13 percent of maternal deaths are caused by abortion-related complications.

In Argentina, unsafe abortions are the main cause of maternal mortality, the Juana Azurduy Women’s Collective reports.

Against that backdrop, Las Juanas presented their legal action on Tuesday Sept. 28, observed as the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion by the women’s movement in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1990.

For years, women’s groups in Argentina have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion, but have continually run up against the fierce resistance of the powerful Catholic Church and other conservative sectors of society.

However, this year the situation looks more favourable. Since March, the lower house of Congress has been studying a draft law that would decriminalise abortion, which has the backing of around 50 lawmakers from different parties.

The bill, which may be debated in October, was introduced by Cecilia Merchán, a legislator with the left-wing movement Libres del Sur, and would legalise first-trimester abortion on demand, similar to the law in effect in the Federal District of Mexico City.

None of the nearly 20 earlier bills on abortion introduced in the Argentine legislature over the years progressed. But the current draft law has already made it through several committees and is on its way to a full session debate in the lower house.

However, while the legislators are preparing their offensive in the lower house, another bill has been presented in the Senate, which would merely expand the circumstances under which therapeutic abortion is legal.

The idea underlying the initiative by several women senators is that legal abortion would also be made available to women facing risks to their health, a concept that would be broadly defined as physical and mental health.

The women’s organisations do not have the support of President Cristina Fernández, who has spoken out against the legalisation of abortion. But Merchán is confident that the president’s position will not impose itself in the legislative debate. (END)

Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52989

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of a longer story at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52930

Seven women in Mexico serving prison terms of up to 29 years for the death of their newborns were freed last week after a legal reform enacted in the state of Guanajuato lowered their sentences.

The women’s cases case drew national attention in Mexico and their release is unlikely to staunch the fiery debate about whether some conservative states are trying to overzealously enforce bans on elective abortion by charging women who may have suffered miscarriages.

The women are largely poor and uneducated, and they claim they suffered miscarriages — not viable births — and did nothing to harm their unborn children.

“They are innocent, they all suffered miscarriages,” said women’s rights activist Veronica Cruz, who championed their cases.

State prosecutors maintained to the end that the women’s trials were fair, that their babies were born alive but died because of mistreatment or lack of care, a crime defined under state law “homicide against a relative.”

The women were not absolved, but rather released under a legal reform passed after the state government concluded that their sentences “were inappropriate, given that they were excessively punitive and ranged from 25 to 35 years.”

The reform reduced the sentences to 3 to 8 years, the time already served by the women.

“The important thing was to have them freed,” Cruz said. “They will talk and decide if they want to undertake any other action,” to pursue a reversal of their sentences.

The Guanajuato state government said it will help the women get on with their lives after some spent as long as 8 years in prison.

However, the state’s reputation for conservatism made many suspicious.

While Guanajuato still allows abortion under very limited circumstances, like rape, rights activists say that in practice even that possibility is often denied women.

Activist Rosalia Cruz Sanchez says doctors fearing prosecution often require a woman impregnated by rape to produce a letter from prosecutors confirming that. She said authorities often delay until the window for such an abortion — 12 weeks in most states — has passed, forcing the woman to bear the child.

Abortion on demand in the first trimester is legal only in Mexico City, under a 2007 law that has enraged the country’s conservatives and sparked a wave of state right-to-life laws.

While the “Guanajuato Seven” have received largely favorable media coverage, not everyone was cheering about the legal reform that led to their release.

In a statement, two pro-life groups — the Yucatan Pro Network and The Center for Women’s Studies — said that “homicide against a relative will never be a woman’s right.”

It is “worrisome that now a woman attacking the life of her child would be considered a non-serious crime, as long as she does it within 24 hours after it is born.”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gwlqCTH27c7bNv925zRTxUNsnhuwD9I3GER00

“Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, we see a continued crisis of safety and security in the displacement camps that has exacerbated the already grave problem of sexual violence. In May and June, MADRE joined delegations coordinated by the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN) to Haiti to investigate the problem of rape and other gender-based violence in the camps. We found that women are being raped at an alarming rate-every day-in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Government, the UN and others in the international community have failed to adequately address the situation. Women, especially poor women, have been excluded from full participation and leadership in the relief effort.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), MADRE, TransAfrica Forum and the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia law schools released this Report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape. The report aims to bring to light the crisis and guide governments, international organizations and other stakeholders in providing for even more effective protection and promotion of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

To access the report, please click on this link http://www.madre.org/images/uploads/misc/1283377138_2010.07.26%20-%20HAITI%20GBV%20REPORT%20FINAL.pdf

For further information, please visit MADRE http://www.madre.org/index.php

From http://www.awid.org/eng/Women-in-Action/New-Resources/A-New-Report-MADRE-Our-Bodies-Are-Still-Trembling-Haitian-Women-s-Fight-Against-Rape

Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that a law allowing same-sex marriages in Mexico City is constitutional, rejecting an appeal by federal prosecutors who argued it violated the charter’s guarantees to protect the family.

The justices’ 8-2 ruling handed a legal victory to hundreds of same-sex couples who have been married in Mexico’s capital since the landmark law took effect March 4. When approved last December, it was the first law in Latin America explicitly giving gay marriages the same status as heterosexual ones, including adoption.

The court, however, must still rule on the adoption clause and whether the ruling will affect states outside of the capital. It is expected to address adoption on Monday.

“We are very happy,” said Mexico City lawyer Leticia Bonifaz, who argued Mexico City’s case. “It fell to us to carry to a conclusion a struggle that has taken a long time.”

Justices who voted on the majority side stressed that while Mexico’s constitution enshrines protection for families, it does not define what a “family” is.

“It does not appear to me to be unconstitutional,” Justice Jose Gudino said during Thursday’s session. “The concept of the family established in the constitution … is an open concept.”

Jaime Lopez Vela, a leader of the group Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender, was among a group of activists who celebrated the ruling outside the court.

“Now we hope that the final ruling declares it all constitutional,” he said, referring to adoption.

The law was opposed by Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church and the conservative government of President Felipe Calderon.

Rev. Hugo Valdemar, the spokesman for Mexico City’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said “we regret this ruling because in our opinion, it affects the fundamental nucleus of the family.”

Federal prosecutors had cited an article in Mexico’s constitution that suggests – but does not state – that families are constituted by men, women and children. The article states: “Men and women are equal before the law. This protects the organization and development of the family.”

Justice Guillermo Ortiz, who argued against the law, said “marriage is reserved exclusively for couples who can procreate, because one of the big issues of marriage is the protection of children.”

But another judge, Jose Fernando Franco, argued that “procreation is not an essential element of marriage.”

“Those who wish to procreate are free to do so, not only within marriage but in any way they see best, and this happens and can happen in heterosexual marriages, and those that are not, or among single persons,” Franco said.

The justices who voted to uphold the law differed in their reasons why: Some stressed the constitution’s protection of an individual’s right to choose a marriage partner, and others the right of local legislatures to enact laws governing the issue.

Justice Luis Aguilar Morales argued against framing the ruling around the individual rights issue, something that might force other states to adopt similar measures.

“If Mexico City wants it a certain way, that does not necessarily mean that the rest of the states have to do the same,” Aguilar Morales said. The issue will apparently be worked out in subsequent discussion and the writing of the final ruling.

Armando Martinez, president of a local Catholic lawyers’ group, said his organization will be even more concerned if the court rules ultimately upholds the part of the Mexico City law that lets same-sex couples adopt kids.

“That would directly affect the rights of children,” Martinez said. “We will seek impeachment hearings against any justices that vote in favor of adoption.”

City authorities said that as of earlier this week, 320 couples had been married under the law: 173 weddings between men and 147 between women.

Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples with a law approved in July. Mexico City remains the only city in Mexico with a similar law.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/05/mexico-gay-marriage-court_n_672363.html

Slack Implementation and Lack of Oversight Causes Suffering and Death

Thousands of women and girls in Argentina suffer needlessly every year because of negligent or abusive reproductive health care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this week.

The 53-page report, “Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina“, documents the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape. The most common barriers to care include long delays in providing services, unnecessary referrals to other clinics, demands for spousal permission contrary to law, financial barriers, and in some cases outright denial of care. http://www.hrw.org/node/92124

“Women need dependable care throughout their reproductive lives,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But in Argentina, it’s more like a lottery: you might be lucky enough to get decent care but you are more likely to be stuck with deficient – or even abusive – services.”

As a direct result of these barriers, women and girls in Argentina often cannot make independent decisions about their health, and many face unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies as a result. Forty percent of pregnancies in Argentina end in abortions, which are often unsafe. Unsafe abortion has been the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country for decades.

The report identifies a lack of oversight and accountability for carrying out existing laws and policies as the main problems in the persistent denial of proper care. Doctors and other medical personnel who deny women services to which they are entitled, or who apply arbitrary conditions for receiving the services, rarely – if ever – are investigated or penalized.

“Argentina’s reproductive health policies are certainly not perfect, but if they were implemented they would prevent quite a lot of the suffering I saw in researching for this report,” Vivanco said. “The government needs to put a lot more effort into monitoring how these policies are carried out and punishing abuse.”

Human Rights Watch’s report also criticizes Argentina’s reproductive health policies for ignoring key constituencies such as women and girls with disabilities. With its recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Argentina has taken on specific international obligations in this area that are not being met, Human Rights Watch said.

“Women and girls with disabilities face all the same barriers as women without disabilities, and then some,” Vivanco said. “Apart from straight-up access issues ­- are there ramps at clinics, or is information translated into Braille or sign language, for example ­- there is a larger question of prejudice. Some doctors just don’t think women with visual or hearing disabilities, have sexual relationships or can remember to take their contraception.”

The Argentine government has recently taken steps to remedy some of the issues highlighted in “Illusions of Care,” though some of the policy changes were later retracted. In May, the National Health Ministry created a free call-in number to answer questions about where to find reproductive health care services and register complaints. In July, the ministry announced its intention to make sure that abortions are carried out for women and girls whose lives or health are threatened by their pregnancies, or who have been raped. The day after the announcement, however, the government retracted its statements, noting that it did not intend to guarantee access after all.

“The Argentine government seems to be slowly waking up to the notion that laws on reproductive health mean nothing unless they are enforced,” Vivanco said. “But unless changes are constant and clear, women and girls will continue to suffer and, in some cases, die.”

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/08/10/argentina-guarantee-women-s-access-health-care

A total of 126 women died as a result of domestic violence in Argentina during the first half of this year, 40 percent more than during the same period in 2009, according to statistics published by the organisation La Casa del Encuentro.

The report is based on the cases reported in Argentine news media.

‘With the lack of official statistics, newspaper articles are the best way of understanding this tragic phenomenon,’ said Fabiana Tunez, the general coordinator of La Casa del Encuentro.

Just 18 of the 126 victims who lost their lives in the first half of the year had filed complaints against their attackers, who in the majority of cases were the women’s current or former husbands or boyfriends.

Most of the crimes occurred in the province of Buenos Aires, the most populated in Argentina, according to the study.

Tunez demanded that the government implement public policies that ‘prevent and eradicate’ sexual violence, as well as develop ‘awareness campaigns’ in schools.

She also asked that the government draft the regulations needed to implement the comprehensive protection law to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women that Congress approved in March 2009.

In addition, she asked that men who kill their partners lose parental rights over their children.

Tunez also urged the Argentine judiciary to impose ‘exemplary sanctions’ against those found guilty of domestic violence, referring to a recent judicial ruling that found that a man had ‘not intended’ to kill his wife.

http://sify.com/news/domestic-violence-deaths-rise-40-percent-in-argentina-news-international-khpmkffdfdf.html

With a recent survey showing that at least 12 per cent of women between 15-49 years were the victims of forced sexual abuse at one point during their lifetime, the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) hosted a workshop to look at gender-based violence (GBV) and its implications for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In addition to addressing the underlying issues and disseminating current data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and GBV, the workshop also brought persons from the National HIV/STI programme at the Ministry of Health and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs together to discuss the way forward as they tackle the ‘two epidemics’.

Apart from showing the incidence of forced sexual abuse among women of reproductive age, the 2008 Reproductive Health Survey also showed that at least one in three women experienced at least one type of abuse, and one in five reported having experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

During her dissemination of the survey data, executive director of the NFPB Dr Olivia McDonald described some of the findings as being “very frightening”, and sought to show the direct and indirect link to HIV/AIDS and GBV.

“Sexual violence poses a direct biological risk for HIV because where there is forced intercourse, there is usually some vaginal trauma or laceration, and wherever there is trauma, this will facilitate transmission of any sexually transmitted infection, including HIV,” she said.

She also pointed to the fact that women were unable to negotiate condom use during forced sexual intercourse, and that the fear of violence sometimes prevented women from getting tested or disclosing their status.

In addition to this, the doctor also asserted that the “experience of violence may be linked to increased risk taking”.

“Risk-taking behaviours would include multi-partners (and) non-primary partners. These are women who may have a main partner, but they also have what the army would call a second in command,” she explained.

In her address to those in attendance at the workshop, Co-ordinator for HIV Treatment and Care at the Ministry of Health Dr Debbie Carrington pointed to the importance of addressing GBV, as her group forges ahead to achieve the millennium development goal “to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic by 2015”.

“As a country and a region, we still have a far way to go to ensure protection of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

But Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Faith Webster assured that her organisation in fulfilling its mandate, and has been undertaking a number of projects and workshops to enlighten women about their rights and to empower them. She said that her group will be “increasing efforts to eliminate violence against women”, even as it remains mindful of the fact that men are also being abused and need to be helped as well.

As it relates to their role in the elimination of HIV/AIDS, Director of Policy and Research at the Bureau Jennifer Williams said the organisation currently partners with the United Nations Population Fund to distribute condoms to encourage safe sex. She said they have also been trying to change the mindset of teenage boys about the treatment of women through a series of workshops that they host throughout the year.

“We have been conducting public education on HIV and AIDS and we have also been conducting public education on gender-based violence,” she added.

But even with increasing interventions and campaigns to stem the transmission of HIV, Director of Policy Formulation, Monitoring and Evaluation at the NFPB Kevin Bell said people seemed “to hear it, but they tune out”.

His statement comes amidst his analysis of the 2008 survey, which showed that a significant percentage of the population still harboured myths about the disease and were not going for testing. This was primarily the case among those living in the North East region of the country.

“We need to reduce the predisposing circumstances — those circumstances that put people at risk to gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS,” he said.

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/The-link-between-HIV-and-gender-violence_7783719

“My body is mine and I will decide what I do with it!” shouted the young feminist activist outside the Argentine Congress building in central Buenos Aires.

“We demand a debate on abortion in society and a vote in Congress,” she said.

After the recent vote by the Argentine Congress to legalise same-sex marriage, the legalisation of abortion does indeed seem set to be the next big debate in the country.

Calls in favour of legalisation have been fuelled in part by international criticism of the country’s high maternal mortality rates.

A recent study by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, found that over the past 15 years complications from abortion were the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina.

For every 100,000 live births there are 44 deaths – more than twice as high as in neighbouring Chile and Uruguay.

Abortion is permitted only in cases of rape, if the mother’s life is at risk or if the woman is deemed “of feeble mind”.

There are an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 illegal abortions each year.

But the lack of clarity about this was highlighted earlier this year when a teenaged girl asked for legal permission to terminate her pregnancy after being raped.

“It was shameful,” said Elizabeth Yapur, a lawyer in the oil industry town of Comodoro Rivadavia in the southern province of Chubut.

“The judge took 40 days to decide they could go ahead, then passed the decision on to the hospital which took a further 10 days,” said Ms Yapur.

Tests showed that the girl had been impregnated by her stepfather, a policeman, but she was 20 weeks into her pregnancy by the time she received the authorisation to end it.

Cecilia Merchan says the issue is one of social justice A high number of doctors in the health service refuse to carry out abortions, says Dr Jorge Vinacur, President of SOGIBA, the Gynaecological and Obstetrics Society of Buenos Aires.

But a lack of political will also contributes to the high maternal death rates and number of abortions, he says.

“Unsafe abortions are the main medical emergency after Caesereans. They represent a huge cost for the health system, particularly for the public sector,” he said.

“We need decent sexual education and family planning policies.”

Dr Vinacur says that the numbers of maternal deaths are also being hugely underestimated.

Research done by SOGIBA shows that for each maternal death registered in the city, two go unregistered.

“This is the tip of the iceberg – more research is needed to discover the real magnitude of this,” he said.

There are also serious deficiencies across the country in the way women are treated by the health system.

Under-Secretary of Community Health Guillermo Gonzalez acknowledged to the media that there were problems, including:
* a shortage of blood banks to cover cases of severe blood loss
* the difficulties in early detection of patients with high blood pressure
* the lack of fast treatment for infections
* and insufficient efforts to reduce abortion-related complications.

Paula Ferro, co-ordinator of the health ministry’s National Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation programme told the BBC that the government was very worried by the high number of maternal deaths.

“Argentina is determined to bring down the numbers, we don’t want another woman to die,” she said.

A national phoneline has started offering contraception and family planning advice, said Ms Ferro. The focus this year is on the poorer provinces in the north of Argentina where maternal deaths are highest.

“We think it is fundamental to clean up this situation,” says Cecilia Merchan, a member of the lower house of the Argentine Congress and a leading voice in the pro-choice debate.

“We are talking about a problem of social justice. Many of the women who have illegal abortions are resorting to unsafe abortions in unsanitary conditions because they don’t have the money to pay for a private clinic,” she said.

“All women should have the same access to a pregnancy termination in safe circumstances, not just the rich.”

Campaigners are hoping that an abortion bill launched two years ago calling for the legalisation of abortion will be debated in Congress this year before the start of presidential election campaigning in 2011.

The depth of feeling over the issue of abortion came to the fore on 20 July when reports emerged that the health ministry was about to issue new guidelines on when abortion would be permitted.

Doctors would be allowed to perform an abortion if a woman could produce a sworn statement, rather than proof, that she had been raped.

Anti-abortion campaigners argued that this amounted to legalising abortion without a debate in Congress.

“This is de facto legalisation using an administrative procedure,” Christian Hooft, vice-president of the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches, told La Nacion newspaper.

The health minister subsequently denied there would be new guidelines.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10478832

The worst part of the whole ordeal was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.

But making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.

“Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe,” said the woman who requested that her full name be withheld.

The kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a women’s health clinic at the family’s request.

Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others’ misery.

So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women’s groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and “the threat is constant,” said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.

Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.

Ms. Villard said that Kofaviv’s two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer — 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.

Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.

Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this city’s battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.

Read the full story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/world/americas/24haiti.html

For the first time the Women’s Department today held a one day conference with Women’s Group from across the country. Over one hundred women convened at the Belize Elementary School Auditorium for the event. Icilda Humes, Director at the Women’s Department told us that the event is the first step for the department in revitalizing the women’s movement in Belize.

Icilda Humes; Director, Women’s Department

“This one day event is about strengthening women’s groups; it is about building the capacity of some of the women’s groups that the department has been working with over a period of years. We have groups representing each district, we have groups that have been in existence for many years, we have some of them that are considered to be emerging groups, we have some of them that focus on community activism and we have some that look at entrepreneurship opportunities and economic empowerment opportunities. We have a diverse group of women here today. We have groups that are from urban communities as well as rural communities.”

Representatives from over fifty women’s groups from across Belize are attending the conference which will be focusing on four main areas.

Icilda Humes

“The main area of focus for today’s event is recruitment. We need to look at how these women’s groups are sourcing members, building their membership and then we have to look at maintaining the membership. One you have gotten women to sign up to be a member of the group, how do you keep them? How do you keep the momentum? Then we looked at visioning, where is the group going? We have some groups that got together for an initial purpose and after they have me those needs or fulfilled those goals then a lot of times the membership starts to dwindle because there is no vision of where that group want to go, what direction they are heading. The visioning is a very important exercise that we will be doing today. And then we are going to be looking at fund raising. Where is the money? Where do these groups access resources and also once they access these resources how do they manage them.”

Humes says that over the years there has been a decrease in active women’s groups nationwide but hopes that the conference today will serve to change that.

Icilda Humes

“We have definitely seen over the years a decrease in the amount of women’s groups that we have in the country. In years past there were so many especially in rural communities, now we are seeing just a few in some of the districts and we are encouraging other women’s group that we have not engaged at the department or who have not engaged us to contact the women’s department so that we can work with you and so that we can see what sort of technical assistance we can provide. Mainly we are seeing women’s groups functioning in rural communities, there continues to be a challenge with urban centers having and maintaining women’s groups and this is something that we are very concerned about. But we are hoping that today’s event will give us some sort of direction in how we can continue to assist the existing groups, strengthen the emerging groups and look at ways of encouraging other communities to establish women’s groups.”

Aidra Rodriguez is Treasurer for the Productive Organization for Women in Action, a group in Dangriga that focuses on advocating against discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected persons within the communities.

Aidra Rodriguez

“This is our community and we want the best for our community. As community members we are responsible for what goes on in our community. As soon as Michelle calls us, because she is our coordinator, as soon as she sends out a text message that we need to be here so that we can go and do an outreach or we need to be there for an activity, we all come. We all drop what we have to do and we come. This is going to help us because when we were formed it is not like we were structured. Maybe here we can get assistance in structuring our group.”

POWA has also recently won the Red Ribbon Award from UNAIDS for their work. The event is being held with funding from the United Nations Population’s Fund.

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