Archive for the ‘Opinion Comment’ 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.
Katha Pollitt admires Julian Assange for his work on WikiLeaks, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he has committed sex crimes
The problem is not that many WikiLeaks supporters question the zeal with which Swedish authorities are pursuing Assange. Maybe it’s true that an ordinary guy, faced with similar accusations, would have been allowed to slip away quietly once he left Sweden rather than become the subject of an Interpol red notice. (Maybe not, though. The 11 Swedes on Interpol’s public red list include people wanted for fraud and other non-spectacular crimes. Much has been made of the fact that only one of these, an alleged child molester, is charged with a sex crime. But the vast majority of wanted people are privately listed, so actually there’s no way of knowing if Assange’s case is exceptional.)
Given that US politicians, from Joe Biden to Sarah Palin, have called for Assange’s head, it isn’t paranoid to suspect that he is being singled out in order to extradite him to the United States. But it could also be that Sweden is following up because law enforcement officials get mad when world-class celebrities flee the country and then thumb their noses at them – cf Roman Polanski.
What’s disturbing is the way some WikiLeaks admirers have misrepresented the allegations, attacked the women and made light of date rape. It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman, ignoring her demand that he use a condom, and penetrating the other woman while she slept, also without a condom, despite her wishes; yet writer after writer has treated the whole thing as a big joke.
Appearing on Keith Olbermann’s show after he put up $20,000 to help bail Assange out of a British jail, Michael Moore – apparently an expert on Swedish rape law – called the case “a bunch of hooey”: “the condom broke during consensual sex”.
The heroic Sady Doyle, a blogger at Tiger Beatdown, gets lots of credit for starting a Twitter campaign that forced Moore and Olbermann to – sort of – back off their sexist chortling. But it’s too late: the “revelations” that Sweden has laws against condomless sex and that “Ms A” is a CIA “honeytrap” are all over the left blogosphere.
And it isn’t just men who are spreading it. On the Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf posted a satirical letter to Interpol, aka the “world’s dating police”, repeating the broken-condom falsehood and adding that Assange’s crimes include “texting and tweeting in the taxi… while on a date and, disgustingly enough, reading stories about himself online” in the cab. Is this the same Naomi Wolf who wrote a 2004 New York magazine cover story accusing Harold Bloom of putting his hand on her thigh 20 years before? Wolf argues that the accusations against Assange demean the seriousness of rape.
In fact, Swedish law does distinguish among degrees of rape, with Assange being accused on one count of the least grave kind. In a much-cited letter to the Guardian, Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape argued that Sweden’s low rape conviction rate proved that Assange was being set up – in 2006, she claimed, only six people were convicted out of 4,000 reported. Not so.
“I don’t know where they got those figures,” Amnesty International’s Katarina Bergehed told me by phone from Sweden. “In 2006 there were 3,074 rapes and 227 convictions.” (Sweden tracks rape by individual acts, not by number of victims, so the prevalence of rape is less than it looks.) Bergehed should know: she wrote the Swedish section of the Amnesty report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries that Assange supporters cite as proving that Sweden is the worst place in Europe for rape victims.
One reason the Swedish rape conviction rate is low is that – thanks to 30 years of feminist progress – the law defines sexual violence and coercion broadly but, as in other countries, police and juries often do not. The same seems to be true of large swaths of the American left.
WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know – it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?
Extracts from a longer comment piece at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/27/rape-left-julian-assange-swedish-law-wikileaks
Extract from a longer opinion piece by Carol Hanisch
Feminism (USA) has always been a problematic term in the struggle for women’s liberation, and now with such unlikely public figures as Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga embracing it, it’s become more so. When can or should the feminist label be applied? A look at the recent history of the term may help put the question in perspective.
In the 1960s, many of us involved in getting the Women’s Liberation Movement off the ground didn’t at first want to call ourselves feminists because the term was applied to establishment liberal groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). These groups concentrated on legal and lobbying solutions, mostly in the areas of employment and careers, and while we appreciated their work, we had a much broader goal for our movement: the total liberation of all women in every area of our lives, including those considered too “personal” for public discussion and action. Also in contrast to the liberal groups, most of us agreed that women’s liberation could not be achieved under capitalism, though we thought progress certainly was possible and necessary and needed to be fought for in the present, that it would actually help bring about the other social and economic changes we wanted.
At the same time we took the name “Women’s Liberation,” we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from other women’s rights groups and we wanted to study and learn from feminist history and our feminist foremothers. We ended up using both terms — feminist and women’s liberation — though not completely interchangeably. We thought of ourselves as the Women’s Liberation Movement within a broader feminist movement.
The radical WLM led the way in making feminism immensely popular by using consciousness-raising to focus on the nitty-gritty male supremacy that women experienced in their everyday lives — some aspects of which, like abortion, were not then discussed in public. (The case for the success of these radical ideas is made in the 1975 Redstockings book,Feminist Revolution.) As its popularity grew, the feminist bandwagon became overcrowded with a myriad of offshoots: cultural feminists, lesbian feminists, lesbian separatist feminists, matriarchal feminists, eco-feminists, anti-nuke feminists, peace feminists, anarcho-feminists, animal rights feminists, third wave feminists, Jewish feminists, and the list goes on — even the anti-abortion Feminists for Life. Some, in our view, bore little relationship to the real struggle for feminist or women’s liberation demands, but were women self-segregating themselves to fight for other goals.
With the marginalization of the Women’s Liberation Movement by liberal forces, a milder “women’s movement,” minus “liberation”– and now even often minus “movement” (in practice if not if intent) — arose proclaiming that “feminism is anything a woman says it is.” It became mostly about the individual woman — individual choice, personal expression, and individual career success — with little relationship to the need for a collective, united, social movement to liberate all women. This tendency, there from the beginning, gained strength as the Women’s Liberation Movement, radical in its collective approach to attacking the roots of male supremacy, was pushed into near oblivion in the early 1970s. The militant multi-issue groups with their willingness to probe and expose every nook and cranny of women’s oppression were either marginalized or became single issue organizations, advocating in only one area and often distancing themselves from women’s liberation as a radical, grassroots movement.
Today, there is even a group aptly called “ifeminists” (individualist feminists), which claims it is for women’s equality while simultaneously associating itself with anti-government libertarians and Ayn Rand. It supports all kinds of “individual choices” for women, from abortion to porn, while opposing such “government intervention” as police and court interference in wife-battering.
Then there is the question of the relation of feminism to issues of war and peace. Many feminists consider peace to be a feminist issue (I don’t). Their criteria, however, is often inconsistent. Some who see Clinton as a feminist claim Palin can’t be a feminist because she supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Clinton, who championed mildly progressive women’s and family issues as a senator, is a war hawk as Secretary of State. Rare is the woman who gets into the Good Old Boys Club who doesn’t reinforce the system she started out to reform.
A movement needs a certain amount of consensus to move forward, and if it can’t even decide what direction that is, it is not a force to be reckoned with and will achieve little. What’s more, if its leaders are going to call that chaos a good thing, what hope is there? It also needs more than belief in women’s equality and encouraging words. It needs accompanying theory and action. Knowing that the yearning for equality has not left most women’s souls (even if the Movement that fought for it to become a reality is in disarray), opportunists of both sexes play off feminism in many spheres. Lack of consensus throws the door wide open.
It may be that by now the word “feminism” is so distorted by those claiming the label — including its enemies — that it is impossible to define or use the word without writing a whole book about it. But anyone who thinks we’re post-feminism and it doesn’t matter anymore is asleep at the wheel. We can’t afford to abandon the term and concept of feminism because of the real advances that have been made for women in its name, and the rich historical legacy that we must defend. And we need a name for what still needs to be done, a still monumental task. We need to use the terms “women’s liberation” and even “male supremacy” again, even if it means a very big fight.
Carol Hanisch was a founding member of New York Radical Women in 1968 and has been agitating for the liberation of women ever since. She is probably best known for writing The Personal Is Political and for proposing the idea for—and writing a critique of—the 1968 Miss America Protest. She was also managing editor of the Redstockings book Feminist Revolution and editor of the journal Meeting Ground. She has also been active in civil rights, working class and environmental movements. Website: http://www.carolhanisch.org and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” — Mahmoud Fathalla, Former President of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 1997
Researchers at the World Health Organization have recently documented a substantial 48% decrease in the numbers of unsafe abortion deaths. In 2008, 47,000 women a year lost their lives from complications of unsafe abortion, compared to 70,000 in 2003. But the bad news is that unsafe abortions have not decreased and are still the predominant way that women end pregnancies in developing countries. Abortions appear to a bit less unsafe because more women are turning to safer medical abortion pills to induce their own abortion.
Unsafe abortion deaths are a direct consequence of antiquated and cruel laws against abortion. About 21.6 million unsafe abortions occurred worldwide in 2008, almost all in developing countries where abortion is illegal. (This compares to 19.7 million in 2003, with the rise due to the increasing number of women of childbearing age in the world.) Among women who survive unsafe abortion, an estimated 8.5 million suffer complications, with 1 in 4 needing medical attention.
In contrast, death from unsafe abortion has been virtually eliminated in western industrialized countries that have legalized abortion, and the complication rate is extremely low. When abortion is legalized in a country, there is typically a dramatic decline in maternal deaths and complications due to abortion. This pattern has been repeated numerous times since the 1950’s when abortion was first legalized in former Eastern Bloc countries.
Legal abortion saves women’s lives and improves their health because without it, women risk their safety by resorting to unsafe illegal abortion. The right to abortion also advances women’s equality, liberty, and other human rights, freeing women to pursue an education and career and to participate fully in public life. Access to abortion allows women to better plan and provide for their families, which benefits the entire community and society. Unplanned births of unwanted children can be very crippling to women and families, leading to higher rates of poverty and dysfunction, including child abuse. These factors make the provision of safe and legal abortion a vital public health interest that negates any justification for criminalizing the procedure.
Yet here we are, one decade into the 21st century, and almost every developing country in the world continues to enforce a near-total criminal ban on abortion. Abortion is illegal primarily in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia, as well as a tiny handful of developed countries like Poland and Ireland. However, all countries with more liberal abortion laws still retain abortion as a criminal offence with exceptions, or have enacted further legal restrictions that make it difficult to access.
If the intent behind banning abortions is to stop or reduce them, it’s been a total failure. In 2007, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute found that overall abortion rates around the world are similar, regardless of whether or not abortion is illegal in a country. This is because countries with strict anti-abortion laws have well-developed black markets for abortion. The global average abortion rate for women of childbearing age (15-44) was 29 per 1,000 women in 2003, with the highest number of abortions occurring in countries where it’s highly restricted and in countries with poor access to contraception. Eastern Africa’s rate was 39 per 1,000 women, while South America’s rate was 33.
In countries with fewer restrictions where legal abortion is widely available, the rates are generally much lower, plus we see a decline in abortion rates as contraception use rises. Canada is the only democratic nation in the world with no abortion law or restrictions, but it has a low abortion rate of 14.1 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That compares favourably to western Europe’s rate of 12, the lowest abortion rate in the world and the region with the most liberal abortion laws. In contrast, the American rate is 19.4 (for 2005) and U.S. women must navigate through a thicket of abortion restrictions. There isn’t a shred of evidence that such restrictions are effective or helpful for women or society; instead, they create arbitrary obstacles and delays for women seeking abortion care.
Who should we blame for this global travesty of injustice and for the continuing suffering and deaths of women? The obvious culprits, of course, are the Vatican, conservative countries, various Catholic and fundamentalist religious organizations, and right-wing politicians. But perhaps a better question is: Why does the world allow these entities to inflict such a terrible toll on women’s lives and health, year after year? The most obvious culprit in this case would appear to be sexism and patriarchy, which are very much alive and well in our modern age, and still socially acceptable compared to racism. Traditional views on women’s motherhood role are the main reason that women’s rights and equality still lag far behind the rights of minorities and other vulnerable groups. Much of the world still clings to the deeply-held assumption that women’s dignity and humanity is tied to being a mother, even though this subordinates women to a biological function. Moreover, our male-dominated patriarchal societies still try to guarantee paternity by controlling women’s sexual and reproductive behaviour at the expense of their freedom and human rights.
The United Nations’ position on abortion reflects the world’s hostile attitude towards safe abortion as an essential part of women’s reproductive rights and the cornerstone of women’s health and survival. Although the UN’s purpose is in part to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion,” the UN has essentially abandoned women who need abortions by caving to pressure from right-wing forces.
(this is a comment piece by Meredith Tax)
The International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened its doors in 2002. Five years earlier, people in the global women’s movement had organised a women’s caucus for gender justice to bring about this happy event, and the existence of the ICC is in no small part the result of their concerted efforts. Some of the best feminist lawyers in the world, including the late Rhonda Copelon of the international women’s human rights law clinic of the City University of New York, worked on creating the court, and the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the court – made a qualitative leap forward by integrating gender-based violence into its definitions of international crimes. The statute had provisions to ensure that evidence would be gathered in a way that protected witnesses and did not cause additional trauma, gave the court authority to award reparations, and required the prosecutor to appoint advisors with legal expertise on sexual and gender violence.
Unfortunately, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s first prosecutor, has shown little grasp of the statute he is supposed to be enforcing. He came to the court to implement a treaty unique in its attention to gender, and his first case ignored gender altogether. This case, in which Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, is accused of drafting child soldiers, has already dragged on for four years. It has been almost thrown out of court twice because the prosecution evidence was so poorly prepared, and last year, Lubanga’s defence team charged that prosecution researchers in Congo got some witnesses to fabricate evidence. This charge could result in the whole case coming to nothing.
Equally serious was Moreno-Ocampo’s failure to include rape among the charges, even though young girls abducted by Lubanga’s troops were routinely forced to have sex with their commanders. Women’s human rights activists tried to persuade the prosecutor to include crimes of sexual violence among the charges, but he wouldn’t listen. Now, because Lubanga was not charged with rape, defence attorneys do not have to allow questions about those crimes.
The ICC’s second Congo case, that of Jean-Pierre Bemba, is flawed in a different way. The Rome Statute provides that rape can be charged as a crime in itself and also as a form of torture or genocide; such multiple charges were intended to capture the many dimensions and the full harmfulness of the act. However, in the Bemba case, the judge in the pre-trial chamber has refused to allow multiple charges of rape; she threw out the charge of torture, partly because the indictment was poorly drafted and the prosecutor’s office showed insufficient evidence.
All this underlines the importance of another provision of the Rome Statute, also violated by Moreno-Ocampo – the early appointment of high-level experts on gender as a permanent part of the prosecutor’s staff. Those who drafted the Rome Statute knew from experience that mainstreaming crimes against women was a new idea, and lawyers and judges would need to be trained for the work. But instead of appointing gender experts, integrating them into his staff and letting them shape cases, Moreno-Ocampo delayed any such appointment for six years.
Finally, in November, 2008, as criticism of him mounted, he appointed Catharine MacKinnon as special gender adviser – not a staff position, but a consulting one with no attendance requirement. It was a peculiar appointment in other ways. MacKinnon had not been directly involved in the process leading to the creation of the court and the mainstreaming of gender in the Rome Statute. Her main claim to fame in the US, where she is a polarising figure, has been in sexual harassment law, and through her activities during the “porn wars” of the eighties, when she sought to criminalise pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights. She carried her analysis of the centrality of porn into the Yugoslav wars, arguing, on dubious evidence, that Serbian militias in Bosnia were provided with special porn to psych them up for mass rapes.
At the ICC, it has begun to appear that MacKinnon’s main assignment is to blow smoke. In a speech in September 2009, she said (http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/2B344A20-EBDC-406C-8837-3973274F4501/280839/speech110909.pdf pdf):
“The most striking quality of the pursuit of these [gender-based] crimes by the ICC to date has been that they are there: their centrality to every prosecution so far, in a way that clarifies how the sexual abuse becomes a specific instrumentality in each conflict.”
This is a whitewash of the way gender was neglected in the early years of the court, as evidenced in the Lubanga case.
When the modern human rights movement began, its normative victim was an eastern European male prisoner of conscience. In the nineties, women activists shone light on violations based on gender, and the definition of a human rights victim became broad enough to include sexual violence by both state and “non-state actors” – militias, paramilitary groups, religious fundamentalists, even fathers and brothers and husbands. The Rome Statute is one of the major markers on that road. But the “war on terror” has returned us, in many ways, to status quo ante: today, the normative human rights victim is once more a male prisoner, this time in Guantánamo; human rights offences by states are back at centre stage; and crimes against women and children are again being marginalised.
The ICC’s deficiencies are one symptom of this slippage in the progress of women’s human rights. The struggle between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty is another. We live in a world where the internal processes of human rights organisations, whether Amnesty or the ICC, lack transparency, and where discussions about them are increasingly confined to experts. While the context of women’s human rights work has been transformed by the “war on terror”, the rest of the human rights movement has not caught up, and the global women’s networks that existed in the nineties have become fatigued and lack funding.
At an international conference at McGill University in 1999, Rhonda Copelon observed that “human rights, like law itself, are not autonomous, but rise and fall based on the course and strength of peoples’ movements and the popular and political pressure and cultural change they generate.” We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed back to a narrow mid 20th-century vision of human rights, least of all in the ICC. Ocampo-Moreno’s term as prosecutor expires in 2012. It is time for activists to begin to mobilise, and lobby for a replacement who will have a better grasp of the gender provisions so meticulously written into the Rome Statute.
There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right?
Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. This is of course speculation based on the bare-bones reported description of events, but it’s at least clear that “this is a case of a broken condom” isn’t close to the whole story. (It’s also worth pointing out that the charge is actually a quite minor one in Sweden, and the punishment is a $700 fine).
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape. That may not sound entirely familiar to Americans, since the United States has relatively regressive rape laws; in most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent. Some states, like New York, have rape laws on the books which include “no means no” provisions for intercourse — basically, if a reasonable person would have understood that the sex was not consensual, then that’s rape. It seems obvious enough, but those laws are not used nearly as often as forcible-rape laws; they aren’t on the books in many states, and they’re difficult to enforce even where they are.
Withdrawal of consent gets even trickier. It’s an obvious enough concept for feminist thinkers who have spent more than 10 minutes considering the realities of sex and sexual assault: If you consent to sex but then at some point during sex withdraw that consent by telling your partner to stop, your partner should stop, and if your partner doesn’t stop then that’s assault. It’s not too hard, for those of us who have had sex, to imagine how this works — I have a difficult time imagining any decent human being hearing their partner say “Stop!” in the middle of sex and not, you know, stopping. I can’t imagine hearing my partner say “Stop” and not stopping. And if your partner is saying “Stop stop stop stop!” and you keep going, yes, you are raping them.
But the concept of withdrawing consent seems to be a little tougher for folks who think of sex as something women give to men (or men take from women); it’s definitely a tougher concept for folks who think that sex inherently sullies women. I suspect that the thought process goes, If the damage (penetrative sex) has already been done, then the situation can’t possibly turn into a rape, because the initial penetration itself occurred consensually, and it’s that penetration that’s the basis of the harm in any rape case. Consent, in that framework, isn’t the point. The U.S. is a bit of a patchwork when it comes to withdrawal of consent laws, with some states recognizing that withdrawal of consent is valid and that it is rape if you keep having sex with someone after they’ve said no, and other states either not touching the issue or not recognizing as rape situations where consent is withdrawn post-penetration. Making the Assange story juicier blog-bait in the U.S. is the fact that we’re deeply wedded to the notion of rape as forcible; despite many of our best efforts, a consent-based framework for evaluating sexual assault is not yet widely accepted. So we hear “she consented to sex but only with a condom and he didn’t use a condom and now she’s claiming he raped her” and we go, “say what?”, because that’s so far removed from the Law & Order: SVU sexual assault model. When, really, if you evaluate sexual assault through the lens of consent rather than force or violence, the picture starts to look a little bit different.
Whether withdrawal of consent is what actually happened here is impossible to tell, so I’m not suggesting that Assange is a rapist or that these charges are 100% definitely on-point; I have no idea. But neither do the commentators who are saying that Assange did nothing more than have sex without a condom. And it’s important to counter the “haha sex by surprise those crazy Swedes” media narrative with the fact that actually, non-consensual sex is assault and should be recognized as such by law. Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however.
I’m not particularly interested in debating What Assange Did or Whether Assange Is A Rapist, and I’d appreciate it if we could steer clear of that in the comments section. Rather, I’m interested in pushing back on the primary media narrative about this case, which is that women lie and exaggerate about rape, and will call even the littlest thing — a broken condom! — rape if they’re permitted to under a too-liberal feminist legal system. In fact, there are lots of good reasons to support consent-based sexual assault laws, and to recognize that consent goes far beyond “yes you can put that in here now.” It’s a shame that the shoddy, sensationalist reporting on this case have muddied those waters.
UPDATE: As greater clarity is brought to these charges, it sounds like it was a lot more than “they agreed he would wear a condom and he didn’t.” According to the Press Association, “The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner … The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.” Emphasis mine. Kate Harding has more.
Comment published at http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/12/06/some-thoughts-on-sex-by-surprise/
The disproportionate burden of HIV/Aids borne by women and girls in most developing countries requires urgent attention. At the heart of the problem is profound gender inequality and inequity, coupled with the systematic disempowerment of women, condoned by society for generations.
Although a global problem, it is particularly evident in developing countries and the HIV/Aids epidemic, therefore, is merely exposing the underlying failures of society.
Comprehensive sexual education for adolescent boys and girls is probably the single most important intervention in correcting gender stereotypes and imbalances and for preventing violence against women and the further spread of HIV.
Unfortunately, reproductive health services for women and girls in developing countries are universally not up to standard. Services that need urgent attention include family planning, antenatal, perinatal and postnatal care, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the cervix and access to safe and legalised abortion. In fact, criminal abortion is rife and extremely dangerous in developing countries, accounting for about 12% of all maternal mortality.
Female condoms have also not been given a chance as an important female-controlled method of preventing HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. When women are properly counselled and trained in the use of female condoms, there is a high acceptance and demand for their availability. The female condom is particularly effective in violent or non-consensual relationships. Much greater investment into its research and development needs to be made.
Much publicity has been given to the microbicide gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir in the prevention of HIV infection. The fact that it appears to be 40% effective shows promise for the female-controlled method of prevention.
Comment by Dr Brian Brink, chief medical officer of Anglo American and the chair of the International Women’s Health Coalition
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the relaxation of the Vatican’s stance against condom use.
Pope Benedict XVI said the use of condoms is acceptable to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.
“The Pope’s statement is in line with evidence that condoms are highly effective in preventing infection with the HIV virus. If used correctly and consistently, the male condom is the most efficient protection against the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” said WHO director for Western Pacific region Dr. Shin Young-soo.
Shin said the papal statement would help ease the reluctance of several sectors to use condoms. He acknowledged, however, that the pope was not endorsing the use of condoms as a means for birth control.
WHO records show that the prevalence of HIV in Asia Pacific had reached 20 percent among sex workers and up to 30 percent among men having sex with men.
“The truth is there for everyone to see. Unprotected sex is a central driver of the AIDS epidemic in Asia,” Shin said.
In a report of the Asia Commission on AIDS in 2008, it was estimated that some 75 million men in the region patronize sex from 10 million sex workers and, at the same time, have sex with 50 million regular or casual partners.
WHO had warned that in Western Pacific, HIV infection will continue to rise if countries will not focus on people with “risky lifestyles.”
WHO said 130,000 to 150,000 new infections related to high-risk lifestyle occur every year in the Western Pacific region.
These include infections through unprotected sex, sharing drug needles, and men having sex with men.
“While condom use remains the core strategy for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among sex workers, essential and affordable sexual and reproductive health services should also be made available to sex workers to address a host of other issues,” it said.
These services include voluntary HIV counseling and testing, STI diagnosis and treatment, cervical cancer prevention, prevention of parent-to-child transmission, contraception counseling, abortion and post-abortion care, as well as specialized support to the transgender community.
It is estimated that some 1.4 million people in Western Pacific were diagnosed with the AIDS virus. Ten years ago, the number of cases was 680,000.
Worldwide, some 33.4 million people are living with HIV.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman also welcomed the new papal statement on condom use, saying it supports his advocacy of family planning through the use of contraceptives.
“This is a very welcome development as it signals the liberalization of the stand of the Catholic Church when it comes to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Lagman, principal author of the highly contested Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.“The moderation of the Church’s position on condoms to prevent the spread of a deadly disease may ultimately evolve to include the use of condoms and other contraceptives to prevent high risk pregnancies,” he added.
Lagman then said the use of contraceptives is a lesser evil than committing abortion and having increased incidents of maternal death. “Family planning and contraception save lives by helping women avoid high risk pregnancies which often end in maternal and infant death or morbidity,” he said. Citing data from the National Statistics Office, he said maternal deaths in the Philippines account for one out of every seven deaths of women of reproductive age. He noted that a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund showed that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be prevented if women who want to use contraception are given access to it.
The study also showed that helping women plan their families can prevent one million infant and child deaths every year worldwide because closely spaced pregnancies threaten infant survival.
Lagman also cited another study showing that regular and proper use of contraceptives reduces the incidence of abortion by 85 percent.
“Clearly, a pregnancy that is planned and wanted will not be aborted. It is therefore only logical to conclude that the more women can avoid unintended and mistimed pregnancies through effective family planning, the less the incidence of abortion will be,” he said. Despite the endorsement from the Vatican, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vows to continue opposing the RH bill “because that is our moral duty,” said Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, vice chair of the CBCB Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL). With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan
The International Solidarity Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is deeply shocked that a court in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan, has sentenced a 45-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to death on the charge of having committed “blasphemy”. Although illiterate, she has been accused of denying the institution of prophet-hood by citing copious examples from the key texts of Islam. We join local human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities in calling for Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws. We also appeal to the authorities to guarantee the safety of Asia Bibi and her family from the rage of local extremists, as well as investigate the violent persecution of the Christian community in the Punjab.
Asia Bibi is a farm worker in a village of Ittanwali in Nankana, about 75 kilometres west of Lahore. By Asia Bibi’s own account, her women co-workers tried to force her to embrace Islam on 8 June, 2009. This led to a discussion on the religious beliefs of the two communities and following a heated exchange between her and three Muslim women, the complainant Qari Muhammad Sallam, with the testimonies of these women, lodged a First Information Report (FIR) on June 19, 2009, under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Both sections state punishment by life imprisonment or capital punishment. Following the judicial process, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by an additional sessions court in Nankana district. Mrs Bibi was also ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 Pakistani rupees (£2,180). Now the family is appealing against the judgment in the Lahore High Court. SK Shahid, Asia Bibi’s counsel, said that he has filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court against the lower court’s judgment. “How can we expect from a non-Muslim to follow beliefs of the Muslims?” he asked. Various human rights groups are also likely to become party to the appeal, calling for the repeal of the judgment.
Mrs Bibi said that during the investigation held by Special Prosecutor Muhammad Amin Bokhari, she begged for pardon as she had never heard of the crime of blasphemy before. Mrs Bibi explained that she has not had access to a lawyer in jail and even on the day of her final verdict she was not accompanied by a lawyer. In court she was made to put a thumb print on the papers she was unable to read.
The Blasphemy laws have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries. Incidents of mob violence against non-Muslims, especially Christians, have also increased in this part of Punjab over the last few years, engineered by local extremists groups to give impetus to their religious and political base.
Blasphemy Laws in their present form were promulgated arbitrarily by the military dictator, Zia al-Huq, more than twenty years ago. Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist in 1996, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws.
Take action here: http://www.wluml.org/node/6789
The Violence is Not our Culture Campaign (VNC) and Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) are gravely concerned over the recent announcement made by the official Iranian television channel on alleged self-incriminating statements by Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani and several others on state TV last 15 November. We join the rest of the international community in denouncing this latest move by the Iranian authorities which adds more injustice to the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani.
In her third TV appearance to be stage-managed by the Iranian official media, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani described herself as “a sinner”, and described her supporters abroad as “defending me without any reason. I do not even know these people.” Her son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, was also shown confessing to lying about his mother’s treatment in prison. Her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kiyan, in an audio narration also ‘confessed’ to having told Sajjad to lie about the case. Both Sajjad and Javid have yet to be seen or visited by their families and lawyers since their arrest.
The two German journalists who were also arrested with Sajjad and Javid have allegedly also admitted, through a Persian voiceover, that they had been deceived by Mina Ahadi, a Germany-based Iranian woman campaigning on Sakineh’s case, who instigated their trip to Iran.
The journalists are currently detained in Tabriz and are facing charges of espionage.
Our human rights concerns
The following are our specific concerns on this latest development on the case of Sakineh in addition to what we have already stated in our previous statement issued last 12 November. http://www.wluml.org/node/6773
1. We are convinced that these ‘confessions’ shown on Iranian TV were made under duress and should not be accepted as evidence in court against Sakineh and others implicated in her case. Non-admission of evidence taken under duress is in accordance with Article 14(g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party.
2. We affirm that peaceful means of exercising the rights to freedom of expression and association, such as campaigning for the freedom and right to life of prisoners like Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, are to be upheld. Those who were implicated in the case of Sakineh and detained by the Iranian authorities without reasonable charge should be released immediately and unconditionally. If they have committed a criminal offence under Iranian law they should be tried promptly and fairly and in a manner consistent with the standards set forth by the ICCPR. They should be granted immediate access to lawyers of their choice and to their families.
3. We reiterate our call for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that best practices of due process and the rights to a fair trial are protected in all cases, and especially those punishable by the death penalty. We also call for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence to be dropped on humanitarian grounds, and for the government of Iran to consider implementing a moratorium on the death penalty for adultery cases.
We urge our allies and supporters to continue their actions by telephoning, emailing and/or sending a letter to the Iranian authorities as described in our previous Call to Action: UPDATE: Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani case: another test of Iran’s flawed justice system.
Female Prisoners Get Less Time Out of Cells; Family Visits Restricted
Syria’s prison authorities should immediately transfer women detained in the predominantly male `Adra prison to a facility for women, Human Rights Watch said last week. The authorities are holding at least 12 women among an estimated 7,000 men.
Syrian rights activists in touch with families of some of the detained women told Human Rights Watch that the women are held in a section of the prison under the control of Political Security, one of Syria’s multiple security agencies. They are only allowed out of their cell twice a week and family visits are subject to the approval of Political Security. Two female guards reportedly supervise the women directly, but male guards for the other prisoners have verbally harassed the women, the activists said. Male prisoners are allowed out of their cells for at least two hours twice a day and can receive weekly visits without Political Security review, male former prisoners told Human Rights Watch.
“We don’t know why Syria is keeping these women in `Adra prison, but we do know that their situation is precarious and they are being treated worse than their male counterparts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations-issued Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners say that, “Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions,” and, “No male member of the staff shall enter the part of the institution set aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer.” Syria has prisons for women, including a main facility in Douma, located in the suburbs of Damascus. Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine why some women are in `Adra prison.
Among the women in `Adra is Tuhama Ma`ruf, 46, a dentist detained there since February 10, 2010, to serve the remaining part of a sentence issued by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) in 1995 for membership in the unlicensed Party for Communist Action (PCA). Syria’s security services detained Ma`ruf in 1992 as part of a crackdown against the PCA, which no longer exists. Authorities released her on bail in 1993, but the SSSC sentenced her in 1995 to six years for “membership in an illegal organization.” At the time, Human Rights Watch criticized the trials against PCA members for due process violations and for criminalizing peaceful political activity.
Ma`ruf did not turn herself in after the sentence was issued in 1995 and lived clandestinely for the next 15 years. Security forces arrested her on February 6 and placed her in `Adra to serve the remaining five years of the sentence. Ma`ruf’s lawyers petitioned for her freedom, arguing that her sentence should be commuted because of the passage of time, but the SSSC prosecutor’s office rejected her request.
“Ma`ruf was sentenced to prison solely for her peaceful political activism, which is protected under international human rights treaties that Syria has ratified,” Whitson said. “The authorities should release her.”
The Syrian activists said that other female detainees in `Adra whose identities they know include Yusra al-Hassan, detained since January without any formal accusation or judicial referral. Her husband is being held by the United States in Guantanamo. Other female detainees in `Adra reportedly include members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) as well as women convicted on drug or prostitution-related charges.
We (Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson) have just visited the Gaza Strip where we met many courageous people trying to live relatively normal lives despite the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli blockade. The blockade was imposed to punish the Hamas-led government, but it is women and children who are paying the highest price.
In our conversations with a range of women, we learned that despite the apparent “easing” of restrictions by Israel and Egypt, important socio-economic indicators such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and family violence are getting worse. Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.
Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists. These restrictions are not being imposed through the introduction of laws, but rather through party-led initiatives that are enforced without any system of accountability. For example, there is no legal decree stating that all schoolgirls must wear a headscarf, yet those who don’t wear it are harassed. Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.
The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics. In Gaza, women already struggle to be heard. The absence of women from politics in turn fuels perceptions of women as passive; they are seen as victims of the ongoing conflict, rather than active participants in shaping opinions and political processes. Despite the extremely challenging circumstances in which they live, it was therefore encouraging to meet a remarkable group of women in Gaza who are working hard to counter prevailing stereotypes. They are doing it in particular through a UN mechanism called 1325.
Ten years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which recognized that sustainable peace could not be achieved in any conflict without the full participation — and protection — of women. We were impressed to see that women’s groups in Gaza are working hard to mobilize support for the democratic principles of Resolution 1325. At the heart of this resolution is the conviction that women, like men, have a right to participate as decision-makers in all aspects of governance: Women have a right to a voice in institutions that are democratic and accountable, including those that govern peacemaking.
Women’s groups in Gaza told us that they are doing their best to raise awareness about Resolution 1325 among local leaders. They have provided training to women on the ground in how to exercise their political rights. They have documented human rights violations and violence against women, and they participated in the UN investigation, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to establish whether war crimes were committed during the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. However, they don’t feel that there has been any positive improvement in the lives of Gazan women.
Women activists are clamoring for help from beyond Gaza: “What we do ourselves is not enough”, they told us. “We need help to make sure that our voices are heard in the outside world.” These women are very keen to join networks worldwide who are working on Resolution 1325 and women’s rights more generally; They want to stand in solidarity with women around the world and feel that they are not alone. They want to reach out to the wider international community, but they are penned in — the blockade prevents them from doing so.
This is one, largely unrecognized, price of the blockade of Gaza: It is hampering women’s efforts to cooperate and build a movement that can effectively advance gender equality. The effect extends beyond politics; the disempowerment of women hinders post-conflict reconstruction, reduces the likelihood that it will be sustainable, and prevents any meaningful progress on development.
As Elders, we call for the immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siege is a denial of dignity; it is the denial of rights of a people, particularly its women, who yearn to be free.
Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson are both members of The Elders. Mary Robinson was the first woman President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Lakhdar Brahimi is a distinguished diplomat and mediator. He was Foreign Minister of Algeria from 1991 to 1993 and has led UN missions in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Faith-based organizations are playing increasingly prominent roles in service delivery. However, the premise that such organisations promote gender equality and the empowerment of women needs critical re-examination.
Faith-based organizations play a central role in welfare provision and delivery in many parts of the world. They account for roughly 50 percent of health service provision in many African countries and play a significant role in the provision of education in South Asia, Latin America and Africa. The role of these organisations in AIDS treatment in Africa has also received recognition, providing 40% of HIV care and treatment services in countries such as Lesotho and almost a third of the HIV/AIDS treatment facilities in Zambia. There is an increasing interest on the part of many actors, not least donors and policy-makers, in using and promoting faith-based organizations delivering services to advance a variety of agendas.
The case for enlisting faith-based organizations to advance gender equality rests on three central claims. First, the possibility of calling upon religious leaders and organizations who can, through their high profile and legitimacy, endorse positive social change UNFPA (2008), for instance, provides some impressive case studies of recruiting religious leaders on AIDS campaigns and reproductive health awareness initiatives.
However, partnership with male leadership fails to guarantee that an equality agenda will be adopted, as the experience of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria( FOWMAN), a prominent faith-based organization shows. An alliance between FOWMAN and Islamic scholars and government has rendered the movement dependent on powerful men for legitimacy.
Second, the social networks provided by faith-based organizations and the help women receive through membership in churches and mosques can be crucial to their daily survival. Building social capital through membership in religious groups, however, raises concerns over social cohesion and the politics of exclusion in multi-faith communities.
Finally, a faith-based approach to development is claimed to allow for a more holistic understanding of needs that takes account of both material and spiritual dimensions. However, the distinction between spirituality and religious observance is often blurred when there is pressure to conform to one particular understanding of how faith should manifest itself in mores, behaviours and relationships.
Three conundrums are worth noting in relation to faith based organisations delivering services. While some provide women with a spiritual and social repertoire that may act to empower them, they may simultaneously prescribe (and circumscribe) the ways in which they are expected to exercise their agency. Furthermore, the assumption that FBOs working at the grassroots level necessarily emanate from the grassroots and respond to local concerns is questionable. The third conundrum concerns the implications of what may be termed as the “food-for-faith” relationship. These will be discussed in turn.
Start of a much longer article which continues at http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/faith-in-service-what-has-gender-got-to-do-with-it
Mr Stephen Lewis, a former United Nations Envoy on HIV and AIDS for Africa challenged the membership of five countries on the UN Agency on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Executive Board.
He explained that he disapproved of the membership of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bangladesh, Iran and Democratic Republic of Congo on the Executive Board because of their anti-gender laws and practices.
The UN Women was formed to support the Commission on the Status of Women and other inter-governmental bodies in devising policies and also helping member states to implement standards.
It is also to provide technical and financial support to the countries and assist them to forge partnerships with civil society.
Speaking at an international women’s conference in Accra on the theme: “Quality versus Quantity; How far have we come in promoting Africa women’s participation in politics,” Mr Lewis said the five countries’ membership ‘amounted to international trafficking of the rights of women.’
The Women’s Conference was organized by the African Women Development Fund to celebrate its 10th anniversary was attended by leading accomplished African women, including the Liberian President, Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ; Vice President of Malawi, Mrs. Joyce Banda, Ministers of State and Parliamentarians.
He said: “In Saudi Arabia, women are not entitled to drive; women require a male guardian’s consent to have a passport and to travel abroad. In a Saudi Court of Law, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.
“Its impossible to know from day to day where Libya falls on any given issue, the rights of women included, and its presence on the Board is akin to farce, Bangladesh is a country that stands against gender equality…and now they sit on the Board of UN Women.
“Democratic Republic of the Congo’s membership is a true travesty of the integrity of the UN Women; rape has been used unimpeded as a strategy of conflict throughout the war. And even though Iran lost the election to be a member, it was included in a block of 10 countries for an election by acclamation.
“Iran is a country where domestic violence is legal; marital rape is legal. A charge of rape can indeed be brought by a woman, but four male witnesses are required, or three men and two women, and if the charge fails, the woman who made the accusation receives 80 lashes.”
The UN Women is also mandated to hold the world body accountable for its own commitments on gender equality. The UN Women will be officially established on January 1, 2011.
The 41 board members were selected on the following basis: 10 from Africa, 10 from Asia, four from Eastern Europe, six from Latin America and the Caribbean, five from Western Europe and six from contributing countries.
Elected from the African Group were Angola, Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Lesotho, Libya, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea and Timor-Leste were elected from among the Asian States.
Estonia, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine were elected from among the Eastern European States, while Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden were elected from the Western European and Other States.
In addition, the Council elected Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada and Peru from the group of Latin American and Caribbean States.
The Council also elected Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, United Kingdom and United States from among the “contributing countries,” for three-year terms beginning today.
Headed by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, UN Women is the merger of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).
There isn’t really such thing as a “masculine” and a “feminine,” says feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Because we’ve been so deeply propagandized with the notions about what it means to be male or female, we don’t even know what the differences between these groups truly are. What we do know is that individual differences are much greater than group differences she says: “The differences between two women are quite likely to be bigger than the generalized differences between males and females as groups for every purpose except reproduction, just as the individual differences between two members of the same race or ethnicity are probably greater than the differences between two races.”
In her Big Think interview, Steinem sets the record straight about the oft-demonized feminist movement. Its purpose is not to attack men but “to free the uniqueness of the individual and to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment.” And in this pursuit, tremendous headway has been made, but there is still much more to be done.
Feminism isn’t dead, says Steinem. That’s merely a lie spread by the right. In the 1960s and ’70s, critics of feminism said that it wasn’t necessary, that women didn’t want these new rights and freedoms, and they are still propagating anti-feminist narratives. “The idea that feminism has not succeeded or that this generation has rejected it is just a new form of the backlash,” she says. But their efforts haven’t succeeded. “Even though the opposition has tried very hard to demonize [feminism] and to call us Femi-Nazis and terrible stuff, there are still about a third of American women who self identify as feminists with no definition and with the definition it’s more than 60%.”
We must also reassess our assumptions about men, she tells us. “We’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do,” she says. “Therefore children are still mostly raised by women, and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs: one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that, children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women.”
Another sign of positive change would be a change in the forms of pornography society consumes, says Steinem. Pornography is tantamount to female slavery: “It’s all about passive dominance and pain,” she says. “I want to pass a newsstand and see erotica, real erotica, which has to do with love and free choice, not pornography,” she tells us. The same is true of prostitution: men go to prostitutes because they need a certain kind of dominance, which she says is an addiction to masculinity. “What has been eroticized by male dominant systems of all kinds is dominance and passivity; we need to eroticize equality,” she argues. “I always say to audiences of men, ‘Cooperation beats submission.’ Trust me.”
Finally, Steinem tells us why Sarah Palin’s choice to brand “mama grizzlies” as the mascot for right-wing women is so ironic. Grizzly bears are actually the animals that most embody reproductive freedoms, she says.
A new Amnesty report launched in Jakarta on Thursday 4 November details the fatal consequences of denying access to sexual health services for women in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.
Left Without a Choice describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian women and girls by putting reproductive health services out of their reach.
Amnesty International’s research shows discriminatory practices and problematic laws are prohibiting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and endorsing marriage for girls younger than 16. The law requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion even in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally available contraceptive services to unmarried women and also to childless married women.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:
“Restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights are placing severe and potentially deadly obstacles in the way many women and girls can access reproductive health information and services.
“Indonesia must do more to ensure that old stereotypes and mindsets are replaced with a more forward-looking recognition of the problems and needs facing their wives, sisters and daughters.”
Interviews with Indonesian women and girls, as well as health workers, highlighted how restrictions increase unwanted pregnancies and force many women and girls to marry young, drop out of school, or seek an illegal abortion. An estimated two million abortions are performed in Indonesia every year, many of them in unsafe conditions.
Indonesia’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) is amongst the highest in the East-Asia Pacific region.
At 228 per 100,000 live births, Indonesia’s MMR is overall at least four times higher than in neighbouring countries, such as China (56), Malaysia (41) and Thailand (44).
According to official government figures, unsafe abortions are responsible for between five and 11 per cent of maternal deaths in Indonesia.
A woman or girl seeking an abortion (the legal age for criminal responsibility in Indonesia is eight), or a health worker providing one, may be sentenced to up to four and 10 years’ imprisonment respectively
Domestic violence in Indonesia is a serious problem. In 2010, Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence against Women reported a 263 per cent increase in the number of reported cases (143,586 cases) of violence against women compared with the previous year (54,425 cases).
Part of a longer article at http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19068
See also: Abortion is about balancing rights – religious medics don’t get the final say
The religious rights of a small group of medical professionals do not trump those held by the remainder of the citizenry
Federal Supreme Court Ruling Effectively Endorses Wife Beating
A decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court upholding a husband’s right to “chastise” his wife and children with physical abuse violates the right of the country’s women and children to liberty, security, and equality in the family – and potentially their right to life, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, citing the UAE penal code, sanctions beating and other forms of punishment or coercion providing the violence leaves no physical marks.
Human Rights Watch called on the government urgently to repeal all discriminatory laws, including any that sanction domestic violence.
“This ruling by the UAE’s highest court is evidence that the authorities consider violence against women and children to be completely acceptable,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Domestic violence should never be tolerated under any circumstances. These provisions are blatantly demeaning to women and pose serious risks to their well-being.”
The October 5, 2010 court ruling, a copy of which Human Rights Watch obtained, states that, “Although the husband has the right to discipline his wife in accordance with article 53 of the penal code, he must abide by conditions setting limits to this right, and if the husband abuses this right to discipline, he shall not be exempt from punishment.”
Article 53 of the UAE’s penal code acknowledges the right of a “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Shari’a. Similarly, article 56 of the UAE’s personal status code obligates women to “obey” their husbands.
The case was initiated with a trial of a man for kicking and slapping his 23-year-old daughter and slapping his wife at the Sharjah Court of First Instance in December 2009. According to the judgment, “medical reports confirmed the evidence of wounds to the daughter’s right hand and right knee, and evidence of wounds to the wife’s lower lip and injuries to her teeth.”
This court found the man guilty of violating article 2/339 of the penal code and fined him 500 dirhams (US $136). This penal provision on crimes against persons states that whoever assaults another person, if the assault did not reach the degree of seriousness to cause illness or disability, shall be sentenced to prison for a term not exceeding one year and a fine not to exceed 10,000 dirhams (US$2,722)
The Sharjah Court of Appeals upheld the decision on February 14, but the man appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the man guilty of abusing his daughter because she is no longer a minor and too old to be disciplined by her father. The court also found the man guilty of “abusing his Shari’a rights” when disciplining his wife because of the severity of that attack. The judgment states that, “The court, convinced of the appearance of injuries on the bodies of the plaintiffs, has overridden the defendant’s right to discipline due to his use of severe beatings.” In effect, the Supreme Court validated the penal code’s legalization of domestic violence, but found that in this case the abuse went too far.
In 2004, the UAE signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The convention’s General Recommendation on Violence against Women regards gender-based violence as a form of discrimination between men and women and calls on governments to take effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women, regardless of whether the act is private or public. The UAE also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1997. Article 19 of the CRC states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of violence, whether physical or mental.
“The UAE Supreme Court’s ruling lets stand a law that is degrading, discriminatory, and outright dangerous for women and children,” Khalife said. “The UAE needs to come to grips with reality of domestic violence, repeal all discriminatory provisions sanctioning violence against women and children, enact laws that criminalize such behavior, and provide appropriate services to victims.”
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
Women can’t stop rape. We’ve been trying for decades.
From the early days of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminists have launched anti-rape campaigns. But, while rape crisis centres continue to promote the message that rape is not a women’s issue – rather it’s a social problem that can only be rectified by a change in the male mentality into one that acknowledges men’s power to stop rape – few people seem to be listening.
In Australia, we’ve seen evidence of male sexual violence inherent in Rugby League and several elite boys colleges, while in Canada, photos of the gang rape of a teenage girl were posted to Facebook.
According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life. Seventy per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a family member, friend or workmate. Of the remaining 30 per cent of sexual assaults most are committed by a person the victim meets socially or goes out on a date with. For one in 10 adult women who are sexually assaulted the perpetrator will be their current or past intimate partner.
Why these men believe it’s ok to rape or sexually assault a woman or girl is bound up in conceptions of gender normativity and the imbalance of power between men and women that flows from such assumptions: Masculinity is associated with dominance and virility while femininity is deemed passive. Men’s sexual prowess is regarded as something ‘natural’, while women’s sexuality must be controlled.
One of the negative outcomes of the current obsession with ‘raunch culture’ is the slut-shaming of women and girls who dare to be sexual – sometimes with many different partners; who dare to explore their sexuality and desires – sometimes in public.
A recent example is the ThinkUKnow campaign created by the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and developed by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia. While its motives may be honourable – protecting young people from unwanted images of themselves being distributed without their consent – the delivery is not. A short video, ‘Megans Story’ shows a teenage girl walking into class happy and confident after ‘sexting’ her boyfriend. Her confidence turns to shame and humiliation as the sext is forwarded to her classmates and teacher, and she runs out of the room in tears. The message is clear: If a boy behaves inappropriately (by forwarding a private sext of his girlfriend), the girl is to blame, not him.
This is a spin-off of the victim-blaming mentality that says a woman was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing, or because she left a party with a group of men.
When are we going to see a prolific national campaign to educate boys and men that it’s their responsibility for not raping or sexually assaulting girls or women? When is it going to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum to teach boys from a young age that it’s not ok grab a girl’s breasts or genitals unless she explicitly gives permission? When are we as a society going to redefine what ‘makes a man’ and reject the hyper-masculine qualities that see women violated sexually as an activity that bonds ‘real’ men together?
Let’s be clear: The rape of women by men is not about men’s uncontrolled lust – it’s about power and domination that stems from fear and hatred of the female and the feminine.
On 29 October national Reclaim the Night rallies will be held across Australia and other parts of the world in which women march through the streets to protest against men’s sexual violence. These events first took place internationally in 1976 and the fact they still need to happen today is a sad indictment of men’s refusal to acknowledge and use their power to stop rape.
Some men have made an effort in this area, such as Men Can Stop Rape, an international organisation that aims to redefine masculinity by mobilising men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women, but they are few and far between.
By and large, preventing rape is still put on women’s shoulders. Well-meaning college campuses distribute advice to female students on how to avoid being sexually assaulted: don’t get drunk or stoned, don’t leave a party with a group of guys or alone, carry a whistle. The problem is, it’s all about controlling women’s behaviours, not those of men.
A Facebook friend recently circulated a document that turns the tables and offers “100 per cent foolproof tips to prevent rape/sexual assault”. It includes helpful suggestions to potential rapists such as: “Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself assaulting someone, ask a friend to stay with you when you are in public” or “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”
Facetious as some of the advice may be, it’s a stark reminder that there is only one way to stop rape: Don’t do it.
Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger
To combat prostitution and sex trafficking, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services in 1999. Its record since then stands out amid the failures of legalized prostitution elsewhere in Europe.
At a time when some governments are trying – and failing – to combat sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution, Sweden’s innovative approach stands out as an exemplary model of lawmaking that reduces prostitution, penalizes men, and protects women.
As human trafficking became an increasing global problem in the 1990s, Sweden took an intensive look at its prostitution policy. It concluded that a country cannot resolve its sex trafficking problem without targeting the demand for prostitution. In 1999, Sweden passed landmark legislation that made it illegal to buy sexual services.
The legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”
Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.
The key to the law’s effectiveness lies not so much in penalizing the men (punishments are modest) but in removing the invisibility of the buyers and making their crimes public. Men now fear being outed as prostitution users.
In July, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the first 10 years of the law. While acknowledging that much remains to be done, the report’s findings are overwhelmingly positive:
• Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases.”
• There is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet.
• Extensive services exist in the larger cities to assist those exploited by prostitution.
• Fewer men state that they purchase sexual services.
• More than 70 percent of the Swedish public support the law.
Initially critical, police now confirm the law works well and deters other organizers and promoters of prostitution, especially traffickers, who find in Sweden an intolerant environment in which to sell women and children for sex. Based on National Criminal Police reports, Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking have not increased during the past decade. [Editor’s note: The original version of this sentence wrongly suggested that National Criminal Police reports made this comparison.]
Sweden’s progress contrasts sharply with the dismal results of other European countries that have professionalized pimping, brothels, and additional aspects of the prostitution industry.
Failures of legalized prostitution
In 2002, Germany decriminalized the procuring of prostitution, made it legally easier to establish brothels and other prostitution enterprises, lifted the prohibition against promoting prostitution, and proposed contracts and benefits for women in prostitution establishments.
In 2007, a federal government report found that the German Prostitution Act had not improved conditions for women in the prostitution industry nor helped them to leave. It had also failed “to reduce crime in the world of prostitution.” Finally, the report stated that “prostitution should not be considered to be a reasonable means for securing one’s living.”
The government is now drafting an impoverished version of Sweden’s law that would merely punish buyers of those forced into prostitution or who are victims of trafficking. Which raises the question: Why would a buyer ask her if she’s a victim – and why would she tell him?
Netherlands’s experiment with legalization has been equally grim. Two reports in 2007 and 2008 heralded official disenchantment with the results of a 2000 law that made prostitution and the sex industry legal.
The government-commissioned 2007 Daalder report found that the majority of women in the window brothels are still subject to pimp control, and their “emotional well-being is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects.”
A 2008 Dutch National Police report states it more strongly: “The idea that a clean, normal business sector has emerged is an illusion…” Like the Germans, the Dutch are now proposing an amendment that would penalize the buyers, but only those who purchase unlicensed persons in prostitution. Still, it’s an oblique indication that the concept of penalizing buyers is gaining ground.
The Nordic model
The failed policy of legalization of prostitution in Europe helped the Swedish model to become the Nordic model in 2009 when Norway outlawed the purchase of women and children for sexual activities. Results were immediate and dramatic one year after the Norwegian law came into force.
A Bergen municipality survey estimated that the number of women in street prostitution had decreased by 20 percent with indoor prostitution also down by 16 percent. Bergen police maintain that advertisements for sexual activities have dropped 60 percent. Effective monitoring of the telephone numbers of buyers who respond to such ads not only enables police to identify and charge buyers but also exposes a wider network of criminal groups involved in child prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking. In Oslo, the police also report that there are many fewer buyers on the street.
The same year as Norway, Iceland passed a strong law criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. Earlier in 2004, Finland approved an anemic version of the Nordic model. This left Denmark as the outlier with no legislation targeting the demand for prostitution.
Criminalizing demand works. Police report that it becomes less profitable for pimps and traffickers to set up shop in countries where their customers fear the loss of their anonymity. Less profit means less prostitution and less violence against women.
Not only in Europe but also in the Philippines and Korea, the prostitution policy tide is turning from legalization to addressing the demand for prostitution. The United Nations has prohibited their peacekeepers and related personnel from buying women for sexual activities in prostitution, even if prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction in which they serve.
Countries that want to fight sexual exploitation cannot sanction pimps as legitimate sexual entrepreneurs and must take legal action against the buyers.
By Janice Raymond, professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the board of directors of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared at http://www.portside.org