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11/25/2014 - Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal Responds to Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

The following is the statement of Eleanor Smeal, the Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation:

"The Feminist Majority Foundation is outraged at the decision not to indict Darren Wilson.

This should have been a public trial. Wilson should have been charged immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown, who was shot at least six times and left unattended to in the streets of Ferguson for at least four hours.

If Brown, who was an unarmed Black teenager, can't get justice when the entire world is watching, how can any other Black person expect to receive justice if shot by a white police officer?

If this was an isolated case it would still be an atrocity, but it is not. There is a pattern and practice of police brutality against people of color in the United States, especially against Black women and men. Let us not forget the 13 Black women who were raped and sexually assaulted by an on-duty Oklahoma City police officer. In just the last two weeks, 2 more Black women, Tanesha Anderson and Aura Rosser, were gunned down by officers in Ohio and Michigan, respectively.

Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor in the Brown case has never indicted any police officer involved in any shooting and chose to slow walk this case. He used a secretive grand jury, instead of charging the officer and allowing this to be a public trial.

This is a grave injustice. The failure to hold a public trial disrespects the African American majority in Ferguson that peacefully demanded transparency. The Black community's legitimate grievances have been disrespected. Instead, Ferguson and Missouri have acted with a militarized response from day one, until today when the Governor has called out both the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the decision.

We urge the Prosecutor to honor his word to release all evidence produced in front of the Grand Jury. Now more than ever, the Department of Justice Civil Rights investigation and action is needed as soon as possible.

Ferguson has put the nation on edge because this is not simply about Ferguson, but it is about a broader US experience of a culture of impunity surrounding members of law enforcement in dealing with African Americans and Latinos. "There is now testimony from a large coalition of American citizens representing Black constituencies from not only Ferguson, but also Chicago, Miami, Ohio, and other areas with the United Nations Committee Against Torture to classify this pattern of excessive police force as a form of torture in the United States, not only on the street, but also in prisons."

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11/25/2014 - Marissa Alexander Has Accepted a Plea Deal

Marissa Alexander, the woman imprisoned for firing a warning shot in the presence of her abusive husband, chose to accept a plea deal Monday with the state of Florida, pleading guilty to three felony counts of aggravated assault.

As part of the plea deal, Alexander received three years imprisonment, but she will be credited for the time she's spent behind bars. As of Monday, Alexander must serve another 65 days in Duval County Jail. After that time, Alexander must spend another two years on house arrest. She will wear an ankle monitor and be permitted to leave her home only to go to work, church, her children's school, and doctors' appointments. Alexander will remain in custody until January 27.

Alexander, an African-American survivor of domestic violence and the mother of three children, was initially sentenced to 20 years for aggravated assault, charges that resulted from a 2010 incident during which Alexander fired warning shots to stop her estranged husband, Rico Gray, from assaulting her. Alexander had previously locked herself in a bathroom to escape Gray, who then broken down the door and grabbed Alexander by the neck. She then tried to flee the home through a garage, but could not open the door to the outside. While in the garage, Alexander grabbed a gun. She fired the warning shot only after Gray, who had a history of domestic violence with Alexander, threatened, "Bitch, I'll kill you." No one was injured as a result of Alexander's actions.

Alexander was convicted in 12 minutes. Her conviction was later overturned by a state appeals court in September 2013. The appeals court found that the trial judge had improperly instructed the jury on self-defense and ordered a new trial, which was set to begin this December.

During its most recent session, the Florida state legislature expanded its law to include warning shots as a protected means of self-defense, but this summer, a judge refused to rehear Alexander's case on the basis of the state's revised Stand Your Ground law. Advocates from around the nation had called on State Attorney Angela Corey to drop all the charges against Alexander, who had already spent 1,030 days in prison. Instead, Corey sought a new 60-year sentence for Alexander using Florida's 10-20-life mandatory minimum sentencing statute for gun offenses.

The Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign has raised over $100,000 for Alexander's legal defense. In a statement issued shortly after the plea deal was announced, the group pledged to continue their work. "Alexander's case has unfolded in the context of the larger crisis of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts black women and survivors of domestic and sexual violence," they said. "The ACLU estimates that 85-90% of people in women's prisons have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse."


11/24/2014 - The City of Louisville Has Overwhelmingly Approved a CEDAW Resolution

The city of Louisville, Kentucky approved a resolution that will use the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as a framework for all future policy aimed at ending gender-based discrimination.

Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh introduced the resolution, which passed overwhelmingly on November 6. The resolution declares that the city of Louisville is committed to eliminating violence against women and girls, promoting the health of safety of women and girls, and providing equal academic, economic, and business opportunities in the city.

Several state and local governments have passed local CEDAW resolutions, and two cities have passed CEDAW ordinances, including San Francisco, California, in 1998, and Los Angeles, California, in 2003.

The Louisville resolution was supported by the Louisville Coalition for CEDAW and praised by Cities for CEDAW, a campaign of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women/New York (NGO/CSW NY) that "promotes the adoption of CEDAW principles in cities large and small as a framework for improving the status of women and girls." The Cities for CEDAW campaign plans to recruit 100 US municipalities to implement CEDAW locally.

The campaign is built around the idea that the fastest growing and most politically influential bases are cities. The UNA-SF estimates that by 2050, nearly 80 percent of the world's women and girls will live in urban areas, and in the US, the number of women in leadership roles at the municipal level is quickly growing. According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, there are 249 female mayors of US cities with populations over 30,000 - the greatest raw value of any elective office in the US.

Every participating city's CEDAW ordinance must fulfill three requirements: a gender analysis of city operations; the establishment of an oversight body; and funding to support the full implementation of the principles of CEDAW.

The US was instrumental in drafting CEDAW, and President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty on July 17, 1980. However, the US has never ratified the treaty which is the most comprehensive and detailed international agreement which seeks the advancement of women. It establishes rights for women in areas not previously subject to international standards. Now, the US is one of only 7 countries that still have not ratified the treaty.

Take Action: Tell your Senator to support CEDAW!

Media Resources: Louisville Kentucky Government 11/14/14; CitiesForCEDAW.org; United Nations Association of the United States of America-San Francisco Chapter 2/28/14; Center for American Women in Politics Fact Sheet on Women in Elective Office 11/2014; The Women's Treaty: CEDAW


11/24/2014 - UVA President Suspends Greek Life Organizations After Revelation of Campus Rape Culture

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan announced on Saturday that all fraternities and sororities will be suspended until January 9 in the wake of several allegations of rape at the university. The decision closely follows the release of a Rolling Stone article detailing a pattern of rape and sexual assault occurring at UVA fraternities, which has caused student and faculty protests and sparked national outrage.

In a letter to the UVA community President Sullivan writes that the many rape allegations described in Rolling Stone are "appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community." Sullivan has called on the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate one case in particular, occurring in 2012 and the main subject of the Rolling Stone article.

Sullivan wrote that the UVA Inter-Fraternity Council announced a voluntary suspension of all social activity for the weekend, but that "our challenges will extend beyond this weekend," and she therefore is suspending all Greek life social activity until January 9, the start of the new semester. Tommy Reid, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, says the fraternities will be using the time to reach out to sexual violence prevention groups such as One in Four and Green Dot. Sullivan says she will use the intervening time to assemble groups of students, faculty, and other related parties to discuss steps for preventing rape and sexual assault. She also encouraged members of the UVA community to review and respond to the university's Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is open for public comment.

Since the Rolling Stone published its investigation, UVA has faced pressure from alumni and the general public to respond to the allegations and make changes to keep students safe from sexual assault on campus. On Saturday night several hundred students participated in a faculty-led protest, which took place on the campus Rugby Road and ended in front of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, the site of the alleged rape detailed in the Stone article. The rally, titled "Take Back the Party: End Rape Now!" was part of a series of responses to the prevalence and tacit acceptance of sexual assault on the UVA campus.

"Usually in terms of speaking with our students and being concerned with their lives, we stick to intellectual conversation in the classroom," said Professor Susan Fraiman, one of the organizers of the Saturday night rally. "But this is something of enormous importance, so we wanted to be out here on the street. We wanted to make a statement as faculty, to say that sexual violence against women will not be tolerated."

Take Action: End rape culture on your campus with the Feminist Campus Campaign to End Sexual Assault.


11/24/2014 - Last Abortion Clinic in Cinncinnati Will Remain Open

A decision by the Ohio Department of Health to exempt a Planned Parenthood clinic from a recent Ohio TRAP law means that the last remaining abortion clinic in Cincinnati will remain open.

The Ohio Department of Health threatened to shut down Planned Parenthood's Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center last month after the clinic could not obtain a transfer agreement with a local private hospital as required by an Ohio TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law signed by Republican Governor John Kasich last year. If the clinic had closed, the city of 2.1 million people would have become the largest metro region in the country without an abortion clinic.

The Ohio TRAP law requires abortion clinics get a written agreement with a local hospital willing to take patients from the clinic in an emergency - even though these emergencies are extremely rare and hospital emergency rooms must already accept patients in emergency situations. Under the law, however, existing clinics could apply for a variance that would exempt the facility from the requirement.

The Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center had applied for a variance over a year ago, when it received the initial notice threatening to rescind the clinic's operating license. Planned Parenthood subsequently filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this month.

On Thursday, however, the health department director, Richard Hodges, granted the clinic's request for a variance, allowing the facility to keep open its doors.

"We are pleased that ODH [Ohio Department of Health] has approved of the emergency plan we have in place for patients," said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio. "This ruling will ensure that women in Southwest Ohio continue to have access to safe and legal abortion." Planned Parenthood has arranged care with four doctors at local hospitals in cases of emergency.

In grating the variance, Hodges reiterated that he could revoke approval of the variance at any time. Under Ohio law, the health department director's decision is final.

A clinic in Sharonville called Women's Med was recently declined the exception by the health department, and clinic in Dayton, also a Women's Med clinic, is seeking the exception but has not yet heard back.

Laws like the Ohio TRAP law jeopardize women's health by purposefully making it more difficult for clinics to remain open. Ohio's law is particularly onerous as Governor Kasich also signed rules that prohibit publicly-funded hospitals from having transfer agreements with abortion clinics, leaving clinics at the mercy of private hospitals, many of whom are religiously-affiliated and oppose abortion.


11/24/2014 - Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal Responds to Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

The following is the statement of Eleanor Smeal, the Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.




"The Feminist Majority Foundation is outraged at the decision not to indict Darren Wilson.

This should have been a public trial. Wilson should have been charged immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown, who was shot at least six times and left unattended to in the streets of Ferguson for at least four hours.

If Brown, who was an unarmed Black teenager, can't get justice when the entire world is watching, how can any other Black person expect to receive justice if shot by a white police officer?

If this was an isolated case it would still be an atrocity, but it is not. There is a pattern and practice of police brutality against people of color in the United States, especially against Black women and men. Let us not forget the 13 Black women who were raped and sexually assaulted by an on-duty Oklahoma City police officer. In just the last two weeks, 2 more Black women, Tanesha Anderson and Aura Rosser, were gunned down by officers in Ohio and Michigan, respectively.

Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor in the Brown case has never indicted any police officer involved in any shooting and chose to slow walk this case. He used a secretive grand jury, instead of charging the officer and allowing this to be a public trial.

This is a grave injustice. The failure to hold a public trial disrespects the African American majority in Ferguson that peacefully demanded transparency. The Black community's legitimate grievances have been disrespected. Instead, Ferguson and Missouri have acted with a militarized response from day one, until today when the Governor has called out both the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the decision.

We urge the Prosecutor to honor his word to release all evidence produced in front of the Grand Jury. Now more than ever, the Department of Justice Civil Rights investigation and action is needed as soon as possible.

Ferguson has put the nation on edge because this is not simply about Ferguson, but it is about a broader US experience of a culture of impunity surrounding members of law enforcement in dealing with African Americans and Latinos. "There is now testimony from a large coalition of American citizens representing Black constituencies from not only Ferguson, but also Chicago, Miami, Ohio, and other areas with the United Nations Committee Against Torture to classify this pattern of excessive police force as a form of torture in the United States, not only on the street, but also in prisons."

###



11/21/2014 - STATEMENT: Feminist Majority Foundation Applauds President's Executive Order on Immigration

Statement from Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation president:

"The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds President Obama for taking much needed executive action to help fix our broken immigration system that has for too long torn hardworking families apart. We also commend the tireless grassroots activists who fought for this victory for themselves, their children, and their families.

"For the past year and a half, House Republicans have blocked a comprehensive immigration reform bill from coming to a vote. Their failure to vote up-or-down on a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, or to propose a plan of their own, has pushed millions of people into the shadows and has threatened not only our economic security but our nation's families and communities.

"That's why President Obama had to take this action now: to keep families together. Our nation's immigrants have earned this protection, working in our farm fields, our food processing facilities, and our construction sites as well as cleaning our buildings and taking care of our sick and our children.

"It is estimated that the reforms announced by the President will enable up to 5 million immigrants to apply for temporary relief from deportation and for work authorization. Up to 5 million people will now be able to live their lives without constant fear of deportation, without the fear that they will be separated, sometimes forever, from their families and loved ones and forced to return to a country where some no longer have any ties.

"Although the announced executive actions are an important first step, we continue to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will reach all immigrants and that will ensure that everyone has access to comprehensive health care. The current plan does not enable taxpaying immigrants who qualify for temporary relief to access the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) healthcare marketplaces, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)."


11/21/2014 - Fifth Circuit Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Blocking Mississippi TRAP Law

The full US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Thursday refused to reconsider a panel decision blocking enforcement of a Mississippi law that threatened to close the last remaining abortion clinic in the state.

In July, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction against a Mississippi TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. Had the law gone into effect, Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO), would have had to shut its doors.

"For now, the sole clinic providing safe, legal abortion care can keep its doors open for the women of Mississippi," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing JWHO in the lawsuit. "Earlier decisions in this case have rightly recognized the very real and severe harm that would befall countless women in Mississippi if the state's only abortion clinic were shuttered."

Admitting privileges requirements are a political tool used by anti-abortion politicians to close abortion clinics. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these laws, which have no health benefit and do not increase patient safety. In fact, admitting privileges laws jeopardize women's health by cutting off access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

After the Mississippi law was passed, two of the three doctors affiliated with JWHO attempted to obtain admitting privileges at at least seven Jackson-area hospitals, but every hospital denied their request, even though the doctors are both board-certified OB-GYNs. Reasons for the denials included "the nature of your proposed medical practice" and fear that extending privileges would disrupt the hospital's relationship with the community.

The case will now return to the federal district court for a full hearing on the challenge to the law. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who announced in his "state of the state" speech - on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade - that his goal was "to end abortion in Mississippi," has indicated that he intends to defend the TRAP law and would take the case to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.


11/21/2014 - UN Expert Calls for Action To End Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo returned last week from a nine-day official visit in Afghanistan with a call to the Afghan Government and the international community to continue its focus on creating sustainable solutions to reduce violence against women.

This was Manjoo's third visit to Afghanistan, and the Special Rapporteur noted many positive developments since her travel to the country in 1999, during the Taliban regime, and in 2005.

In particular, Manjoo cited the creation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW) by presidential decree in 2009 as "a key step towards the elimination of violence against women and girls."EVAW criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women - including rape, child and forced marriage, domestic violence, trafficking, and forced self-immolation - and specifies punishment for perpetrators. Although enforcement of EVAW has remained a challenge, the law was recently used last month to convict and sentence a local mullah to 20-years imprisonment for the rape of a 10-year old girl in Kunduz.

Despite this success, Manjoo noted with concern that many women and girls continue to lack access to the formal justice system. Her investigation also found problems with corruption within the justice system as well as distrust concerning the ability of the courts to appropriately adjudicate matters related to women's rights. These factors combine with societal pressure to push women and girls outside of the formal justice system to resolve disputes.

Afghan women and girls are reluctant to report crimes of violence. Manjoo reported several reasons, including "lack of knowledge of the law and its protective remedial provisions; fear of reprisal from the perpetrators and family members; financial and other constraints, including the lack of freedom of movement; and fear of being treated as criminals instead of victims, when reporting crimes committed against them."

Afghanistan, however, has several opportunities to address barriers to eliminating violence against women. A comprehensive review of the Penal Code is expected to be carried out over the next year. According to Manjoo, this review will include gender-based violence crimes, including sexual harassment. In addition, Afghanistan is expected to draft a new, comprehensive family code.

Manjoo found that the legislative and institutional developments in Afghanistan were "a reflection of political will in addressing the promotion and protection of women's rights which is further reflected in the appointments of women in high level positions." That political will is likely to carry on, as newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken a public stance of support for promoting women's rights, and his wife First Lady Rula Ghani actively works on advancing women's issues.

The role of the international community in supporting efforts to end violence against women in Afghanistan is also key. In the preliminary statement of her findings, Manjoo wrote that the increase in efforts over the past decade by the international community to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan was noticeable during her most recent visit, and she called on the international community to stand with Afghanistan to continue this work.

"It is crucial to recognize that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and that it is strongly linked to the social, cultural and economic situation of women," wrote Manjoo. "The importance of accountability as the norm for acts of violence against women cannot be over-emphasized, more especially within a context of generalized impunity for violence in public and private spheres. Accountability for all crimes committed against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and, the transformation of society, need to remain a focus for the government of Afghanistan, independent State institutions, civil society organisations and also the international community."

She continued, "It is imperative that the best interests of all women and girls in Afghanistan should guide the response of relevant stakeholders to ensure coherent and sustainable solutions, in the quest to address the individual, institutional and structural causes and consequences of violence against women and girls."

Manjoo's findings will be discussed in a comprehensive report presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.


11/20/2014 - Transgender Day of Remembrance Raises Awareness of Dangers of Transphobia

Transgender people are about 400 times more likely to be assaulted or murdered than cisgender people. This, and other sad realities are a product of a culture that does not accept those who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Today marks the 15th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a memorial for all transgender (and other non-gender-conforming people) who have lost their lives due to hatred and violence toward their identity.

Each year a list is compiled of all transgender lives lost since the last Day of Remembrance. Events are held internationally to memorialize those lost. This year, 81 names are listed on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website, and 226 names are reported by Transgender Europe. The original Day of Remembrance was held in Allston, Massachusetts, to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman of color who was killed in November 1998.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance website writes: "The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn't perform. ... Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who've died by anti-transgender violence."

In one example, a woman named Tiffany Edwards, 28, was killed in Ohio when a man shot her to death. In his official defense, the man accused said he felt "trans panic" when she "came on to him."

The list of names, along with photos when available, of the lost transgender people can be found here, and a full list of events for the Transgender Day of Remembrance can be found here.


11/20/2014 - Federal Appeals Court Rejects Priests for Life Challenge to Birth Control Coverage Rule

In a victory for women's health, a unanimous panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Friday rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive coverage benefit brought by Priests for Life, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and other religiously affiliated non-profit organizations.

Judge Nina Pillard, a former law professor who was nominated to the DC Circuit by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in December, wrote the opinion for the Court, which found that the ACA birth control benefit did not substantially burden or violate non-profits' religious freedom.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies must cover the full cost of all FDA-approved contraceptives - including the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception - without requiring co-pays or cost-sharing. Religious employers, like churches, are entirely exempt from this requirement. Religiously affiliated non-profit organizations that object to providing birth control coverage to their employees, are entitled to an accommodation. These non-profits must only inform their health insurance issuer, third party administrator, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of its objection. At that point, these organizations are no longer required to play a role in providing or subsidizing birth control. The insurance issuer or third party administrator would be solely responsible for providing birth control benefits to affected employees.

The DC Circuit panel found that this accommodation - which the plaintiffs in Priests for Life claimed would violate their religious beliefs - put no substantial burden on religious non-profits exercise of religious freedom.

"All Plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they believe and seek what they want via a letter or two page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations" compliance with law in the modern administrative state," wrote Judge Pillard. "Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms."

The fact that others may provide contraceptive coverage to these religious non-profits' employees did not mean that the non-profits were aggrieved under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to the Court, there is "no RFRA right to be free from the unease" of knowing that third parties may "act in ways their religion abhors."

The decision also pointed out that the religious accommodation provided the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest - namely, ensuring women's health and providing to women the equal benefit of the preventive care coverage guaranteed by the ACA. Judge Pillard specifically noted that "The contraceptive coverage requirement derives from the ACA's prioritization of preventive care, and from Congress recognition that such care has often been modeled on men's health needs and thus left women underinsured."

Directly after the ruling, Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life indicated that the group would continue to challenge the law. "The court is wrong," he said, "and we will not obey the mandate."

The DC Circuit is the third federal appeals court to reject non-profits' challenge to the accommodation. This decision is the first appeals decision since the US Supreme Court decided Burwell v. Hobby Lobby this summer. The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with 12 other national and local organizations, joined an amicus brief, submitted by the National Women's Law Center in support of the birth control benefit rule in the DC Circuit case.


11/20/2014 - Oklahoma City Police Officer Charged With 36 Counts of Sexual Assault Will Go to Trial

After a two-day preliminary hearing, an Oklahoma state court judge ordered that Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, will stand trial for sexually assaulting 13 African-American women while on duty.

Holtzclaw is charged with 36 counts of sexual assault, including six counts of first-degree rape, and multiple counts of forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, and indecent exposure.

During the hearing, all 13 women gave testimony against the police officer, who is alleged to have used his power as an officer to commit these crimes. One woman testified that she was forced to perform sexual acts: "It was either that or the county jail." Another woman testified, "He was an officer. And I was scared. And I knew he could hurt me."

A 17-year old girl also offered testimony that Holtzclaw, after threatening her with arrest, pulled down her shorts and forced her to have sex with him on the front porch of her mother's home. "What am I going to do? Call the cops? He was a cop," she testified. "I was afraid of what could happen to me if I was snitching." Prosecutors introduced DNA evidence found inside of Holtzclaw's pants matching that of the girl.

Another woman testified that Holtzclaw stopped her as she was walking through her neighborhood. The 52-year-old said the officer put his hands under her blouse, and when she resisted, he put his hand in her pants. After this, she said Holtzclaw told her, "OK, you don't have anything in there. You can go."

Police began investigating Holtzclaw after one of the survivors reported an assault in June. The other 12 women had not reported Holtzclaw until they were contacted by detectives investigating the June assault. Many of the women feared reprisal or that they would not be believed.

"Who are they going to believe?" the 17-year old told the court. "It's my word against his. He's a police officer."

In their written testimony to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Black Women's Blueprint referenced the Holtzclaw case as symptomatic of a larger pattern of practice among law enforcement officials in the US that most often plays out in communities of color. In their report, they highlighted that despite the fact that black women and racially-mixed black women are more often the victims of rape than their white counterparts, they are much less likely to get a conviction for a sex crime.

Holtclaw has pleaded not guilty. He remains out on $609,000 bail. During the hearing on Tuesday, protesters outside of the courthouse called on the court to rescind bail.


11/19/2014 - Ms. Wonder Awards Honor Young Grassroots Leaders in Anti-Violence, Fair Wage Movements

"I don't think I've ever been in a room with so much personal history, and so much future," Gloria Steinem opened.

Today, Ms. Magazine and Ms. publisher, the Feminist Majority Foundation, celebrated grassroots feminist activism at the 2014 Ms. Wonder Awards Luncheon and Ceremony.

Know Your IX, Black Women's Blueprint, the #CarryThatWeight Movement, and End Rape on Campus were all honored for their work to end campus sex assault at colleges and universities nationwide. Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward organizers representing four cities and the state of North Carolina were honored for their work to raise the wage for fast food workers through direct action and some of the largest labor strikes in recent history.

Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy and Research, Gaylynn Burroughs presented Wonder Awards to the organizations working to end sexual violence on campus. "I had the chance to meet some of them earlier," Burroughs said, "and they are fierce."

Know Your IX is a grassroots, survivor-run, and student-led campaign to end gender-based violence on campuses across the country. The organization focuses on educating students about their right to an education unencumbered by violence and harassment, and they advocate for stronger federal enforcement to protect that right. The organization takes its name from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which explicitly "prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity."

In 2013, Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW Program delivered over 100,000 signatures from organizers, survivors, and student activists demanding that the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights conduct more transparent, timely investigations and issue meaningful sanctions against non-compliant schools - something it had never done for violations of Title IX related to sexual assault. Dana Bolger, Founding Co-Director, and Chandini Jha, the Outreach Coordinator for Know Your IX, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

The Black Women's Blueprint works within Black communities and on historically Black college and university (HBCU) campuses to fight rape and sexual assault. Last week, the organization testified before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland, where they called on the UN to hold the United States accountable for the rape and sexual torture of black women by law enforcement and public officials, as in the case of Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. "Thank you for making us visible," Farah Tanis, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the organization said.

Black Women's Blueprint also spearheaded the Black Women's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Violence, which combines civil and human rights research and action, as well as community organizing and public education campaigns to prevent sexual assault of black women and girls.

Through her extremely personal endurance performance artwork, Emma Sulkowicz launched a national movement and made the fight against campus sex assault visible in a new way. The #CarryThatWeight Movement was born out of Sulkowicz's own experience as a rape survivor. Columbia University did not expel the student who raped Sulkowicz and two other females on campus. That prompted the idea for her senior thesis project, titled Mattress Performance: CarryThatWeight. Every day, Sulkowicz has carried a dorm room XL twin-size mattress to symbolize the weight she carries as a survivor who must still attend school with her rapist.

A coalition of college students and activists who advocate for stronger campus policies on behalf of domestic violence and sex assault survivors coordinated the national #CarryThatWeight Day of Action. On October 29, students across the country carried mattresses and pillows across their campuses to stand in solidarity with survivors, and to show their support for the movement to end sexual violence and rape culture.

Feminist Activist and Ms. Co-Founder and Consulting Editor, Gloria Steinem, gave Sulkowicz a standing ovation as she received her Wonder Award. Sulkowicz thanked her family and friends for supporting her "crazy idea" to carry a mattress for nine months.

Andrea Pino, Co-Founder of End Rape On Campus, thanked the sponsoring organizations for recognizing the work of the awardees being honored, but encouraged the room of more than 400 feminist activists to remember all the ways campus sex assault impacts survivors long after the violation has occurred. "Perpetrators are graduating while survivors are dropping out of school," Pino said, stopping to share her own fear that she may not get her bachelor's degree, or go on to law school because of the sexual violence that disrupted her education.

Pino became the first person in her family to attend college when she was awarded a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After being raped by another student, running into retaliation, and meeting other survivors, Pino and four other students filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education against UNC. Pino also helped draft the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which was introduced and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of US Senators this summer.

A group of young activist leaders and fast food workers from Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and North Carolina accepted Wonder Awards for their work fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to unionize. Ashona Osborne has worked for McDonald's, and now Wendy's, for a total of six years. As the mother of a young child, Osborne said the fight is about more than a wage. "We don't only need $15, we need a consistent schedule," she said. Osborne recalled paying for childcare and paying to take public transit to work, only to be told she wasn't needed for work. "I'm here today because I want to change that," Dijon Thornton from New York City said.

The workers represented have been arrested and, even now, risk losing their jobs because of their work to raise the wage, but they are not deterred. Ashona Osborne and Brittney Berry from Chicago have been arrested twice. "Both times I felt like I was the modern day Rosa Parks," Osborne said.

Dolores Huerta, President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and member of the Feminist Majority Foundation Board of Directors, thanked the workers for their courage, and urged the audience to join this modern day labor movement. "They know that if they don't do it, no one is going to do it for them," Huerta said.

Gloria Steinem stressed the need for cohesive grassroots organizing to push the work of feminist activists forward. "Only bottom up organizing can defeat this kind of inequality - and there is inequality everywhere," she said, pointing to the outcome of the 2014 midterm elections, and stressing the power of the masses to push back against disenfranchisement and unrepresentative leadership. "It is crucial that we pay attention to the state legislatures," Steinem remarked. "They are redistricting themselves into perpetuity."

She called on the audience to engage in contemporary feminist struggles like the fight for workers' rights, and to draw energy from the young activists being honored. "There is a wave of organizing in the 'pink collar ghetto'...something we haven't seen since the 1930s," she said.

"(You) in this room can do it...this is what defeats the money power of the Koch brothers."


11/19/2014 - "1 In 3" Campaign Is Holding Its First-Ever Online Speakout This Week

The 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth that highlights the stories of women who have had abortions, will host its first-ever online "speakout" event this Thursday.

The speakout, which will run from 1 to 9 p.m. EST, will be recorded live in Washington, D.C. and livestreamed at the 1 in 3 website. Participants can share via Skype, prerecorded video, or live in the Advocates for Youth studio.

The project aims to challenge abortion stigma and create a culture of empathy, compassion and support for abortion access, according to the 1 in 3 site.

"We are really excited," said Julia Reticker-Flynn, Associate Director of Organizing and Mobilization at Advocates for Youth. "Every hour is chock full with people from across the country who will share their stories."

For more information or to get involved, visit http://www.1in3campaign.org/speakout.


11/18/2014 - Afghan Women's Rights Leader and Parlimentarian Survives Suicide Bombing Attack

Afghan law maker and prominent women's rights leader Shukria Barakzai survived a suicide bombing attack on her armed vehicle on Sunday, November 16. Three people were killed and more than 20 wounded in the attack, which took place several hundred feet from the Parliament building where Barakzai was headed.

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On Sunday morning, a car rammed into Barakzai's armored vehicle, at which point a suicide bomber detonated his explosives. Barakzai escaped the attack with minor injuries, as did the driver of her car, but three civilian bystanders were killed in the blast.

An elected member of Afghanistan's Parliament, Barakzai has long been a champion for women's rights in a male-dominated society. She is known for being outspoken about corruption and injustice, even in the face of many enemies, and once remarked of her fellow legislators, "Our Parliament is a collection of lords. Warlords, drug lords, crime lords."

Barakzai is a close ally of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who recently helped launch "Promote," the largest women's empowerment program in the world. Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack as "heinous act as against all Islamic and Afghani values." Barakzai approves of Ghani's ambitious agenda for promoting women's rights and promise for change. She was appointed by President Ghani as a member of the team charged with helping to chose the new Presidential cabinet.

Barakzai, who helped run underground schools for girls during the Taliban-era, has been a vocal critic of the Taliban and has received death threats from many different extremist groups, but as of yet no group has claimed responsibility for this attack.


11/18/2014 - Sexual Assault Awareness Events Are Taking Place Throughout the Country This Week For

"It's On Us" launched a nationwide Week of Action yesterday, with students at campuses throughout the country hosting events calling on everyone to play a role in ending campus sexual violence.

The It's On Us campaign, coordinated by Generation Progress, was launched in September by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and builds on the White House's campaign against college sexual assault. Various universities, non-profit organizations, sports teams, and women's rights organizations have joined the campaign as partners, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

The focus of It's On Us is bystander intervention, which was spotlighted in the "Not Alone" report issued by the White House Task Force to Prevent Campus Sexual Assault as a successful tool for shifting cultural norms around sexual violence and engaging individuals in creating safe spaces. Bystander intervention efforts, often targeted at men, empower individuals to speak up when they see violence or abuse, and intervene in high-risk situations where sexual assault might occur.

During the Week of Action, student activists will be encouraging individuals to take the pledge to recognize campus sexual assault, intervene when necessary, and help create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. Activists are also hosting self-defense seminars, bystander intervention training, and creating their own Public Service Announcements on campus sexual assault.

"The Week of Action is building on the momentum from this fall and getting more people involved so we can include them next year and in the spring," said Generation Progress' It's On Us campaign manager Kristin Avery. "Our goal is to really spark as many conversations as we can."

Under the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the White House has made ending campus sexual assault a leading priority. In addition to creating the White House Task Force to Prevent Campus Sexual Assault, the White House has created a website, www.notalone.gov, where survivors can locate resources and learn how to take action against universities that failed to protect them.

One in five women are sexually assaulted in college. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of sexual violence on campuses, only 12 percent of campus sexual assault survivors report their assault to authorities or administrators. Dozens of schools are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases, and a rising tide of student activism has compelled legislators and community members to mobilize in recent years around awareness and prevention efforts.


11/17/2014 - NFL, Black Women's Roundtable Finally Meet to Tackle Domestic Violence

National Football League Commissioner, Roger Goodell finally met with members of the Black Women's Roundtable last week after failing to invite any women of color to weigh in on the League's initial plan of action on domestic violence.

Two months ago, Goodell announced the formation of an advisory board tasked with leading institutional reforms related to relationship violence and sexual assault. Goodell appointed an all white female trio to lead the advisory board, despite the over-representation of African Americans in the NFL, and as the Black Women's Roundtable pointed out, despite the overwhelming representation of African American women among relationship violence victims.

In an open letter to Goodell, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civil Participation and Convener of the Black Women's Roundtable, called on the League to bring a more diverse pool of experts to the table to ensure the diversity of the people impacted by any changes is reflected.

According to the New York Daily News, the League has responded positively to criticism that the Advisory Board has a diversity problem. In early October the League appointed Tony Porter and Dr. Beth E. Richie as consultants to the group. Porter, who heads the violence prevention program A Call to Men, was originally named as one of the two life-skills training and education resource professionals the NFL planned to turn to for players' professional development support. Dr. Richie is the director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as professor of African American and gender studies at the University. A spokesperson for the Black Women's Roundtable told the Feminist Newswire their team has long been "very impressed" with Dr. Richie's credentials.

In a statement issued to the public, Melanie Campbell said the two-hour meeting on Friday with the commissioner "covered a lot of ground."

The meeting comes just as Ray Rice  waits for the outcome of an arbitration hearing that could lead to his reinstatement with the NFL. Conflicting testimony about Rice's confession to the commissioner has again brought Goodell under fire. During the two days of hearings, Ravens' General Manager Ozzie Newsome reportedly testified that Rice did not lie to the Commissioner about punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer Rice. However, Goodell has repeatedly said Rice was "ambiguous" about his actions. That contradiction could determine the outcome of Rice's appeal, which is entirely based on the claim that Goodell punished Rice twice for the same incident.


11/17/2014 - TIME Apologizes for Including 'Feminist' In Worst Words Poll

TIME Magazine has apologized for putting the word "feminist" on its list of words to ban in 2015.

"At last, TIME comes to its senses. Obviously 'feminist' is a worldwide movement for equality of women that cannot and must not be trivialized. Too many women's lives depend on it. It's very important that leaders from every walk of life, not only declare they are feminist, but help to empower women and to end the violence against and exploitation of women," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.

Here's the full apology:

Time apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word "feminist" should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.
- Nancy Gibbs


 


11/17/2014 - Victory: TIME Apologizes for Including "Feminist" in Poll of Words to Ban

After facing sharp backlash, TIME magazine issued an apology over the weekend for including the word "feminist" on its poll of words to "ban" in 2015.

"At last, TIME comes to its senses," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Obviously 'feminist' is a worldwide movement for equality of women that cannot and must not be trivialized. Too many women's lives depend on it. It's very important that leaders from every walk of life, not only declare they are feminist, but help to empower women and to end the violence against and exploitation of women."

The full apology, which is included as an editor's note above the poll, reads,

"TIME apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word "feminist" should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.


Nancy Gibbs"


The apology came after several activist organizations petitioned TIME to remove the word "feminist" from its poll and to apologize. Feminist Majority Foundation supporters sent 9,833 petition emails to Gibbs, TIME's Managing Editor.


The original TIME poll was created to have users vote on which popular Internet slang word was most annoying and should be "banned" for 2015. The list included "yaaassss," "bae," "turnt," and "basic." Activists argued the inclusion of "feminist" on the poll downplayed the importance and the work of the feminist movement.





11/14/2014 - TIME Magazine Faces Backlash for Attempting to Ban the Word Feminist

Time Magazine is facing backlash after a poll they released last week listing the work "feminist" alongside popular slang terms on a list of words that should be "banned" in 2015.

TIME posted a poll to its readers asking them to vote on a list of words that may cause you to "seek out the nearest pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums." Among common slang terms like "bae," "turnt," and "on nom nom nom," TIME also posted the word "feminist," for which the Magazine is now receiving a lot of negative attention.

The magazine lists reasons as to why each word on the poll makes them "cringe," and the reason for listing "feminist" is attributed to the word becoming "a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party." Despite the fact that TIME's current cover artist is Taylor Swift, and Swift discusses her recent claiming of the title "feminist" within the feature article, TIME seems to think it might be appropriate and necessary to ban the word.

In a response to TIME's poll, Huffington Post writer Emma Gray reminds us of the power behind the title "feminist." "Feminists have, after all, achieved women's suffrage, fought for equal pay, demanded affordable and comprehensive healthcare, organized on college campuses to tackle the issue of sexual assault, and have fought tirelessly to achieve women's equality. Gray writes that banning the word is not only offensive to the majority of women who identify as feminist, but "doing so, in essence, would erase the existence of a decades-long social movement."

The poll has caused an uproar on social media, and the Feminist Majority Foundation released a petition to Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs, writing "Your poll adds to the hateful push against those who fight for equality every day" and asking Gibbs to "please reconsider and remove the word from your poll." Currently, the petition has been signed by over 6,000 people.

Take Action: Bothered by the TIME article? Sign the petition here, and let them know!


11/14/2014 - Fifth Circuit Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at University of Texas

The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has refused to rehear a ruling that permits the use of race as a factor of consideration in undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas.

In a brief order issued on Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit indicated that the decision to refuse rehearing was 10-5.

Twice before, the Fifth Circuit sided with the University of Texas at Austin in a case brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who believes UT discriminated against her when she was denied admission six years ago. UT considers race as a factor for roughly 25 percent of students who are not admitted under the Top 10 percent rule, which grants automatic admission to the top students of a high school's graduating class. Fisher did not meet the 10 percent threshold and was denied admission. She claimed that UT rejected her because of her race and that the school's admission policy is therefore a violation of the 14th Amendment.

"We are pleased with the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit," UT Austin President Bill Powers said in a statement following the Court's decision. "The University of Texas at Austin is committed to maintaining a student body that provides the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. The exchange of ideas and cultural richness that occurs when students from diverse backgrounds come together on our campus prepares all our students for life in a global society."

Fisher's attorneys plan to file an appeal to the Supreme Court within the next 90 days.

The Supreme Court is not unfamiliar with the case. In 2012, the Supreme Court heard Fisher's appeal from the Fifth Circuit's original ruling in favor of the University. At that time, the Supreme Court voided the Fifth Circuit's decision and sent the case back for the Fifth Circuit to determine whether the University's use of a race-conscious admissions policy could survive "strict scrutiny." After hearing the case again, the Fifth Circuit continued to uphold the University's admissions policy.


11/14/2014 - UN Committee Reviews US on Police Brutality and Gender-Based Violence

Police brutality, military sexual assault, and gender-based violence in the US came under scrutiny this week as the United Nations Committee Against Torture conducted its periodic review of the United States' compliance with the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

In preparation for the review, the UN asked the United States to provide the Committee with specific information on what steps the US has taken to "prevent and punish violence and abuse of women," in particular women of color. The Committee also requested information on "brutality and use of excessive force by law enforcement officials and ill-treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular racial minorities, migrants and persons of different sexual orientation."

To assist the Committee with its review, US-based advocates, organized by the US Human Rights Network, provided information, reports, and testimony earlier this week.

The Black Women's Blueprint, which will be honored by Ms. magazine with a Wonder Award next week, provided the Committee with its report, "Invisible Betrayal: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States." The report highlights how Black women's experience of rape and sexual assault constitute a form of torture. The group also focused on the continued minimization of sexual violence as it relates to Black Women. As an example, the group cited the recent arrest of white Oklahoma City, Oklahoma police officer Daniel Ken Holtzclaw. Despite facing 16 felony counts of sexual assault and misconduct - including the sexual assault, rape, stalking, fondling, and indecent exposure of himself to at least eight black women while on duty - Holtzclaw was released on $500,000 bond, after having an initial $5 million.

The report goes on to note: "Despite the facts that 22 percent of Black women and 50 percent of racially mixed Black women experience rape in higher amounts when compared to white women, the long-standing legacy and continued devaluing of Black women as legitimate victims of rape and assault generally compound Black women's continued victimization and likelihood to get a conviction against a police officer no less."

Women's All Points Bulletin (WAPB) provided the Committee with information on the hyper-policing of transgender women of color. "Transgender women are four times more likely to experience police violence compared to all victims of police violence," according to WAPB, and 22 percent of all who've had an interaction with law enforcement reported they were harassed, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted by an officer. More than one-third reported "they were harassed by correctional staff while a sizeable portion had reported being physically (16 percent) and sexually (15 percent) assaulted" with rates increasing for people of low-income or racial minority backgrounds.

Appearing before the Committee on Wednesday, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., parents of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown who was slain by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August, testified about the excessive use of force that ended their son's life. Martinez Sutton, the brother of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd spoke on behalf of his family as well. Boyd was killed when an off-duty Chicago police officer fired his gun at another unarmed man in 2012. No member of law enforcement has been fully prosecuted in either case. The family of Israel "Reefa" Hernandez Llach, along with the Dream Defenders and the Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services, also testified about a Miami Beach, FL police officer's reckless use of a taser that ended 17-year-old Llach's life.

Abortion and military sex assault were also brought before the UN this week. The Global Justice Center and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) asked the UN to regard the US policy that denies safe abortion services to people raped in conflict zones as a violation of the Convention. The groups reiterated the Committee's repeated stance that "access to abortion, at least in certain circumstances, implicates the rights guaranteed by the Convention" and that "impediments to safe abortion access, in particular for rape victims, lead to 'grave consequences, including unnecessary deaths of women.'"

The Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Now, the Global Gender Justice Clinic at Cornell, the Military Rape Crisis Center, and the Service Women's Action Network also submitted testimony calling on the UN to recognize military sexual assault as a reality that "violates service members' right to be free of torture." The groups acknowledged some effort by the US Department of Defense to address the prevalence of sex assault in the military, however, they said, "By failing to adequately prevent and address incidents of sexual violence in the US military, the DoD fosters a culture of impunity."

The US has been a party to CAT since 1994. The Committee Against Torture conducted its review of the United States on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The Committee will continue to meet through November 28.


11/13/2014 - Maternal Death Rate in West Africa Expected to Rise Due to Ebola

One in seven women could die during childbirth in the West African countries most impacted by the Ebola crisis, according to members of the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of aid organizations in the UK.

Though on the decline before the outbreak, maternal mortality rates in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea were still some of the highest in the world. Now, these rates are expected to soar. The state of many local hospitals and clinics, strained by the influx of patients fighting the disease, has discouraged pregnant women from seeking antenatal care due to fear of interaction with bodily fluids. Korto Williams, the head of ActionAid in Liberia, said online videos have emerged of women giving birth in the streets with no help, because bystanders feared they had the disease.

"We have to do more to stop this horrendous prediction (from) coming true," Williams said. "We have to ensure that pregnant women get the care they urgently need or we will see the rate of maternal deaths skyrocket. Ebola has taken enough lives already."

According to the World Health Organization, more than 13,000 people have been infected with the disease since March. Almost 5,000 people have died in the three worst-hit countries. Some healthcare providers have turned into exclusive Ebola treatment facilities, leaving pregnant women, and people battling other diseases like malaria or tuberculosis, without any care. Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said Ebola is having a "huge impact on wider health issues," even spilling over into public education. "No children have gone to school since March and pregnant mums are avoiding health clinics and hospitals," Forsyth said, adding that where pregnancy-related admissions averaged 80 a day, they are now around 20.

According to the UN Population Fund, of the 800,000 women that are expected to give birth over the next 12 months in the three countries, 120,000 will likely face complications that could lead to death if the current strain on medical services is sustained. If that happens, the maternal mortality rate could jump 20 times higher than it is now.

Aid groups are working to train more care givers and staff Ebola treatment facilities. Save the Children has worked with more than 250 providers and midwives, and has provided sanitation supplies to help workers stay safe. Meanwhile, there has been a drop in the number of new Ebola cases in Liberia, but the groups warn that the outbreak is far from over.

UN Women has been calling for a "gender-based" humanitarian response to the Ebola crisis that targets outreach services specifically to women. The UN Country Team in Sierra Leone launched an Ebola Gender Mainstreaming Strategy last month to better integrate women into all aspects of the Ebola response. The Strategy seeks to "build confidence among heath workers, and reestablish trust among communities to utilize public health facilities and services."


11/12/2014 - 12 Countries Have Called on El Salvador to Stop Criminalizing Abortion

12 countries have come out this week in public opposition of El Salvador's extreme abortion ban.

As part of a review currently being conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK all submitted statements urging El Salvador to lift its complete ban on abortions. The assessment, the Universal Periodic Review, is conducted regularly by the United Nations to see whether UN member states comply with human rights commitments.

"The chorus of countries worldwide calling for El Salvador to end its unjust abortion ban is growing ever larger and louder," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). "The Salvadoran government cannot ignore the calls any longer, and must not be allowed to evade accountability for the human rights abuses that countless women continue to suffer. Access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right, not a crime." There are currently about 28 countries that hold full bans on abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

El Salvador's abortion ban makes no exceptions for rape, incest or threats to a mother's life or health. Women for the last 16 years have faced prison charges of up to 30 years for attempting to take control of their reproductive rights - and, in some cases, for having miscarriages.

El Salvador, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in all of Latin America, has put the lives of women and girls on the line with their draconian ban on abortion. Since the ban was instated, hundreds of girls and women who became pregnant after rape have committed suicide every year, and teen pregnancy is reportedly one of the leading causes of suicide in the region. Nearly one third of all pregnancies in El Salvador occur in girls between 10 and 19, but initiatives to improve sex education in schools and to improve contraception access have been denounced by the powerful Catholic Church in El Salvador.

In 2013, a 22-year-old caled "Beatriz" sought relief from an unviable pregnancy in El Salvador, but the Supreme Court denied an abortion to the young woman. Beatriz's life was at risk, and she was ultimately forced to undergo a C-Section to end her pregnancy.

To make matters worse, a strong stigma surrounding rape prevents girls and women from reporting sexual violence - and of reported sexual violence, only a small number of perpetrators actually go to jail. "Sometimes the person carrying out sexual violence is the family's sole breadwinner," Mario Soriano, a doctor who works with adolescent development in El Salvador, told Reuters, "and so the possibility that their economic help will be taken away is used as a threat against the girl not to report the crime."

El Salvador's government has chosen to postpone a response to the UN recommendations until the next session in March 2015. "Now more than ever the international human rights community must continue to advocate and pressure the Salvadoran government to ensure women's reproductive rights," said Monica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at CRR.


11/12/2014 - United States and China Announce Landmark Climate Change Deal on Carbon Emissions

After almost a year of negotiations, the US and China announced an unprecedented pledge to limit their carbon emissions, giving hope to climate change activists worldwide.

This morning, President Obama pledged that the United States will increase their efforts to curb carbon emissions, aiming for a 26-28% decrease in overall emissions by 2025, and President of China Xi Jinping announced the country's first-ever commitment to cap fast-growing carbon emissions by 2030. As the United States and China are the two largest producers of carbon emissions, the pledge has been largely praised by international communities interested in preventing climate change.

This move by Presidents Obama and Xi follows an urgent environmental push by the UN through the release of their report on climate change earlier this month. The report warned of the "clear and growing" human influence on the climate, stating that if we were to continue with its "business as usual" attitude, climate change will increase severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

Brian Dixon, vice president for media and government relations at Population Connection, places the decision within the context of global impact. "Certainly by itself, this is not going to solve the problem," he told Feminist Newswire, "but it's important that these two countries are willing to take aggressive steps to deal with our carbon issue."

The two goals are highly ambitious, and already there has been some criticism from Republicans for President Obama's plan. To meet the 2025 goal, the US will have to more than double carbon pollution reduction from an average of 1.2 percent per year to an average of 2.8 percent per year until 2025. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the plan "unrealistic," and thinks it "would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs." Many more people, however, are applauding the landmark agreement and its implications for the environment. Former president Al Gore called the decision "a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis."

Although the United States' agreement to cut back emissions is still far from what the UN has called for, President Obama is optimistic. "This is a major milestone in the US-China Relationship," he said while standing alongside President Xi this morning, maintaining that "[the US has] a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change."

China and the United States made more than one agreement during President Obama's meeting with President Xi. As well as the historic climate change pledge, the two presidents agreed on the importance of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, increasing cybersecurity, strengthening military relations and increasing trade.