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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.
An Afghan court convicted seven men for the gang rape and robbery of four women in Paghman district near the city of Kabul.
According to reports, a group of men - some dressed in police uniforms and carrying assault rifles - stopped a group of cars traveling in Paghman last month, pulled the women from their cars, and raped them in a nearby field. The women had been traveling with their families; one was pregnant. The men also beat the women and stole their jewelry and phones. After the attack, the women were taken to a hospital by their families. The attack was reported to police after one of victims died in the hospital.
The vicious public attack received national attention and sparked outrage among Afghan women leaders. Last week, President Hamid Karzai speaking at a women's group event after meeting with a delegation of women about the attack, said "I am strongly against the death penalty and I have always been against it, but I have asked for the death penalty, and I asked the Chief Justice to issue a death sentence for these criminals."
Judge Safiullah Mujadidi conducted the trial on Sunday, which was televised nation wide in Afghanistan. During the trial, the victims appeared publicly in the courtroom to identify their attackers. Another woman, allegedly raped by the men three years ago, also identified the men as her attackers.
Hundreds of Afghan women and men rallied in the streets of Kabul chanting and holding signs saying, "My sister is your sister," "Raping women is raping the nation," and "We demand justice from the government." The Afghan Women's Network held rallies in eight cities in Afghanistan calling for "immediate justice" and showing support for the victims.
After a short trial, the court convicted all seven men on various counts related to the attack, and sentenced them to death. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the speed of the trial - which reportedly lasted only two hours - and possible due process violations. The men will have a chance to appeal.
The Paghman attack has brought national attention to violence against women in Afghanistan and the need for a more robust response to crimes committed against women. One activist on Sunday, told reporters, "If this act goes unpunished, the women of Afghanistan will continue to be victims. This is really a very significant moment, I would say, even maybe in the history of Karzai's government."
President Karzai issued the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law) in 2009 by executive decree. The law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. The law, however, has had mixed results. While more crimes against women have been reported, overall there is still massive under-reporting of violence against women, according to a report released by United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last year. In addition, the report found inadequate investigation of these crimes and continued lack of prosecution.
As of September 15, same-sex couples in Ecuador will finally be able to register their civil unions. Same-sex marriage in Ecuador is still illegal, but the status of civil union will be noted on national ID cards, and will allow certain legal and financial benefits to the couple.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa met with LGBT leaders days before the announcement. At the meeting, Correa received a report from the leaders that documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people in Ecuador that were a result of the lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
"If there was any doubt about heterosexual or same-sex civil unions being put on national ID cards, there is none any more," Correa told Telesur after the announcement, "and if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights."
Trans-feminist activist Diane Rodriguez, who attended the meeting with Correa, told Think Progress that the new resolution is a "huge step forward." She continued, "It's like giving us full citizenship," exampling that, "in emergencies, my partner can make decisions about my health care at a hospital. Or at the bank, we can open a joint account." Rodriguez, however, noted that civil unions do not bring the full rights of marriage, pointing out that same-sex couples in Ecuador still cannot adopt children together.
Homosexuality itself was illegal in Ecuador until 1997, but since then significant progress has been made toward LGBT equality. Ecuador is currently ranked just under the US and Mexico in terms of their protection of LGBT rights on the Social Inclusion Index of 2014. Same-sex couples, however, are constitutionally banned from marrying, and President Correa has stated that he does not support same-sex marriage in Ecuador.
Over a hundred people celebrated the August 25th "Orange Day to End Violence" with a bicycle race in Bamyan, Afghanistan hosted by the nonprofit organization Shuhada.
Fifteen girls participated in the race to raise awareness about violence against women. Many others, including government and education leaders in the province, escorted them to the finish line. Prizes were given to the top three winners.
In a news item, the Shuhada Organization noted, "For more than a decade, civil society in Afghanistan, with the support of the international community, has advocated to end gender-based violence, with a particular focus on violence against women and girls. As a result, significant progress and achievements have been made to ensure equal rights for women and girls. Today, women's rights and equality between men and women are enshrined in the Afghan Constitution and the Ending Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law)."
Through the celebration of Orange Day, Shuhada, with the support of UN Women, aimed to promote awareness of and support for the EVAW Law, especially among youth, men, and faith-based leaders. The law, which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators.
Zahra Hussini, a member of the biking team that competed, also used the occasion to share her concern about the lack of resources for young women in sports. "I wish, one day, the girls of my country would participate at the international level without facing any kind of race, gender or ethnic discrimination," Hussini said. Hussini said even the act of riding a bicycle can be challenging for females. "We get a lot of harassment, and it is not a common thing for women to do in Afghanistan," she said.
Started by the United Nations Secretary-General's UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, Orange Day has been celebrated all over the world since July 2012. The focus of August 25 was ending violence against girls.
Approximately 63 percent of sexually active Cameroonian women who want to avoid pregnancy do not have access to a modern form of contraception, according to a recently released report by the Guttmacher Institute and the French Institut de Formation et de Recherche Demographiques (IFORD).
Around 6,000 Cameroonian women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. A tragic figure, representing the reality of living in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, with 782 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. But, according to the report, "Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Cameroonian Women," nearly 30 percent of these women did not want to become pregnant in the first place.
Women cite several reasons for not using contraception, including the lack of adequately trained health care providers, frequent unavailability of contraceptive supplies, and limited choice of methods. As a result, they are at risk for unintended or mistimed pregnancies. The poorest women are especially at risk, with 90 percent of them at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. On average, the poorest women in Cameroon have two more children than they report wanting. These women are also the least likely to have access to quality obstetric care.
About 36 percent of unintended pregnancies in Cameroon end in abortion, but restrictions on the procedure force women to resort to clandestine, potentially lethal methods of abortion. However, according to the report, if the need for contraceptives for all women were met, there would be a 75 percent decrease in unplanned births, abortions and miscarriages. The lives of 1,300 women who die in pregnancy and childbirth would be saved each year, and there would be 13,000 fewer infant deaths annually. Additionally, each dollar spent on contraceptive services would save the Cameroon health system $1.23 on maternal and newborn care.
Globally, 529,000 women and girls die each year due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal, abortions. Although maternal deaths have dropped 45 percent since 1990, only 11 countries have reached their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015, and several countries - including the United States - actually saw their maternal mortality rates increase over the last decade.
Increased international funding for maternal health care and family planning that is inclusive of contraception and abortion is vital to reducing maternal mortality. To fully combat maternal death, however, governments everywhere need to take an even broader approach by empowering women and girls economically and socially, confronting sexual violence and conflict, providing comprehensive health care, ending child marriage and ensuring that girls everywhere have access to basic education.
Children should begin receiving formal education about sexual health as early as age 10, according to a new study published in the journal Global Public Health.
The study's researchers note that although sexual health programs typically focus on older adolescents, sexuality and gender identity begin emerging between the ages of 10 and 14. Programs should therefore be refocused to to help ensure that this age group has the opportunity to learn about sexual health, contraception, and healthy relationships well before they begin experimenting with sexual activity.
"As younger adolescents experience rapid transitions to unfamiliar experiences and face life-changing situations such as leaving school, having sex, becoming parents or acquiring HIV, parents, teachers and concerned others have a narrow window of opportunity to facilitate their healthy transition into later adolescence and adulthood," the researchers write. "If programs, based on the healthy adolescent framework, rooted in human rights and gender equity, are implemented at a time when adolescents are still malleable and relatively free of sexual and reproductive health problems and gender role bias, very young adolescents can be guided safely through this life stage, supported by their parents, families and communities."
These findings call into question the wisdom of sex education, even in the US, that starts well-after most teenagers have already become sexually active as well as abstinence-based programs. But, the study authors emphasize that formal sexual education is especially important in lower- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world's adolescents live.
The World Heath Organization reports that complications from pregnancy and childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls, and each year, an estimated 529,000 women and girls die worldwide - some 70,000 from unsafe abortion - with millions more left maimed or injured. Ninety-nine percent of these pregnancy-related deaths occur in the developing world. While there are many other factors compounding this issue, including child marriage and lack of access to modern contraception, improved sexual health education for adolescents could help to prevent some of the thousands of maternal deaths worldwide, as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
After three days of unprecedented meetings between the US and leaders from nearly 50 African countries, the US Africa Leaders Summit ended Wednesday. In addition to public and private commitments of up to $33 billion for trade and investment, the United States called on leaders of the African continent to make a considerable investment in advancing the status of women and girls.
Before the summit kicked off, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, part of the President's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). There, she emphasized the need to address the status of women and girls across the African continent and commit to making girls' education a priority. "We all know that the problem here isn't only about resources, it's also about attitudes and beliefs. It's about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It's about whether societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether they view women as full citizens entitled to fundamental rights," she said.
Mrs. Obama acknowledged the advances made in decreasing maternal mortality, and increasing female legislative representation, but she explicitly condemned gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), forced child marriage, human trafficking, rape, and domestic violence, calling the practices "serious human rights violations" not "legitimate cultural practices."
"These practices have no place in our shared future, because we all know that our future lies in our people - in their talent, their ambition, their drive," Mrs. Obama said. "And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens."
President Barack Obama echoed the same sentiment when he announced an infusion of $3.3 billion to support the first of four regional leadership centers being established across the continent to spur youth cultural and economic development. "If you're a strong man, you should not feel threatened by a strong woman," he told the group during a town hall. The leadership centers - which will launch first in Kenya in 2015, then expand to Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa - will provide leadership training and professional development opportunities to young Africans who aspire to leadership roles across the continent, most of whose population is under the age of 35 and predominantly female in many countries.
Wednesday, the last day of the official Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, turned the focus to the health needs of African women and girls. The two called on first ladies to maximize their role for the benefit of the continent's females. Former President George W. Bush also addressed women's health needs, announcing commitments of $2.2 million from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to expand the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon health partnership program on the continent.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is a joint effort founded by the Bush Institute in Dallas, along with PEPFAR, Susan G. Komen, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The program works to reduce the rate of breast cancer and cervical cancer, the top cancer killer of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The White House called this week's summit the largest event any US President has held with African heads of state and government.
The first World Day against Trafficking in Persons took place Wednesday in an effort by the United Nations to bring attention to the continuing need for international support to help trafficking victims and end impunity for perpetrators.
Millions of people are still trafficked every year, sold to work in brothels, fields, and sweatshops. Although men, women, and children are trafficked globally, human trafficking, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, affects women and girls more than any other group in the world, and a majority of all people trafficked - 79 percent - are sexually exploited.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "This first World Day against Trafficking in Persons is a call to action to end this crime and give hope to the victims, who often live unrecognized among us."
The World Day against Trafficking in Persons will be held every year on July 30. The resolution to create the World Day was adopted by the UN in 2013. The resolution stated the day is necessary to "raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights."
The Twitter hashtag #IGiveHope was used in conjunction with the World Day against Trafficking in Persons to show solidarity with the millions of people who suffer as a direct result of the human-trafficking crisis.
Human trafficking is considered a form of modern-day slavery. It is ranked as the third greatest revenue source of organized crime after narcotics and arms, according to the UN. The people who are trafficked tend to be those who are already victims of war, poverty, discrimination and/or violence. The most common forms of trafficking are: labor trafficking, which includes child labor, child soldiering and working in sweatshops; sex trafficking, which includes child sex tourism and "mail order brides;" and domestic servitude.
Norway has provided a $15 million grant to the Nigerian government to help the country reduce maternal and child mortality. The grant comes days after the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey of 2013 results spotlighted persistently high rates of child marriages and maternal deaths across the nation.
Nigeria currently accounts for 13 percent of the world's maternal deaths, with 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth each year. The Nigerian Health Ministry is currently working to carry out the Harmonized Country Plan of Priority Interventions (HCPPI) with the intention to save the lives of an additional 420,000 mothers and children by 2015 at a total cost of $650 million, but was facing a significant challenge funding the program. With Norway's help, the program will now flourish.
"The Tripartite Agreement we have signed today represents one of the many efforts to meet the resource gap," said Nigeria's Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu. "We have available commitments totaling $121 million currently being mobilized through projects from the Private Health Sector Alliance, UNICEF, GFATM, the Federal Ministry of Health, USAID, and GE Healthy Imagination among other, leaving $299 [million] outstanding."
Nigeria's HCCPI will target three northern states - Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina - and expects to reduce maternal and neonatal death by 40 percent before the end of 2015, saving the lives of 2961 mothers' lives and 19,825 small children.
In allowing for better implementation of HCPPI, Norway's grant will help Nigeria meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)by next year. The fourth and fifth MDGs called on countries to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds, reduce their national maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters, and achieve universal access to reproductive health and family planning. In Nigeria, only 9.8 percent of women are using family planning services, and 16.1 percent have an unmet need for family planning services.
7/16/2014 - Church of England Votes to Allow Women Bishops
The General Synod, the decision-making body of the Church of England, voted Monday to allow women to become bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, supported the vote, saying he thought the public would find the exclusion of women "almost incomprehensible."
"This is a watershed moment for the Church of England and a huge step forward in making our society fairer," said Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister of England. "Allowing women to become bishops is another long overdue step towards gender equality in senior positions. I welcome the Church of England's decision which means that women can now play a full and equal role in the important work of the Church."
Parliament will now consider the changes. If Parliament approves them, a formal announcement will be made in November at the next meeting for the General Synod. Women can start to be appointed as assistant bishops early next year, and the first woman could be appointed as bishop by next summer.
The General Synod began to ordain women as priests in 1994. Women now hold senior positions and make up about one-third of Anglican clerics. A strong push to allow women to become bishops began in 2005, but a small margin of lay representatives in the General Synod blocked it in 2012. This conflict led to discord within the church, as well as between the church and the government, since it is the official church of England.
Women already serve as bishops in some countries with Anglican Communion churches, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada, while others do not even ordain women as priests.
The Nigerian Demographic Health Survey of 2013 (NDHS) revealed persistently high child marriage rates and a need for increased family planning resources in Nigeria.
Nigeria accounts for 13 percent of global maternal death rates, with 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or child birth each year. An estimated 222 million women around the world wish to either delay or prevent pregnancy, but lack access to contraceptives - and Nigeria is no exception. The NDHS revealed that only 9.8 percent of Nigerian women use family planning, while 16.1 percent have an unmet need for family planning services. Although Nigeria has made significant progress in decreasing maternal deaths across the nation, the study also showed that only half of Nigerian women had four antenatal care visits and only 38 percent of births were assisted by an attendant. 70 percent of Nigeria's deaths are caused by abortion complications, hemorrage, eclampsia, or sepsis.
Additionally, as many as 17 million girls across Africa, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. According to the NDHS, 78 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married in Nigeria's Jigawa state, making it the state with the most early marriages, but child marriage rates across Nigeria often outpace those in other nations around the world. Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications and less likely to get an education.
The African Union launched its first campaign to end child marriage last month, and the Child Rights Act raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls when it was passed in 2003, but federal law is sometimes implemented differently at the state level, and only a few of Nigeria's states have acted to implement the law. The UNFPA has urged Nigeria to take additional action to prevent 4.6 million girls from marrying before 18 by 2030.
"Ending child marriage requires strategies for girls' empowerment, social and cultural norms change, legal reform and policy action," the UNFPA stated to the Daily Times. "Proven solutions involve girls schooling (especially lower secondary) and programmes that offer life skills, literacy, health information and services that offer life skills, literacy, health information and services, and social support."
TAKE ACTION! Organize on campus for global women's reproductive rights with Feminist Campus, and sign FMF's petition to integrate HIV/AIDS services with family planning services across the globe.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called on Pope Francis yesterday to take "tangible steps" to prevent widespread sexual abuse by clergy members instead of asking for forgiveness from victims.
Yesterday Pope Francis met with six people who were sexually abused by clergy members as children to ask for their forgiveness. He led them in a private mass and met individually with the survivors, one man and one woman each from Ireland, Britain, and Germany. In his homily yesterday, he also pledged to crack down on child sexual abusers in the clergy.
Although advocates for survivors were glad to see the Pope call for more accountability, advocates feared that the meeting was simply a public relations stunt, allowing Catholic church leaders to sidestep dealing with the issue head-on. "These meetings are public relations coups for the Vatican and distracting placebos for others. They provide temporary but false hope," said Mary Caplan, a member of SNAP. "In meetings, people can share knowledge. But Catholic officials don't lack knowledge. They lack courage - the courage to be honest, to "out" and oust their criminal colleagues, both those who commit and conceal sexual violence against children. And they lack the incentive to act responsibly because those who act irresponsibly are virtually never defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even defrocked. No meeting with victims - however many or compelling or articulate they may be - changes this fundamental, distressing and unhealthy reality."
Barbara Blaine, Founder and President of SNAP, who was herself raped by a parish priest as a teenager, commented that sexual abuse by church clergy and its cover up is still ongoing. "Stop talking about the crisis as though it's past tense, and stop delaying while your abuse panel discusses details," Blaine said. "You know the right thing to do."
SNAP released a statement with 15 steps the Vatican could take to protect children from sexual abuse and hold offending clergy members accountable. Among other things, SNAP calls on the Vatican to insist that bishops permanently post information about child molesting clerics on diocesan and parish websites; to ensure that only licensed therapists work with abuse victims, instead of priests or nuns; and to use independent corrections staff to monitor child molesting clerics instead of other clergy members.
In the US alone, between 1950 and 2010, 6,100 priests were accused of abuse, leading to an estimated 100,000 victims. Globally, thousands more have been accused, and they have been frequently protected from punishment by being transferred to a different parish where they could start abusing others, as shown in recently released documents of the Chicago archdiocese.
While the Vatican has known about this issue for decades, they have done little to hold abusers accountable. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report demanding the Vatican take action in February, and the UN Committee Against Torture held a hearing to question Vatican leaders about their actions to address global child sexual abuse.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill yesterday with an amendment to remove a provision banning the Peace Corps from funding abortions for its volunteers, even in cases of rape or incest.
Unlike other employees with federal health care plans - including Peace Corps employees - Peace Corps volunteers currently do not have access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or endangered health or life. The Republican-controlled committee had blocked previous efforts to repeal this restriction, but yesterday the amendment passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an identical amendment last week. The full House and Senate must now vote on the FY 2015 appropriations legislation for the repeal to go into effect.
"With today's vote, no longer will women in the Peace Corps be denied coverage for abortion care after they've been raped or when they face life-threatening pregnancy complications," said Nancy Northop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources." Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month.
Although the Peace Corps amendment was a victory for reproductive health and rights, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass three other amendments that would have improved US funding for reproductive health programs. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to strike the Global Gag Rule from the appropriations bill. The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign organizations who received US funds from counseling, advocating, or making referrals on abortion. That amendment failed by 19-25 vote.
"Year after year, Republicans attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy endangers the lives of low-income women around the world by denying funds for critical health services," said Lee in a statement. "I remain committed to the fight to prevent this dangerous policy from being reinstated."
Amendments offered by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to remove restrictions on US funding for UNFPA, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) to strike language that caps overall funding for international family planning and reproductive health at no more than $461 million - a 25 percent cut from the 2014 level of $610 million - were also defeated.
If passed, these amendments to the appropriations bill would have improved, or even saved, the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. Approximately 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy, and millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions.
Engaging the US in the global fight to end gender-based violence will take center stage tomorrow as part of a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at fully combating violence and discrimination against women worldwide.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Foreign RelationsSubcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues hearingwill preside over the hearing at which several women Senators will testify, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
The Senate Subcommittee hearing will focus on how the US and the international community can work to prevent violence against women, promote women's rights, and empower women and girls globally. Senator Boxer introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in May as a step toward reducing violence against women worldwide. The international community has also used the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women's Treaty, as a tool to fight violence against women globally. Although 187 countries have ratified the treaty, the US has not, joining Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau in its failure to ratify CEDAW.
Gender-based violence is the most widespread human rights violation around the world. According to the World Health Organization at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, although some national studies show prevalence rates as high as 70%. In conflict zones, women are more susceptible to rape, which has been systematically used as a weapon of war. Child marriage also continues to be a scourge. More than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides who suffer from sexual assault and life-threatening early pregnancy. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15, and 90% of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage according to a recent UNFPA report.
Follow @FemMajority for live tweets during tomorrow's hearing, starting at 9:45am.You can also watch the webcast.
Community and religious leaders in the United Kingdom came together this week to condemn the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Church of England and the Muslim Women's Network UK were two of 160 groups who supported the announcement denouncing FGM as a form of violence against women and a denial of women's human rights not supported by religious doctrine. The groups will sign a joint declaration condemning FGM - currently a criminal offense in the UK - during the government's Girl Summit in July.
"No girl or woman should ever be forced to choose between her safety and her religious community and tradition and it is our sacred obligation to be just agents of change against this unjust practice," said Shahin Ashraf, Muslim Chaplain and National Network Coordinator for the Muslim Women's Network UK.
Sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision, FGM is the removal or cutting of part or all of a woman or girl's genitals. The practice, which is medically unnecessary, can lead to serious health issues such as infection, illness and death. FGM still affects up to 140 million women and girls worldwide, with an estimated 20,000 girls at risk in the UK.
The practice of FGM on girls under 18 was made a crime in the United States in 1996. The law was strengthened by President Obama in 2013 to make it a crime to transport a girl outside of the US for the purpose of subjecting her to FGM.
Immigration activist groups have filed a complaint against the US Customs and Border Protection agents, citing 116 allegations of child abuse at the US-Mexico border in Texas and Arizona.
The complaint includes the allegation that more than 80 percent of those child immigrants did not receive enough food and water, around half were not given medical care, and nearly one in four minors were abused physically. Unfortunately, the allegations don't end there. The activist groups, which include the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, are also alleging unsanitary conditions and the sexual abuse of children and the complaints say all of this has been going on for years.
"After completing a perilous journey into the United States, many are subjected to various forms of abuse, harassment and other harms at the hands of the Border Patrol," part of the complaint reads. "Children consistently reported being held in unsanitary, overcrowded and freezing-cold cells."
Chris Cabrera, a leader within the National Border Patrol Council, estimates that more than 60,000 of these unaccompanied minors have crossed the Mexican border into the US just this year. Often these children are coming to escape poverty or violence in Mexico or Central America and are hoping to join a parent who is already in the country. Many unaccompanied minors end up turning themselves in to Border Patrol in hopes of being helped into the US. The allegations come just a few days after the Obama administration assigned a third US military base to these unaccompanied child immigrants for emergency housing.
"Given these longstanding problems, and in light of the rising number of unaccompanied children seeking relief from dangerous conditions in their home countries," the complaint reads, "the need for broad and lasting agency reforms is clear."
Syeda Ghazala made history this week as the first woman to become chief of police in Pakistan's largest city.
In 2011, Pakistan was rated theÂ third-most dangerous country for women. Karachi still ranks as one of the top 10 most violent cities in the world. Now, Ghazala manages a 100-unit police force, made up of only men, in Clifton, a Karachi suburb with a population of more than 18 million people.
"My husband opposed my decision to join the police force 20 years ago," Ghazala told the Associated Press. The 44-year-old mother earned the highest score during the training promotion, besting her male colleagues. She says of the new job, "It was a big challenge. I was a little bit hesitant to accept it."
The promotion is evidence of a larger shift in thinking about women in leadership across Pakistan. Senior leadership in Ghazala's unit want to see more women joining the force in non-traditional roles. "Our society accepts only stereotype roles for women," senior police officer Abdul Khaliq Sheik said. "There is a perception that women are suitable only for particular professions like teaching."
According to the Associated Press, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women do run police forces, but only in stations specifically designed to help female victims.
Over seven million Afghans, or 58 percent of the population, successfully voted in the runoff presidential election on Saturday, despite several attacks from the Taliban at polling centers.
"The participation of men and women across the country demonstrates, once again, the commitment of the Afghan people to shape the future of their country and to reject violence and intimidation," Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote in the April election, a runoff was held between the top two contenders - Abdullah Abdullah, who won 44.9 percent of the vote in the first election, and Ashraf Ghani Amadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) will announce preliminary results for the runoff election on July 2 and expect the final results to be announced on July 22. Whoever wins the majority of the vote will replace current president Hamid Karzai, marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
Both Abdullah and Amadzai have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which provides that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The candidates also signed a petition for women's rights, announced in a press conference held Thursday. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.
Afghan women's groups Thursday held a press conference announcing that both of the presidential front-runners had signed a six-point petition for women's rights. The news comes on the eve of the nation's runoff elections for the presidency, which are being held tomorrow. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.
A runoff election for the presidency will take place tomorrow in Afghanistan after the first election on April 5 failed to earn any candidate running over 50% of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister and World Bank economist, will compete.
Afghanistan's April elections were a tremendous success. Over 7 million Afghans came out to vote in the elections across the nation despite inclement weather, and at least one-third were women. Turnout was so high that the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC) extended voting hours at voting centers to accommodate crowds. The electoral commission has added 3,500 more polling sites for the runoff election.
For the women of Afghanistan, the elections represent an opportunity for their burgeoning women's rights movement to elect a leader who supports their equality.
"Despite desperate efforts of anti-government elements to thwart the 2014 electoral process," former Minister of Women's Affairs Massouda Jalal wrote on the FMF blog in May, "the will of the Afghan people prevailed. We made it. We were able to show the world that our security forces are robust enough to protect our infant democracy and our people remain worthy of international support."
Representatives from over 140 nations are attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London this week. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress and United Nations special envoy Angelina Jolie are co-chairing the event, the largest ever of its kind.
The summit aims to "shatter the culture of impunity" for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict, take practical steps to reduce the dangers women face during conflicts, increase support for survivors, and debunk the myth that rape in war is inevitable.
"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians . . . done to torture and humiliate people and often to very young children," Jolie said. "We need to see real commitment and go after the worst perpetrators, to fund proper protection for vulnerable people, and to step in to help the worst-affected countries."
The summit, with up to 1,200 government ministers, activists, and other leaders attending, will feature meetings and discussions, film screenings, theater and art displays. Several of the events are open to the public, and you can watch by livestream.
Hague and Jolie launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) in 2012, which included a United Nations Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that has been endorsed by 141 countries so far. Hague and Jolie began to work together after Hague saw a film Jolie directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey, about how rape was used as a weapon of war in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict in the 1990s.
Rape is frequently used as a military tactic to "humiliate and demoralize individuals, to tear apart families, and to devastate a href="http://stoprapenow.org/uploads/aboutdownloads/1282162584.pdf">communities." Soldiers often see rape as a spoil of war, and the lawlessness of countries in conflict means perpetrators usually face no punishment, and survivors rarely receive justice or the medical or other recovery services they need. Past conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina included the rape of thousands of women and girls. Currently, an average of 40 women are raped per day in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws
WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.
"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."
Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.
"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.
FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 9, 2014
Contact: Megan Perry
6/5/2014 - Mass Grave in Ireland Contains Remains of Almost 800 Children from Catholic Mother-and-Baby Home
The remains of almost 800 children found in a mass grave in western Ireland have been determined to be from a home for unwed mothers that operated in Tuam, County Galway for 35 years between 1926 to 1961.
The deaths of the children likely occurred because of neglect, disease and malnutrition, which was rampant according to a 1944 government investigation of the home. Mothers who gave birth at the home told Catherine Corless, the researcher who discovered the origin of the bones, that they received extremely poor healthcare. They told her that they were only seen once by a doctor when they were admitted to the house, and long labors were often unattended.
The bone repository - found in a septic tank - was originally discovered in 1975, but it was assumed to contain the remains of victims of the mid-nineteenth century famine until Corless conducted her research.
The "mother-and-baby home" in Taum was one of many Catholic Church-run institutions across Ireland created to house unwed pregnant women, including rape victims, and hide the "stain" they would create on the morality of the country. The Church has been under fire, especially from the United Nations, for operating Magdalene Asylums, or Magdalene Laundries, for unwed women from the 18th to 20th centuries in Ireland and across Europe and North America, as well as for church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Women in the laundries were forced to work in terrible conditions, and children were often sold without the mother's consent. Increasing awareness of the offenses committed by the Church has made it much harder for the Vatican and governments to ignore them.
"How can we show in Ireland that we have matured as a society if we cannot call out these horrific acts of the past for what they were? They were willful and deliberate neglect of children, who were the most vulnerable of all," junior minister for education, Ciaran Cannon, told Reuters. "They were deserving of love and nurturing, but they received the exact opposite. They were shunned by society at the time. The only way we can address that injustice is to tell their story, to determine the truth."
The government is considering launching an inquiry into the home, and people are pulling together to place a plaque at the site commemorating the children buried there.
President Obama announced last week that 9,800 United States military troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 to help train and advise Afghan security forces, as well as assist in counter-terrorism operations. The number of troops will then continue to be scaled back to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by 2016.
"Over the last several years, we've worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans," said Obama in his announcement of the plan. "One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations. Since then, they've continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country."
In June 2013, the US and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). According to the White House, there are no plans to decrease the size of the Afghan security forces, now at 352,000. Since the transition, the ANSF has taken the lead in fighting insurgents and has successfully recaptured territory the country lost to the Taliban in previous years. The United Nations Security Council has also commended the ANSF for successfully providing effective security for the historic April 2014 Afghan elections, which saw lower levels of violence than the 2009 elections.
During his remarks, President Obama made clear that the drawdown of US troops would not impact the United States' commitment to Afghan re-development. "Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come," said Obama. "But our relationship will not be defined by war, it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support."
Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May 2012 which included "U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation." Afghanistan committed "to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans - men and women." The SPA is still in effect.
The US has also made a substantial five-year commitment to Afghan women and girls through the USAID project Promote, the agency's largest gender program in the world. Geared toward women between the ages of 18 and 30 who have at least a secondary education, Promote is expected to increase women's economic, social, and political participation through education, job training, micro-finance and credit for female entrepreneurs, training for policy-making, and strengthening of women's rights groups and coalitions. USAID will contribute up to $216 million to the project; other donors can contribute up to $200 million in additional funding, for a total of $416 million over the five-year period. The recently announced troop drawdown does not change these commitments.
The President, however, did state that the decision to maintain troops in Afghanistan is contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Current President Hamid Karzai will not sign the BSA, but the front-runners to be the next president have both said they will. Former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are the two top presidential candidates. Because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2014 election, a runoff will be held June 14 to determine the next president.
At a three-day international maternal health summit in Toronto last week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, announced that Canada has pledged $3.5 billion for programs aimed at improving maternal and newborn health in developing countries.
"There is no better investment in the world's future prosperity than women's and children's health," said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the summit.
The funds will add on to previously committed funds for the Millenium Development Goals - goals and strategies agreed to by all the world's countries and leading development institutions to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality, among other issues, by a target date of 2015. Canada's funds will be allocated for between 2015 and 2020.
99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions. Unfortunately, Canada's pledge excludes abortion and birth control from its funding.
"Women have to have better control of their reproductive rights; we know that when women are healthy and educated, they contribute more to society," said NDP MP Helene Laverdiere in protest of the exclusion.
The African Union launched its first campaign to curb child marriage in Africa last week, in cooperation with African governments, UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development, and several civil society organizations.
"What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying 'No to Child Marriage,'" said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. "This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married."
The campaign will run for an initial two-year period, with national launches in anticipated in at least 10 countries. The campaign will focus on policy action, raising awareness, and implementing legal frameworks that protect children. Some countries already have additional strategies in mind. Zambia is involving traditional chiefs to change the cultural norms around child marriage.
As many as 17 million girls across the continent, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. Child marriage rates are the highest in Niger (75%) and Chad (68%). Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications, and are less likely to get an education.