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Two Gambian Islamic religious leaders, including the leader of the Muslim Council in Oslo and a Somalian are facing prosecution for aiding and abetting female genital mutilation (FGM) in Norway. The religious leaders allegedly told a 20-year old Somalian girl to consent to mutilation, providing her with inaccurate information in an attempt to convince her that "the practice was neither harmful or dangerous." If convicted, the three face three to eight years imprisonment. The Norwegian governments' prosecution of these men is seen as a major step toward fighting FGM among African immigrants in Europe. Female genital mutilation is a brutal and debilitating ritual that some cultures, the majority of which are in Africa, practice. As citizens from these nations immigrate, the practice is forced underground in their new countries or families send their daughters abroad for mutilation. Female genital mutilation involves the painful sewing of the vagina and/or removal of the clitoris. Research findings indicate that between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice, victims of FGM face possible health risks including death from excessive bleeding, infection or complications during childbirth, blockage of the birth canal with scar tissue and sexual dysfunction. Cultural myths surrounding the practice claim mutilation as a symbol of chastity, a rite of passage and a link to fertility.
A coalition of "center-left" legislators seeking to win legislation designed to improve sexual and reproductive rights, reported the Chilean Times. The bill includes clauses such as the right to be sexual outside of the context of reproduction and the liberty to choose one's sexual partner. Also, the current requirement for physicians and midwives to report women who have undergone treatment for complications from abortions to the police would be removed. Women who have undergone treatment for abortion complications and those who administer the procedure face possible jail time if they are reported to the police. Under the proposed legislation, women who are victims of rape would also be able to obtain emergency contraception. The bill, if passed, could be a major victory for Chilean women who, largely due to lack of access to effective contraception and abortion, has one of the highest rates of illegal abortions in Latin America. Chile currently has one of the most restrictive abortion law in Latin America - abortion is illegal and the defense of necessity is highly improbable.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
10/10/2000 - United Kingdom Tackles "Honour Killings"
The British newspaper, The Observer, reports that within the last five years there have been at least 20 deaths in Britain that are linked to so-called crimes of "honour". The United Nations Population Fund estimates that, globally, as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered by members of their own families, usually a close male relative, for acts that so-call "dishonour" their families. Across the globe in countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda women and girls have been brutally killed because they were raped, suspected of loosing their virginity, looking at a male who is not their husband or close family relative and taking walks without the permission of their family.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the only United Nations body that exclusively addresses women's rights, has condemned such "honour" driven violence as gruesome. The committee monitors global compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and recently won a major victory with the ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which will take effect in December 2000. The protocol grants the committee legal authority to seek redress for gender discrimination on the behalf of women and women's rights groups who have exhausted their national systems. Legal prosecutions for perpetuators of so called "honour" killings remain few and largely without stiff penalties. Perpetuators of these crimes often go without any jail time but in a few cases some may receive sentences from zero to six months in jail, oddly in countries where persons charged with murder are often sentenced with death.
The chief minister of an opposition-ruled Malaysian state recently claimed that women were the main cause of social ills and moral decadence, due to attire that exposed their bodies. Minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat also added that their clothing invited men to rape or molest them, stating, "Even my faith as a religious teacher can be weakened by watching them." Many Malaysians were infuriated with the ministers' comments, including Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam Forum Malaysia. Anwar urged leaders in Malaysia to educate men to take responsibility for their own actions and to treat women as fellow human beings of equal worth and dignity, adding that, "the solution to society's ills does not lie in the shrouding, segregation and control of women."
The Medical Research Council of South Africa, the country's foremost medial body, released a study that finds teachers responsible for 33% of all rapes of schoolgirls. South Africa has one of the highest instances of rape and child abuse in the world. Last year there were more than 50,000 reported rapes, however, most rapes are unreported and the Medical Research Council estimates that the real number is nine times the reported figure. Over the past ten years the number of rapes of girls 15 years and younger has doubled according to the council. The study cited that a key reason for the rape of children is that men fear contracting AIDS from older women. Also, South African tribal myths that claim sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS have equally contributed to the increased numbers of sexual violence. Tolerance of sexual violence is reinforced by law enforcement officials who fail to treat rape cases with the seriousness they deserve.
10/5/2000 - Lesbian and Gay Backlash Ignited In Namibia
Lesbians and gays in Namibia are outraged over a statement made by Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo urging police officers to "eliminate gays and lesbians from the face of Namibia." In the past, Minister Ekandjo compared homosexuality to murder. The Namibian Constitution, adopted in 1990, states specifically that "recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is indispensable for freedom, justice and peace". Minister Ekandjo claims that the constitution does not guarantee rights to homosexuals.
The French parliament will soon debate new legislation that seeks to liberalize abortion laws by extending the legal period for abortion to 12 weeks. In 1975, France legalized abortions within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. The proposed legislation would curb the large numbers of women, estimated at least 5,000, who each year have to leave France to seek abortions in countries that hold more progressive abortion laws, i.e. Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands. Girls under the age of 18 would have access to abortion without parental consent under the new legislation.
10/5/2000 - Taliban Lobbies for Recognition
Using military gains as leverage, the Taliban militia has met with high-level officials in France, the US and other countries to press for recognition as Afghanistan’s ruling government. The US has continued to withhold recognition because of the Taliban’s support of bin Laden, the regime’s rampant terrorism throughout Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s horrific violations of human rights. In last week’s meeting between US State Department officials and representatives from the Taliban, talks included pressure from the US regarding the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, specifically the ban on women and girls’ employment and education.
The Taliban’s gains of territory in Afghanistan are a result of additional support from Pakistan. A joint venture between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government has put leaders of neighboring countries, including India and Russia, on guard, fearing the partnership could reshape the politics of Central Asia.
One week ago the government of Italy placed the final signature required for implementation of the most important international protocol created to protect women's rights. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) grants women and women's rights groups who have exhausted national systems seeking redress for gender discrimination to petition the CEDAW Committee to act on their behalf. With a mere 10 countries required to ratify the protocol, 62 countries are now signatories leading way to legal implementation on December 22, 2000.
10/3/2000 - Human Rights Incorporated Into British Law
Women, immigrants, lesbians and gays applauded the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights in Great Britain this week. Touted as the greatest advance for personal liberty supporters believe that for the first time enshrined in English law is a right to fair trial, asylum, privacy, education, family life, religion and equality particularly for minorities including lesbians and gays, and freedom from torture, slavery and forced labour.
Conservative opponents fear that too much power will be given to interest groups representing homosexuals, minorities, and women at the expense of government authority. Before acceptance of the act, Great Britain was forced by the European Convention to discard its policy of banning homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. Conservatives argue the act will encourage lesbian and gay sexuality in schools which would criminalize teacher efforts to prohibit this behavior.
More than 3,000 young girls may be mutilated each year in Britain according to findings released by researchers. Although the destructive practice is outlawed in the country a loophole in the law does not restrict families from sending young girls abroad for genital circumcision/mutilation during which young girls undergo the painful sewing of their vagina and or removal of the clitoris. The World Health Organization reports that two million women and girls face genital mutilation annually. Research findings indicate between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice, all of whom face possible health risks in the form of death from excessive bleeding, infection or complications during childbirth as scar tissue may block the birth canal.
Female genital mutilation continues among many countries of the world including those in Africa. Its acceptation among the populace is due to cultural myths surrounding the practice that view it as a mark of chastity, a rite of passage into womanhood, and a link to increased fertility.
Three Somali asylum seekers have presented a request to Australian immigration officials to be sent home citing "depression, trauma and anxiety and mental pressure" within Australia's detention centers and therefore "prefer to go back to Somalia and die as innocent victims." The asylum seekers have been kept behind barbed-wire fences at the Port Headland detention center since arriving in Australia and submitting applications for asylum. Earlier this year, the United Nations (UN) criticized Australia's policy of holding refugee and asylum seekers in detention camps while their refugee applications are reviewed. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, "(Australia) is the only country that detains all people that arrive without documentation, whether they are a risk to the community or not."
During the UN Millennium Summit held in New York, Australia announced that it will not ratify the optional protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and asked that the treaty be removed from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's list of international covenants to be signed. On August 28, 2000, Australia announced that it would "veto nearly all visits by UN human rights investigators in response to criticisms of (its) treatment of Aborigines and asylum-seekers."
9/28/2000 - Cambodia Takes Stand Against Sex Tourism
Cambodia's Minister of Tourism Veng Seryvuth marked World Tourism Day by "declaring that it should no longer be seen as a destination for sex tourists. Hotels, guesthouses and nightclubs in Cambodia will be required to put up signs stating "No child sex tourism". The United Nations estimates that at minimum, 4 million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery. It is reported that countries in Asia have the highest volume of trafficking in the world, aside from Eastern Europe. The Vietnamese Ministry of Justice reports some 100,000 Vietnamese women have been forced to work in Cambodia's commercial sex industry with almost 15% of these being children under the age of 16.
Women's rights activists are urging the international community and governments to develop tougher laws on sexual trafficking that would include punishment for all traffickers that profit from the recruitment, transport and sale of women into prostitution and greater protections and rights for all women who are recruited, transported and sold into prostitution, regardless of their "consent".
9/22/2000 - The Plight Of Afghan Refugees
More than 2 million Afghans are living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran with the vast majority consisting of widowed women and children. Large numbers of Afghans who seek refuge in Pakistan seek educational opportunities for their family especially women and girls. Since 1996, when the Taliban militia took control of Kabul, women in areas under Taliban rule have been oppressed by a strict system of gender apartheid, under which they have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility. The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which have been brutally enforced, banished most women from the work force, closed schools to girls in cities and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative.
However, current conditions of most refugee camps in Pakistan offer little remedy. Basic life sustaining elements such as food and water are provided through emergency relief efforts led mostly by the United Nations (UN). Afghan refugees living in refugee camps remain fearful of possible threats to their security while living in camps. The severe drought that has devastated Afghanistan has also impacted the surrounding region including Pakistan forcing conditions inside of refugee camps to worsen. One widowed woman living in a refugee camp in Pakistan commented, "we get water from a very place and sometimes at home we do not have water or even flour to cook with. One of my sons spends all his time fetching water and so I can't send him to school." The severe drought is forcing many refugee children to become malnourished and face other serious health problems. UN officials have voiced their concern of the safety of the Afghan refugees who "have no guarantees about conditions back in their villages but say they have had enough in Pakistan and [they] just want to get back home." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogato reiterated that the priority of the UN is to ensure the sustainability of those Afghans returning to their homeland. In addition, refugees living in the cities of Pakistan also face abhorrent conditions and receive almost no assistance from UNHCR. The majority of refugees who have fled the Taliban are ethnic minorities who face hostility in camps and seek refuge in the cities of Pakistan instead.
9/22/2000 - Swiss Parliament Accepts Abortion Rights Bill
On September 21st, Switzerland's upper House of Parliament passed an abortion rights bill, by a vote of 21 to 18, that would allow a woman to have an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Two years earlier the Lower House of Parliament voted to pass another pro-abortion legislation that grant women the right to the medical procedure with a 14-week time limit. It is anticipated that both Houses of Parliament will soon reach a consensus on the abortion legislation and that the new legislation will be in effect as law by the year 2002.
9/22/2000 - U.S. Will Oppose Taliban U.N. Spot
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced yesterday that the United States will oppose awarding the terrorist Taliban regime a seat at the United Nations. Albright said the decision would be based on the Taliban’s violation of women’s human rights, its harboring of Osama bin Laden, and suspected operation of a terrorist network. The Taliban sent a delegation to New York today to lobby for U.N. recognition. The extremist regime took control of Afghanistan four years ago and issued edicts to strip women of education, employment, and mobility. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates favor giving the Taliban U.N. representation.
Take Action: Urge the U.S. and the U.N. officials to take a more active stance on the human rights violations committed against the women and girls of Afghanistan.
In a rare move in France diplomacy, senior French officials invited Taliban officials to diplomatic talks in Paris last week. The move has put France at odds with other NATO countries who have refused to acknowledge the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Senior French officials claim that the meeting was held to initiate peace discussions with the Taliban in an effort to stabilize Afghanistan. Yet France holds major oil and gas interests in the South Asian region whose productivity and ability to transport relies heavily upon Afghanistan. For example, French oil company TotalFinaEfl has a $2 billion (USD) deal for the largest gas reserve in Iran. Reports indicate that France is interested in building a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. Oil and gas interests have apparently superseded France's human rights agenda that has, until this point, refused to acknowledge the Taliban. Women's rights groups globally have urged that human rights abuses and the practice of gender apartheid imposed on the women and girls living in Afghanistan should remain a constant focal point of foreign policy matters and business in the refusal to officially recognize the Taliban. Only three countries in the world officially recognize the brutal regime: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates all of whom have questionable human rights practices.
9/20/2000 - UNFPA Report Cites Widespread Violence Against Women And High Illegal Abortion Death Rate
The United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) State of World Population Report 2000 finds that "violence against women and girls remains firmly rooted in all cultures around the world." According to the reports findings 67% of women in Papau New Guinea, 47% of women in Bangladesh, 45% of women in Ethiopia, 40% of women in India, 27% of women in Mexico and 22% of women in the United States reported physical assault by a male partner. UNFPA cites that often times physical assault on women usually occurs in the hands of a person whom they know. The report finds that dowry demands attribute almost 50% of all murder cases where women are victims; 60 million girls are unaccounted for due to sex -selective abortions and infanticide; at least 130 million women have been forced to undergo female genital mutilation and another 2 million are at risk annually; up to 5,000 women and girls are victims of so-called "honour" killings-some 1,000 women were murdered out of so called "honour" in Pakistan alone last year; and every minute one woman dies of pregnancy related causes.
Also included in UNFPA's report are data that show large numbers of women die as a result of illegal, unsafe abortions and that violence against women causes "immense damage" to women's and girls' reproductive health. The report estimates an annual 50 million abortions and 78,000 deaths as a result of unsafe abortions. By comparison, 54,000 American GIs died in all seven years of the Vietnam War, and the UN's reported 78,000 is probably a low estimate, with at least four countries not fully reporting abortion-related deaths. The report also notes that at least 25 percent of all unsafe abortions are to girls between the ages of 15 and 19. According to the report, countries have paid only $2.1 billion of their $5.7 billion pledge to expand reproductive health programs over the past year. Lack of education on reproductive health issues, violence, coercion, and rape, and lack of access to reproductive health services are factors contributing to this dire situation. But the report asserts that global family planning funds and projects are key to improving women's health worldwide. The punitive policies of the United States forbid the use of U.S. funds for safe, legal abortions abroad.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
9/12/2000 - World Health Organization Estimates 4 Million Unsafe Abortions Per Year In Latin America
The World Health Organization estimates that four million unsafe abortions are performed annually in Latin America. Women who cannot afford safe abortion fees ranging from $300 - $600 or who face abortion restrictions are forced to use underground or unsafe abortion facilities. Most Latin American countries impose tight restrictions to abortion access and the procedure itself. In Chile, for example, abortion is illegal and is only permitted in cases where a woman's life is endangered but the country holds one of the highest abortion rate in the region. Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay all impose restrictions to abortions mandating its availability to "preserve a woman's physical or mental health or for rape or incest or fetal impairment." A September 10 Chicago Tribune story tells of Mrs. Marques a Brazilian woman whose infant died within minutes of birth after she was forced by law to carry her pregnancy to full term despite medical tests showing fetal abnormalities. Gilson Marques, the husband of Mrs. Marques commented, "If we were rich and corrupt we could have gone to any clinic and had [an abortion]………We tried to do it the legal way, the only way we could, and we were called names and persecuted."
Earlier this month, Taliban forces captured the northern city of Taloqan that borders Tajikistan. Taliban take over of Taloqan sounds the alarm in an already catastrophic situation for Afghans with the Taliban close to capturing the remaining 10% of Afghanistan. Taloqan was the major strong hold of the Northern Alliance, the major force opposing the Taliban inside Afghanistan. More than 100,000 ethnic minorities are reported to have fled Taloqan to escape the Taliban's brutality. United Nations officials and other non-governmental relief agencies are gravely concerned about the plight of those fleeing Taloqan because neither can transport food or medicine due to Taliban block of roads accessing the region. "With a drought already severe, and winter fast approaching, thousands of people could die in the next few weeks," remarked a relief worker in Afghanistan quoted by Electronic Telegraph. United Nations officials are currently invoking talks with Taliban leaders in Kabul to convince the transport of aid convoys to refugees in the Pamir Mountains in preparation of winter that is only six weeks away.
Since 1996, when the Taliban militia took control of Kabul, women in areas under Taliban rule have been oppressed by a strict system of gender apartheid, under which they have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility. The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which have been brutally enforced, banished most women from the work force, closed schools to girls in cities and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. The Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan works to fully and permanently restore the human rights of Afghan women and girls.
For the first time ever, The Netherlands passed legislation this week fully legalizing same sex marriages including rights to divorce and adoption of children. Prior to the new legislation, lesbian and gay couples could only register as "same-sex partnerships" in Norway and Sweden, although in 1989 Denmark passed legislation permitting lesbians and gays to marry. The Netherlands are now the first nation in the world to enact such a comprehensive law and thus leads the world in the most progressive lesbian and gay policies. Legislatures passed the bill that allows same-sex couples to marry at city hall, adopt Dutch children, and divorce through the court system with an overwhelming vote of 107-33 on September 11. The new law that extends the same rights that governs heterosexual marriages to gay and lesbians will take effect in early 2001.
Women Immigrants in the City of Buenos Aires, a study released by the Ecumenical Support Service for Immigrants and Refugees, indicates a great disparity between the level of education achieved by women who migrate to Argentina and income received. The study concludes that the "migration process devalued the educational levels and past training of women (immigrants), who tended to be overqualified for jobs they performed." A survey of 180 women from Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia found of those interviewed 53% were single, 60% had children, and an overwhelming 59% had post-secondary education. Contrary to higher education attainment, of the 180 women surveyed, 68% worked as domestics either in private homes or textile factories. Paraguayan, Peruvian and Bolivian women who migrate to Argentina in search of higher wages to support their families or education costs. For example, one woman interviewed for the study reported that she migrated to Argentina in 1996 to save money to purchase supplies needed for her thesis to complete law school. She has worked as a domestic for four years and has yet to finish her courses. Domestic workers in Paraguay and Bolivia receive average monthly earnings of $20 to $49 monthly versus wages in Argentina of $500 monthly and higher costs of living.
According to BBC World Service on September 9th, the Constitutional Court of Sudan suspended the women's work ban upon further investigation of it legality. Governor Majzoub Khalifa of the Khartoum State has argued the women's work ban decree is legal under Islamic Sharia law. BBC World Service reports that Khalifa has stated that he will ignore the high court's ruling.
In less than 24-hours after issuing threats stating that unveiled women in India's state of Jammu and Kashmir would be shot in the leg, Lashker-e-Toiba militants fired shots at two women in a local beauty parlor. The owner and two women inside of the parlor located in Lal Chowk were hospitalized for treatment of bullet wounds in their legs and hips. According to The Times of India the incident is an attempt by Lashker and the Hizbul Mujahideen at "talibanising" Jammu and Kashmir. Lashker-e-Toiba is suspected of working closely with extremist groups in Afghanistan including those like the Taliban, which are aligned with Osama bin Laden.
Shiori Ino, a 21-year old college student, was stabbed to death inside of a Tokyo shopping mall stark daylight by men hired by her former boyfriend. Her death came just four months after she filed police reports that her boyfriend was stalking her. The police department failed to intervene and an internal investigation showed that three officers within the department altered Ino's report "so they wouldn't have to pursue the case." This week the Urawa District Court sentenced two of the officers to an eighteen-month suspended sentence while the third officer received a fourteen-month sentence. Ino's father criticizes that the verdict was not severe enough. "As a parent, I question whether it was really sufficient. The court clearly acknowledged that the police failed to pursue the case properly," remarked Ino's father. The prosecution even at the start of the trial in July never sought sufficient sentencing for the three officers. Prosecutors requested eighteen-month prison sentence for officers charged with falsifying documents that resulted in the death of Shiori Ino.