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9/24/2013 - Pakistan Frees Taliban Military Commander

Pakistan freed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former Taliban military commander and second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The release came on Saturday and was welcomed by the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) as a move to reinvigorate stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban militia before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

Afghan women leaders have criticized the prospect of Taliban peace negotiations and the release of Taliban detainees. Female MP Shukria Barakzai expressed concern to the BBC that the Afghan government wanted to make a peace deal "whatever the price," even if it meant sacrificing the women of Afghanistan. Pakistan has already released 33 Taliban prisoners this year. Senator Lailuma Ahmadi cautioned, "The released prisoners will join the Taliban again."

Her fears are not unfounded. Just this month, Tolo news reported that Mullah Ghulam Mohammad--released this August by the Afghan government from Bagram Prison--had rejoined the Taliban and was responsible for the killing of 13 Afghan local police in the Badghis province. Several experts have warned that the release of Taliban prisoners could lead to further insecurity and violence and pressed that the government should have proper mechanisms in place to ensure that former prisoners do not return to the battlefield.

The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Pakistan released Mullah Baradar but would not comment on his location. HPC deputy head Attaullah Ludin noted, however, that Baradar had not been handed over to the Afghan government.

9/24/2013 - Catholics for Choice Challenges the Vatican's Role at the UN

Catholics for Choice launched its "See Change" campaign last week calling for a review of the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations.

The Holy See--the government of the Roman Catholic church--currently holds Non-Member State Permanent Observer status at the UN which gives it an influential role in the intergovernmental body, including access to UN proceedings, that no other religion enjoys. According to Catholics for Choice, the Holy See has used its position to prevent progress for sexual and reproductive health, women's rights, and other areas. "It's high time that the Vatican is required to act as other religions do at the UN, said Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien. "Religious voices are important, but should not be granted extra deference simply because they are religious."

In its campaign, Catholics for Choice notes that since 1964, the Holy See has used direct access to the General Assembly and international conferences to attempt to impose an ultraconservative agenda on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike." The organization has demanded that the Holy See be treated as a participating nongovernmental organization at the UN--like every other religious group.

The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity, Vatican City, qualifies it as a state. However, to be considered a state, it must have a defined territory, a government, the ability to have relations with other States and a permanent population. Vatican City does not meet all of these requirements, but it still holds influence today largely because of custom.

A short video details the history of the Vatican's status and influence, as well as the goals of the "See Change" Campaign.

9/24/2013 - 50 People Injured in Bangladesh Protests

At least 50 people were injured Sunday in Dhaka, Bangladesh after police tried to break up massive garment worker protests with tear gas and rubber bullets, and workers responded by throwing bricks at the officers.

Up to 50,000 garment workers have been protesting for several days to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $100. The current minimum wage is around $38 per month, which is only 14 percent of a living wage for the country. A protesting woman said, "We work to survive but we can't even cover our basic needs." A new law was expected to make it easier for garment workers, 80 percent of whom are women, to form unions to demand higher wages and better working environments, but management has responded to recently registered unions with violence, bribes, and threats.

Bangladesh has seen significant labor unrest after a series of deadly factory incidents, including the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed 1,132 workers. While there are 2,000 factories in Dhaka like Rana Plaza, there are only 40 building inspectors, and 3 in 5 industrial structures are reportedly vulnerable to collapse.

The country is the cheapest place to make clothing because of lax safety rules and low wages. Several retailers that purchase clothing made in Bangladesh have entered into a pact to improve factory fire and safety rules, but some major ones have not, including Walmart and GAP.

9/23/2013 - Maternal Mortality Down 50 Percent in Republic of Congo

Over the past 10 years, the Republic of Congo has reduced the number of women dying in childbirth by 50 percent and, if progress continues at this rate, may reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015. Experts cite improvements to maternal healthcare and efforts to enhance family planning programs as contributing factors to this sharp decrease in maternal death.

The majority of women in Congo live in urban areas and give birth in health care facilities, but these facilities were often inadequate. According to Dr. Leon Herve Iloki, director of the National Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality, birthing facilities have improved tremendously. "Forceps? You didn't have them. You didn't have other instruments for helping in delivery. Even beds were not always there."

The government, with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also began offering women free Caesarean sections in 2011. The procedure used to cost $500 or more, an insurmountable obstacle to many poor women whose choices were to come up with the money or "die there, on the table," according to Rose-Marie Moundele, a woman whose sister-in-law recently delivered a child by Caesarean. UNFPA has also supported the government's initiative to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a preventable medical condition caused by prolonged labor. Women can now receive free care for this condition. Obstetric fistula is a major contributor to maternal death among poor women.

Experts also credit family planning for the decline of maternal mortality. UNFPA has supported the Congo Health Ministry's attempts to create better family planning programs."Promoting family planning is among the cheapest investments to reduce maternal mortality," said UNFPA Representative David Lawson at the launch of the initiative in November 2011. A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health showed that 45 percent of Congolese women use contraceptives.

Progress, however, has been uneven. For women living in rural areas and for indigenous women, there is little access to quality health centers. Although midwives attend births in rural facilities, improvements to infrastructure are needed. Health officials in the country hope to see further developments in other areas of maternal health as well, including cheaper pre-natal checkups and strengthening of family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.

9/19/2013 - Arrests Made in Killing of Top Afghan Policewoman

Five men have been arrested in connection with the shooting death of a senior female police officer in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant Negar died on Monday after being shot by gunmen near police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand. Negar was the highest-ranking female officer in the province. Her predecessor, Islam Bibi, also a woman, was murdered in July.

Women comprise less than one percent of Afghanistan's police force, with about 1,600 women serving and about 200 more in training. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty before her death, Negar discussed the importance of having women police officers. She said, "Women are needed, and they shouldn't be scared [to join]. We should take pride in the fact that our people are happy with the work we do and they thank God that we women police exist."

Fifty-three percent of Afghans approve of having female police in their communities, according to a recent UNDP police perception survey. In the same survey, seven in ten Afghans reported that they would be more likely to report a crime to a female police officer, and nearly six in ten said they would be more likely to trust a female officer to resolve a crime fairly. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior has pledged to increase the number of women police to 5,000 by 2015.

9/18/2013 - UN Agencies Condemn Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

UN Women, the United Nations agency committed to gender equality and women's empowerment, condemned the recent intimidation and targeted killings of Afghan women government officials. Several prominent women have been intimidated, abducted, and killed - including Afghanistan's most senior female police officer, Lieutenant Negar, who died on Monday after being shot by an unidentified gunman in Helmand.

"Recent cases of targeted killings point to the urgent need to guarantee women's and girls' rights as the Government of Afghanistan prepares for a full takeover from international forces and moved towards provincial and parliamentary elections," said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. "The empowerment of women and realization of their rights are fundamental to the reconstruction of Afghanistan so that women and men can take responsibility for the future development of their country."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay ending a visit to Kabul yesterday also expressed concern over pervasive violence against women in Afghanistan and called on the Afghan government to ensure enforcement and implementation of the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women law (EVAW). The law criminalizes several acts of violence against women, including rape, forced self-immolation, physical abuse, child marriage, and human trafficking. A United Nations report, however, revealed only a small number of prosecutions.

Pillay also used her trip to Afghanistan to continue to call on President Hamid Karzai to reconsider his recent appointments to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). "I urge an extra effort by the President and his Government to ensure that the human rights gains of the past 12 years are not sacrificed to political expediency during the last few months before the election," said Pillay. Karzai appointed five new commissioners to the AIHRC in June, including Mullah Abdul Rahman Hotak, a former Taliban leader opposed to women's rights. Pillay emphasized, "The rights of women in particular must not be sacrificed, they must be particularly protected."

Pillay further commented on the role of women in the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan, stating that "any peace process must be inclusive and just in order to be durable and lead to a stable Afghanistan and that means ensuring the full and active participation of women in all aspects of any peace process."

9/17/2013 - New USAID Projects Aim to Empower Afghan Women

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently announced several programs aimed at empowering women and girls in Afghanistan.

The three-year women's empowerment project launched last week aims to strengthen the Ministry of Women's Affairs' (MoWA) capacity to support women. The Ministry of Women's Affairs Organizational Restructuring and Empowerment Project (MORE), which will be implemented in partnership with The Asia Foundation, will support the delivery of key components of MoWA's National Priority Program: institutional reform and organizational capacity building, public awareness and education, outreach, and news-media relations. Institutional reform will be achieved through employee trainings on policy leadership and advocacy, human resource management, financial management, and other areas, as well as a scholarship program for MoWA employees. Outreach will be supported through door-to-door campaigns, workshops, and seminars, and there will be a special grant to fund outreach in the provinces. The project will also strengthen ties between MoWA and other Afghan ministries to encourage other ministries to incorporate gender into their own policy development.

Another USAID program, aimed at increasing literacy of Afghan women and girls, will provide 840 women with literacy classes and establish 40 community libraries. The two-year project, called Afghanistan Reads, aims to improve the educational status of women and girls by strengthening reading comprehension and increasing access to reading materials. Currently, out of about 146,000 students in medical, technical, and vocational higher education institutes, 17 percent are female. USAID partnered with the Linda Norgrove Foundation and Canadian Women for Women Afghanistan to fund the program.

In a press release, USAID said, "The United States applauds the progress Afghan women and girls have made over the past 10 years. We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women."

USAID also announced that it will contribute $55 million to assist the Independent Election Commission with budget needs for Afghanistan's April 2014 elections, and that it will continue to support the Ministry of Public Health.

9/16/2013 - Top Female Afghan Police Officer Murdered

Afghan Lieutenant Negar, the most senior female police officer in Afghanistan, died early Monday morning, one day after being shot by unidentified gunmen.

Negar, who only goes by one name like many Afghans, was shot in the neck outside her home in the province of Helmand on Sunday. She is the third top policewoman to be murdered in recent months. Her predecessor, Islam Bibi, was killed in July. Female police officers are under threat from both the Taliban and drug traders.

"They have given us warning that one of us will be killed every three months and we will be killed one by one," Afghan policewoman Malala said to The Associated Press.

According to BBC News, women make up just under 1 percent of Afghanistan's police force, with about 1,600 females serving and about 200 more in training.

9/16/2013 - Pakistan to Release Head of Taliban Military Operations

Pakistan announced last week that it would free captured Taliban commander Mullah Adbul Ghani Baradar later this month. Baradar is one of the founders of the Taliban and was second in command when he was captured in Karachi through a joint operation between Pakistani and American intelligence forces in February 2010. At the time of his capture, the New York Times reported that Baradar
directed the Taliban's military operations and headed the group's leadership council

Afghan and Pakistani officials intend for the release of Baradar to advance peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that the country welcomed the decision to release Baradar, stating "his release will certainly help the Afghan peace process." Pakistan has already released 33 Afghan Taliban prisoners this year. At least some of those released are believed to have rejoined the militia group.

Formal peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan and U.S. governments were set to begin last June in Qatar. Talks stalled, however, after the Taliban opened an office in Doha proclaiming itself to be an official government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Together with Women for Afghan Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation has consistently warned about the dangers of negotiating with the Taliban and has urged that the international community continue to pursue other peace channels through funding for economic development, security, and women's rights. "The Taliban can't be trusted," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women. "They are killing civilians on a daily basis. You can't negotiate peace on the one hand and kill civilians with the other." Naderi also cautioned against backsliding on women's rights, essential to the development of Afghanistan and the reconciliation process. "The Taliban will say that they will accept the Afghan Constitution and will respect girls' right to go to school and women's right to work, but when the US leaves, they can do what they want. Negotiations with the Taliban are not good for women."

9/13/2013 - Men Convicted in New Delhi Gang Rape Sentenced to Death

The four men found guilty Tuesday of the fatal gang-rape of a 23 year-old student in New Delhi, India have been sentenced to death by hanging. AP reports that they will be hanged.

Vinay Sharma, Ashkay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Sing were convicted of murder, rape, and kidnapping; last December, they tortured and raped a young woman who had been heading home from the movies. The men raped her one-by-one for nearly an hour before violating her with a metal rod, and afterward left her on the side of the road. The victim died two weeks later of critical damage to her organs,sparking massive ongoing protests in the region and around the world. (The men were joined as well by a minor who was sentenced previously this year and the bus driver, who committed suicide in jail in March prior to sentencing.)

Protesters outside of the court erupted in cheering when the men were handed their sentence, and the victim's family felt the decision was fair. "We are very happy," the victim's father told reporters. "Justice has been delivered." Calls for the men to be executed had come from high-profile politicians and many other Indians throughout the ongoing trial.

According to Indian government statistics, a woman is raped every 22 minutes in the region. Karuna Nundy, a lawyer for India's Supreme Court, says the high-profile rape case has caused a surge in reports. Last year, 433 women had reported rapes between January and August; this year the number rose to 1,036. "It's all very new," she said. "It's a beginning." It is likely survivors feel more empowered to report in light of the outpouring of support this victim's case received, and how public the pursuit for justice on her behalf has been. Protesters sought out the death penalty, as did the prosecutors in the case, in order to send a message about sexual violence in India.

"In these times when crimes against women are on the rise," Judge Yogesh Khanna said when announcing the sentence, "the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act." He added that the crime was one of the "rarest of the rare category" deserving capital punishment, which is not a common sentence in Indian courts.

The sentence must be confirmed by India's High Court and can be appealed to the court, and their lawyer has confirmed that they will appeal within the month.

9/12/2013 - Women Commit Majority of Suicides in Afghanistan

95 percent of all suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women and girls.

According to officials at the Ministry of Public Health yesterday at World Suicide Prevention Day in Kabul, more than 2,500 Afghan women have already committed suicide in 2013. Experts cited extreme levels of violence against women and forced marriage between young girls and grown men as some major reasons for the disproportionate rate.

Minister of Public Health Suraya Dalil said girls ages 16 to 19 are most likely to commit suicide.

Although officials said suicide rates in Afghanistan increased in the last year, another report showed that cases of self-immolation have fallen by 40 percent since 2012.

9/11/2013 - Afghanistan Leaders Discuss Need for More Women Judges

At a four-day conference at the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul last week, over 180 female judges affiliated with the Afghan Women Judges Association (AWJA) and other leaders discussed strategies for improving the number of Afghanistan's female judges and ensuring justice to those who come to the courts. Women now make up 10 percent of the total number of Afghan judges, which is an impressive increase from 3 percent five years ago.

Female judges currently face many obstacles to doing their work, including threats to their security and social stigma. A senior United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan judicial officer, Damian Klauss, said recruiting female judges should be a priority, despite the challenges. He said, "It is important that courts are seen to be fair and impartial if they are to be considered legitimate, and a judiciary that accurately reflects the population they serve plays a vital role in that regard. Afghanistan does not lack for talented women lawyers, and the country would benefit immensely by their service in the judiciary."

The AWJA, which was formed in August 2012 and currently has 186 members, has called for at least one seat in the High Council of the Supreme Court to be reserved for a woman, and the association has sent several judges to receive training on gender issues, violence against women, and legal interpretation.

Judge Anisa Rassoli, head of the AWJA, said having more female judges is essential because "if a woman judge is present in a province, a woman complainant can share her problems with full confidence. She may not feel easy to share them with a man judge."

This push to get women more involved in the legal system comes at a time when the country and the global community are also working hard to involve more women in the political system before the presidential and provincial elections taking place next year.

9/10/2013 - Four Men Found Guilty in Delhi Gang Rape

Four men have been found guilty by District Court judge Yogesh Khanna of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi, India last December.

The victim and a friend were trying to taxi home after seeing a movie when the men lured them onto a private bus. They beat both of them and raped the woman as the bus driver drove around for an hour, then threw them out naked onto the road. The victim died two weeks later of severe internal injuries. She was able to provide evidence against the attackers while on her hospital bed.

The attack and death of the student led to huge protests across India about sexual violence and the status of women. It resulted in the introduction of tough new laws to punish sexual offenses, including allowing the death penalty to be used in serious cases of rape. Karuna Nundy, an attorney and advocate for the Supreme Court, said, "I think the legacy of the case, the most positive aspect, is the change in the law. There has been something of a change in the way violence against women is perceived. There is a shift from victim-blaming to a sense of women's bodily integrity and dignity. That's been a significant but not comprehensive shift. It's a beginning."

Another suspect, a man who was a juvenile when he committed the attack, was sentenced in August to three years in a reform facility. Also, the suspect thought to be the bus driver was found hanged in his prison cell in March.

The four convicted men will be sentenced tomorrow. They face either life imprisonment or death by hanging.

9/9/2013 - Women Diagnosed with Fetal Abnormalities Denied Abortions in U.K.

Two UK non-profits will testify today that women diagnosed with fetal anomalies are denied abortions and forced to deliver their stillborn babies.

Britain's Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) charity and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will host a conference today, calling for the British health secretary to address this issue. According to The Guardian, 800,000 women will become pregnant in the UK each year. 35,000 will be told their fetus is at risk and fewer than 4,000 will have an abnormality diagnosed in their unborn child.

For many of those 4,000 women, ARC and BPAS said, they were forced to induce labor and denied the option of aborting the fetus.

"Ending a wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of foetal anomaly is extremely distressing for women and their partners," said Jane Fisher, director of ARC. "At such a difficult time our research tells us that it is important that women are given the space and time to decide on the termination method that they can best cope with."

According to The Guardian, pregnancy terminations due to fetal abnormalities are legal under Ground E of The Abortion Act. They account for just 1 percent of all abortions in the UK.

9/9/2013 - Eight-Year-Old Yemeni Bride Dies of Internal Injuries First Night of Marriage

An eight-year-old Yemeni girl died from internal bleeding the night of her arranged wedding to a man who is believed to be around 40.

The child has only been identified as Rawan. She died in the tribal area of Hardh in northwestern Yemen, on the border of Saudi Arabia. She is believed to have suffered tearing to the genitals and severe bleeding.

According to a 2010 report by the Social Affairs Ministry, more than one-quarter of Yemen females marry before the age of 15. In 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni child bride died after spending three days in labor, according to The Daily Mail. The minimum age for marriage used to be 15, but Yemen annulled that law in the 1990s, arguing that parents should be allowed to decide when their children marry.

Activists in the region are calling for the end of child marriage and the arrest of both Rawan's husband and her family.

9/9/2013 - Taliban Murder Female Indian Writer

Last Wednesday, a prominent female Indian writer was murdered by the Taliban outside of her home in the Paktika province after criticizing the terrorist group.

Sushmita Banerjee, 49, wrote a popular memoir in 1995 about her life as the wife of an Afghan man in Kabul while the Taliban ruled. The book was later adapted into an Indian movie. Banerjee also wrote about the Taliban for Outlook India magazine.

According to Afghan police, Taliban militants tied up Banerjee's family members last Wednesday, and then shot her outside. She was first targeted by the Taliban in 1998, when she was educating women in Afghanistan about social and health issues.

"They [the Taliban] ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals," Banerjee said, according to Time Magazine.

9/6/2013 - Multi-Million Dollar Program Announced to Support Afghan Women's Political Participation

Enhancing women's political participation is at the forefront of preparation for Afghanistan's next set of presidential and provincial elections. The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) has partnered with the Asia Foundation to launch a new project that will support voter turnout among women in the April 2014 election as well as female elected officials and candidates running for office.

With 4.5 million pounds of funding from the United Kingdom, the project, entitled "Increasing Women's Political Participation and Dialogue Opportunities in Afghanistan," will run through December 2015. The Asia Foundation announced that the project will not only boost the ability of women to vote, but would also "provide capacity-building assistance to female members of parliament, female provincial councilors and potential female candidates to run in 2014-2015 elections" and "support women candidates to deliver campaign messages, facilitate networking and mentoring events with public figures and civil society organizations." In announcing the program, UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander emphasized, "Women are key to building a democratic and safe country. They are the future of Afghanistan."

The IEC has been working to advance Afghan women's participation in the electoral process through the establishment of a Gender Unit in 2009, targeted public education directed at women voters, the use of female polling staff and observers, and the development of appropriate security measures. Challenges to female candidacy and voter turnout remain, including inaccessibility of polling booths for women in remote areas as well as concerns for the safety of female candidates and voters. Despite these challenges, however, over four million Afghan citizens voted in the 2010 parliamentary election. About 39 percent of these voters were women, and women made up 15 percent of parliamentary candidates. Currently, women hold 28 percent of seats in the National Parliament.

9/5/2013 - IPPF Study Finds Need to Integrate HIV and Family Planning Services

In early August, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) published a five-year research project looking into the cost, quality, health benefits and stigma reduction of integrating HIV programs and sexual and reproductive health service programs in Kenya, Malawi, and Swaziland. Named The Integra Initiative, the study, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and carried out in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Population Council, provides "evidence to support the integration of HIV counseling and testing into mainstream family planning and maternal health services."

Researchers found that integration can improve service delivery and increase the number of people receiving HIV counselling and testing. For clients, integrated services save them time and money, allow them to develop trusting relationships with their providers, and give them the opportunity to meet other clients living with HIV. IPPF's Director General, Tewodros Melesse, said, "We know that there is a clear and obvious link between sexual and reproductive health and HIV so providing [sexual, reproductive,] and HIV services in the same place and at the same time makes good sense." While the results are promising, more investment in research is needed.

These results are in line with a key goal of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to expand service integration--although the program is not currently meeting this goal. In Ms. Magazine's Summer 2013 issue, Jeanne Clark writes in "Unholy Alliance" about how PEPFAR-funded abstinence-only programs and conservative religious organizations affect prevention efforts.

Clark writes, "Even though current PEPFAR guidance has shifted to support comprehensive reproductive and sexual-health programs, the abstinence programs still have a lingering effect, leading some providers to de-emphasize condom education and other comprehensive prevention strategies. On Dec. 1, 2009, PEPFAR released its five-year strategy, which indicated that a key goal is to expand integration of HIV prevention, care, support and treatment services with family planning and other reproductive-health services. Yet the Fiscal Year 2013 Country Operational Plan Guidance states in no uncertain terms that 'PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family-planning commodities.' That means that women cannot get contraceptives at the same site where they receive HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, treatment and care."

8/27/2013 - New Screening Technique for Ovarian Cancer Shows Promise

Researchers in the US have discovered a potential new way to detect ovarian cancer. Currently, tumors are difficult to detect in the early stages of ovarian cancer, and there is no effective mass screening program.

The study, which was published on August 26 in the journal Cancer, followed 4,051 post-menopausal women for an 11-year period. Scientists have long known that levels of the protein CA125 are higher in the blood of women with ovarian cancer, so the women's CA125 levels were tracked through yearly blood tests. The participants were sorted into low-, medium-, or high-risk of cancer groups based on their protein levels, and women who had high levels were referred to a gynecologist for an ultrasound. Several women were then treated for early stage cancer.The findings suggest this screening method may be effective at early detection of cancer.

Early detection is vital because currently the survival rate is 90 percent if it is caught early, but only 30 percent if it is caught in the later stages. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as bloating and abdominal or pelvic pain, are often dismissed, so women may ignore them until they are already in the late stages.

"Early detection of ovarian cancer will be the key to transforming survival rates. However, this study is very small, and there is no guarantee that the results will be replicated on a larger scale," Annwen Jones, the chief executive at Target Ovarian Cancer, said in a statement.

Trials of 50,000 women are ongoing in the UK and expected to be completed by 2015. If the UK trials confirm the findings from the present study, tracking CA125 levels could become routine practice.

8/23/2013 - American Photojournalist Gang-raped in India

A 22-year-old American photojournalist was gang-raped in an isolated Mumbai neighborhood Thursday night, Indian police said.

The woman, an intern at an American magazine that has not yet been named, was on-assignment with a male colleague when the attack occurred. Five men tied the colleague's hands with a belt and beat him. They then took the woman to another part of the lot and raped her.

Police said she was in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. She underwent a minor surgical procedure Thursday night.

One man has been arrested and confessed to the crime, police said. He also gave the names of the other four attackers.

The attack is reminiscent of a similar gang rape that occurred in December in New Delhi. In that case, a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped in a New Delhi bus and later died. This most recent assault sparked a silent protest of about 1,000 people Friday night.

In response to the attack in December, the Indian government passed a strict law that increases prison length for rape and makes acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.

8/21/2013 - Indonesian Official Proposes Virginity Test for Access to Education

An Indonesian education official has proposed that all high school-aged girls be required to pass a "virginity exam," in order to attend school.

Muhammad Rasyid, who leads the education office in South Sumatra's district of Prabumulih, says the mandate would discourage young girls from premarital sex and promiscuity. Although he said the tests could begin as early as 2014, the proposal has come heavily under fire from public education NGOs and other Indonesian officials.

The test would involve an invasive vaginal exam to determine if the girl's hymen has been torn. Critics of the plan have noted that hymens can be torn from activities other than sex - including sports or health problems - and that education is a fundamental human right regardless of sexual activeness.

A coalition of educational organizations issued a press release on Wednesday, saying "The purpose of such a test is absurd. The 1945 Constitution as well as the 1999 Human Rights Law stipulate that education is one of every citizen's constitutional rights. Therefore, the right of access to education cannot be denied under any circumstance. The planned test also violates the 2013 National Education Law, which stipulates that education shall be maintained with justice and without discrimination."

Nurul Arifin, a female politician from the Golkar Party, called the proposal "discrimination and harassment against women." Another province attempted to implement a similar plan in 2010, but it was abandoned following a public outcry.

8/20/2013 - Swedish Women Wear Hijab in Protest of Hate Crime

Women in Sweden have started to wear hijabs in public in response to an attack against a pregnant Muslim woman.

Over the weekend, a Muslim woman wearing the hijab had her scarf ripped off and her head slammed into a car. Her attacker shouted racist slurs, prompting the authorities to consider the case a hate crime. She was hospitalized with a concussion, and her case prompted other women to come forward about attacks they themselves have suffered based on their beliefs.

In solidarity, other Swedish women have started to wear the hijab in public and posting photos to Twitter with the hashtag #hijabuppropet (#hijaboutcry). The campaign has been joined by politicians Asa Romson and Veronica Palm and TV host Gina Dirawi. Dirawi, who even changed her profile picture is support, tweeted: "Risk of being beaten and discriminated against for how they choose to dress, everyday life for many women in Sweden 2013."

Men have also joined the campaign, wearing headscarves and tweeting their support. One male supporter tweeted: "Yes wear veils today to show solidarity for all women, are put up with harassment and attacks!"

In an opinion piece published in Aftonbladet by #hijauppropet organizers, that demanded that Justice Minister Beatrice Ask and Swedish lawmakers "ensure that Swedish Muslim women are guaranteed the right to personal safety and religious freedom, without being subject to verbal and physical attacks."

"In addition, we demand that responsible politicians actively draw attention to and fight the structural discrimination that affects Muslim women," they wrote. "We believe that's reason enough in a country where the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims is on the rise - and where women tie their headscarves extra tight so that it won't get ripped off - for the prime minister and other politicians to take action to stop the march of fascism."

Minister Ask has agreed to meet with the campaign members on Tuesday, and told reporters the situation "must be taken very seriously."

No arrests have yet been made in the case.

8/19/2013 - Same-Sex Marriage Law Takes Effect in New Zealand

A law legalizing same-sex marriage in New Zealand takes effect today.

The country's Births, Deaths, and Marriages department reported that 31 same-sex couples planned to wed the first day the law went into effect. They also reported that over 1,000 marriage applications were downloaded in a week since they became available for same sex couples, about three times the average download rate. New Zealand is the 14th country worldwide to legalize same-sex marriage and is the first in the Asia-Pacific.

Paul McCarthy, an Australian resident who married his partner Trent Kandler , told Reuters "Being able to marry here as an equal citizen, even though we're not citizens of this country, means we're being viewed as equal - and that's all we really want."

Reverend Matt Tittle, who performed the ceremony for another same sex couple who took advantage of the new law, told reporters, "The world is still a dangerous and even deadly place for gay, bisexual and transgender people. We thank God that's not true in New Zealand. All love is holy."
The law was passed by Parliament in April by a vote of 77 to 40, despite opposition from religious groups.

8/16/2013 - Afghan's Youth Celebrated in Bamyan

Afghanistan celebrated International Youth Day on Thursday with a large, free outdoor concert in Bamyan. Over 7,000 people of all ages came together to listen to over a dozen acts by Afghan musicians from around the globe and speeches from provincial leaders. The event was organized by UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan, and last about four hours.

Bamyan's Deputy Governor, Asif Mubaligh, focused on education in his speech to the crowd. "Focus more on education to garner medals and other accomplishments," he said. Habiba Sarabi, provincial Governor, spoke about the importance of youth engagement, emphasizing that "young people today belong to the largest generation of youtrh the world has known." In Afghanistan, two-thirds of the estimated population of 27 million are young people.

"I call on the government, the private sector, civil society, and academia," said UNAMA's head for western Afghanistan, Andrew McGregor, "to keep the doors wide open for young people." He expressed hopes that young people would grow to be democratic leaders and productive Afghan citizens.

The UN General Assembly declared August 12 International "Youth Day in 1999. It was first observed in 2002.

8/15/2013 - Women in Papua New Guinea Face Severe Violence

A new report reveals that women in Papua New Guinea (PNG) face severe gender-based violence, affecting two thirds of families.

The study, by Australian organization ChildFund, was based on interviews [PDF] with 37 women and 14 men in four different villages. In the interviews, women reported being attacked with knives, axes, and whips. One woman was beaten by her husband using the body of their unconscious one-year old child.

Another woman, Helen, had her lower lip bitten off in a random attack by a stranger near her home in the capital city. She told interviewers [PDF] "Sometimes when I sleep, I dream he will come to me and I am really scared about it. I think he is coming back again."

None of the women interviewed told ChildFund that their husband had not beaten them.

Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund, told reporters "It is appalling the level of inaction, taken against these instances of violence, and despite recent statements by the Prime Minister, which are very welcome, there's a huge amount to be done for government to improve its effort, to take this issue seriously."

According to AFP, life expectancy for women in Papua New Guinea is 65 years, and the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reports that 70% of PNG women will be raped or experience violence in their lifetime. The country is ranked 134 out of 148 countries in the UNDP Gender Inequality Index.