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The Irish Parliament voted to support a bill that would allow a pregnancy to be terminated if the woman's life is at risk. After a vote of 138 to 24 it now faces a second reading and possible amendments. The final vote on the legislation will take place next week.
Ireland has had a constitutional ban on abortion since 1986, meaning that the lives of the woman and the unborn fetus are defined equally under the law. This new bill would allow abortions for women who are suicidal and at risk of ending their lives because of the continuation of the pregnancy. The consent of three doctors would be required prior to the abortion. The Catholic Church is criticizing the bill because they believe that the suicide-threat rule is too vague and therefore at risk of being abused.
Ireland's absolute abortion ban came under international scrutiny last year when a woman died after being denied an abortion. Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she arrived at University Hospital Galway complaining of severe back pain in October 2012. Hospital staff determined she was miscarrying, however doctors refused to remove the pregnancy until three days later. After the pregnancy was removed, Savita was transferred to intensive care where she died three days later of what was determined to be septicaemia (similar to blood poisoning).
On Monday, the United Nations passed a resolution to address the use of rape as a war tactic and establish the rights of victims of war-time rape to include comprehensive sexual and reproductive health. UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the Security Council before the debate, "Sexual violence, whenever and wherever it occurs, is a vile crime. It must be exposed and met with the anger and action that it deserves."
Resolution 2106 [PDF] was approved unanimously by the 15 member UN Security Council. In the Resolution, the UN states that it
"Affirms that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a method or tactic of war or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security; emphasizes in this regard that effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security; and stresses women's participation as essential to any prevention and protection response."
Resolution 2106 urges member states to provide victims with comprehensive reproductive healthcare. The resolution continues [PDF],
"Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities."
UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie addressed the Council, urging the members to have a realistic picture of rape as a war crime. "Let us be clear what we are speaking of: Young girls raped and impregnated before their bodies are able to carry a child," she demanded.
The Global Justice Center's President Janet Benshoof applauded the decision, saying "Although the word 'abortion' was not used, the 'non-discriminatory health services' provision is an enormous breakthrough in the fight to end the deadly denial of abortion for female victims impregnated by war rape."
On Wednesday, Pope Francis announced the creation of a new committee that will be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Vatican Bank in response to allegations of money laundering and corruption.
The bank, known officially as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), has been plagued with scandals of money laundering and tax evasion. Last year, Moneyval, the European anti-money laundering committee, determined that the IOR did not meet international standards to prevent money laundering. Last year, the Vatican announced that six attempts of money laundering using IOR were detected. This year there have already been seven discovered.
Further evidence of corruption was discovered in 2012 when the personal butler of Pope Benedict XVI leaked private documents to journalists.
The commission will have access to all internal documents, meetings, and management and report to Pope Francis directly.
6/24/2013 - Pakistani Actress Attacked with Acid
An 18 year old actress in Pakistan is in critical condition after being attacked with acid for refusing a marriage proposal.
The actress, known as Bushra Waiz, was sleeping with her family when a man climbed the wall around their home and threw acid on her while she slept. She was rushed to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar where it was determined that she suffered burns on over a third of her body.
Her family believes the attacker is Shaukat Khan, a local TV producer, who was trying to force Waiz to marry him. When she refused his proposal, he resorted to violence. According to Waiz's mother, Khan has also not been paying Waiz for her work and lead to many verbal arguments that pushed Waiz to quit working with him.
On Monday, Waiz was reported in stable, but critical condition. Her attack comes less than a week after a bomb attack forced the only women's university in the Balochistan province to close its doors indefinitely.
A day after the Taliban announced that it will agree to peace talks with the United States and Afghanistan, the Afghan government has announced it will not participate until Afghanistan plays a larger lead role.
Senior US officials confirmed that two key conditions of the negotiations would be that the Taliban breaks ties with al-Qaeda and that they recognize the Afghan Constitution including the protections for women and minorities.
The announcement came as a surprise the day after senior US officials announced that the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the US would begin peace negotiations this week at a Taliban office in Qatar. However, the Afghan government says it does not support the way the office arrangements were handled and the banner at the location, which calls the office the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This is the name used by the Taliban when they were in power, and suggests to Afghanistan that the Taliban considers itself a government in exile.
Afghan President Karzai announced in a statement, "Recent developments showed that there are foreign hands behind the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar. Unless the peace process is led by Afghans, the High Peace Council will not participate in the Qatar negotiations."
Human rights organizations fear that the office could grant the Taliban more legitimacy despite their attacks on women and ethnic minorities. An Afghan research associate for the Human Rights Watch in Kabul, Ahmad Shuja, told reporters, "We have genuine fear some of the hard-fought gains for women and minority rights would be at stake. We don't feel the Taliban have made any change on their position on these issues in the last 10 years, especially on women's rights."
6/19/2013 - Pakistani Women's University Closed Indefinitely
In the wake of a bomb attack on Saturday, the Sardar Bahadur Khan (SBK) Women's University has shut its doors indefinitely. The Bolan Medical Complex, which was attacked while Doctors treated victims of the university bombing, is also closed indefinitely.
The target of the bomb was a bus transporting female students and teachers from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University in Quetta, located in the southwestern part of Pakistan. A homemade explosive device killed 14 of the passengers and injured 19 others. The victims were rushed to the nearby Bolan Medical Complex, where there was a second explosion. After the explosion, militants took nurses, doctors, and patient visitors, many of whom were visiting those hurt in the bus explosion, hostage. 11 people were killed at the hospital. Security officials regained control of the hospital Saturday evening and reported that four of the five militants were killed and the fifth was in custody. A banned Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
SBK University is the only women's university in the province of Balochistan province. In response to the attacks, Sunday was declared an official day of mourning in Quetta. Many other organizations have announced more days and even strikes in mourning.
A bus for a women's university in Pakistan and the hospital that treated victims from the blast were bombed on Saturday, killing 14 students and 24 others at the hospital.
The bus was transporting female students and teachers from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University in Quetta, located in the southwestern part of Pakistan. A homemade explosive device killed 14 of the passengers and injured 19 others. The victims were rushed to the nearby Bolan Medical Complex, where there was a second explosion. After the explosion, militants took nurses, doctors, and patient visitors, many of whom were visiting those hurt in the bus explosion, hostage. Security officials regained control of the hospital Saturday evening and reported that four of the five militants were killed and the fifth was in custody. It is unclear if the bus attack and the hospital siege are related.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari both called the attacks "cowardly and inhuman." "No effort will be spared to save Pakistan from such acts of terror," Sharif continued. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also condemned the attacks, saying "violence against women and educators has increased in recent years. The aim being to keep girls from attaining a basic right to education."
Yesterday, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) transferred responsibility for the country's security forces to the Afghan government after a bomb blast targeting a political official left three civilians dead in Kabul.
The blast, which occurred in front of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Watch, was targeting Afghanistan's second vice-president Mohammed Mohaqiq, who is also a Muslim cleric and leader of the Hazara minority. Three civilians were killed and 30 others were injured. Mohaqiq was not injured in the blast, though six of his bodyguards sustained injuries and one car in his convoy was damaged. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Watch was not a related target.
Just miles away, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted control of the security operations for Afghanistan from NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen. While NATO forces will still be in the country, the Afghan police force of over 350,000 officers will be in charge of operations.
6/17/2013 - Indian Women's Rights Activists Arrested
Police arrested and detained 13 women's rights activists Thursday after anti-rape protests swelled in West Bengal, India. The protests were centered on two recent high-profile rape cases in the state.
The Indian National Crime Records Bureau released statistics Thursday related to crime against women, spotlighting West Bengal as having the highest concentration of such crime in the country. According to their data, 12.67 percent of the 30,942 reported cases of crime against women in India in 2012 occurred in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee contested the report, stating that "we have been trying to curb the incidence of crime against women by taking swift actions." Her claim that "the situation is comparatively better now as compared to other states" outraged women's rights activists, who have perceived the state government's handling of sexually violent crime as lacking.
40 activists gathered early Thursday morning near CM Banerjee's residence at Kalighat temple. They planned to protest with rallies and demonstrations all day. They began marching toward the CM's residence, but were approached by police who blocked their way and asked them to retreat. They refused, explaining that they wanted to present the CM with a memorandum. "It is not desirable to stage demonstration in front of someone’s residence," Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayastha told reporters, "especially in front of CM’s residence." He defended his team, adding that "the CM is a Z-plus protective. She has threats to her life."
According to protestors, police agreed to escort 4 women to the CM's residence but then "turned hostile," arresting some of the peaceful protestors and "packing [them] into a police van." The women were taken to police headquarters at Lalbazar and did not receive an explanation of the charges against them.
Protests against the government have been ongoing in India since December, when a college student was tortured and gang-raped in New Delhi. "It is the beginning of our movement," said Anuradha Kapoor, a member of civil rights group Maitree who was arrested. "We won’t give up so easily."
On Tuesday, Russia's Lower Parliament called the Duma unanimously passed a bill outlawing the distribution of LGBT "propaganda" to minors, essentially banning any form of support for LGBT rights in the country. 436 deputies voted in favor the bill, only one deputy abstained from the vote.
The bill bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" from being distributed to minors. However, the broad language of the bill could be interpreted to ban any public support of gay rights or face serious fines. Many cities already have such bans in place, but this bill would apply the ban nationwide.
During the debate, LGBT rights protesters held a "kiss-in" outside the Duma. Anti-gay protesters were also present, and some threw rotten eggs at LGBT activists. Other LGBT activists were physically assaulted. About 20 LGBT rights protesters were detained by the police.
The Duma also passed a bill that would outlaw religious offenses. In a vote of 308 to 2, the parliament approved a ban on "public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed to the goal of offending religious feelings of the faithful" punishable with fines and in some cases prison terms. This comes in response to the protest by Pussy Riot which condemned the ties between the Orthodox church and President Vladimir Putin.
Both bills still have to be approved by the Upper Parliament and signed into law by President Putin before they can be enacted nationally.
6/11/2013 - Afghan Police Accused of Violence Against Women
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission accused the police of violence against women in a recently released report, attributing close to 15 percent of honor killings and sexual assaults in the region to the police force. The report follows over two years of data collection by the commission, in which they documented 163 sexual assault cases and 243 honor killings.
"The cultural impunity and the lack of follow up of these cases is something we're very concerned about," said Sima Samar, commission chair.
The Interior Ministry rejected the report, defending its 152,000 police officers against the claims. They said the police force had made progress in safeguarding human rights.
Violence against women in Afghanistan was widespread under the reign of the Taliban, though even significant international intervention has not prevented the nation from being consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. In April, Human Rights Watch reported that women in the Afghan police force face sexual harassment, assault, and even rape from male colleagues. In May, HRW reported that 50% more women than ever were being incarcerated for "moral crimes" such as running away from forced or abusive marriages and families. In the same month, the Afghan parliament failed to pass the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which would have banned forced and underage marriage, beatings, and rape.
6/10/2013 - Pussy Riot Documentary Premieres Tonight
The story of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot will come to life tonight in the HBO documentary "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer." It will air at 9 PM EST. Three Pussy Riot members were charged in August of 2012 with "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years in prison for a performance protesting Vladimir Putin's regime, and the separation of church and state.
The 2012 performance lasted only for forty seconds. After setting up in the pulpit of an Orthodox Church in Moscow, they were promptly arrested by Russian authorities and then went to trial. The 90-minute documentary follows not only Pussy Riot's case but also their earlier actions,, adding to the now-familiar story with interviews of the women's families and groups which supported their imprisonment.
Although Pussy Riot is an open movement which welcomes all interested members, the three members who faced trial were Nadezha Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alekhina. All three were sentenced to two years in prison, although Samutsevich was recently released based on an appeal that she wasn't able to plug in her guitar before her arrest at the infamous performance.
Between 450 and 600 garment factory workers in Gazipur near Dhaka, Bangladesh, were sent to the hospital on Wednesday after they became sick from suspected water contamination.
Workers at the Starlight Sweater company began to experience stomach cramps and vomiting two hours into their shifts on Wednesday. Once at various local hospitals, they were given fluids and evaluated. Those who were recovering were released on Thursday.
Officials have not confirmed what caused the illness. However, local industrial police officer Mahfuzur Rahman told reporters "Primarily we suspect the water supply of the Starlight Sweaters factory was poisoned or contaminated." The eight story factory gets its drinking water piped to the roof from an underground reservoir. Tap water comes from a second source and employees are discouraged from drinking it. Factory CEO Muhammad Shafiur Rahman told reporters, "We have cleaned the reservoirs overnight and now the water there is safe for drinking." The factory reopened on Thursday.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 factory workers and relatives gathered at Rana Plaza in protest of the government's response to the building collapse that killed over 1,300 people in April. Protesters demanded back pay and/or compensation promised by the government and the parent organization of the factories involved, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters after they allegedly began throwing rocks when told to disperse.
On Saturday, the first Sound of Change Live concert highlighting women's current struggles around the world was held in London, England.
Featuring performances by big name artists such as Beyonce, Florence + The Machine, Jennifer Lopez, and John Legend, the Sound of Change Live charity concert shared stories of women who faced abuse, educational disparity, and lack of basic health care around the world and urged viewers to take a step towards creating change. Gloria Steinem, Madonna, Ryan Reynolds, and Jada Pinkett Smith were some of the presenters. Attendees were given a code they could use after the show to put money from their ticket purchase towards one of the many projects that Chime For Change, the organization responsible for the concert, supports. Viewers at home were urged to learn more at the organization's webpage and contribute to a project.
Chime for Change was founded by Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Gucci Creative Director Frida Biannini, and Salma Hayek Pinault. According to the organization's website, Chime for Change "serves to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world. We focus on three key areas: Education, Health and Justice." Beyonce said to the audience at the concert, "It's time for change. Let's chime for change. This is such an incredible night for me." In all 50,000 people attended the concert the concert, raising $4.3 million in ticket sales for 200 organizations in 70 different countries around the globe.
Learn more about Chime for Change at their website.
Beatriz, a woman from El Salvador who was denied a lifesaving abortion by the Supreme Court, will undergo a C-Section to end the pregnancy that is threatening her life.
Last week, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied Beatriz's appeal to undergo an abortion to save her life. Despite suffering multiple severe medical conditions and the fetus being unviable, the court ruled that "rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa." Abortion in El Salvador is illegal in all circumstances with a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. After the ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a non-binding resolution ordering El Salvador to save Beatriz's life.
The Health Ministry then ordered her doctors to perform a premature C-section, which the fetus is not expected to survive. Health Minister Maria Rodriguez told reporters, "It is very clear at this time that the pregnancy intervention is not an abortion, it is an induced birth, which is something else." The surgery is planned for some time this week.
In a phone interview, Beatriz told Reuters, "I feel good because next week they will perform (a Caesarean). Right now, the doctors have not told me anything, but I believe everything will work out fine."
On Tuesday, a court in the Tunisian city of Kairouan convicted a feminist activist with carrying a can of pepper spray given to her by a journalist.
Amina Sboui, also known as Amina Tyler and a member of the feminist group Femen, was arrested on May 19 while staging a protest. She was charged with carrying an "incendiary device" - a can of pepper spray a journalist gave her to protect herself in Tunisia's conservative climate. She was convicted and fined $182. Sboui remains in custody pending further charges of desecrating a cemetery and offending public decency, which could carry penalties of two years and six months in jail respectively.
Sboui generated outrage in her community when she posted topless photos of herself with "My body is my own" written on her torso as part of a Femen protest earlier this year. After receiving death threats, Sboui went into hiding but reappeared in the city of Kairouan. In Kairouan, she was arrested after allegedly painting "Femen" on a cemetery wall near the city's primary mosque. Police arrived as a mob formed around her.
Three other members of Femen have been arrested for staging a topless protest in front of a courthouse as they called for Sboui's release. The three activists will have an open hearing in court on June 5 on charges of public indecency and attack on public morals. If convicted they could face six months in jail for each charge.
The Supreme Court of El Salvador ruled in a four to one decision to deny a life-saving abortion to a woman with an unviable pregnancy.
"Beatriz", who is currently 22 and is already the mother of a young infant, was diagnosed with multiple severe illnesses including kidney failure and lupus and is now 26 weeks pregnant. The fetus will not survive more than a few days outside the womb (if at all) due to a severe fetal abnormality where part of the brain does not develop. Doctors fear that if she continues with the pregnancy, Beatriz could lose her life. However, abortion under any circumstance is illegal in El Salvador and abortion without approval from the Supreme Court could result in up to 30 years in jail for aggravated homicide.
In their ruling, the judges wrote, "This court determines that the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa, and that there is an absolute bar to authorising an abortion as contrary to the constitutional protection accorded to human persons 'from the moment of conception.'" The one dissenting judge, Florentin Melendez, argued that the court needed to affirm Beatriz's request to "guarantee that the medical personnel would not omit [any treatments] and would act diligently at all times, without having to recur to legal authorisation to protect the life of the mother and the human being she is carrying in her womb."
Victor Hugo Mata, Beatriz's lawyer, told reporters, "We cannot appeal the case because this was the last step, the Supreme Court... The only way now is to go to the international courts. [But] everyday, the health of Beatriz is [getting] worse. If they wait another week or two weeks, she will be too feeble to endure the operation."
Henry Morgentaler, a lynchpin figure in the history of legal abortion in Canada, passed away on Tuesday from a heart attack. Dr. Morgentaler was 90 years old.
Born in Poland and a Holocaust survivor, Dr. Morgentaler arrived in Canada in 1950. After graduating medical school and becoming a Canadian citizen, he opened Canada's first independent abortion clinic in 1969 when abortion was still illegal. He was tried multiple times for violating abortion laws, but was acquitted in each case. One acquittal was overturned on appeal and he spent 10 months in jail. However, Morgentaler continued to perform abortions and open abortion clinics. After facing another overturned acquittal in Ontario, Morgentaler appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Morgentaler's favor, determining that the country's abortion laws were unconstitutional and legalizing abortion in Canada. However, provincial rules on abortion varied, and Dr. Morgentaler continued to challenge them as he encountered them. He also continued to perform abortions into his 80s despite clinic bombings, death threats, and health issues. In 2008, Dr. Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada, one of the highest civilian honors in the country.
National Abortion Federation's president Vicki Saporta spoke with reporters about the doctor's death. "Canadian women owe Dr. Morgentaler a tremendous debt of gratitude for standing up for their lives and health at great personal sacrifice and risk. He survived numerous threats on his life, a clinic bombing, and aggressive protests," she said.
Catherine Ford, former editor at the Calgary Herald, wrote in a memorial piece, "Morgentaler leaves a legacy of freedom that to this day is unique in the world: the untrammelled and unrestricted choice of every Canadian woman to decide for herself whether to bear a child... Every woman in Canada owes him thanks for facing down the draconian laws of yesterday." She concluded, "How successful was Henry's single-minded determination that all women are capable of making up their own minds? Very few young women would recognize his name today and what essential part he played in allowing them the freedom to choose. Henry would see that as a resounding success."
In 2008, Dr. Morgentaler spoke about his controversial life with an interviewer. He said, "I became the target of people who were opposed to abortion, and it was something I had to live with, but I am tremendously satisfied that my life was not in vain and that I was able to help a lot of people."
In a landmark victory, the High Court in Meru, Kenya ruled Monday that local police had failed to properly investigate hundreds of rape cases over the past several years. In his ruling, Justice Makau ordered the Inspector General of Police, as well as their agents, delegates, and subordinates, to re-investigate multiple rape cases as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of over 264 girls between 3 and 18 years of age who were raped and received no assistance from police at the time of reporting.
Mercy Chidi, an activist who runs the Meru-based shelter Ripples International, often works with girls who need shelter and assistance following rape. She filed the suit with a representative group of 11 girls, all of whom will now receive proper investigation into their rapes. Legal resources for Chidi and the girls were provided by Canadian non-profit The Equality Effect.
One in five women and girls in Kenya are victims of sexual violence, and rape is rarely reported despite strong laws against sexual crimes. When cases are reported, police officers sometimes fail to investigate the crime at all and harass victims. In the cases brought forward to the High Court, police locked girls in cells, demanded bribes for investigations, and even told victims they had consented to intercourse. By failing to act, Makau ruled that officers had created "a climate of impunity" where perpetrators no longer feared repercussions for sexually violent crimes; this climate, he said, made police "directly responsible" for the damage suffered by rape victims in the case. Officers who engaged in that behavior are now liable for arrests, fines, and imprisonment themselves.
Chidi described the ruling as a "glorious victory" to the Daily Nation. "I want defilement of girls to stop," she continued, "and now [police] must hold perpetrators of horrific crime accountable." The Equality Effect intends to pursue suits like these across Africa to achieve broader change in the region.
5/29/2013 - Italy Passes European VAW Treaty
On Tuesday, Italy's lower house of parliament unanimously approved a European treaty to end violence against women while the country mourned a 15-year-old victim of intimate partner violence.
The lower house of parliament ratified the Council of Europe's Istanbul convention, which would create and reinforce legal measures to prevent and prosecute gender-based violence. The treaty now goes before Italy's upper parliament, or Senate, for final ratification. If approved, Italy would become the fifth nation to ratify the treaty, which needs at least 10 nations to ratify before taking effect. It is expected that the Senate will also approve ratification in light of recent horrific attacks on women in the country.
One such case is the story of Fabiana Luzzi, a 15 year old student who was brutally murdered by her 17-year-old boyfriend last week. The boyfriend stabbed Fabiana 20 times and then set her on fire while she was still alive. Her remains were discovered the next day. That same week a 35 year old woman in a different part of the country was stabbed to death by a former partner and a 50 year old woman was shot in the head by her husband, who then committed suicide. Fabiana's funeral, which was attended by thousands of supporters, was held the same day as the vote.
Josefa Idem, the Italian Equal Opportunities Minister, was one of the people in attendance at the funeral. She told reporters, "Faced with Fabiana's death, I reaffirm the commitment of all the government and my ministry to make the fight against gender-based violence a key point of this legislature... I feel the need to ask forgiveness from her and from all women killed by the hand of those who abuse the word love. The state must be more effective in its commitment [and] be even closer to the victims."
According to the women's organization Casa delle Donne, there have been 51 gender-based murders in Italy already this year. However, Telefono Rosa, a domestic violence support group, estimates there have been 38 murders. Both organizations cite a lack of official statistics as a major barrier to seeing the true extent of gender-based violence in Italy. In addition, underreporting presents a major barrier, with a 2012 UN report finding that 90% of instances of rape and abuse in Italy were not reported.
5/28/2013 - Women Deliver Conference Begins Today
Today is the opening day of the 2013 Women Deliver Global Conference, the largest conference on women's health, maternal health and maternal mortality in the world.
The third annual conference is being held this year in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Activists, lawmakers, UN officials, and business leaders from around the world will gather for the three day conference to discuss what health challenges women are facing and what steps can be taken to reduce maternal mortality. Over 7,000 people will be in attendance this year. Many international organizations, such as the World Bank, will be releasing new research on women's reproductive health worldwide.
Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, wrote in an welcome letter, "When we meet in 2013, we will be nearing the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While much progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. This conference will be an opportunity to strategize about the way to 2015 and beyond, highlighting success stories and ongoing challenges to improve the health and well-being of girls and women."
The Asia Director of Women Deliver, Dr. Raj Karim, said in a welcome letter, "Women Deliver recognizes that eradicating HIV and AIDS, improving education, promoting human rights, working towards environmental sustainability, and ensuring economic empowerment and gender equality are all necessary parts of the solution to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity for girls and women. We are all in this together, and we need to build on each other's work to create synergy."
5/24/2013 - Pussy Riot Member Starts Hunger Strike
A member of the Russian feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot has announced that she is launching a hunger strike after she was denied the right to attend her parole hearing.
Maria Alyokhina was denied the ability to attend her parole hearing in person and instead had to communicate with the court through video link and faxes. She addressed the court on Wednesday, â€œIn protest against the court's refusal to allow me to appear in person to take part in the hearing, I'm going on a hunger strike. In the current circumstances I forbid all my lawyers and representatives to take part in this court hearing."
Last month, a second member of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, was denied parole. Earlier this year, she was sent to the hospital because of what may have been a new health problem that developed since beginning her sentence. A third member was freed on appeal.
The three members of Pussy Riot were arrested after making an anti-Putin demonstration at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in August 2012. The members of Pussy Riot entered the church wearing bright colors and balaclavas, singing "Mother of God, Blessed Virgin, drive out Putin!" They noted later that their intent was to challenge the Church's political support for Putin and to show their dissatisfaction with Putin's 12-year political dominance. All three were arrested and charged with hooliganism.
A new report by the Human Rights Watch shows that in the past 18 months the number of women in Afghanistan incarcerated for 'moral crimes' has increased from 400 to 600, a 50% growth.
Many of the women imprisoned for moral crimes were arrested running away from forced or abusive marriages and families, even though there is no law against leaving. Others are imprisoned for rape, as it is considered "forced adultery." Many of the women imprisoned were also forced to have "virginity tests," an invasive and medically inaccurate exam. Of the female prison population in Afghanistan, 95% of girls and 50% of women are in jail for moral crimes.
In a statement by the Human Rights Watch, the organization stated, "While several high-level Afghan government officials, including from the police and Justice Ministry, have in the past year publicly confirmed that 'running away' is not a crime under Afghan law, such statements have yet to translate into policy, [the report found]. Some legal experts have suggested that a growing view that women and girls should not be charged with 'running away' has merely resulted in a shift toward charging them with attempted zina. A charge of attempted zina unjustifiably assumes that women outside of the supervision of their male relatives must have attempted to have sex."
Heather Barr, the Afghanistan researcher for the Human Rights Watch, told reporters "I think it's possible that as everyone anticipates the departure of foreigners [foreign soldiers], there is a feeling that in a sense things can go back to normal, and... people will be free to ignore [women's rights] in the future. If that's true, that's really is a tragedy, because these ideas didn't come from foreigners. These ideas came from Afghan women's rights activists."
The report comes days after the Afghan parliament failed to ratify a law that would help strengthen anti-violence measures in the country. On Saturday, the Speaker of the Lower House of Afghan Parliament delayed a vote on the Elimination of Violence against Women law after two hours of vociferous debate between conservative religious and more liberal members of Parliament. The Speaker did not specify when the measure would be placed on the floor for a vote again.
Walmart, along with 13 other major North American companies, refused to sign a legally binding agreement to improve working conditions for overseas factory workers that manufacture their clothes after a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing an estimated 1300 workers, the New York Times reports.
The agreement requires retailers pay $500,000 to improve worker safety measures over a five year period. The 13 other companies are The Foot Locker, Macy's, Sears, JcPenny's, North Place, The Gap, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Carters/Osh Kosh, North Place, Cato, The Children's Place, American Eagle and Target.
According to the Daily Kos, Walmart stated that it was "not financially feasible ...to make such investments."
Walmart refused to invest in worker conditions back in 2011 as well when a group of Bangladeshi and international unions put together a proposal.
The Swedish retailer H&M, Spanish Inditex (Zara), British Primark and Tesco, Dutch C&A, and others all announced their commitment to pay for fire safety and building improvements as part of an agreement with the global labor union IndustriALL. The agreement, called "Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh," also requires independent safety inspections with public reports. Companies also agree to terminate business with any factory that does not complete required upgrades.
H&M is the largest clothing retailer that manufactures their products in Bangladesh and is the second largest worldwide. The largest worldwide retailer is Walmart. Walmart, along with other major US retailers, have announced that they will not participate in the accord. Instead Walmart has decided to perform its own review of factory safety standards, arguing that it will produce results more quickly. The Gap has announced that it would be willing to sign the agreement if a change could be made to its arbitration clause. U.S. retailer PVH which makes Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Izod, announced that they will sign the accord.
The decision to improve standards is the result of an eight story building collapse that killed over 1,100 workers at the end of April, and a small factory fire that killed eight last week. Last week, rescue efforts for the building collapse ended making the official death toll 1,127.
On Saturday, the Speaker of the Lower House of Afghan Parliament delayed a vote on the Elimination of Violence against Women law after two hours of vociferous debate between conservative religious and more liberal members of Parliament. The Speaker did not specify when the measure would be placed on the floor for a vote again.
A number of conservative members of Parliament (MPs) raised their voices against the measure, deeming it un-Islamic. Although the EVAW law was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, women's rights activist Fawzia Kofi, who also heads the women's committee of the Lower House, decided to introduce the EVAW in Parliament. Kofi was concerned that without the EVAW being approved by Parliament, the decree might be reversed by a newly elected President in 2014. Karzai is term limited and cannot run again in 2014. Some Afghan women's rights leaders opposed introducing the EFAW in Parliament for fear of having it defeated or repealed by conservative members.
According to the TOLO News "The parliamentarians who opposed the law call 6 of its articles to be against Islamic values." These articles include criminalizing child marriage and forced marriage, banning the traditional "BAAD" practice of exchanging girls and girls and women to settle disputes between families, making domestic violence punishable up to three years in prison, protecting rape victims from prosecution for adultery or fornication, limiting the number of wives a man can have to two, and established shelters for battered women.
One of the conservative MPS suggested that the article to eliminate prosecution of raped women for adultery would lead to more extramarital sex, with women claiming they had been raped just to escape punishment. Others claimed that a husband has the right to discipline his wife.
"There's a real risk this has opened a Pandora's box, that this may have galvanized opposition to this decree by people who in principle oppose greater rights for women," stated Heather Barr, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.