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2/20/2014 - Afghan Presidential Candidates Debate Women's Rights

The second televised presidential debate in Afghanistan took place Tuesday night. Four of 11 candidates participated in the debate, touching on issues like security, domestic politics, the Taliban, bureaucratic corruption, the economy, and even women's rights.

"The people of Afghanistan have given sacrifices for democracy," said Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of Parliament. "Every person will have equal rights under the law." Several other candidates have expressed strong, positive attitudes towards protecting women's rights: Zalmai Rasul claims he will require at least 20 percent of the country's central cabinet to be women and Ashraf Ghani claims he will involve religious scholars in defending women's rights and eliminating violence against women.

With the help and support of the U.S. and the international community, Afghan women and girls have made steady progress in every sector of society. Previously stripped of all human rights and forced into a state of virtual house arrest, women are now 27 percent of Afghan Parliament, about 35 percent of all primary and secondary school students, and nearly 19 percent of students attending university. Since US troops will pull out in 2014, the future president and all government leaders must work hard to strengthen women's rights and to ensure that their progress is not once again stripped away by the Taliban.

The April 5 election is the first independent election organized by Afghanistan.

2/19/2014 - Afghan President Will Not Sign Criminal Procedure Code into Law

In a major victory for Afghan women, President Hamid Karzai yesterday refused to sign Afghanistan's controversial draft Criminal Procedure Code into law. According to a presidential spokesperson, the President has indicated that he will not sign the bill until the Ministry of Justice amends Article 26.

Article 26 would prohibit relatives from testifying against each other in all criminal proceedings, including in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. After the law passed the Afghan Parliament, Afghan women's rights groups launched a strong campaign to stop its enactment, including a public protest in Kabul on Friday.

Our tireless advocacy for the last few weeks paid off," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women. "This is what we wanted - for the bill to go back to the Ministry of Justice for revision." Her sentiments were echoed by Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women's Network, comprised of over 100 women-led organizations: "Who says advocacy and lobbying does not work? It does and we have seen results!"

2/18/2014 - Uganda President To Sign Anti-Gay Legislation

The president of Uganda, Yoweni Museveni, released a statement Saturday saying he planned to sign the sweeping Anti-Homosexuality Bill that passed the nation's parliament in December.

The bill was originally introduced in 2009 with a death penalty provision for some "homosexual acts," but it was delayed because of international uproar and the threat of a loss of aid from several nations. The current bill does not include a death penalty provision, but it could put people in prison for life if they engage in "aggravated homosexuality," which means engaging in acts where someone is infected with HIV, having sex with minors, or being "serial offenders." People who offer services to LGBTQ people, such as human rights groups, could also face criminal charges and years in prison.

President Obama came out against the bill in a statement over the weekend. "The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda," he said. "It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights."

Since the bill was proposed, there has already been an increase in discrimination and violence against gay people. As reported by Jeanne Clark in "Unholy Alliance" in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine, David Kato, a leader of the gay rights movement in Uganda, was beaten to death shortly after the introduction of the bill. In addition, "The attacks against gays in the country have further demonized condom usage," Clark writes. In a country with frequent condom shortages and discouragement of the use of condoms - in part because the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding continues to be held hostage to abstinence programs - millions of Ugandans are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and having unsafe abortions.

2/14/2014 - Afghan Women Rise for Justice at Kabul Protest

Around 100 Afghan women marched in Kabul yesterday to speak out against violence against women as part of One Billion Rising, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

Calling for "no more violence" and "justice, justice," Afghan women also demanded continued gains for women's equality in the country. "As half of the Afghan population of young adults, Afghan women must have an active role in important historic developments, in the peaceful transfer of political power, for ensuring peace and security and progress in Afghanistan," said the Afghan Women's Network in a statement.

The Network also called for "sustained public campaigning" for women's rights and advancement in Afghanistan. Afghan women leaders have already been organizing to stop the enactment of an article within the Afghan Criminal Procedure Code that would prevent relatives from testifying as witnesses in all criminal trials, including in domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault cases.

Afghan women leaders also expressed solidarity with women internationally in the worldwide fight to end violence against women. "Afghan women, in support of women around the world, say that violence against women must decrease," said Dr. Gulalai Safi, a member of the Afghan Parliament. "We want justice and respect for women."

2/13/2014 - One Billion People Worldwide Will Rise for Justice Tomorrow

Millions of people will rise for justice tomorrow for One Billion Rising's global V-Day events, including a rally in Washington, DC.

One Billion Rising "is a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them to gather safely in community outside places where they are entitled to justice - courthouses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, work places, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not. It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release their stories - politically, spiritually, outrageously - through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right." Last year, one billion people in 207 countries joined the action.

This year, participants in DC are rising specifically for justice for military sexual assault survivors, for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and for the passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Participants will also rise against human trafficking, campus sexual violence, internet bullying, street harassment, impunity for perpetrators of violence against women, and a variety of other issues.

Eve Ensler, the creator of One Billion Rising and author of The Vagina Monologues, kicked off the DC events with Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) at a reception on Tuesday.

The rally will take place at 12 pm tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court and will turn into a march to the Capitol. Weather permitting, Upsetting Rape Culture will display The Monument Quilt - a quilt with thousands of stories of survivors of violence - on the Capitol's lawn.

2/12/2014 - Rep George Miller Speaks Out Against Garment Factory Conditions in Bangladesh

Citing meager wages, dangerous working conditions, and exploitative work practices, Representative George Miller (D-CA) yesterday called on the apparel industry to do more to improve working conditions and support the human rights of workers at garment factories in Bangladesh. "If they don't," Miller said, "their clothing labels may as well read: 'made with violence against women.'"

Miller met yesterday with Reba Sikder, an 18-year-old garment worker from Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, and multiple members of Congress to discuss not only the dangerous and violent workplace conditions that exist for garment workers, but also what can be done to improve the situation.

"The apparel industry has created millions of jobs for Bangladeshi women," said Miller. "But your job should not cost you your life. We must call out the clothing brands that manufacture irresponsibly in Bangladesh. Not only are they complicit in driving the race to the bottom that pits countries against each other at the expense of workers, but they are taking advantage of societal norms that do not hold women in equal regard."

Sikder, a survivor of the factory collapse at Rana Plaza that killed over 1,100 and injured 2,500, has been working since the age of 8 and became a garment factory worker at 14. She explained that on the day of the factory collapse, a huge crack had appeared on the side of the Plaza building - but her boss told her if she did not enter to work, she would lose her wages and overtime for the month. Within minutes of entering the building, it collapsed. She was trapped inside for over two days, injured and surrounded by dead bodies.

"My life has been so incredibly hard in the last year," Sikder said, describing how challenging it is for her to cope with the trauma of the incident in finding new work. "My heart breaks even more for all the other workers and families affected by the Rana Plaza building collapse. Because of the accident, I no longer have any hopes or dreams for the future like I did before." Sikder also called on the US government to take action against manufacturers benefitting from the conditions which support the corrupt garment sector in Bangladesh. "Please think about the workers who have lost their limbs, their feet and their hands, and about the families who have lost their sons and daughters, wives and husbands," she said. "Please think about their pain and how they are forced to live."

Although Bangladeshi garment workers have taken independent action to change their working conditions, they have often been met with violence while protesting. In June, President Obama revoked trade privileges with Bangladesh, citing the poor working conditions in factories.

2/11/2014 - UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Gender Integration in Post-2015 Goals

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for gender equality to be comprehensively included in the UN's post-2015 goals yesterday at the opening of the 57th Session of Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

"We believe there should be a stand-alone goal or goals on equality and non-discrimination that addresses all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

In 2000, the UN announced its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- to reduce hunger and poverty, combat maternal and infant mortality, and provide access to universal education and health, among other goals -- all to be accomplished by the end of 2015. It is now creating a post-2015 agenda to expand on the MDGs.

During her remarks, Pillay also encouraged the strengthening of all treaty bodies and celebrated the CEDAW Committee's work so far, especially highlighting the achievements of CEDAW. During its current session, which runs until February 28, the CEDAW Committee will review reports from Bahrain, Cameroon, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Finland on these countries' implementation of the treaty.

CEDAW is the most comprehensive and detailed international agreement which seeks the advancement of women. CEDAW has been ratified by 187 of the 193 member nations of the UN, but the United States never ratified it.

2/7/2014 - UN and African Union Sign Agreement Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

The African Union (AU) and the United Nations signed a landmark agreement last week committing to improving the prevention of and response to sexual violence, particularly conflict-related violence, in African countries.

The agreement aims to strengthen national policies, laws, and organizations already trying to combat sexual violence, and to train police forces and peacekeepers on prevention and best responses. It emphasizes the importance of providing rehabilitative services for survivors, countering the severe stigma that survivors of sexual violence often face, and ensuring that crimes are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice.

"National ownership, leadership and responsibility are absolutely essential if we are to protect women and girls, but also men and boys, from these barbaric crimes," said Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative on sexual Violence in Conflict. She co-signed the document with Ambassador Smail Chergui, of Algeria, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union.

The UN and AU aim to work closely together on curbing sexual violence and other issues, such as economic development. "A solution cannot be imposed from above," Bangura said.

2/6/2014 - Thousands Protest Spain's Plan to Restrict Abortion

Thousands of people marched to Spain's parliament in Madrid on Saturday to protest a potential new law that would severely restrict women's right to have an abortion.

The law, which was passed by Spain's cabinet in December 2013, would allow abortion only in cases of rape or if the physical or psychological health of the mother is threatened, effectively banning it in all other circumstances. It would toughen conditions for aborting a deformed fetus, and it would require girls under 18 to obtain parental consent to have the procedure.

"I would never have imagined we would find ourselves back here, fighting for something we thought we had won," protestor Maria Pilar Sanchez told Agence France-Presse.

The previous Socialist government legalized abortion before 14 weeks in 2010, but the current ruling party, the Popular Party, often sides with the Roman Catholic Church's conservative views on abortion. The law awaits approval by Parliament, where the Popular Party holds a majority.

Protests were also held in London and cities across France.

2/6/2014 - Afghan Parliament Votes to Silence Victims of Violence

Both houses of the Afghan Parliament have voted to pass an act that would prohibit relatives from testifying against a criminal defendant in a judicial proceeding. If signed by President Hamid Karzai, the proposed change to the Afghan criminal code would prevent family members from testifying as victims or witnesses in all criminal cases, including domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases. The act would also ban children and doctors - including those who may have examined victims - from testifying against the accused.

"It is a travesty this is happening," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women, which runs over two dozen shelters in 10 provinces of Afghanistan for women and girls who have been victims of violence. "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women."

Women for Afghan Women called on the United States "which has promised not to abandon the women of Afghanistan" and the larger international community "to shout out loud and clear their refusal to accept this assault on women's rights."

Last December, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released their annual report on violence against women in Afghanistan, finding that there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women from 2012 to 2013 , but only 17 percent of those were prosecuted under the country's Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) - a small 2 percent increase from 2012.

At the launch of the UNAMA-OHCHR report, Georgette Gagnon, Director of the Human Rights Unit at UNAMA and OHCHR representative, told reporters, "Police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report."

2/5/2014 - UN Demands Vatican Take Action Against Child Sexual Abuse

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has urged the Vatican act to address child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy members and take measures to prevent it from happening in the future.

The CRC recommended that the Holy See remove all clergy who are confirmed or suspected child abusers from their positions immediately, to turn them in to authorities, and to provide the UN with an archive of evidence about the abuse - which they have so far declined to do. The CRC also urged the Vatican invite outside experts and victims to participate in an investigation of child abuse, the abuse of women in Magdalene laundries, and the way these situations were handled by church authorities. The Vatican must should also pay full compensation to victims and families, among several other recommendations.

"The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," the Committee said.

In the US alone between 1950 and 2010, 6,100 priests were accused of abuse, leading to an estimated 100,000 victims, according to Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP. Globally, thousands more have been accused, and they were frequently protected from any punishment by being transferred to a different parish where they could start abusing others, as shown in recently released documents of the Chicago archdiocese.

The CRC report follows a hearing the Committee held last month for Vatican leaders to address global child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and their role in protecting perpetrators. Although these recommendations are a step forward, they are currently non-binding.

2/4/2014 - Presidential Candidates Begin Campaigns for Afghanistan's April Election

Candidates for Afghanistan's upcoming April election kicked off their presidential campaigns on Sunday.

According to TOLO News, many of the 11 candidates have focused on similar, broad issues so far, including security, human rights, women's participation in government, corruption, and economic development. Activists and members of Afghanistan's parliament pointed out the lack of specific goals in the platforms, but they hope candidates will reveal more detailed plans as they campaign for the next two months.

The April 5 election is the first independent election organized by Afghanistan. "This is a very important election, very crucial election because this is the first time from an elected president we are going to go to another elected president," Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, chief electoral officer for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC), told The Associated Press. "We are fully ready - logistically, operationally as well as from the capacity side, the budget side, the timing side."

The IEC has been overseeing election activities to ensure they are conducted in compliance with the laws and with voter confidentiality protected. It has also 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.

1/24/2014 - French National Assembly Passes Abortion Amendment Increasing Access

The French National Assembly Tuesday passed an abortion provision modifying a 1975 law which requires women to prove they are "in distress" to legally terminate a pregnancy. The accepted measure removes that language, and some lawmakers called it "archaic." It also punishes people who attempt to prevent women from entering facilities where information on abortion is accessible. The bill must be put to a vote before it passes into law.

In France, abortion is legal for up to 12 weeks, after which a woman's request must be signed off by two doctors and is only permissible if having the baby will risk her health or life, or that the baby will suffer from severe illness. Even so, France reports that as many as 220,000 women undergo the procedure each year and that 1 in 3 French women will receive an abortion in her lifetime. "Abortion is a right in itself," said France's women's rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, "and not something that is allowed to conditions." The state began to reimburse abortion costs last year.

The law is part of a larger gender equality bill, the most comprehensive in France's history, which also extends paternity leave to six months, increases fines on businesses and political parties for failure to reach parity, prevents media broadcasts of demeaning or sexist imagery toward women, and bans beauty pageants for girls under 13.

The New York Times called the decision "a refreshing step forward for reproductive rights," as well as "a welcome example of what governments can do to support equal rights and equal opportunities for women." The National Assembly's vote puts France in stark contrast with Spain, which is considering extremely conservative legislation that bans abortion except for cases of rape or a threat to a person's physical or psychological health.

"This might seem merely symbolic," said Vallaud-Belkacem, "but it's a strong message. Women must have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy without having to justify themselves."

1/21/2014 - First Woman Nominated to Lead Global US HIV/AIDS Programs

President Obama has nominated Dr. Deborah Birx to become the next leader of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which funds HIV/AIDS programs and prevention efforts around the world. Once confirmed, Dr. Birx will be the first woman to serve as the Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.

"The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the nomination of Deborah Birx to be the next Global AIDS Coordinator," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "Dr. Birx is the right woman at the right time. As a highly qualified medical doctor who has dedicated her career to HIV/AIDS research and treatment, Dr. Birx is well-positioned to lead the important work of saving lives through the PEPFAR program."

Since 2005, Dr. Birx has served as the Director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she was responsible for all of the agency's global HIV/AIDS activities. Prior to that role, Dr. Birx served as Director of the US Military HIV Research Program and as Director of Retrovirology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She has extensive experience in HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development and has earned various honors and awards for her work.

Dr. Birx will take the helm of PEPFAR at a critical time. Although PEPFAR has had success in fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide by supporting HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people, the problem remains staggering. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.

1/17/2014 - Report: Burma Army Uses Rape as Weapon of War

The Women's League of Burma (WLB) released a report on Tuesday revealing the Burmese Army's continued, systematic rape of girls and women since the country's 2010 elections. The Thailand-based group documented over 100 rapes in its report, Same Impunity, Same Patterns, but believes these are only a small fraction of the rapes and that there have likely been hundreds more that have not been reported.

Overall, 47 of the reported cases were gang rapes, and 28 victims died from internal injuries after the rapes. Some of the victims were as young as eight years old. Most of the cases have been clearly linked to military offensives against ethnic minority Kachin and Shan insurgents in the northeast of Burma, also known as Myanmar. And many of the perpetrators have been high-ranking officials in the Burmese military.

"These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers," WLB writes. "Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression . . . Sexual violence is used as a tool by the Burmese military to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities."

WLB argues that these actions go against international treaties Burma has signed as well as it's own penal code that punishes rapists. To create change, WLB suggests putting the military under civilian judicial control so it can be held accountable for its crimes. It is currently independently in charge of administering its affairs. The group also suggests involving more women in the nation's peace process, signing the international Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict [PDF], and adopting laws aimed at protecting women from violence.

1/17/2014 - First Afghan Woman Police Chief Appointed in Kabul

Colonel Jamila Bayaz, a 50-year-old mother of five, this week became the first women to be appointed police chief in Afghanistan. Bayaz will lead the 1st District of Kabul.

Although the job will not be without risk - a senior police woman was murdered in Helmand last September - Bayaz appeared excited to take on her new role, and hopes it will inspire more women to join the ranks of the police force in Afghanistan. "This is a chance not just for me," said Bayaz, "but for the women of Afghanistan. I will not waste it."

Increasing the number and rank of women in policing will play a critical role in decreasing violence against women in Afghanistan and has been an important goal for the United States and the international community. "I want to thank America and the international community for all of their help and support," said Bayaz. "I would not be here today if it weren't for all of their assistance."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States that would help determine the post-2014 role of the US in Afghanistan. The BSA provides that the US will continue to offer assistance to strengthen security, provide humanitarian aid, and support economic and civic development.

In an open letter to President Obama, Afghan civil society leaders asked the President "to ensure that the United States will stand behind the true aspirations of the Afghan people for free, prosperous and democratic future." The letter continues, "Over the coming years, Afghanistan will be completing its political and security transitions as the foundation for the future that we seek. It is our sincere hope that the people of the United States, who were with us during difficult years, will remain with us as we complete the challenging transition period and become more self-reliant."

1/8/2014 - First Female Lawyer in Saudi Arabia Opens Law Firm

The first female law firm in Saudi Arabia launched last week, founded by the first Saudi female lawyer Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran. Saudi Arabia issued law licenses to Al-Zahran and three other female lawyers in October 2013, the first time the country issued such licenses to female law graduates.

Al-Zahran told Arab News that her law firm's objective will be to fight for Saudi women's rights and to get women's cases heard in court. "I believe women lawyers can contribute a lot to the legal system," she said. "This law firm will make a difference in the history of court cases and female disputes in the Kingdom."

The launch of Al-Zahran's law firm is a step forward for women in Saudi Arabia, where adult women are still required to have male guardians who make decisions on their behalf, such as the right to travel, study, work, or marry. Saudi women are required to cover themselves in public, and they are banned from driving, forced to rely on male relatives or guardians to travel anywhere.

Last October, over 60 women drove in October in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive.

1/3/2014 - Assault and Murder of Teenage Girl Spark Protests in India

Protests have erupted in India after a 16-year-old girl was gang raped in two separate attacks and fatally set on fire.

The girl was first assaulted in late October by more than six men near her home in Madhyagram town, near Calcutta. She went to the police the next day to report it, and on her way home, was assaulted again. On Dec. 23, two close friends of the girl's accused rapists set her on fire in her home, possibly for reporting the assaults. She was able to identify her attackers before dying in a hospital on Dec. 31.

"The accused tried to kill my daughter by setting her on fire to hush up their crimes," the victim's father told Agence France-Press.

The girl's story has sparked protests in Calcutta, a little more than a year after the gang rape and torture of a medical student that resulted in her death. The violent attacks have led many to protest about the status of women and police indifference to violence against women in the country. So far, the protests have led the government to enact harsher punishments for rapists, but activists say more needs to be done.

Police made their first arrests on Wednesday -- two months after she initially reported the assaults -- and charged two men with murder.

1/2/2014 - Israel May Fund Abortions For Women Ages 20 to 33

The Israeli government may start funding abortions for women aged 20 to 33 if recommendations recently made by a Health Ministry committee are enacted.

Israeli women under the age of 17 and over the ago of 40 already receive subsidized abortion services for personal reasons. Women also get almost automatic approval for an abortion if they are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, if the fetus has a birth defect, or if the pregnancy may endanger the woman's physical or mental well-being.

Under Israeli law, a committee determines which procedures should be funded through the government and sends recommendations to the Health Ministry for approval. The committee proposed early this week to expand abortion funding for women ages 20 to 33.

"It was brought to our attention that there is a large group of women between 20 and 40 who for various reasons -- financial or reasons of secrecy -- do not terminate pregnancies," said panel head Professor Yonatan Halevy.

The committee wanted to fund the procedure for all women but was limited by budgetary constraints.

Abortion is illegal in Israel, and women must appear before a government panel --consisting of two physicians and a social worker, one of whom must be a woman -- to gain approval for the procedure. However, there is a wide range of exceptions for women seeking abortions, and 98 percent of cases that come before the panel are approved.

The committee's recommendations now go to the Health Council for final approval. If approved, the recommendations could help the 6,300 women in the proposed age range who are expected to terminate their pregnancies in 2014.

12/23/2013 - Bangladeshi Factory Owners Charged For Fire Deaths of 112 Workers

The owners and 11 employees of a Bangladeshi garment factory are facing charges for culpable homicide after the death of 112 workers in a fire last year.

Those charged - including owners Delwar Hossain and Mahmuda Akter, and 11 factory managers, security guards, and engineers - created dangerous conditions for the workers that contributed to their deaths. The building had no emergency fire exits, and it's fire certificate had expired. The factory was nine stories high, even though it only had permission to be three stories, and it was located in a narrow alley where firefighters could not reach the flames.

On the day of the fire, managers and security guards locked the doors, trapping the workers inside." The managers and security guards misguided the workers by saying that it was nothing but a part of a regular fire drill when the blaze broke out," said Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul. "So the workers went back to work after the fire alarm went off, but they got trapped as the managers locked the gates."

This is the first time Bangladeshi authorities have charged factory owners in a country where several factory disasters over the past two years have injured and killed hundreds of workers. A court will decide on December 31 whether to accept the charges and allow the trial to proceed. If those charged are convicted, they could face life in prison.

12/16/2013 - Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Presidency

Feminist Michelle Bachelet is once again the president of Chile, winning 62 percent of the vote - the largest victory for any presidential candidate since the country resumed democratic elections in 1989.

As president, Bachelet will address the profound gap between the rich and poor in Chile. The country has the highest level of income inequality among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Bachelet also intends to establish free university education, a priority for Chilean youth who have organized massive protests against the prohibitively high cost of education there.

"Feminists worldwide applaud Michelle Bachelet's victory and great leadership for women's rights," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal in reaction to the win.

Bachelet, a medical doctor by training, served as the president of Chile between 2006 and 2010. The first woman to lead the country, Bachelet reformed Chile's pension system, developed new social welfare programs for children, and was known as a strong champion for women and girls. Constitutionally barred from seeking a consecutive second term, Bachelet went on to become the first Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of UN Women.

12/13/2013 - Protests Follow India Supreme Court's Reinstatement of Gay Sex Ban

India's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to reinstate a ban on gay sex. Their decision overturned a 2009 Delhi High Court decision finding that Section 377 of the penal code, the 153-year-old colonial-era law criminalizing gay relationships, was discriminatory and violated human rights.

Violating the law can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Although the BBC reports that the law is rarely used for prosecution, it is often used by police to harass gay people. "This decision is a body-blow to people's rights to equality, privacy and dignity," said G. Ananthapadmanabhan of Amnesty International India in a statement.

Although various conservative groups had petitioned the two-judge Supreme Court to reinstate the ban, the decision prompted protests in cities across India and dismay from Indian leaders.

"To say in this day and age that LGBT rights should not be recognized is extremely regressive and extremely disappointing," said Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

India's parliament can vote to change or remove Section 377, or the government can file a curative petition to have the case reviewed quickly by a five-judge panel.

12/11/2013 - Human Rights Day Celebrated Around The World

Yesterday marked International Human Rights Day, a day to celebrate human rights advances and to assess the challenges that lie ahead in protecting them.

"The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place: these include a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply them to new and emerging human rights issues," said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement. "The key now is to implement those laws and standards to make enjoyment of human rights a reality on the ground."

One of the most pressing global human rights concerns that the United States can easily help improve is women's access to family planning services and protection from HIV/AIDS. Every minute, a young woman becomes infected with HIV/AIDS. Women need reproductive health programs to be integrated with HIV/AIDS services, and vice-versa, for improved efficiency and effectiveness in preventing AIDS infection and unplanned pregnancy and improving maternal and child health.

The United States, through PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - has made an unprecedented commitment to helping create an AIDS Free Generation. Yet, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, nor are family planning services provided at PEPFAR sites, meaning that women cannot access a full range of contraceptives at the same site where they receive HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, or treatment. Moreover, continued U.S.-funding preferences for abstinence-based programs undermine comprehensive HIV-prevention services, including the provision of condoms.

TAKE ACTION: Urge decision makers to integrate comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services with HIV/AIDS treatment for women globally.

LEARN MORE: Read our week-long blog series about human rights.

12/9/2013 - Mixed Results for Afghanistan's Anti-Violence Against Women Law

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released their annual report on violence against women in Afghanistan yesterday, revealing mixed results of the country's Elimination of Violence against Women Law.

"A Way to Go: An Update on Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan [PDF]," found that there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women from 2012 to 2013 , but only 17 percent of those were prosecuted under EVAW - a small 2 percent increase from last year.

The law, which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. It has still not been passed by Parliament, after women's rights activist and head of the women's committee of the Lower House, Fawzia Kofi, introduced it for a vote in 2013. Kofi was concerned that, without approval for EVAW by Parliament, the decree might be reversed by a newly elected President in 2014.

While it has "provided protection to Afghan women facing violence," said Georgette Gagnon, the UNAMA Director of Human Rights and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has not helped as many as it could due to "a lack of investigation" and "continued under reporting. "The report's authors wrote that an increase in the number of female police officers and leaders, establishing a system to track incidents of violence, and increasing funding and training for EVAW commissions would make the law stronger. "We have found that police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report," Gagnon said.

Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 5/20/13, 9/11/13, 10/10/13; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 12/8/13; Al Jazeera 12/8/13

12/6/2013 - Report Explores Impact of Unsafe Abortion on Women and Families in Uganda

Research completed by the Guttmacher Institute and released this week exposes the considerable financial toll taken on Ugandan women and their families when they pursue unsafe abortions. "Documenting the Individual and Household-Level Cost of Unsafe Abortion in Uganda" [PDF], by Aparna Sundaram of the Guttmacher Institute et al, uses data collected between 2011 and 2012 from more than 1,300 women to gain insight into how the costs of both unsafe abortion and post-abortion care impact women's finances and the well-being of their families.

Uganda's abortion rate is one of the highest in the world. In 2003, 54 of every 1,000 women in Uganda had had an induced abortion between the ages of 15 and 49. Confusing and restrictive laws lead many women to pursue dangerous and unsafe abortions, and in 2003 85,000 women in Uganda were treated for complications from their abortions in local hospitals. On average, Ugandan women in the study paid 59,600 shillings for their abortions (equivalent to $23), but post-abortion care increased that average cost to 128,000 shillings on average (or $49). These costs are significant for women in Uganda, where per capita income in 2011 was $510 and 38% of the population lived on $1.25 per day in 2009. 73% of the women in the study reported that they had lost wages due to treatment, 60% reported that their children had less to eat and/or were unable to attend school after their treatment, and 34% reported that they experienced a decline in economic stability after their care was complete.

"These findings make clear that more must be done to reduce unintended pregnancy by ensuring Ugandan women have access to family planning services," said Moses Mulumba, executive director of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development. "Accurate information on contraception and high-quality services must be made available as a matter of constitutionally guaranteed rights to allow women to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Young and poor women in particular need access to these services."

The Guttmacher report recommends increased family planning services and contraceptive access in Uganda. 34% of married women and 35% of sexual active unmarried women in Uganda experience an unmet need for contraception. A recent Ms. magazine report on PEPFAR funding in the region found that abstinence-only policies in the country lead to frequent condom stockouts. The Uganda Ministry of Health has stated that condom availability over the past five years doesn't meet the needs or demands of the population. A lack of available family planning resources is directly responsible for both the high rate of unsafe abortions in Uganda as well as rising HIV/AIDS infections.