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The twentieth-century Robin Hood is Phholan Devi, an Indian woman who formed a group of male bandits to steal from upper castes and kill 20 men who gang-raped her. After three years as an outlaw, the woman and her gang surrendered to the authorities on the condition that the police would imprison them for no longer than eight years and give their poor families land and education. The authorities instead held her without a trial for 11 years until a lower-caste politician freed her in 1994. Two years later, voters elected her to Parliament.
This champion of rights for women and lower-caste Indians became the center of attention once more this month when authorities filed charges against her again. These authorities have left other members of Parliament accused of murder alone. Phoolan Devi attributes this inconsistency to her sex and the caste system, the old Hindu hierarchy.
As a member of Parliament, Phoolan Devi is fighting for women's rights. She plans to introduce bills that would allow women equal claims to their husbands' property when they marry and that would permit only celibate men to marry virgin women.
8/18/1997 - Indian Prime Minister Opposes Quota Bill
Inder Kumar Gujral, Prime Minister of India, vowed last week t o oppose a bill through Parliament that would guarantee a third of India's parliamentary seats for women. The bill sparked intense debate in parliament and caused divisions in every political party. Gujral says that he supports gender equity but argues that affecting major social change requires a building a consensus. There are currently 39 female members of India's 545-member lower house of parliament.
8/15/1997 - Groups Protest Guess' Use of Sweatshop Labor
The Feminist Majority, along with other human rights, labor rights, and women's rights organizations, participated in a noontime leafleting action in front of Hecht's Department Store on Thursday, August 14. The action was aimed at educating consumers about Guess' inhumane treatment of contract workers. Most of these workers are immigrant women who work for sub-minimum wages in Guess contract shops. Guess has been cited repeatedly by the Department of Labor for overtime and minimum wage violations.
"We cannot stand silently by as these workers are forced to sew Guess clothes under sweatshop conditions, for no benefits, and often, sub-minimum wages," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "We must educate consumers about the sweatshop conditions of Guess contract shops and about Guess' retreat to countries where labor laws and their enforcement are more lax than the U.S."
8/15/1997 - U.S. Suspends Operation of Afghan Embassy
The United States has decided to suspend operations indefinitely at the Afghan Embassy. State Department spokesperson James P. Rubin said the action was taken because "of the U.S. belief that there is no effective government in Afghanistan, which is divided between two warring factions." The embassy is occupied by two diplomats from each government, however the embassy is effectively operated by the Taliban, the Afghan militia that has repeatedly violated women's rights in the past months. The suspension, according to Rubin, reflects the decision by the United States to remain strictly neutral in Afghan affairs.
8/15/1997 - Sexual Harassment Banned in India
In a highly significant ruling, the Indian Supreme Court banned sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The ban also provides that sexual harassment awareness should be advertised in offices and by the government, and provides that complaints should be handled by a committee headed by a woman, with half its members women. The ban, however, does not direct what punishment offenders should receive.
8/15/1997 - Herman an Unusual Power Player
Alexis Herman's work in attempting to resolve the UPS strike is being praised by members of both sides, and she is credited with the resumption of direct negotiations that took place Thursday, August 14. The Secretary of Labor is the lone African-American woman among white men. Political consultants say that she has a "light touch" that will be necessary for her work to end the strike.
8/15/1997 - Citadel Gains First Female Scholarship Athlete
When she signed her scholarship papers on Thursday, August 14, distance runner Mandy Garcia became the Citadel's first female scholarship athlete. Garcia, of North Carolina, will participate in both cross country and track while at the military college. She is currently the only member of the Citadel's women's team, which will compete in the Southern Conference. Coaches and administrators have hailed the move as one more step on the Citadel's path to full acceptance of women.
8/15/1997 - Louisiana to Adopt Covenant Marriages
A Louisiana state law adopted recently makes "covenant marriages," that is, marriages where both parties waive the right to a no-fault divorce, legal. The purpose of this law is to create a "more binding legal union" where couples will be obligated to work out smaller problems, and allowed divorce only over reasons such as adultery, abuse, abandonment, or a lengthy separation. Couples will have to go to court to prove their reasons for divorce are adequate. Groups such as the Christian Coalition have advocated these marriages on the grounds that divorce has negative effects on children. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana counters the Christian Coalition stance, suggesting that children would be better off removed from the hostile environment of an unhappy family. Some predict the law will have negative effects on women, making it more difficult for them and their children to leave abused homes.
Staff Sgt. Herman Gunter has become part of the fifth military trial this year to arise from an Army inquiry regarding sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the training center northeast of Baltimore. On August 14, a military court dropped two allegations against the drill sergeant for "sexual intercourse by fear," a charge similar to rape, and permitted his court-martial on assault and adultery. Army prosecutors refrained from explaining the dismissal of the more serious charges. They also offered no reasons for dropping accusations from one of the three trainees. Gunter faces eight remaining charges, including one count of assault, cruelty and maltreatment.
The ineffectiveness of their decision to boycott Disney has led Southern Baptists to reconsider their strategy. Leaders of the denomination asked their followers on August 13 to keep from spending at least $100 on Disney products and services over the next year. This goal is more modest than the original one Southern Baptists voted for in June, which was a complete boycott of Disney. The denomination opposes what it calls Disney's "Christian-bashing, family-bashing, pro-homosexual agenda."
8/14/1997 - APA Considers Opposing Anti-Gay Counseling
The American Psychological Association is ready to consider a resolution that would restrict the circumstances under which so-called "reparative therapy"--aimed at converting homosexuals into heterosexuals--can be ethically practiced. Similar but stronger resolutions have failed in the past, but because the current effort does not define the therapy as unethical, it is expected to pass. The resolution is supported by hundreds of medical and psychological groups and is in keeping with the APA's 1973 resolution that homosexuality is not an illness.
8/14/1997 - Women Struggle With HMOs
A study commissioned by the Older Women's League reported that while managed care often provides aid to patients in detecting and preventing health problems, it can limit patients’ access to specialists and unusual treatment options. These findings are particularly ominous for women, who typically live longer than men but suffer from more chronic diseases. Older women also typically have lower incomes than their male counterparts and may not be able to afford medications not covered by their managed-care plan.
8/14/1997 - Comic Strip Causes Controversy
The comic strip "For Better or Worse" will shift attention to the love life of its gay character, Lawrence, for a four-day series. The Universal Press Syndicate informed over 1,700 papers of the forthcoming series, and 20 or more newspapers have decided to use reruns from 1995. Lynn Johnston, "For Better or Worse" creator, faced similar controversy in 1993 when Lawrence revealed he was gay, but in each case the number of newspapers choosing not to run the strip is very small compared to the total number in its distribution. Although Johnston is displeased with this latest controversy, she stated "it's not frustrating for me but for the people who are harassed because they have to put up with this every minute of their lives."
8/14/1997 - Gandhian Activist's Role Remembered
In this fiftieth anniversary year of India's independence from Britain, Indians are celebrating anew the work of Gandhian activists such as Usah Metha. Metha, a 77 year-old women, served as one of the Indian underground's first disc jockeys in 1928. She also worked with Gandhi on his 1942 campaign to force the British to leave India. Metha has continued to promote Gandhi's ideals of nonviolence for nearly 40 years.
William M. Smith faces up to 10 years in prison for possession of a firearm due to the federal Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which makes it a federal offense for anyone with a previous domestic violence conviction to own a gun. Without the protection of this law, Smith's second domestic attack on his wife would likely have been classified as aggrevated assault unders state laws, bringing only a two-year maximum sentence. U.S. Attorney Stephen Rapp called the law "an effective tool to stop the escalation of violence which sometimes follows the first domestic abuse incident."
8/13/1997 - Taliban Still Seeking U.S. Recognition
Representatives of Afghanistan's fundamentalist Islamic Taliban militia have increased their efforts to gain U.S. recognition. The Taliban's designated ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, recently met with State Department officials and members of the House and Senate staffs. So far, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have recognized the Taliban. Other countries have failed to do so because of concerns about the Taliban's treatment of women.
Since the Taliban conquered the capital city of Kabul last September, it has imposed a strict form of Islam which forbids women from working, attending school, or appearing in public unaccompanied by a male relative. Before the takeover, women comprised roughly 50 percent of Afghanistan's university students and 40 percent of its doctors.
A new technique for detecting breast cancer, sentinel node bioposy, is being fine-tuned by surgeons around the country. The technique, developed several years ago by Dr. Armando E. Giuliano of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, involves a simple procedure that takes less than an hour and can be done on an outpatient basis. Unlike the standard technique, an auxiliary dissection, which involves removing a cluster of lymph nodes from the armpit, sentinel node biopsy removes one lymph node and examines that node for cancer. For women with small tumors, this procedure is 99% accurate; however, it is less accurate for women with larger tumors. Guiliano cautions that a sentinel node biopsy can only be done by an experienced surgeon.
8/13/1997 - South Africa Celebrates National Women's Day
During the National Women's Day celebration in South Africa on August 9, women protested violence and inequalities against women. Women held demonstrations to denounce the violence in their country, which last year had the highest number of reported rapes in the world. Winnie Mandela, President of the African National Congress Women's League encouraged women to end their silence and identify violent criminals. Protestors also highlighted sex discrimination in employment. Recent finance ministry publications proved that their concerns are relevant; only 53% of white women and 36% of black women make as much as 82% of white males in the country.
8/13/1997 - SBA Revisions Help White Women-Owned Businesses
On August 13, the Small Business Administration published proposed changes to its minority program, which allows federal agencies to reserve contracts for minority-owned firms. Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez said the goal of the revisions is adding to the program several thousand new firms. Alvarez believes these additions will be mostly white women-owned firms. Diana Bowling, owner and president of Dyna Corp., supports the proposals. "I've never understood why the SBA hasn't recognized [all] women as a disadvantaged class," she said. "Women are still not part of the 'good old boy' network that is a big part of how [construction] contracts are awarded." Officials hope to make the new SBA rules final in October.
In Iran, Masssoumeh Ebtekar, 36, was appointed vice-president in charge of protecting the environment, and director of the Iranian organization for the Protection of the Environment. She is the first woman to be named to such a senior position in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ebtekar has had experience in journalism, medicine, and teaching, and has been a member of Iranian delegations to international organizations. She will be working under President Mohammad Khatami, whose election was carried by the votes of women, young people, and intellectuals.
A federal district court jury in Georgia awarded Vickie D. Galliher one of the largest amounts of money ever involved in federal government sexual harassment case. Last week, the former employee of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga. won $72,000 in back pay and $600,000 in damages. Galliher, who possesses a master's degree in sports medicine, accused the Center of rejecting her for a promotion from health trainer to instructor, instead giving the job to a lesser-qualified man. After she filed a complaint in 1994 with equal employment opportunity officials in Washington, the training center subjected her to poor evaluations, obscene telephone calls and eavesdropping. The ostracism led Galliher to quit her job after two and a half years. Although a spokesman for the Center said last week that the Center would appeal the verdict, it may owe more compensation after a judge rules on the issues of lost pay and legal fees.
The pre-trial hearing of Sgt. Major of the Army Gene McKinney continued as a commissioned officer testified that McKinney made sexual advances against her wishes while they served in Germany. The officer claims that McKinney made repeated sexual advances, and at one point in 1994 grabbed her arm and tried to kiss her. The officer is one of six women bringing sexual harassment charges against McKinney. Due to the officer's testimony, McKinney has been charged with solicitation to commit adultery and one count of assault on a commissioned officer in the execution of her duties. Gene McKinney is currently Sergeant Major of the Army, which means that he is the highest ranking non-commissioned officer and chief advocate for the enlisted troops. The objective of the pre-trial, which began in June, is to determine whether or not the charges merit a court-martial.
8/12/1997 - Women's Health Care Concerns Taking Center Stage
Aging baby boomers and their economic and political clout have recently brought women's health care concerns to the attention of the medical community. Experts attribute this shift in part to feminist activists who urged the medical community to make up for its years of neglecting women's health. As a result, funding for women's health initiatives has risen 30 percent over the past three years, and the budget of the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health has gone from $1 million in 1991 to $12 million this year.
However, problems do remain. Some women complain that there is too much contradictory and confusing information being published. Also, increased spending has not always translated into health improvements; last year, AIDS deaths dropped 22 percentamong men but only 7 percent among women, and breast cancer continues to kill one in eight women.
8/12/1997 - First Breast Implant Lawsuit Coming to Close
The nation's first breast implant class-action suit is scheduled to close on Thursday, August 14. Women who received Dow Chemical Company's silicone breast implants are seeking damages for illnesses they say were caused by the implants. The trial began on March 27 of this year.
8/11/1997 - First Dean of Women Appointed at Citadel
On August 9, the Citadel appointed Professor Suzanne Ozmeat as its first dean of women. Ozmeat has been an English professor at the previously all-male military school since 1982, receiving tenure in 1986. She has been awarded the Faculty Merit Award twice. As dean of women, her responsibilities will include supervising the development of female cadets as members of the academic community. Citadel President John Grinalds speaks highly of Ozmeat: "She is a noted Victorian scholar, an able teacher...and she is also a very strong administrator."