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The United States State Department has formally denounced a recent Egyptian court ruling which overturned a ban on female genital mutilation. The State Department called the mutilation an "abhorrent practice." State Department spokesperson John Dinger commented, "The U.S. government will continue to urge an end to this form of violence against women. It has been widely condemned by international experts as damaging to both (the) physical and psychological health of women."
Worldwide, nearly 80 million women have had the procedure, known both as genital mutilation and female circumcision. The procedure involves cutting away the clitoris and labia minora with a knife, razor blade or other sharp object such as broken glass without anesthetic except for herbal remedies in some cases. Often women and girls contract diseases, such as tetanus, because the procedure is performed in unsanitary conditions, and many die of infection or other complications.
In June of 1996, a U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that a 19-year-old women who escaped her native Togo to avoid the practice should be granted political asylum. It marked the first time a court with national jurisdiction recognized the practice as a form of persecution. The ruling is now binding on all U.S. immigration judges who hear asylum cases. A law sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and former Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) bans the practice in the United States.
Hearings began this week to determine whether the Army's highest-ranking enlisted soldier should be court-martialed for alleged charges of indecent assault, adultery, and obstruction of justice. Sgt. Christine A. Roy, a key witness for the prosecution, testified against Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney on June 26. She was disappointed to learn that, because of loopholes in the law, McKinney faces lesser charges than she believes he deserves. The case is highly political because of McKinney's high-profile position.
During her testimony, Roy said McKinney pressured her into having sex with him even though they are both married. She eventually consented because she did not want to jeopardize her career. Her concerns for McKinney's effect on her career stem from the fact that the male soldier holds an office in the Pentagon and advises the chief of staff on all matters relating to enlisted personnel. Roy and two other women who have accused McKinney are subject to his orders. McKinney denies all charges and claims his four accusers, who are white, are discriminating against him because he is black. The second alleged victim was scheduled to testify on June 27 in the preliminary hearing. After the preliminary hearing, Col. Owen C. Powell will weigh the evidence and determine whether to proceed with a trial, alter the charges against McKinney, or dismiss the case. McKinney has requested permission to retire but has received no official response from the Army.
A 13-ton marble statue of suffragists Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony has greeted individuals who have visited the Capitol Rotunda for the past month. The monument, formerly located in the crypt of the building, was formally rededicated on June 26. The National Woman's Party presented the statue to Congress in 1921, and it was moved from the Rotunda to the basement of the building one day after its dedication. Women's groups fought for three decades to get the tribute moved back to its more prominent position raising the $75,000 necessary to move the statue to the Rotunda where it is the only statue depicting a woman. However, a congressional committee is still searching for another location to serve as the statue's permanent address.
Karen Staser, who helped lead a campaign to move the statue to the Rotunda, is urging Congress to keep it there. Her organization has formed a task force whose goal it to erect a monument for Sojourner Truth, a former slave and suffragette. According to Staser, "Because of what these women began, I and other women vote, attend college, own property and can even run for Congress."
One-third of diabetic teen girls at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children often skip their insulin injections to lose weight, according to researchers at the hospital. Psychiatrist Gary Rodin and his colleagues discovered that skipping insulin presents a greater threat than other eating disorders, which are common among diabetic teen-agers. Eighty-six percent of the girls they studied who underdosed themselves had early stages of diabetic retinopathy, a severe eye condition which can lead to blindness. Although teen-agers with diabetes usually gain about ten pounds when they start taking insulin, diabetics are often already underweight because of their medical condition. Rodin said group counseling sessions for the girls and their parents help prevent the diabetics from skipping their insulin shots.
Lt. Wendy Costello, one of the highest ranking females in the Orange County, California's Sheriff's Departments, has sued the department for sexual harassment. Costello claims that the agency repeatedly harassed female employees, denied them promotions based on gender and exploited them. Costello also claims that Sheriff Brad Gates contributed to the atmosphere of sexually harassment. Costello's direct supervisor, Assistant Sheriff Dennis LaDucer, allegedly made a barrage of unwanted sexual advances towards her, groped her and threatened her. Costello's attorney, Pat Thistle, commented, "This is a case of institutional terrorism against women, and it's been gong on there a long time."
Two other women are represented as plaintiffs in the suit. They claim that they often paired up in teams to avoid having to be alone with LaDucer. He allegedly took the women on lengthy lunch time excursions, loitered at their desks, insisted on touching them and threatened their careers if they ever said anything. On several business trips, LaDucer allegedly threatened and groped Costello, including forcefully kissing her. On one trip to visit Mexican law enforcement leaders, LaDucer allegedly humiliated Costello by describing her in sexual terms to the hosting officials and then suggestively rubbing up against her during a group photo.
A jury in Dayton, Ohio has awarded $146,800 to a woman who was fired after she refused her employer's suggestion that she abort her seventh child and the her husband have a vasectomy. Linda Kreider, they found, was improperly fired for being pregnant and should be reinstated as a production manager at Creative Fabricators, Inc. The company alleged that it fired her because she was repeatedly absent and was not getting her work done. The jury disagreed and awarded Kreider $80,800 in back pay, $15,000 for emotional distress, $15,000 in punitive damages and $36,000 for being paid less than a man doing comparable work.
6/26/1997 - Oman Changes Divorce and Marriage Laws
A new Oman law has granted women the right of divorce and has set the minimum age for marriage at 18. A woman may seek a divorce if her husband is missing for more than a year, jailed for three years or more, or if she is not financially supported in the event of a long separation. The law says that the party seeking divorce would be liable to pay compensation to the spouse. The law establishes that the dowry paid to a woman on marriage is her legal property. Under Islamic law, men are allowed up to four wives. The law provides that the men may bring into the home parents and children of another wife, but cannot bring in the other wife to share the home.
Under Secretary of State Tim Wirth has said that the United States will press to link women's rights and the environment at the United Nations Earth Summit. U.S. negotiators will attempt to link empowering women with fighting environmental degradation in the document which the five-day summit will produce. Nafis Sadik, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, commented that a wider understanding was needed "of these life-sustaining synergies - women's empowerment, gender concerns, population pressures [and] poverty."
In honor of the 25th Anniversary of Title IX (June 23, 1997), the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally-funded education, President Clinton issued a directive asking all federal agencies to develop enforcement plans for Title IX, and to take action to eradicate discrimination in educational programs conducted by the federal government (which are not currently covered by Title IX).
In related news, a new bill in Congress would make it easier to learn about colleges and universities' athletics budgets and participation rates for women. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun has introduced the Fair Play Act, which would require colleges and universities to submit statistical information about their athletics programs to the Department of Education for dissemination to the public through their World Wide Web site and toll-free phone number. Colleges and universities already collect this information in compliance with a previous law sponsored by Moseley-Braun, but the information is currently not compiled and disseminated nationally.
Title IX baseball caps are available at the Women's Sports Foundation, 1-800-227-3988.
6/26/1997 - American Medical Association Approves D&X Ban
Apparently more concerned with its political clout than the health and lives of women, the American Medical Association has ratified its Board's earlier support of legislation which would ban the D&X procedure used in some late-term abortions. Dr. David Holley, an oncologist from Monterey, California told delegates, "You don't make a deal and then welsh on it in your personal life, and you can't afford to do that in the legislative arena. [By not backing the Board] we run the risk for the duration of the current congressional leadership of being ineffectual in influencing any issue that deals with health policy." The group's leaders were able to get the group to pass the endorsement of the ban largely on the notion that not passing the Board's decision would undermine the group's political credibility.
The 475-member House of Delegates eventually passed a compromise, which supported the Board but demanded that the legislation eliminate penalties against doctors. The legislation passed both the House and Senate, but failed to gain enough votes in the Senate to override a promised Presidential veto. The House must now vote on it again because the Senate made some changes to the bill. The legislation does not make an exception to allow the procedure if the health of the woman is at stake.
U.S. District Judge James C. Turk indicated during a hearing that he will likely delay enforcement of Virginia's strict parental consent law. Turk commented, "I really see little or no harm for granting a temporary restraining order, and I think it would serve the public interest not to be enforcing the law if it is unconstitutional." He noted that he would make a formal decision regarding the restraining order on June 30th. During the hearing, Turk had engaged in a vigorous debate with the state's Deputy Attorney General William H. Hurd regarding the legislature's intention in passing the law. The legislature omitted three key provisions that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled are mandatory when passing state parental-consent laws. These provisions are: that states guarantee confidentiality to teenage women who ask judges to waive the requirement, that states ensure a speedy verdict from the judges, and that states require judges to grant the medical procedure automatically if a girl proves that she is "mature." Turk, a former Republican Senator appointed to the bench 25 years ago by President Richard M. Nixon, commented at one point, "A person could look at it, a person who felt strongly on the other side, that the legislation was drafted to prevent abortions [not to inform parents]. That bothers me."
Planned Parenthood, along with three state affiliates and five clinics and physicians, filed the challenge to the new law on June 12th. Turk said he would likely delay enforcement of the law for 30 to 45 days while the courts rule on its constitutionality.
Police officers in Los Angeles who commit offenses such as degrading women and minorities will face stricter punishments as of Tuesday, June 24. The Los Angeles Police Commission has affirmed a new set of discipline guidelines which suggest penalties varying from reprimands to termination. The new guidelines regard "racist or sexist behavior or any form of sexual misconduct, including verbal sexual harassment" as one of the four most serious offenses a police officer can commit. According to the guidelines, a domestic violence felony can result in termination. A first offense of hanging photos of a "sexually biased nature" in the work place can result in a five to nine-day suspension. A Police Commission task force which included members of the police officers union, community groups and the American Civil Liberties Union formulated the guidelines in an attempt to make the LAPD's internal discipline better reflect the severity of officers' offenses. Before the Police Commission approved the recommendations, department supervisors were free to assign punishments in any manner they wished. While the reforms are not binding, members of the task force hope the guidelines will eventually become the standards supervisors follow in punishing officers.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the 1996 Communications Decency Act violates freedom of speech guarantees. The law restricted free expression on the Internet, ostensibly to protect children from material intended for adults. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the seven-member majority that the law went too far in restricting adults' access to material they otherwise would be entitled to see. The law made it a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine to publish indecent material on the Internet in a manner available to those under 18 years of age. While intended to ban pornography, the vaguely written law threatened to censor valid forms of expression, including information regarding abortion services.
An Army drill sergeant, who has been accused of sexual misconduct and who testified that he belonged to a sex ring which targeted female trainees, has pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Staff Sergeant Wayne Gamble, stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, has pleaded guilty to adultery, violating rules of socializing, engaging in sex with trainees, one count of sodomy, and one count of being absent without leave. The charges could end his 18-year military career. Testifying in trials against other Aberdeen drill sergeants, Gamble admitted that he and five other male trainers participated in a secret sex ring the called "the game." The so-called game involved selecting new female trainees, having sex with them and then sharing their names with the other sergeants.
In a blow to pro-choice advocates in Poland and internationally, the Polish parliament has rejected a bid to call for referendum on whether or not to allow abortion for social reasons. Members of parliament voted 197 to 178, with 14 abstentions, against allowing the referendum to appear on the vote during the same time as parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 21st. Last month, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that a law passed in 1996 which allowed abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy was not constitutional. Parliament must thus make the law more stringent, unless pro-choice advocates can muster a two-thirds parliamentary vote to override the tribunal's decision, which is very unlikely. A referendum would have allowed people to vote on the abortion question separately from other abortion issues. If passed, the referendum would have overridden the tribunal's ruling.
6/25/1997 - Egypt Overturns Female Circumcision Ban
On Tuesday, June 24, Cairo Administrative Court Judge Abdul Aziz Hamade overturned the Health Ministry's 1996 ban on female circumcisions. The Judge claims that the Ministry cannot forbid a practice that parliament does not consider illegal. Eight Islamic scholars and doctors challenged the decree on the grounds that it interferes with religious beliefs and physicians' rights to perform medical duties. The ban will remain in effect, however, until the higher courts make a decision on it. Women's and human rights groups hope the higher courts will reverse the ruling, and activists announced they will continue to try to educate parents against female genital mutilation. Cairo Attorney Mohammed Sabry said, "Illumination and education…will lead to the disappearance of this tradition. But it will take some time."
6/24/1997 - Marines Assault Civilians
Two Marine sergeants allegedly attacked a couple camping in Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest on June 21st. The couple was assaulted and the woman raped near the popular Clear Lake campsite. Sgt. Rudolph Jackson and Sgt. Clinton Bergman were arrested for the assault and arraigned on June 23rd. Bergman has served as a recruiter for the Marines for six years, and Jackson has served as an administrative clerk for the corps for eight years.
On June 22nd, Virginia State Police arrested Marine Sgt. Matthew Putnam for assault and attempted carjacking after he tried to take off with the car of an Alexandria woman who stopped to help him. Putnam had run out of gas along the highway and ran into traffic to try and flag someone down. When the woman stopped to help, he assaulted her, grabbed her keys and jumped into her car with his 2 year-old daughter and 3 year-old son. The woman was able to get the keys back before he drove off and three state troopers, who had been alerted to a fight along the highway, pulled over to arrest Putnam. The children have been returned to their mother.
The Marine Corps is the only branch of the United States military that does not have gender-integrated training.
On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ordered the Army to open its sexual misconduct case against Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney to the news media and public. Major news organizations and the accused soldier petitioned the federal court to open the pretrial hearing, but the Army argued that allowing the process to go public would put witnesses in danger, allow inadmissible evidence to spread and make finding an impartial jury difficult. Chief Justice Walter Cox III, one of the four judges hearing the case, said the Army supplied no evidence to support its claims. The Court decided that the services need to give a specific rationale before they can close hearings. According to Eugene R. Fidell, who argued for opening the hearing, "The days when any service could have a pattern and practice for presumptively closing an Article 32 investigation ended this afternoon."
6/24/1997 - Betty Shabazz Dies of Severe Burns
Human rights and civil rights activist Betty Shabazz died on June 23rd, at the age of 63, of severe burns. Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, was burned on more than 80 percent of her body during a June 1 blaze, allegedly set by her grandson, that swept through her apartment. Five skin-graft operations, performed in hopes of saving her life, were not ultimately successful. After the death of her husband, Shabazz earned a doctorate in education and was most recently a public relations administrator at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.
Throughout her life, Shabazz worked as an activist for African-American women and a champion for human rights. She traveled extensively in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean as a lecturer and participated in the United States Aid for International Development Conference in South Africa. Civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., said of her, "She leaves a legacy of love, service, dedication and caring, especially for the children…The nation has lost a committed civil and human rights activist whose life and contributions have made a significant difference."
6/24/1997 - New Jersey Governor Whitman Vetoes D&X Ban
New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) has vetoed a state bill that would ban the D&X late-term abortion procedure. Whitman refused to sign the bill because it did not make an exception for cases in which the woman's health was endangered. The law exempts procedures only to save the woman's life, apparently her health does not really mean much to the state legislature. The state legislature will attempt to override the veto.
This week the House and Senate will vote on budget-balancing measures which create controversy not only in financial matters but in the abortion issue as well. The bill includes the "Hyde Amendment" which would deny federal funds for abortions as part of a proposed program of health care for uninsured children age 18 and under. The amendment only makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is in danger.
According to Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, "It's just another example of how the right wing in Congress is using every vehicle they can, including the budget process, to restrict women's access to abortion services and make abortion more difficult for women in general to obtain." To counter the amendment, Democrats in Congress have been signing a letter asking the White House to remove abortion restrictions from the bills. Although the Administration has not threatened to veto the bill, it told House leaders that "major objectionable items" of the bill include the curbs on abortion.
Phyllis Hill Slater, the incoming president of the 10,000-member National Association of Women Business Owners, addressed the group's Lexington, Kentucky chapter's annual meeting on June 24th. Hill Slater discussed the importance of women in America's business landscape and future. Hill Slater said that the group helps women by allowing women to network and for more experienced women business owners to mentor women just starting their businesses. She commented at the meeting, "I think women have a very important role to play in [improving society and diversifying the workforce], because…[w]e're the top honchos…when it comes to moral and cultural design in this country." There are approximately 8 million female-owned businesses in the United States, which employ 18.5 million people and generate annual revenues of $2.3 trillion. Hill Slater and her daughter own Hill Slater Inc., a 23-employee engineering and construction support services firm.
6/24/1997 - Clintons Campaign for Female Senators
President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spent Monday raising funds for California Senator Barbara Boxer and Washington Senator Patty Murray. Both women face difficult re-election races in 1998. Republican Rep. Sonny Bono may challenge Boxer, and Republican Rep. Linda Smith will run against Murray. Republican organizations have declared Murray's state as one of the best areas to achieve partisan gains in the Senate. President Clinton and Boxer raised $1.5 million for the Senator and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee while campaigning in California on Monday, and the First Lady helped Murray and the Committee raise $185,000 in just three hours in Seattle. At the fundraiser for Murray, Clinton said, "We need to keep the attention focused on what Sen. Murray has done, what she has stood for and what she is still working on. If we keep that focus on her commitment…then I have absolutely no doubt on what the outcome of this election will be."
After a declared boycott of the Walt Disney Company by the Southern Baptist Convention, plenty of Southern Baptists could be found at Walt Disney World. Kay Sanders of Daytona Beach, Florida commented, "I'm not going to boycott. It's crazy. Kids have to be someplace, and there aren't many places safer than Disney World. And if they don't watch Disney movies, what are they supposed to watch. You can't just keep them in church all the time." Many Baptist ministers in the Orlando area have said they will not urge their congregations to boycott. Many of the church members are employed by Disney. The Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney because of what it termed as "gay friendly" policies.
The 150-year-old, 292,000-member American Medical Association has elected a female president for the first time in its history. Dr. Nancy W. Dickey, a family practitioner from Texas, was elected by acclamation on Sunday June 22, 1997. The year-long position pays $222,000 and holds mostly a spokeswoman role for the group's members. Currently, Dickey is the Chair of the Board of the A.M.A., a more powerful yet less visible position than the presidency. Four of the A.M.A.'s twenty board members are women, and women comprise 11% of its membership. In the United States, 20% of the doctors are women.