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9/24/1997 - Family Planning Funds Discussed

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) are sponsoring a measure that would increase access to birth control information and services.

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) President Kate Michelman said that the 3 million annual accidental pregnancies are a sign that many people do not have access to the information and health services they need to "responsibly manage their reproductive lives."

The measure would require insurance to cover birth control prescribed by doctors, and would start a public awareness campaign about emergency contraception. It would also seek an increase in federal family planning funds, increased STD research, approval of RU-486, removal of government-imposed restrictions on health care providers regarding information on abortion, and full legalization of Roe v. Wade.

In a similar vein, Abiya Inayatullah, president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, met with House members last week to encourage them to support international family planning funds. Like Boxer and Lowey, she seeks to reduce abortion rates by providing better birth control services.

Recent House amendments proposed that no U.S. funds be used for family planning services that also provide abortion services. While the sponsors, such as Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), think reducing the funds will reduce the abortion rate, Inayatullah called that attitude "unconscionable" and said they were not living in the real world. She invited Rep. Smith and other supporters to travel with her to developing countries with poor family planning services, and talk to illiterate, impoverished women first-hand. "You cannot continue to play politics when it comes to the lives of women around the world."

Inayatullah said that the loss of $62 million in international family planning funds since 1995 has caused more abortions and rising maternal death rates. Seven million couples in developing countries lost access to contraceptives, leading to four million unwanted pregnancies, 1.6 million additional abortions, and 8,000 more maternal deaths.


9/24/1997 - Clinton to Speak at Lesbian and Gay Rights Dinner

Accomplishing what no other sitting president has, President Clinton will address a Nov. 8 dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay and lesbian civil rights group.

White House Spokesman Mike McCurry said that Clinton has worked closely with gay men and lesbians "on issues that are of primary concern" to the gay community, despite his support of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for homosexuals, a policy that has been criticized harshly by lesbians and gay men.


9/24/1997 - Study Finds Antidepressant May Alleviate PMS Symptoms

A recent study found that women who suffer from severe premenstrual syndrome (about 3-5% of menstruating women) can be helped with the antidepressant drug Zoloft. Sixty-two percent of the women who took Zoloft showed "much or very much improvement," as compared to 34% of the women who took a placebo. Prior studies have established that other depressants, including Anafranil, Prozac and Paxil, can effectively treat severe menstrual symptoms.

Two hundred women participated in the study, funded by Zoloft's manufacturer Pfizer, Inc. The FDA has not approved Zoloft as a treatment for PMS.


9/23/1997 - Home Depot Pays $87.5 Million in Gender Bias Lawsuit

Three days before trial, Home Depot USA has agreed to settle a class action gender discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of about 8,000 women employees at their west coast division.

This lawsuit is one of four nationwide filed against Home Depot, alleging that the company paid women less than men, gave women fewer raises and promoted them less than male employees. A spokesperson for Home Depot said the $87.5 million payment was not an acknowledgement of guilt. Many were surprised by the settlement, which followed strong denials and an agressive defense.

Sixty-five million will be split between the 8,000 women and $22.5 million will go to the lawyers. The settlement also requires Home Depot to set up a system for all employees to inform managers when they want promotions.


9/23/1997 - Study Claims Chinese Workers Abused at Nike Plants, Nike Cuts Ties with Indonesian Companies

Global Exchange released a study last week charging that workers at Nike and Reebok plants earned as little at 10 cents an hour and worked 17 hours a day under enforced silence.

Global Exchange worked with two human rights organizations in Hong Kong that interviewed workers at four Chinese sports shoe factories employing over 80,000 people. Chinese labor law states that no one under age 16 can work in a factory, yet workers as young as age 13 were observed, the report said.

The researchers found that many workers made less than the minimum wage of $1.90 for an 8-hour day and often worked 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and 2-5 hours of forced overtime.

Nike said the study was "erroneous," and that when they sent former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young to tour the plants last year, he did not see any labor violations.

In an unprecedented action on Monday, Nike fired four Indonesian contractors because they did not pay minimum wage or meet Nike's rules for working conditions.

Nike stated that they will use the sports-glove manufacturer Seyon again if it complies with Indonesia's minimum wage laws.


9/23/1997 - African Women Organizing

About 40 women from grassroots organizations in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries in the Horn of Africa met recently to discuss how to rebuild their war-torn societies.

Women's organizations are struggling to restart schools and hospitals, and are looking into getting grants from international donors to help them. Many have started programs in their hometowns and are looking for more support. For example, with help from the European Union and an Italian humanitarian group, Somalian woman Halima Arush started a boarding school in Merca for militiamen who agreed to give up their guns in return for shelter, food, and education.

The women agreed that peace was the priority in the conflict-ridden area. "While the men are discussing who should take power, the women are the ony ones who are dealing with the basic problems -- how to educate the children, rebuild schools and hospitals," said Hibaaq O. Basbas, director of the Center for the Strategic Initiatives of Women. Once peace has been achieved, they will work to attain equal rights for women, who have little political presence.

Basbas said the Strategic Initiative for the Horn of Africa will help women organize at the grassroots level to promote women's rights, eliminate gender discrimination, encourage alliances between women from different areas, and put women in leadership roles.


9/23/1997 - Martin Subpoenaed in Mitsubishi Sexual Harassment Case

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin has been subpoenaed to testify on her study of sexual harassment at Mitsubishi.

Mitsubishi hired Martin last year to study workplace practices at their Illinois plant, one month after the EEOC filed a lawsuit claiming more than 300 women had been sexually harassed and discriminated against by the management there. Martin, who spent 9 months with a task force reviewing policies and procedures at the plant, will give a deposition on what she learned and suggestions to to improve workplace conditions.


9/23/1997 - Abortion Debate Begins in Cambodia

The Cambodian National Assembly proposed banning midwives and lay healers from performing abortions on Monday. The new law would legalize first-trimester abortions performed by licensed practitioners only.

Because Cambodia currently has no abortion laws, untrained health workers often perform abortions for extra money and because women have nowhere else to go. The government wants to make abortions safer because complications from back-alley clinics are a big contributor to the high maternal death rate. There is no serious opposition to the bill, which would imprison unlicensed abortionists.


9/23/1997 - Abortion Debate Begins in Cambodia

The Cambodian National Assembly proposed banning midwives and lay healers from performing abortions on Monday. The new law would legalize first-trimester abortions performed by licensed practitioners only.

Because Cambodia currently has no abortion laws, untrained health workers often perform abortions for extra money and because women have nowhere else to go. The government wants to make abortions safer because complications from back-alley clinics are a big contributor to the high maternal death rate. There is no serious opposition to the bill, which would imprison unlicensed abortionists.


9/22/1997 - Taliban Ignores Poverty and Further Censors Media in Afghanistan

While widows in Kabul stand in line for food handouts and policemen beg at intersections, the Taliban extremist group in Afghanistan issued an edict banning foreign journalists from writing commentaries or analyses of the situation in Afghanistan. In addition, foreign journalists were ordered to write only reports which "conform with the rules . . . and traditions of the country." Photographs of women or animals are also forbidden. Afghanistan currently has no independent newspapers or radio stations. Afghans receive their news from the international media.

The Taliban controls the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan, where they have prohibited women from working, going to school, leaving their homes without a close male relative, or appearing in public without a burqa, a head-to-toe garment with only a mesh opening to see through.

The Taliban has said they cannot deal with the problem of widespread poverty until they have captured all of Afghanistan. Foreign aid agencies give monthly handouts of 10 pounds of oil and 26 pounds of beans to widows, who cannot support themselves because of the ban on women working.


9/22/1997 - UC May Drop Biased SATs for Admission

Facing a severe decline in Latino and African-American graduate enrollment as a result of prohibitions against affirmative action in the wake of Proposition 209, the University of California is considering dropping the SAT requirement for undergraduate admission, citing racial bias in the test.

The university task force investigating the issue stated that continued use of SATs would cause the number of Hispanic students to drop 70%. The number of non-white students plummeted this fall at graduate schools where affirmative action was recently banned, such as Texas and California. Task force member Raymund Paredes said that their study of UC Latino students found "there was very little correlation between academic success and SAT scores." Ralph Purdy, an associate dean at UC-Irvine medical school, said a diverse student body is necessary, especially in medical schools, because non-white students are more likely to work in poor, non-white communities after graduation. California state Senator Teresa Hughes suggests that instead of automatically accepting the top 12.5% students with the highest grades in the state, as is currently done, UC schools should accept the top 12.5% of students from each high school's graduating class, so that students from poorer schools have a better chance.

The SAT is also biased against women students. Two years ago, a study found that Berkeley's SAT requirements reduced the number of female freshman by over 5%. Women score lower on standardized tests than men, even though they get better grades in college than men in the same majors. Sections of the verbal SAT that women traditionally did better on, such as antonyms, have been removed, and other sections that men do better on have been expanded, in order to make the verbal section more "sex-neutral." One study found that an SAT had 42 references to men and only 3 to women. Other standardized tests, such as the ACT and AP tests, have a very small gender gap, and not the 50-point gulf that appears in SATs.

In 1989, the New York Board of Regents was sued for sex discrimination because it relied on PSAT scores for scholarships, which resulted in only 43% of the awards going to women. When they were ordered by a court to award scholarships solely on grades, female recipients increased to 51%. In 1993, the ACLU and FairTest filed a civil rights complaint with the Educational Testing Service because National Merit Scholarships rely on PSATs. In 1994, only 38% of all National Merit awards went to females.


9/22/1997 - UC Regents Delay Decision on Domestic Partner Benefits

Under pressure from a critical Gov. Pete Wilson, the University of California Board of Regents delayed voting on same-sex partner benefits for students and faculty until November.

Several regents were dismayed at the delay, and suggested that UC President Richard Atkinson simply start instituting the plan. Harvard, Yale and Stanford, among others, already have domestic-partner benefit plans. Last week, the University of Southern California voted to extend health care coverage to gay and lesbian partners of faculty and staff, as well as unmarried heterosexual partners. "These programs turned out to be extremely inexpensive," said Scott Altman, dean of USC's law school.


9/22/1997 - Anne Beers Named Minnesota State Patrol Chief

Anne Beers, a 21-year veteran of the Minnesota State Patrol, was appointed chief on Friday. She is the first woman to head Minnesota's State Patrol, and the second woman in the country to hold the position (Chief Annette Sandberg of Washington state is the other).

When she began in 1966, there were only three women in her class of officers. Now, there are 36 women in the 503-person division.

In recent years, men in the Patrol have been accused of sexual harassment and rape. She says she will take those issues seriously, but is focusing more on her legislative agenda, which includes more troopers and harsher drunk-driving and seatbelt laws.

Many of her colleagues emphasize her experience and ability more than her gender. "She was the best for the job and she proved it," said Sgt. Kris Arneson, president of the Minnesota Association of Women Police.


9/22/1997 - Woman, Stalked and Kidnapped, Discovered Safe

21-year-old Stephanie Musick of Columbia, Md.,was found handcuffed to the seatbelt of a car at 4:25 Saturday morning, 19 hours after her alleged kidnapping by John Robert Righer, who was sleeping in the car when the police found him.

Righter had apparently been obsessed with Musick, leading her to complain to police on Sept. 5 that he was harassing her with unwanted gifts, notes and e-mails. She also said he was folowing her, because she saw him at Western Maryland College where she attends classes, and found gifts on her car. Because Maryland's anti-stalking law requires that the stalker be warned once before they can be arrested, an officer told Righter he would be charged if he continued his behavior. On the morning of Sept. 19, Righter allegedly took her from her house at gunpoint, in front of several neighbors who immediately called the police.

Musick's mother said the anti-stalking law was ineffective. "They contacted him, and he said he would stop, but he didn't. I knew they wouldn't do anything to him. The law is not strict enough."


9/22/1997 - Promise Keepers Continue to Inflame

In the face of the Promise Keepers' growing visibility, suspicion is deepening among feminists and religious scholars, both about the organization's ties to the political agenda of the Religious Right, and their fundamentalist rhetoric that calls for members to "take back the nation for Jesus" and who hold that abortion and homosexuality are sins.

According to a 1995 survey conducted by the National Center for Fathering, 31% of Promise Keepers belong to fundamentalist churches and another 46% belong to evangelical churches. Less than half have completed a college or degree.

Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Barnard College, said "For many American males, feminism has been disruptive." He said that many white men are anxious about their perceived loss of societal authority, and that Promise Keepers appeal to this anxiety by using "the traditional Christian metaphors of militarism and athleticism to combat feminism ... It's Biblical language, so it ... legitimizes [men's] desires for more authority in the culture."

Bill McCartney, former football coach and current leader of Promise Keepers, says that "sexual sin" is the biggest problem in members' lives. According to him, sexual sin is "lust, it's fornication, it's homosexuality, it's pornography, it's adultery...If you're single, get married. There is no other sex."


9/19/1997 - Taliban Advances in Northern Afghanistan, Pushes for U.N. Seat

The Taliban extremist group in Afghanistan captured Hayratan, a northern town in Afghanistan, bringing them closer to another attack on Mazar-e-Sharif, the headquarters of Taliban opposition leaders. With control of the town of Hayratan, the Taliban has cut off access to a highway carrying supplies into Mazar-e Sharif.

The Taliban controls the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan, where they have prohibited women from working, going to school, leaving their homes without a close male relative, or appearing in public without a burqa, a head-to-toe garment with only a mesh opening to see through.

The Taliban continues to push for international recognition as the official government of Afghanistan. The group says Saudi Arabia, one of three countries that recognizes them, has pledged to help them financially and politically, including help gaining the Afghan seat at the United Nations.


9/19/1997 - McKinney May Face Court-Martial

A military hearing officer reportedly has recommended that Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney, accused by six women of sexual misconduct, may face a court-martial on 22 counts of indecent assault, adultery, obstruction of justice and perjury.

Although McKinney, the Army's top enlisted man, did not testify at the trial, he claims he was unfairly attacked because he is black and the women are white. The women have accused him of sexual assault and harassment, including forcing an 8-months-pregnant woman to have sex with him.

The recommendation will be reviewed by Col. Owen Powell, who does not have to follow the recommendations or make a decision on them, and then will be given to Maj. Gen. Robert Foley, who will make the final decision.


9/19/1997 - Lesbian and Gay Rights Law Delayed in Maine

One day before it was scheduled to take effect, conservatives presented a petition for a referendum on the law that would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal.

Approved by the Maine Legislature earlier this year, the law bars discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, public accomodations, credit and employment. Elections officials are currently verifying the number of names on the petition as well as the authenticity of the signatures. If enough valid signatures are confirmed, the law will be reconsidered in a referendum this winter.

Michael Heath, director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, claimed that people who do not want to "celebrate homosexuality" were having their civil rights violated. Karen Geraghty, former president of the Main Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance, said "I'm disappointed because groups of fundamental Christians are unwilling to accept that the law has been (enacted)." She expects voters to uphold the law, because in 1995 they defeated a referendum that would have denied civil rights for homosexuals.


9/19/1997 - Citadel Woman Sues for Harassment

Former Citadel cadet Kim Messer is suing six male cadets, saying they assaulted and sexually harassed her and denied her food and sleep.

Messner left the Citadel last January after one semester, along with Jeanie Mentavlos, another woman cadet. Both women announced then that they had been hazed and harassed. In the suit, Messner charges that the men caused her physical injury, including a stress fracture to her pelvis, bruises, abrasions, and first-degree burns.

Fourteen cadets were disciplined last year as a result of the women's hazing charges. Messner's family is seeking unspecified damages from the six men, only two of whom are still attending the school. Of the 18 first-year female students currently at the Citadel, none have reported hazing.


9/19/1997 - UC President Supports Domestic Partner Benefits

University of California President Richard Atkinson recommended yesterday that the UC Board of Regents adopt health care and student housing benefits for lesbian and gay couples.

In order to be eligible for the benefits, the same-sex partners must be at least 18 years old and unrelated, and must prove that they financially support each other. Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington said that the University's next step is to include heterosexual couples into domestic partner benefits, as is already done by the city of Berkeley.

Regent Stephen Nakashima said he was against the proposed benefits because California state law does not permit domestic partner benefits and UC schools are state-supported. The costs for added benefits is projected to be between $1.9 million and $5.6 million for homosexual couples, and an additional $20 million for heterosexuals.


9/19/1997 - Groups Fight to Make Rape Trials More Compassionate

Police, MPs and women's groups are pressuring England's Home Secretary Jack Straw to allow rape victims to testify behind a screen and to avoid cross-examination about their sex lives.

The groups were moved to action by a report, released Wednesday, that showed rape rates are rising, while rape convictions are decreasing. Only 19% of all rape complaints are taken to court, and half of the defendants are later acquitted.

More than 100 MPs have signed a motion supporting court procedural reform. Straw said, "There is a great deal to do to make the system better and more sensitive to the needs of the victim. More needs to be done to protect witnesses in court. We have to get away from the hostile environment. Victims have already suffered one trial with the rape itself."

Civil liberties groups are protesting such a change, saying that while rape victims should be protected, defendants have the right to confront their accusers in court.


9/18/1997 - U.S. AIDS Research on Pregnant Women Criticized

A study by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has drawn criticism for denying medication to some pregnant women with AIDS in Africa and Thailand.

For the past two years, researchers have studied the effects of AZT on AIDS transmission between mother and fetus. Half of the 12,211 women in seven countries got varying doses of the drug, while the other half got a placebo.

Scientists have already confirmed that AZT cuts the pregnancy transmission rate by two thirds, yet because the regimen costs about $1000 per person, researchers wanted to know if AZT would be effective in lower doses, thereby lowering the cost for third-world women.

Marcia Angell, the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said the studies violated international standards, and compared the research to the infamous Tuskegee study, in which poor black men with syphilis were falsely told they were being treated. Helene Gayle of the CDC said that the women were fully informed of the risks, and that it was better that some women got treated than none. Without the study, none would have had access to AZT.

In the U.S., AIDS studies rarely use placebo control groups, because AIDS advocates have demanded drug therapy for all patients. Critics say that more than 1,000 babies will contract AIDS, most of which could have been prevented with AZT. If pregnant women are not treated, about 25% of the infants will get AIDS. If they get AZT, only around 8% will.

Dr. Glenda Gray, a South African pediatrician who does similar studies said that 30% of the children admitted to their wards every day have AIDS. "I've buried hundreds of children. I'm seeing their mothers die. We need to find a magic bullet for every woman in the world." She said that if the critics who do not like placebo studies and the researchers who financed the studies find that a cheaper AZT regimen is effective, they should "put their money where their mouth is" and pay for treatment for poor women.


9/18/1997 - Ireland Nominates Four Women for President

Ireland's largest political party, Fianna Fail, chose Mary AcAleese rather than former Prime Minister Albert Reynolds for their presidental candidate, resulting in an all-woman race. She joins Adi Roche, Mary Banotti and Rosemary Brown in the race, which will be decided Oct. 30.

Ireland's first woman president, Mary Robinson, resigned last week to accept a job as U.N. Human Rights Commissioner.


9/18/1997 - Over 16,000 Handicapped Japanese Women Involuntarily Sterilized

Between 1949 and 1995, the Japanese government sterilized 16,520 handicapped and retarded women without their consent. The government stated yesterday that it does not plan to apologize, investigate, or provide any compensation to the victims.

Sterilized handicapped women and over a dozen citizens' advocacy groups had been pressuring the Japanese government to look into the issue, but their claims were ignored until Sweden apologized last month to the 60,000 Swedes who were involuntarily sterilized in the past several decades.

Sterilization was legalized in Japan in 1948 as a way of genetically "improving" the human race by preventing some individuals from reproducing. The law, which was revoked last year, allowed doctors to sterilize mentally and physically handicapped women without their consent as long as the local government approved.


9/18/1997 - Duke University, Football Coach Sued for Title IX Violation

Duke University senior Heather Sue Mercer has filed suit against her University and the school's football coach for Title IX violation. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans sex discrimination in federally-funded education, including school athletic programs. Mercer, who had hoped to become the first female kicker for a Division I football team, alleges that she was given only a "partial" tryout for the position and was allowed to practice only with other walk-on kickers.


Mercer was a walk-on kicker for Duke in 1994 and in April 1995 competed in the annual Blue-White intrasqaud game, kicking a 28-yard, game-winning field goal for her team. Mercer alleges that, despite her success, Coach Fred Goldsmith did not allow her to compete for a position on the team in subsequent seasons and reportedly asked Mercer why she was interested in football instead of beauty pageants.