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2/18/2015 - Yale Fraternity That Violated Sexual Misconduct Policy Now Banned From Campus

A Yale fraternity has been banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university's sexual misconduct code.

The fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) will not be allowed to hold on-campus activities, use the school bulletin boards or email system to communicate, or use the fraternity's name "in connection with the university." SAE underwent an investigation last year following a complaint about a presentation at the fraternity's induction ceremony in February 2014. SAE was also found guilty of inhibiting in University's investigation of the complaint.

In addition to the sanctions from Yale, SAE has received sanctions from the national headquarters, including mandatory sexual harassment training for members. In 2011, a different Yale fraternity received a five-year ban similar to the ban for SAE after members shouted chants that supported rape culture, including "No means yes," on a residential quadrangle.

Student Alexa Derman, public relationships coordinator for the Yale Women's Center, said that holding organizations on campus accountable for their behavior "sends a strong message to other groups about their responsibility to contribute to a positive sexual climate on campus."

2/13/2015 - Irish Women Speak Out Against Brutal Childbirth Operations

Between 1942 and 1990 in Ireland, more than 1,500 pregnant women in childbirth endured, often without their consent, an operation called symphysiotomy that involves breaking the pelvis to make more space for the baby to be born and sometimes involving having their pubic bone sawed through. Others claim their wombs were removed without their consent. Now, survivors of these operations are speaking out - and they're alleging that these doctors wanted nothing more than to control the woman's reproductive health.

A woman can only receive a cesarean section (a C-section) a limited number of times, whereas a symphysiotomy would mean a woman could have as many kids as possible. In Ireland, many doctors chose to perform the painful procedure on women in objection to the notion of limiting a woman's capacity to bear children. A known 200 Irish women who have received this brutal operation are still alive today.

"These doctors saw cesarean sections as a 'moral hazard' that capped family size and led to the 'evil' of family planning," said a representative from the group Survivors Of Symphysiotomy. "They preferred to break women's pelvises instead."

Survivors Of Symphysiotomy submitted a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, wherein a survivor named Cora testified against the procedure. "I was screaming," her testimony reads. "[The anesthetic is] not working, I said, I can feel everything. I saw him go and take out a proper hacksaw, like a wood saw a half-circle with a straight blade and a handle The blood shot up to the ceiling, up onto his glasses, all over the nurses ... They told me to push her out, she must have been out before they burnt me. He put the two bones together, there was a burning pain. I thought I was going to die."

Another complaint was that a surgeon in Drogheda - in the same hospital where many of these symphysiotomies were performed - removed the wombs of 129 women and the ovaries of others. Most of the women did not need the procedure, and most did not give consent. The complaints were first raised in the 1970s, but took until 2003 for the surgeon to be taken off the Medical Register, and until just last year for the women to receive money from a part of a redress scheme.

After an inquiry was set up and a verdict was released, a report showed that obedience and fear contributed to the reason these procedures were able to continue for so long.

"When I held consultations with survivors for the symphysiotomy report, many said the same thing," Professor Oonagh Walsh of Glasgow Caledonian University told the Telegraph. "One woman said that the Medical Missionary nuns told her Gerard Connolly's [who carried out many of the symphysiotomies] hands 'had been blessed by the Pope' so everything he did apparently had Divine authority. That culture of deference was very powerful and difficult to overcome."

Marie Reaburn, who had her ovaries removed by Michael Neary 22 years ago, had been told by Neary that she had endometriosis and needed the operation. The procedure caused her to go through a "horrendous" early menopause - but the operation was completely unnecessary. "As far as I'm concerned, Michael Neary should be in jail for what he did," Reaburn told the Telegraph. "We had to fight for years for compensation and he's on his £100,000-a-year pension and has a villa out in Spain. It was a very desperate time. ... Back then you looked up to the doctor and you didn't question him."

Survivors of the operations are sometimes left unable to walk or incontinent and in pain. Last year, symphysiotomy survivors were offered €50,000, €100,00 or €150,000, depending on how severe their injuries are, as part of a redress scheme. But survivors of the brutal operations want more than compensation - they want to ensure these unnecessary procedures never happen again. The Irish Medical Council changed its procedure in order to better identify doctors who perform poorly, and complaints are easier to file.

Patient Focus, an Irish advocacy organization, says there is still a lot of progress to be made. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland except in cases of incest or rape and if the woman's life is in danger. The country's strict abortion laws send more than 3,000 Irish women to England or Wales to receive abortion care every year. And recent news shows women and their families often suffer as a result of these laws.

"There's still a long way to go," says Molloy. "Last year we were inundated with concerned women contacting our service about the care provided to them in our Maternity services. It was horrendous. I remember what happened to me and think, '18 years on and now this is happening?'"

2/13/2015 - Testing Detroit's Backlogged Rape Kits Has Already Identified 188 Serial Rapists

Advocates are making a push to eliminate the backlog of almost 11,000 rape kits that have gone untested in Detroit. Since they started, they've identified 188 serial rapists from 27 states.

Six years ago, it was discovered that the city of Detroit, Michigan had over 11,000 untested rape kits in an abandoned police storage unit. Since then, the Detroit police department has been working to eliminate the backlog, and have processed over 2,000 of the kits. Aside from the 188 identified serial rapists, the testing has also produced over 750 DNA matches to an FBI database. The Wayne County prosecutor's office has so far issued warrants for 23 alleged rapists, convicted 14 of them, and three are awaiting trial.

Activists hope that this is the beginning of justice for rape survivors. "We want to make sure we deal with the victims mercifully, honestly and genuinely," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, announcing legislation that is going to be introduced to state lawmakers for setting guidelines and deadlines for rape kits to be tested and processed.

"It is outrageous that these rape kits were misplaced and nor processed, some for decades," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "If some 2,000 processed rape kits revealed 188 serial rapists, how many serial rapists would have been brought to justice if these remaining rape kits were tested? How many women have suffered because of this gross negligence?"

Detroit is not alone. Cities across the country have thousands of untested and unprocessed rape kits. In Memphis, Tennessee, there are almost 12,000 untested rape kits, and there are over 4,000 in Las Vegas. Last November, Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of Manhattan pledged $35 million to try to eliminate the backlog of up to 70,000 untested rape kits nationwide.

2/12/2015 - Worldwide Attacks Against Schoolgirls Are on the Rise

Attacks against girls who seek an education are increasing around the world, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

The report, conducted by the Women's Human Rights and Gender section of the Human Rights Council, shows attacks on schools have happened in at least 70 countries between 2009 and 2014 and that many of the attacks were "directed at girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education. Despite legal protections for gender equality, around 3,600 attacks against schools, students, and teachers were recorded in just the year 2012 alone.

The study mentions Boko Haram's kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, the shooting of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafsai, acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's attack on the Peshawar, Pakistan, school in December that killed at least 132 schoolchildren. The fact that these attacks disproportionately affect girls is not a coincidence.

"The Boko Haram, whose name means 'Western education is a sin' in Hausa, has been responsible for the abduction of hundreds of girls in northeast Nigeria as well as threats and attacks against teachers and school infrastructures," the report states. "Members of Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan and in Pakistan have also openly declared their opposition to the education of girls and have used violent attacks against girls, their families and teachers as a means of asserting their control over local communities. In Mali, girls have been targeted for sexual and other forms of violence in schools for failing to adhere to strict dress requirements imposed by armed groups."

The report goes on to explain, "Within these contexts, the educational rights of girls and women are often targeted due to the fact that they represent a challenge to existing gender and age-based systems of oppression."

There is also is a strong link between a lack of education for girls and high child marriage and early pregnancy rates for those girls. The study warns that girls not having access to education, or being pulled out early "may result in additional human rights violations such as child and forced marriage, domestic violence, early pregnancy, exposure to other harmful practices, trafficking and sexual and labour exploitation."

In Pakistan and Nigeria, where violence against girls is ongoing, girls suffer myriad other human rights violations. Nearly one in four girls in Pakistan and more than one in three girls in Nigeria is married before age 18. Only 61 percent of Pakistani girls and 58 percent of girls in Nigeria aged 15 to 24 are literate. One in ten girls in Pakistan and more than one in four girls in Nigeria are mothers by age 18.

The report lists a number of recommendations to curb violence against girls. The authors urge countries to "take immediate measures to ensure that all girls can effectively access high quality education, including human rights and sexuality education, at all times, even during and after situations of crisis or conflict. ... Concrete, practical measures must be designed to improve school accessibility, quality and safety and to ensure that girls have real access to education on a basis of equality with boys."

2/11/2015 - Three Muslim Students Have Been Shot and Killed in North Carolina in Possible Hate Crime

Three Muslim students were shot and killed by a white man Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The victims, Yusor Mohammad and her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were all students in their late teens or early 20s; they were shot in the head and pronounced dead on the scene. Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white man, turned himself in to the police and is being charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Although the Town of Chapel Hill said in a statement that a preliminary investigation shows the shooting was over a parking dispute, investigators of the incident are currently attempting to determine whether the shooting was hate-motivated. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two daughters who were killed, said Yusor and her husband had been involved in disagreements with Hicks before Tuesday afternoon's shooting. He believes the crime was motivated by Hicks' animosity toward the couple's religion and culture.

"This has all the signs. It was execution style, a bullet in every head," Abu-Salha told "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil-liberties group, asked authorities to address public concerns as soon as possible. "We urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said executive director Nihad Awad.

What seems to be Hicks' personal Facebook page shows he was an active atheist who posted anti-religion statements. One post reads, "Given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world. I'd say I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it. "One of his posted photographs is of a handgun in a holster where "Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader," he wrote as the caption.

The shooting occurred east of the University of North Carolina campus, where Barakat was a dentistry student. Mohammad planned to join the same program next semester, and her sister was a design student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. According to the Facebook memorial page, Mohammad recently traveled to Turkey to volunteer in dental relief, and her husband was planning to go to Turkey this summer to provide dental care to students - Mohammad and Barakat were married just two months ago.

2/10/2015 - John Legend Drops Performance at Beverly Hills Hotel in Response to Brunei's Anti-Gay, Anti-Woman Penal Code

Singer and songwriter John Legend announced that he would not be performing at the coveted L.A. Confidential party hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel in protest of the new penal code introduced by the Hotel's owner, the Sultan of Brunei.

The penal code, which went into effect in May, calls for harsh punishments for women who become pregnant outside of marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and for anything deemed "indecent behavior." It also threatens women who engage in same-sex relations with fines, imprisonment, or whipping, and men who engage in same-sex relations with flogging or death by stoning.

"These policies," said Legend's publicist Amanda Silverman in a statement, "are heinous and certainly don't represent John's values. John does not, in any way, wish to further enrich the Sultan while he continues to enforce these brutal laws."

Right now, the United States and President Obama are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that is looking to partner with 11 countries, including Brunei. The Feminist Majority and members of Congress are sounding the alarm, and the Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their representatives to vote against the TPP agreement.

"At a minimum, the US should not enter into a partnership with a country that just last year adopted a penal code authorizing torture and violence against its citizens," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, in a blog for the Huffington Post, "we must call on the President to seriously address the impact of the TPP on human rights," Smeal added.

Other activist groups and celebrities have spoken out against of the hotel and its ties with the Sultan of Brunei, such as Ellen DeGeneres, John Elton, and Sharon Osbourne. In May, the Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its annual fundraiser from the Beverly Hills Hotel, and hosted a rally across the street from the hotel attended by Mavis and Jay Leno, actress Francis Fisher, and many more.

2/9/2015 - Marriage Equality Has Officially Come to Alabama

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to stop a federal court ruling that requires Alabama state officials to recognize same-sex marriage rights, and, despite some objections, the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order issued by the Supreme Court says it turned down an application to stay the decisions by the lower court in order to wait for justices to figure out among themselves whether the Constitution allows same-sex marriage.

This action came only hours after Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered the state's probate judges to not give any marriage licences to same-sex couples. Last month, District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade moved last month to call Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. About 81 percent of Alabama voters in 2006 supported an amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

Despite Moore's order, Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some of which had been waiting in line for hours. One couple, Dee and Laura Bush, have been together for seven years and have five kids together.

"It is great that we were able to be part of history," Dee Bush told the Associated Press. She and Laura received their license, then walked over to a park where a minister was performing wedding ceremonies.

Alabama is now the 37th state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court announced it would tackle the issue of same-sex marriage on a federal level. The Court will begin hearing arguments in late April, with a decision expected before the term's end, which is in June.

2/9/2015 - Supreme Court Declines to Hear Petition Overturning a Pregnancy Discrimination Decision

The Supreme Court declined to hear a petition to overturn a decision by the 8the Circuit Court of appeals this month in a pregnancy discrimination case. The court of appeals reasoned that firing a woman for breastfeeding is not sex discrimination because men can also lactate.

Nationwide seemed not to be on Angela Ames' side when she was asked to resign from her job at the insurance company after her request to pump breast milk at the office was denied. Ames reportedly was told by her supervisor that she should "go home and be with your babies" if she wanted to pump milk or breastfeed, a comment which the trail court found to be gender-neutral and therefore not a form of sex discrimination.

The Eighth Circuit decided last March that Ames did not meet the legal burden of proving that she was treated so badly that any reasonable person would have resigned, and therefore would not get a trial on pregnancy discrimination.

Galen Sherwin of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote of Ames' case, saying it highlights "the multi-layered workings of structural discrimination," saying that despite certain legal protections, workplace policies "still manage to turn a blind eye to the pervasive discrimination faced every day by working women."

The Supreme Court heard a pregnancy discrimination case recently on whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires an employer to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant employees if that employer also provides comparable accommodations to non-pregnant employees who become temporarily unable to perform their jobs without the accommodation. The case, Young v. UPS, made it to the Supreme Court after Peggy Young was denied a request for a light duty assignment while she was pregnant, despite the company making similar arrangements for other employees because of disability or injury. The SCOTUS decision on Young's case may have positive implications for Ames and her case. In the meantime, the denial to hear Ames' petition effectively means the end of the line for her case.

2/9/2015 - Violence Against Women Came to the Forefront at Last Nights Grammy Awards

The 57the Annual Grammy Awards set a new precedent last night with a speech from a domestic violence survivor and activist and the airing of a PSA from President Obama about violence against women.

Party way through the awards ceremony last night, President Obama appeared on a video screen. "We can change our culture for the better by ending violence against women and girls," he said. He quoted the statistic that 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of domestic violence, encouraging artists and viewers to sign the It's On Us pledge to take action against sexual assault.

Emboldening the Grammy's push against domestic violence was Brooke Axtell, who introduced singer Katy Perry with her powerful story of surviving abuse and assault. Axtell spoke of her violent relationship with an ex-boyfriend during which she "believed my compassion could restore him and our relationship." Axtell said she only sought help after her boyfriend threatened to kill her, after which her mother encouraged her to reach out to a local domestic violence shelter. "This conversation saved my life," Axtell said.

Her speech, which has gone viral across social media, urged survivors to "reach out for help."

Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse. If you are in a relationship with someone who does not honor and respect you, I want you to know that you are worthy of love. Please reach out for help. Your voice will save you. Let it extend into the night, let it part the darkness. Let it set you free to know who you truly are -- valuable, beautiful, loved.

This is the second time in a week that domestic violence has been in the national spotlight. Last weekend Ultra Violet sponsored a Super Bowl advertisement saying "Let's take domestic violence out of football" and using the hashtag #GoodellMustGo. The commercial noted that 55 domestic violence cases in the NFL have gone unanswered while under the leadership of league commissioner Robert Goodell.

2/6/2015 - The World Future Council Calls on Governments to End FGM

The World Future Councilors and Ambassadors are calling on governments to end the practice of Female Genitalia Mutilation, or FGM. Today, on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, dozens of activists, writers, and leaders are releasing a statement calling for a global increase in action to end FGM worldwide.

Although the practice of FGM is on the decline, millions of women and girls are affected by it annually. The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia, is designed to decrease women's sexual desire and is seen in many cultures as essential for a women's suitability for marriage. The practice is also known to both increase the risk of HIV transmission and infant and maternal mortality rates.

FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, including by the United Nations. According to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta, "FGM/C [sic] is a violation of a girl's rights to health, well-being and self-determination. What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned."

The statement by the World Future Councilors and Ambassadors lists successful policy implementation, listing the criminalization of FGM as one tool for governments to use in putting an end to FGM. Education of health workers, representatives of law, teachers, and communities is also something that was suggested by the World Future Council as a means of preventing FGM.

"With political will and long-term, comprehensive state action, we will be able to guarantee future generations a life free from this extreme form of violence against women and girls," the statement says.

2/6/2015 - Black Girls Matter: New Report Exposes Gendered and Racial Disparities in Education Too Often Erased

A new report outlines the obstacles facing Black girls in America's school systems - and demands that advocates, policymakers, and educators do better to foster safe spaces for Black girls to learn and grow.

"Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected" was released yesterday by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. Researchers for the study used data and personal interviews with young women of color in Boston and New York to expose how racism, sexism, and class issues erase Black girls' experiences in the school system, limit their educational opportunities, and marginalize their needs, while pushing them into low-wage work, unemployment, and incarceration.

"Gender and race norms place black girls at risk," said the report's lead author, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in its launching webinar yesterday.

Often, conversations about race in education focus on the achievement gap between Black and white boys, but many efforts refuse to acknowledge that Black girls experience these same gaps between themselves and their white counterparts - and often in greater numbers. Sometimes, the magnitude of racial disparities for girls is greater than that of boys, despite the minute attention paid to black girls' lives.

The report highlights the negative impacts of zero-tolerance school systems and punitive disciplinary philosophies on girls, such as how law enforcement and security personnel make girls feel less safe. "It feels like you're in jail," one interviewee told researchers. "It's like they treat you like animals, because they think that's where you're going to end up." Girls interviewed for the study also cited sexual harassment as part of their educational experience, and reported that administrators did little to protect them from harassment and violence. Some were punished for engaging in self-defense or asked to leave classrooms where they were being harassed in order to make the disruptions stop.

Black girls are also targeted unfairly by administrators for suspension and expulsion. In the 2011-2012 school year, for example, 12 percent of all African American girls in pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 were suspended, a suspension rate six times the rate for white girls and higher than rates for white, Asian, and Latino boys. In some school districts, all the girls suspended were Black. In one, Black girls were 53 times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts.

Schools that aren't able to properly support students with children or who have experienced trauma also create hostile environments for Black girls, who play a larger role in caretaking than their male counterparts and are more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence. The failure of schools to examine these factors is based in sexism, but efforts to protect Black boys at the expense and exclusion of Black girls also happen through advocacy work and even government initiatives.

“As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper," Crenshaw said in a statement, "we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk."

According to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2014 report on sex-segregated K-12 public schools, almost all of the 106 all-boy and all-girl public schools serve a majority of African American and/or Latina populations as do 43 percent of coed schools with sex-segregated classrooms.  These schools often enforce dangerous gender norms and provide more resources for boys, thus putting girls at a distinct disadvantage. Dr. Sue Klein, FMF’s study director, reminds equity advocates that “the new Title IX single-sex guidance from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and other protections such as State Equal Rights Amendments prohibit sex discrimination in education and that it is exceedingly difficult to justify excluding boys or girls from valuable programs, just because of their sex.”

Education can be one of the most powerful factors defining a young person's future. Conversations about the "school-to-prison" pipeline - a system in which Black students are criminalized and otherwise pushed out of school and at risk for incarceration - have, for too long, rendered girls' experiences invisible. The groundbreaking Black Girls Matter report makes an indisputable fact that Black girls, as well as boys, have specific needs that should be addressed by our education system and policies that shape young people's lives.

Media Resources: African American Policy Forum, 2/4/15; Feminist Majority Foundation, 2/6/14, 10/1/14, 12/23/14

2/5/2015 - FCC Chairman Proposes Strongest Ever Open Internet Protections

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has penned an open letter proposing the strongest open Internet protections to-date.

"I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections," Wheeler in Wired Magazine yesterday. He noted these are the "strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC," calling the proposed regulations "enforceable, bright-line rules (that) will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."

Wheeler went on to state that these rules will now be applied to mobile broadband, as well. "My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission," Wheeler wrote in the Wired piece.

According to NPR, this is the second iteration of net neutrality rules authored by the FCC. A federal court struck down the first set in January 2014. Net neutrality is defined in the NPR story as "the concept that your Internet provider should be a neutral gateway to everything on the Internet, not a gatekeeper deciding to load some sites slower than others or impose fees for faster service," and is intended to keep the Internet free and open.

2/4/2015 - Michigan Lawmakers Want to Create Even More Extraneous Requirements for Abortion Providers

Lawmakers in Michigan have introduced this month yet another reporting requirement for physicians performing an abortion, with the specific aim of increasing the number of reported complications from abortion.

State Bill No. 27 is an amendment to a current abortion reporting law requiring physicians to report instances of infection, perforation, and other physical complications from abortions provided in the state. SB 27 would add "allergic response" and "anesthesia-related complications" to the list of complications that physicians performing an abortion must report to the state.

Anti-choice group Right to Life of Michigan claims the bill is necessary, citing the 2014 reported rate of complication as "unrealistically low" at 0.008 percent. Significant research has shown that very few women face medical complications resulting from an abortion.

Amber Truehart, a family planning fellow at the University of Chicago, says that adding allergic reactions and anesthesia complications will not increase the rate of complication by much as all. She says that politicians are unaware that it will increase the rate of complication, as allergic reactions and anesthesia complications are "very rare and very minor," and this proposed bill "just speaks to the fact that [politicians] don't understand the procedure."

Other concerns about the bill include patient confidentiality. The existing bill states that the patient's name or other "common identifiers" are not to be included in the report; however other personal information about the patient, such as age, race, marital status, town of residence, number of children, and more must be included.

2/4/2015 - Women in Afghanistan Protest Lack of Representation in Cabinet

Afghan women took to the streets in Kabul yesterday to protest the lack of female representation in the newly announce cabinet for President Ashraf Ghani.

During their election campaign last year, President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah promised to increase the representation of women in the cabinet, saying at least four of the positions would be women. Ghani and Abdullah announced their nominees for cabinet earlier this month, to the general relief of the Afghan people. Women, however, were upset because two of the three women nominated were rejected by the Parliament.

Parliament rejected a number of the nominees for various reasons, including not being able to provide certain documents, but protesters cited specific anger over the rejection of well-known feminist journalist Najiba Ayubi. Activist Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women's Network said that 38 percent of voters in the presidential election were women, "so we should be given 38% of the cabinet, which is nine ministers."

Women activists and civil society groups therefore walked the streets of Kabul yesterday, demanding that women's voices be represented within the country's cabinet. Among their list of demands, the protesters are asking that if a female nominee is rejected, then the person nominated in her place is also a woman. The Afghan Women's Network has released a list of 21 qualified women for the Parliament to review.

2/3/2015 - UVA President Announces Initiatives to Curb Campus Sexual Assault

The University of Virginia's president, Teresa Sullivan, recently spoke to the campus community about what's next in their push to end sexual assault on campus and strengthen their policies for survivrs. UVA has recently updated their Sexual Misconduct Policy and have introduced new Anti-Sexual Assault Regulations following a November Rolling Stone article that exposed a mishandled rape case on their campus.

Sullivan announced an Ad Hoc Group on Climate and Culture that will meet this spring to decide how to implement new policies that will change harmful behavior on campus. "We divided the issues into three categories - prevention, response and culture - and we now have a working group of students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni assigned to each category," she said. The groups will be "working carefully, but briskly," and are expected to produce interim reports by March 16 and final reports by April 30.

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and student group Feminism is for Everybody (FIFE) at UVA led a campaign to shape UVA's proposed sexual assault policies in December, encouraging comments on the policy from students, alum, and Virginia residents. One of the changes they'd proposed was the creation of a Coordinated Community Response Team that would be "dedicated to finalizing the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy and ensuring that the final version is streamlined, clear, and responsive to community concerns." Although UVA activists were excited about Sullivan's announcement, they also want to be sure that activists and survivors of campus sexual assault will be included in the Ad Hoc group.

"This working group is a really important element in bringing about new policy on campus because it brings many people with different perspectives to the table when discussing implementation," said Alyssa Seidorf, an FMF National Campus Organizer. "I urge the university to continue such a community group in the implementation, education, and training process."

Sullivan also announced that the university will be 1 of 28 participating in an April survey organized by the Associate of American Universities to assess the sexual assault climate on campus. The university plans to use this data to shape future education and prevention strategies for the future.

"People know that most forms of sexual violence are seriously underreported," Sullivan said. "One of the things a climate survey does, that's one with a large enough response rate, is it lets you estimate the incidents of sexual violence in a different way from reported cases."

2/3/2015 - Northern Ireland's Human Right Commission To Review Abortion Ban

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Northern Ireland won its call for a judicial review on the region's restrictive abortion law.

The High Court in Belfast ruled that the HRC could seek a review of current law. Abortion in Northern Ireland is currently illegal in all cases except when a pregnant person's life is at risk or when there is the risk of permanent or serious damage to the pregnant person's mental or physical health.

The HRC is asking for a change in the law to allow for abortions in the case of incest, rape, or "serious malformation" of the fetus. "Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations," the HRC said, "the commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name."

Northern Ireland's abortion law differs from the rest of the United Kingdom due to the fact that the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland. An attempt to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland was shut down in 2000 when the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against it.

2/2/2015 - Women Who Protested Saudi Arabia's Driving Ban Remain in Prison

Women's rights activists who protested Saudia Arabia's driving ban in November remain imprisoned.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Alamoudi, 33, were arrested while they were crossing into Saudi Arabia on November 30. Both women were using driver's licenses from the United Arab Emirates and aimed to raise awareness on Saudi Arabia's ongoing ban on female drivers. Al-Hathloul, a UAE-based Saudi journalist and Al-Alamoudi have been held in a Saudi prison for nearly one month and they have been referred to a court on terrorism charges. While driving towards the Saudi border, Al-Hathloul filmed herself and explained that "she is trying to keep up pressure on Saudi authorities to allow women to drive."

Saudi activists who spoke to BuzzFeed News by phone said that it was the women's social media activity that led to their arrest. "The officials were waiting for them," one said, "to arrest them. They had their activity on Twitter all logged, they said the women had been agitating against the [Saudi] kingdom." Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi authorities to release the women.

2/2/2015 - Two Imprisoned Women's Rights Activists in the Middle East Have Been Freed

Women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia and Iran were freed last week. Both women were arrested in October and served around 90 days in prison for their non-violent crimes.

Iranian activist Mahdieh Golroo, who was arrested for attending a gathering in Tehran in protest of acid attacks on several women in Isfahan, was released Tuesday on a bail of about $200,000 USD. Golroo's confiscated personal items such as a laptop computer and her cell phone were searched by the security forces when they went to her home after her arrest. She spent 45 days in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, known for its detainment and torture of political prisoners. During her time in present, her family could meet with her only in the presence of intelligence agents.

"While it is a welcome development that Mahdieh Golrou is currently out on bail," Gissou Nia, Deputy Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Global Voices, "her legal process is far from over and her prosecution is part of a broader plan perpetrated by Iranian officials to silence women's voices."

Five days after Golroo's release, Suad al-Shammari, co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was released from prison in Saudi Arabia. She was arrested for "insulting Islam" by speaking critically about the nation's clerics and the kingdom's religious police, who enforce brutal Sharia law. Shammari's daughter, Sarah al-Rimaly, has said that her mother is "recovering" from "a lack of nutrients" because she depends on a special diet.

Although Saudi Arabia's new King Salman is granting certain prisoners amnesty, Rimaly claims her mother's release was unrelated to his decision.

2/2/2015 - Activist Monica Jones Can Now Appeal Her Conviction for

An Arizona appeals court Monday overruled an April verdict that found activist Monica Jones guilty of "walking while trans" in a case that highlighted police profiling of trans women of color.

Jones, a transgender women of color who is known for organizing around sex workers' rights, was found guilty of "manifesting prosititution" by an Arizona judge last year because she accepted a ride with two undercover police officers in May 2013. She pled not guilty and challenged the law's constitutionality, and advocates from the region were quick to declare that Jones' charges were political attacks on her work and her identity. Jones is an outspoken opponent of Project ROSE, a "rescue" program sponsored by the Phoenix Police Department and ASU's School of Social Work - where Jones was studying at the time of her arrest - that puts sex workers through religious education in exchange for dropping their charges.

In its decision, the Arizona appeals court found that Jones was not given a fair trial and that her claims that the arrest was unconstitutional should have been taken into account. Last week's ruling allows Jones to appeal her sentence, but does not vacate her charges.

"It was an unconstitutional trial of an unconstitutional statute for a crime she didn't commit," Jones' lawyer told BuzzFeed. "I am very happy the conviction was vacated."

Jones is determined to press forward not only as a defendant but as an advocate for other people like herself who face police harassment and profiling on a daily basis. "This is a smaller win," Jones told BuzzFeed about her case. "This law needs to be thrown out because it unfairly targets women, transgender women, and people of color living in poverty. Police wouldn't [arrest] a man standing on the corner talking to a passerby."

In the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality and violence, Jones' case also drives home the reality that trans women of color also suffer from the systemic racism - as well as sexism and transphobia - of a lopsided police force, which comes in stark contrast to a movement focused, primarily, on violence against black men. Jones, in fact, has said that some of the street harassment she faced in her daily life came from police officers themselves."[Police] are supposed to protect and serve the most vulnerable communities," she said, "but police are causing the most grief and strife. If people think it's okay for police officers to harass transgender women, people will think it's okay for everyone else."

"I have to fight because I am innocent," Jones added. "And I am going to keep on standing up for what is right.

1/30/2015 - Protestors Demand Justice After Denver Police Fatally Shoot Queer Latina Teen

On Monday morning, a 16-year-old lesbian Latina named Jessie Hernandez was shot and killed by Denver police. Now, her friends and family are uniting with communities of color and LGBT activists to demand justice.

Denver police responded to a call around 6:30 AM that reported a "suspicious" vehicle parked in an alley. According to Police Chief Robert White, the first officer to arrive was Gabriel Jordan, who ran the license plate and realized the car was reported stolen. Hernandez was in the car with four other teenagers. White said when officers Jordan and Daniel Greene got out of their cars, Hernandez struck Jordan's leg with the stolen vehicle - this, according to White, led the officers to shoot at Hernandez.

Witnesses, however, don't fully agree about what happened. One of the teenagers in the car says Hernandez was shot first then lost control of the car, which is what led to her driving it at the office and breaking his leg. The witness said, "When the cops walked up, they were on [Jessica's] side of the car, and they shot the window and they shot her. That's when she wrecked, and that's when the cop got hit."

White said the two officers asked the teenagers several times to get out of the vehicle. When they refused and the car began going toward the officer, he "feared for his safety" and shot at Hernandez. Denver Police Department policy says officers can shoot at a moving car if they feel the car or suspect poses a threat of injury to civilians or officers and if they have "no reasonable alternative course of action."

A neighbor caught the incident on a cell phone camera, which shows EMT arrived after officers searched the lifeless and face-down body of Hernandez. The autopsy shows Hernandez was shot multiple times and her death was ruled a homicide.

At a vigil held Monday night, Hernandez's friends say she was "a really good girl," "outgoing," and "was never the person to bring you down."

On Tuesday, activists and protesters (including Hernandez's family) went to the office of District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to demand the investigation into her killing be dealt with in a transparent way. On Wednesday evening, local anti-racism group Denver Freedom Riders organized a demonstration at police station where Greene and Jordan are stationed. They chanted - in both English and Spanish - "Jessie's Life Matters."

The investigation could take months before completion. For many, this incident is a reminder that people of color are disproportionately targeted by police violence, and LGBT people of color are targeted even more so. A report released last year by the NAACP on racial profiling in America noted that the LGBT community suffers a greater risk of police profiling.

"[The LGBT community] faces profiling based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or HIV status," the report reads. "This discrimination is often multi-layered when LGBT individuals are also people of color, youth, a different nationality or religion, or profiled based on their perceived immigration or socioeconomic status."

Jordan and Greene are currently on paid administrative leave while the Denver Police Department and the office of District Attorney Mitch Morrissey investigate the shooting.

1/30/2015 - New UK Guidelines Would Put the Onus on Rape Suspects, Not Victims, in Sexual Violence Cases

This week, the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said it's time for UK's legal system to put the onus on the attacker, rather than the victim, in rape cases, and outlined a new set of legal guidelines to make that happen. If the new guidelines are utilized, rape suspects will be required to offer hard proof that consent was given "with full capacity and freedom to do so."

"For too long society has blamed rape victims for confusing the issue of consent, by drinking or dressing provocatively, for example, but it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that," Saunders said in the Telegraph article.

The Guardian noted that some pitfalls of the new guidelines may include the use of social media platforms to set up false narratives. Harriet Wistritch, who wrote the opinion piece, has given legal advice to rape victims who've been "deeply unhappy" with the way their cases were handled by police officers. Wistritch argues that while new, more innovative guidelines are welcome, officers need to be adhering to guidelines already in place.

"The (Crown Prosecution Service's) new rape toolkit might make welcome headlines," she wrote, "but I won't be celebrating until police officers and prosecutors are made to put existing policies and guidelines in practice or face appropriate sanction for failing to do so."

1/29/2015 - Ohio Legislator Became Pro-Choice After Listening To Women's Stories

Tim Ryan, Democratic U.S. Representative for Ohio's 13th congressional district, declared in an op-ed piece yesterday that he's changed his stance on abortion after listening to women's stories.

Ryan now is pro-choice, explaining in his op-ed that abortion "is not a partisan issue, but a personal one." He credited conversations with women across Ohio - and their varied stories of financial hardship

"Where government does have the ability to play a significant role is in giving women and families the tools they need to prevent unintended pregnancies by expanding education and access to contraception. We must get past the ignorance, fear and - yes - discrimination against women that lead to restrictions on contraception and age-appropriate sex education," Ryan wrote in his op-ed for the Akron Beacon Journal. Ryan's piece touched on other issues as well, including access to contraception and age-appropriate sex education.

Lana Moresky, a long-time activist in Ohio who currently serves on the steering committee of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus, applauds Ryan's change, telling FMF in a phone interview, "We in Ohio are absolutely thrilled that he's been able to come to this position."

"It's very significant, and the more and more people think deeply about (the issue), more people come to this conclusion," Moresky said. She also noted that to admit change is a humbling thing to do and hopes that Ryan's change of mind will encourage others to do the same. "We want to show the support of people who change. This encourages others to change (so) it's really important to accept them with open arms. I'm very excited about it."

1/28/2015 - Former Vanderbilt Football Players Found Guilty in Campus Sexual Assault Case

Two former students of Vanderbilt University have been found guilty of four counts of aggravated rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of tampering with evidence and unlawful photography by a jury in Nashville yesterday. Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, both former football players, will hear their sentencing on March 6.

The victim was a neuroscience major at Vanderbilt, and is now pursuing a doctorate degree at another school. In June of 2013, Vandenburg and Batey carried the unconscious woman back to their dorm room, where she was raped. Parts of the incident were recorded on cell phone video, and then distributed to friends by Vandenburg. She said in a written statement that she hopes this case will help spur a solution to ending rape and sexual assault on college campuses.

The victim ended her written statement with a message for survivors. She said, "Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame."

Two other former students and football players have also been charged, and will face a trial. Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

1/28/2015 - Senator Boxer Urges President to Continue Support for UN Population Fund

Earlier this week, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) along with 21 of her Senate colleagues sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to maintain support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

UNFPA, which promotes maternal and reproductive health, conducts major demographic surveys, and campaigns against fistula and female genital mutilation, supports programs in over 150 countries. The United States restored its funding for UNFPA under President Obama in 2009. Previous US presidents withheld funding surrounding accusations that the fund promoted abortions and forced sterilization procedures. UNFPA maintains that it does not provide abortion services and condemns any coercion.

The United States has been instrumental in the funding of UNFPA; the US played a key role in its founding in 1969. In the '70s, the US was UNFPA's largest contributor. However the Kemp-Kasten Amendment of 1985 - which stops US funding for any international organization that the president decides supports coercive abortions or sterilization procedures - cut off US funding to UNFPA until the Clinton administration. Funds were held off again by President Bush in the early 2000s.

Sen. Boxer's request to President Obama thanks him for his commitment to reproductive health worldwide, but asks him not to back down.

"We are disappointed that despite UNFPA's critical work around the world, a number of misperceptions about the organization persist," the letter to President Obama reads. "That is why we believe it is important to underscore that UNFPA does not promote abortion as a method of family planning and does not condone coercion in family planning, coercive abortion or forced sterilizations."

The letter highlights some of UNFPA's work - distributing family planning information, programs to empower young women in countries where child marriage is common, fighting the spread of Ebola, and helping stop gender-based violence in areas with large numbers of refugees.

The letter is co-signed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

1/27/2015 - Marissa Alexander To Be Released from Prison

Marissa Alexander is expected to be released from prison today, where she spent the last three years of her life after firing a warning shot into the air to defend herself from her estranged and abusive husband. Alexander was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, despite the fact that no one was hurt.

Alexander was first arrested and charged with three counts of domestic aggravated assault, for which she received the minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. After her request for a re-trial was granted, Florida state prosecutor Angela Corey announced that she would again seek to change the terms of Alexander's sentence to have her serve three consecutive terms of 20 years, totaling 60 years behind bars. Before her trial last December, Alexander accepted a plea deal, accepting a sentence of three years in prison and two years under house arrest.

Dr. E Faye Williams, Esq., the president and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women, celebrated the release of Alexander as nearing the end of "this nightmare." The NCBW has been involved in seeking justice for Alexander since the beginning of the case. "We've donated to her defense. We've written letters to officials involved. We've worked to change Florida's horrendous laws that were used to punish Marissa and more," Williams told the Feminist Newswire. "But there is still much work to be done so that no woman ever has to go through what Marissa suffered."

Alexander's estranged husband is a repeat offender of domestic violence, and admitted to abusing both Alexander and other women he has had relationships with.