Etsy and Facebook Remove Content Glorifying Violence Against Women

Online marketplace Etsy is currently under fire from activists for allowing a shop, called “FyourT,” to sell T-shirts that make light of and encourage rape. One shirt read, “Autumn is perfect for date rape,” and another read, “I’m a sensitive guy. I only rape pregnant women.”

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) created a petition on to remove the shirts yesterday afternoon. It has over 5,000 signatures today and continues to gather more.

“What we’re really trying to do is striving to change the way Americans think about sexual violence,” said Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN. “We’ve been using social media to encourage our supporters to take a stand against these t-shirts and against sexual violence.”

Etsy has removed the shirts, but the shop remains open with other offensive and sexist items.

Facebook is similarly facing criticism for allowing users to post graphic images and videos of violence against women. A video of a woman being beheaded by a man in a mask has recently made the rounds on the social media site. While some people shared it to criticize the violence, others did so to glorify it.

Facebook decided to pull the video only after receiving complaints that they need to do more to protect children and teenage users. It wrote in a press release about some changes it will make to protect users from this kind of content: “When we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence.”

However, BBC reports that at the time of their investigation into the matter, there were still other beheading videos on the site without any warnings to viewers. In addition, some people still question why Facebook’s policies allow for graphic violence to be shown, but ban images of a woman’s “fully exposed breast.”

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Malawi Launches Campaign with UNFPA to Promote Condom Use

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Malawi government launched a new national campaign to promote condom use among young people as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure.

HIV prevalence among people aged 15-49 in Malawi is at 10 percent, according to the Malawi 2012 Global AIDS Response Progress Report [PDF], with higher prevalence rates among women than men. HIV prevalence for young people with multiple partners is around six percent. The government attributes the problem, in part, to low condom use. The campaign therefore aims at increasing public awareness of condoms and combatting perceived stigma around using condoms.

Although aiming to increase condom use, the UNFPA and Malawi government announcement did not address a major challenge to HIV/AIDS prevention in that country – low condom supply. The Malawi government has previously indicated that condom shortages and stock-outs have impeded efforts to control HIV.

Persistent condom stock-outs in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of all people living with HIV reside [PDF], have long been a problem recognized by international experts. In 2011, Carolyn Ryan, MD, MPH, Director of Technical Leadership at the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator called the problem “really quite disturbing,” as condoms are a major tool for HIV prevention. Lack of condoms can be attributed, in part, to inadequate donor support from the international community and the influence of conservative religious ideologies on international family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.

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Nationwide Immigration Reform Protests Continue

A wave of protests have swept the nation as immigration reform activists grow frustrated with the slow progress of immigration reform.

Protests have been held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, among other states. Most recently, a group of demonstrators in Tucson, Arizona locked themselves to the tires on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus taking people to Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is a federal program that apprehends immigrants crossing the border, sentences them to jail time, then deports them, often in one day. The program has deported at least 70,000 people and has been criticized as unconstitutional by the Warren Institute at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

During a rally last Tuesday in Washington, DC, eight members of Congress were arrested in in an act of civil disobedience. The Congress members joined thousands of activists in blocking the streets near the National Mall to send the message to lawmakers to act on immigration reform. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June, but Republican House leaders have not scheduled floor time for immigration bills, and have previously been unwilling to consider it.

Women are especially at risk if the current immigration reform plan dies. Among other positive changes, the reforms will, for example, double the number of U-visas–reserved for people who have been victims of crime in the U.S. and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement–from 10,000 to 20,000, and expand their scope to include victims of workplace abuse. U-visas provide a lifeline for undocumented women stuck with abusive partners, who may threaten to report them to police or withdraw their sponsorship petition. In the past three years, all 10,000 available U-visas have been used.

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Texas Health Care Providers File Lawsuit To Protect Abortion Access

Last week over a dozen women’s health care providers in Texas filed a joint lawsuit to immediately block two provisions of a law that would reduce women’s access to safe and legal abortion.

Texas House Bill 2 gained national spotlight after Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) held a marathon filibuster to defeat the bill. It passed after Governor Rick Perry called a second special session after the filibuster and signed it in July, despite opposition by 80 percent of Texas voters and medical experts across the country. Planned Parenthood v. Abbott aims to block the portions of the bill with the most immediate impact before they take effect at the end of October: restrictions on the use of medication abortion, and a requirement that physicians who provide abortion must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital–even though abortion is an extremely safe procedure, and other medical providers do not face the same requirements.

These restrictions would make “essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton filed the suit on behalf of the health care providers.

Northup added, “Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda.”

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US Justice Department To Sue NC Over Voting Law

The US Justice Department sued North Carolina yesterday over the state’s new restrictive voting law.

The lawsuit challenges four parts of the new law: the photo identification provision, the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period, and the prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct.

These types of voting restrictions disproportionately affect the ability of racial minorities, students, and women to vote. As many as 25 percent of eligible African-American voters and 16 percent of Hispanics do not have government-issued photo identification that would allow them to vote in states with strict voter-ID laws. Many students who vote in their college communities do not have IDs that would allow them to vote in these states, and in one survey, 34 percent of women voters did not have an ID that reflected their current name. Restrictions on early voting have also been shown to place unnecessary burdens on the ability of these groups to vote.

“Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in remarks yesterday.

The state’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the law last month, claiming it would protect against voter fraud. However, a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, found that voter fraud is extremely rare.

The Justice Department will also ask the court to require North Carolina to get preclearance before making any more changes to its voting laws. Previously, several states and parts of states that have histories of discrimination were required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain approval before changing any voting laws. The Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder this June requires that Congress create a new formula for determining which states must obtain this preclearance.

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Impact of Government Shutdown Felt by the Most Vulnerable

The US government shut down today after the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ measure that would keep the government operating for 10 weeks in exchange for a delay in implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, over 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed and a variety of government services will be put on hold.

Historically marginalized communities and the working poor are most likely to feel the negative effects of the shutdown. Around 20 out 1,600 Head Start programs will shut down right away, and more will be affected over time. The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food if they are poor and facing “nutrition risk,” could shut down for lack of funds. And there will be delays in processing new disability benefit applications, student loan and federal grant applications, home loans, and new visa and citizenship applications. More programs may lose funding or shut down if the government impasse lasts longer than a few days.

In a statement at the White house yesterday, President Obama said, “Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you ‘give’ to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility.”

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NJ Court Orders State to Allow Gay Marriage

A New Jersey court ruled on Friday that state officials must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning October 21, stating that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law. A spokesman for Republican Governor Chris Christie said the state would appeal the decision, but did not say whether it would seek a stay to delay the ruling from taking effect.

Judge Mary Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County found that denying marriage equality to same-sex couples violated the New Jersey state constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously considered the issue in 2006. Although stopping short of finding that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, the state supreme court, in Lewis v. Harris, ruled that committed same-sex couples must have the same legal rights, benefits, and privileges as heterosexual married couples. In response, the state legislature created a new civil union law.

In her ruling, Judge Jacobson found that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor this June, same-sex couples in New Jersey could never access federal marital benefits. “Under these circumstances, the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with ‘a reasonable conception of basic human dignity,'” she wrote, quoting Lewis.

If the ruling stands, this will be the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively conferring federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, but not to same-sex couples in civil unions. It will also make New Jersey the 14th U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex couples to marry.

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Catholics for Choice Challenges the Vatican’s Role at the UN

Catholics for Choice launched its “See Change” campaign last week calling for a review of the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations.

The Holy See–the government of the Roman Catholic church–currently holds Non-Member State Permanent Observer status at the UN which gives it an influential role in the intergovernmental body, including access to UN proceedings, that no other religion enjoys. According to Catholics for Choice, the Holy See has used its position to prevent progress for sexual and reproductive health, women’s rights, and other areas. “It’s high time that the Vatican is required to act as other religions do at the UN, said Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien. “Religious voices are important, but should not be granted extra deference simply because they are religious.”

In its campaign, Catholics for Choice notes that since 1964, the Holy See has used direct access to the General Assembly and international conferences to attempt to impose an ultraconservative agenda on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.” The organization has demanded that the Holy See be treated as a participating nongovernmental organization at the UN–like every other religious group.

The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity, Vatican City, qualifies it as a state. However, to be considered a state, it must have a defined territory, a government, the ability to have relations with other States and a permanent population. Vatican City does not meet all of these requirements, but it still holds influence today largely because of custom.

A short video details the history of the Vatican’s status and influence, as well as the goals of the “See Change” Campaign.

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Top Female Afghan Police Officer Murdered

Afghan Lieutenant Negar, the most senior female police officer in Afghanistan, died early Monday morning, one day after being shot by unidentified gunmen.

Negar, who only goes by one name like many Afghans, was shot in the neck outside her home in the province of Helmand on Sunday. She is the third top policewoman to be murdered in recent months. Her predecessor, Islam Bibi, was killed in July. Female police officers are under threat from both the Taliban and drug traders.

“They have given us warning that one of us will be killed every three months and we will be killed one by one,” Afghan policewoman Malala said to The Associated Press.

According to BBC News, women make up just under 1 percent of Afghanistan’s police force, with about 1,600 females serving and about 200 more in training.

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Women Commit Majority of Suicides in Afghanistan

95 percent of all suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women and girls.

According to officials at the Ministry of Public Health yesterday at World Suicide Prevention Day in Kabul, more than 2,500 Afghan women have already committed suicide in 2013. Experts cited extreme levels of violence against women and forced marriage between young girls and grown men as some major reasons for the disproportionate rate.

Minister of Public Health Suraya Dalil said girls ages 16 to 19 are most likely to commit suicide.

Although officials said suicide rates in Afghanistan increased in the last year, another report showed that cases of self-immolation have fallen by 40 percent since 2012.

Women Diagnosed with Fetal Abnormalities Denied Abortions in U.K.

Two UK non-profits will testify today that women diagnosed with fetal anomalies are denied abortions and forced to deliver their stillborn babies.

Britain’s Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) charity and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will host a conference today, calling for the British health secretary to address this issue. According to The Guardian, 800,000 women will become pregnant in the UK each year. 35,000 will be told their fetus is at risk and fewer than 4,000 will have an abnormality diagnosed in their unborn child.

For many of those 4,000 women, ARC and BPAS said, they were forced to induce labor and denied the option of aborting the fetus.

“Ending a wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of foetal anomaly is extremely distressing for women and their partners,” said Jane Fisher, director of ARC. “At such a difficult time our research tells us that it is important that women are given the space and time to decide on the termination method that they can best cope with.”

According to The Guardian, pregnancy terminations due to fetal abnormalities are legal under Ground E of The Abortion Act. They account for just 1 percent of all abortions in the UK.

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Eight-Year-Old Yemeni Bride Dies of Internal Injuries First Night of Marriage

An eight-year-old Yemeni girl died from internal bleeding the night of her arranged wedding to a man who is believed to be around 40.

The child has only been identified as Rawan. She died in the tribal area of Hardh in northwestern Yemen, on the border of Saudi Arabia. She is believed to have suffered tearing to the genitals and severe bleeding.

According to a 2010 report by the Social Affairs Ministry, more than one-quarter of Yemen females marry before the age of 15. In 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni child bride died after spending three days in labor, according to The Daily Mail. The minimum age for marriage used to be 15, but Yemen annulled that law in the 1990s, arguing that parents should be allowed to decide when their children marry.

Activists in the region are calling for the end of child marriage and the arrest of both Rawan’s husband and her family.

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Taliban Murder Female Indian Writer

Last Wednesday, a prominent female Indian writer was murdered by the Taliban outside of her home in the Paktika province after criticizing the terrorist group.

Sushmita Banerjee, 49, wrote a popular memoir in 1995 about her life as the wife of an Afghan man in Kabul while the Taliban ruled. The book was later adapted into an Indian movie. Banerjee also wrote about the Taliban for Outlook India magazine.

According to Afghan police, Taliban militants tied up Banerjee’s family members last Wednesday, and then shot her outside. She was first targeted by the Taliban in 1998, when she was educating women in Afghanistan about social and health issues.

“They [the Taliban] ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals,” Banerjee said, according to Time Magazine.

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NC Elections Board Decides on Student Voting Rights Cases

Yesterday, North Carolina’s State elections board made decisions on two controversial voting rights cases that significantly affect college students.

The first decision was to allow Montravias King, an Elizabeth City State University student, to run for a city council seat. He was originally disqualified from running because Pasquotank County Republican Party Chairman Richard “Pete” Gilbert challenged that King could not use his on-campus dorm address to establish residency. The State elections board decided unanimously to allow him to run for the seat representing the campus.

The second case the elections board examined was the closing of an early voting and general election polling place at Appalachian State University by the Watauga County Board of Elections in Boone. The Watauga board had also combined three precincts into one voting site with only 35 parking spots to accommodate those of 9,300 voters. This site is a mile from the university campus on a road with no sidewalks. Students suspect the Republican-controlled boards made these changes to make it harder for students to vote, because the university community voted for the Democratic ticket in the last two presidential elections. In the hearing yesterday, the state board voted 4-1 to uphold these changes.

Watauga County Democrat Kathleen Campbell said, “To eliminate the most popular and most accessible voting location is to deliberately disenfranchise a major segment of the voting population.”

College students from all over North Carolina attended the meeting to voice their opinions. “We have a voice in our community, and it’s important that we be heard, because it’s our future. I believe that we should have a say,” said Jarius Page, a junior at Saint Augustine University, Raleigh.

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Study Shows an Increase in the Gender Pay Gap for US Doctors

A study published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the gender pay gap for doctors has increased over the past few decades. Female doctors, accounting for one-third of US doctors, currently make $50,000 less per year than male doctors. The median annual income from 2006 to 2010 for female doctors was $165, 278 while male doctors made $221,297– a 25 percent difference in income.

From 1987 to 2010, researchers conducted a nationally-representative survey with questions about income and other aspects of work. About 6,300 doctors and 32,000 other healthcare workers were surveyed. Hours worked and years of experience were taken into account when analysing the data, but specialty and type of practice were not. Women are more likely to be in family medicine or pediatric care, while men are more likely to be in surgery and other higher-paid specialties. This gender difference in specialty, which could be affected by preference, discrimination, or both, may have a major impact on the income difference, so future research is warranted.

Dr. Anupam B. Jena, the study’s senior author from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy, said implicit biases could prevent women from entering higher-paying specialty fields. He told Reuters Health, “It could very well be the case that male and female pediatricians and male and female surgeons earn the same amount of money. But if it’s more difficult for females to enter surgery, then their access to higher-paying fields would be lower.”

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Married Gay Couples Will Get Equal Tax Treatment

All married same-sex couples, regardless of what US state they live in, are entitled to the same federal tax benefits extended to married opposite-sex couples, effective September 16.

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that legally married gay couples will be able to file taxes jointly and claim marriage-related exemptions, credits and deductions even if they live in one of the 35 states that does not legally recognize gay marriages. They may also retroactively file amended tax returns for the past three years to get possible refunds.

The policy change comes after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that invalidated the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act defining a marriage as between a man and a woman.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the decision “assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

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US Won’t Challenge State Laws Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would not interfere with state laws legalizing recreational marijuana.

Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use in November 2012. The Justice Department could have sued the two states to prevent the laws from taking effect, because marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Instead, the Obama administration decided to give them room to experiment with recreational use legislation, within limits. Colorado and Washington will still be required to have regulatory systems in place to enforce eight areas, including distribution to minors, driving under the influence, trafficking by gangs.

The Obama administration has been deliberating for almost a year about how to handle the growing movement to legalize marijuana. Younger voters between the ages of 18 and 44 are driving the movement, exemplified in exit polls from the Colorado and Washington amendment votes. President Obama said in December, “It does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that’s legal”.

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Clear Channel Lifts Ban on Abortion Clinic Radio Ads

Clear Channel lifted its ban on radio advertisements from the Wichita reproductive health clinic South Wind Women’s Center on Tuesday. The ads were originally banned in July for divisive content, although they promoted general reproductive health care services for women with no mention of abortion.

South Wind Women’s Center provides a range of reproductive health care services, and it is the only clinic that provides abortions in Wichita. It is located in the same building Dr. George Tiller used before he was assassinated by an anti-abortion activist in 2009.

The decision to lift the ban comes after supporters of the clinic planned to deliver a petition today with over 68,000 signatures asking the radio station to reconsider its ban. However, the company said the petition did not affect its decision. Clear Channel operations manager in Wichita, Tony Matteo, said, “As a responsible broadcaster we should use our best judgment to accept and run ads that do not violate the law or FCC standards and which are not intentionally hateful or incendiary.”

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Wal-Mart Extends Benefits to Employees’ Domestic Partners

Wal-Mart recently announced that the company will provide health insurance for their employees’ domestic partners including LGBT partners as part of an updated benefits package that also includes vision insurance, coverage for some surgeries, and incentives to quit smoking. Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer with a staff of 1.3 million people, more than half of whom rely on Wal-Mart’s health care plans.

The benefits will apply to unmarried partners living together in an ongoing committed relationship, who have been together for at least 12 months, and who plan to continue living together indefinitely. Whether they are a same sex or opposite sex couple does not matter. The benefits will take effect in all 50 states, regardless of each state’s definitions of marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union.

The benefits update is a “business decision” for the sake of keeping up with competitors and ensuring consistency across markets, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove.

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Fast Food Strikes Continue in US

Thousands of fast food and retail workers across the US plan to go on strike this Thursday, protesting the current hourly wage. The strikes by fast food and retail workers have been building over the past few months, originating with New York restaurant workers in November of 2012.

The workers planning to strike this week, in up to 35 cities or more, will demand a 15 dollar hourly wage, a large increase from the current hourly average of nine dollars and yearly average of $18,130. The typical worker has no benefits and an irregular schedule. The strikers are partnering with grassroots organizations and advocacy groups like Service Employees International Union.

Restaurant industry advocates are criticizing the action. “Restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins,” National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Cristin Fernandez said in a statement. “Significant additional labor costs can negatively impact a restaurant’s ability to hire or maintain jobs.”

Although strikers have not yet achieved their goals of raising wages and allowing them to unionize–important in cases where workers can be fired for participating in strikes–the strikes have helped raise awareness about the fact that many fast food workers are not parent-supported teenagers just making extra cash, but people who must survive on these dismal wages.

This is the largest labor movement in fast food industry history, and it shows no signs of stopping. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we’re going to make sure it happens somehow. They need to hear our voice. They need to hear about our struggles,” Jossura Dossantos, a KFC employee, told the Boston Globe.

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