Women Join Elite Iraqi Police Officer Corps

For the first time, 50 women graduated from Iraq’s police officer training academy yesterday, alongside 1,050 male peers. Prior to a change in the Iraqi government’s rules earlier this year, women were barred from joining the elite officer’s corps and were instead only allowed access to low-level police jobs like directing traffic or searching women at checkpoints, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Graduating First Lieutenant Farah Hameed told the New York Times that especially in investigating crimes like sexual abuse and rape, women police officers are more likely to be effective than men. “Everyone says men are able to do everything, but that’s not true…In investigations, especially with women, women use their compassion with victims to get them to answer questions clearly,” she said.

“Some people have a view of Iraqi women that for them to join the police academy is a shame,” graduating First Lieutenant Alla Nozad Falih told the New York Times. Many of the women graduates received threats from men in their communities while they completed training. Despite these threats, Lieutenant Falih said, “It’s been my desire since I was a kid to be a police officer, and now I am one…We are proud to be officers, and we encourage other women to be officers because it’s a great job.”

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Top Afghan Policewoman Killed by Taliban Assassins

Two Taliban gunmen shot and killed Malalai Kakar, the head of Kandahar city’s department of crimes against women, as she left for work on Sunday, according to BBC News. Reported by Agence France-Presse, Kakar, a mother of six, led a team of 10 other female police officers investigating crimes against women. Her 18-year old was also seriously wounded.

According to AFP, Taliban spokesman Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for Kakar’s murder. “We killed Malalai Kakar,” Ahmadi said. “She was our target and we successfully eliminated our target.” Since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that ended the Taliban’s extremist regime, Taliban militants have regularly targeted women-run schools, projects, and businesses, according to the Associated Press.

In an EU statement obtained by the AP, the international organization condemned Kakar’s murder. “Any murder of a police officer is to be condemned, but the killing of a female police officer whose service was not only to her country, but to Afghan women, to whom Ms. Kakar served as an example, is particularly abhorrent.”

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Portugal Abortion Referendum Fails, Government Moves to Legalize

After a referendum on Portugal’s strict abortion laws failed due to low voter turn-out, the country’s Socialist government has announced that it will work to legalize abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Portuguese voters yesterday decisively voted to liberalize Portugal‘s extremely strict abortion law, but the results were considered invalid because only 44 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot; for a referendum to be considered binding, at least half of the country’s eligible population must vote. Currently, Portuguese legislation allows for abortion only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if a woman’s health or life is at risk. Women pregnant because of rape may be considered for an abortion until the 16th week.

Luis Marques Mendes, who heads the Social Democratic Party, remarked, “The will of the Portuguese must be respected,” the BBC reports, suggesting that opposition parties will not attempt to veto new legislation that would liberalize the country’s laws. Supporters of lifting the abortion ban cited over 23,000 illegal abortions performed yearly. Currently Portugal’s abortion practices are some of most restrictive in the European Union.

Portugal’s restrictive abortion laws have been under debate ever since Women on Waves, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands, traveled by ship to Portugal in 2004 to raise awareness about reproductive rights. The organization, whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, travels to countries where abortion is illegal and provides essential reproductive health services to women aboard the ship in international waters. When Women on Waves traveled to Portugal in 2004, the ship was blocked from the country by the Portuguese Navy. The Feminist Majority Foundation has worked with Women on Waves since its first trip to Ireland six years ago, providing security support through its National Clinic Access Project. During the ship’s trip to Portugal, the Feminist Majority Foundation had senior staff on the boat, training staff and volunteers to guard against potential violence or disruptions.

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New Law Attempts to Fight Domestic Violence in India

A new law to address domestic violence in India took effect late last week. This is the first law in India specifically addressing the problem of domestic violence, targeting husbands, live-in partners, and family members who abuse or threaten women verbally, physically, sexually, emotionally, and/or economically. The punishment for offenders ranges from a prison sentence of up to a year to a fine of up to 20,000 rupees ($435), or a combination of the two.

This is certainly a giant step for women in India, where every three minutes crimes against them are committed, according to India’s National Crime Records, BBC reports. In addition, the Associated Press reports that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that an astonishing 70 percent of women who are married are beaten and sexually abused. Furthermore, BBC News paraphrases Indian officials as saying, “every six hours, a young married woman is burned, beaten to death, or driven to commit suicide.”

Women’s rights advocates in India are praising the new law, but are calling on the government to provide the funds needed to fully implement the law. Women’s rights groups also plan to launch an educational campaign to inform women of their new rights and options, according to BBC.

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Portuguese Parliament to Vote on Abortion Referendum

The Portuguese Parliament is set to vote on whether to hold a referendum that would let voters decide whether to legalize abortion. [UPDATE: On Thursday, October 19, the Portugese Parliament approved holding the referendum. The vote is expected to happen early next year.] Portugal is the only country in the European Union that actively prosecutes women and their doctors for illegal abortion, incarcerating women for up to three years if found guilty of having an illegal abortion and doctors for up to eight years for performing the abortions.

Portugal last had a referendum to legalize abortion in 1998, which lost 51 to 49 percent. Recent polls show 47 percent of Portugal is in favor of decriminalizing abortion, with 40 percent against, EuroNews reports. This shift in attitude has been attributed to recent high-profile prosecutions of women and doctors for obtaining or performing abortions, according to EuroNews. Currently, a Portuguese woman can only receive an abortion up to her 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape, a malformed fetus, or if the woman’s health is in serious danger.

To raise awareness about Portugal’s restrictive abortion laws, Women on Waves, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, traveled to Portugal in 2004, only to be block by the Portuguese Navy. The Feminist Majority Foundation has been working with Women on Waves since its first trip to Ireland five years ago, providing security support through its National Clinic Access Project.

According to Women on Waves, between 20,000 and 40,000 illegal and unsafe abortions take place in Portugal each year. Said Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates about the referendum, “We have to end this blight of backstreet abortionsÉ It makes Portugal a backward country,” according to the Associated Press. If the legislators vote to allow the referendum, Portugal will vote on the measure in January.

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UK Proposes Changes in Rape Laws

The United Kingdom is considering new legislation that would make it easier to convict rapists, even if the victim was intoxicated at the time of the rape. The proposed law is an effort to address “non-stranger” rapes, also known as date rapes, where establishing consent and an intoxicated person’s ability to grant consent is crucial, Times Online reports. According to Solicitor General Mike O’Brien, the law is also necessary to target rapists who deliberately get their victims drunk in order to force sex upon them, according to This Is London.

Currently, UK law holds that an intoxicated woman is able to give consent as long as she is still conscious. Alcohol consumption is a major impediment to the successful prosecution of a rapist; according to The Observer, the Crown Prosecution Service often advises women who were drunk at the time of their rape not to bring their cases to court because they have little chance of being believed by a jury. Only 12 percent of reported rape cases actually go to court, and about 5 percent of alleged rapists are convicted in the UK, Times Online reports.

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Zimbabwe Parliamentarian Claims Women’s Inferiority

Timothy Mubhawu, a member of parliament (MP) in Zimbabwe, is insisting that the national assembly reject a bill that would criminalize domestic violence. He stated, “I stand here representing God the Almighty. Women are not equal to men. This is a dangerous bill, and let it be known in Zimbabwe that the rights, privileges, and status of men are gone,” IRIN reports.

The bill in question has drawn widespread support from the international and women’s communities. It strives to address the serious problem of domestic violence in Zimbabwe, where over 60 percent of murder cases are connected to domestic violence, and more than 8,000 rapes are reported annually.

Mubhawu’s sexist remarks have sparked the protests of 35 women’s organizations in Zimbabwe. Betty Makoni, founder of the Girl Child Network, a nongovernmental organization in Zimbabwe, told IRIN, “The MP made some very outrageous and gender-insensitive statements, and we have to express our anger by marching against him – he has made a lot of people angry. It is unfortunate that such statements should come from an official who should be representing both women and men in parliament.”

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Afghan Women Demand Greater Protection from Government

Four Afghan women’s groups came together to demand greater protection from violence against women in a demonstration on Thursday. The demonstration is a response to the recent murder of Safia Amajan, the provincial director of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs for Kandahar and women’s rights crusader. The four groups participating in the demonstration presented a 13-point outline of changes they would like to see within the Afghan government, including: bodyguards and drivers for officials, quick and effective prosecution for terrorists, better pay for police, remuneration for families of terror victims, and international aid for “the root causes of social insecurity and terrorism,” according to Dzeno Association, a Czech Republic newswire.

“This murder of Safia Amajan shows that those fighting against freedom and democracy in Afghanistan are committed to removing women from public life as they are seen as an obstacle to achieving their goalsÉ. The Government and International community must support, protect and encourage women’s full participation and just efforts in all aspects of public life,” said the open letter to President Hamid Karzai released by the Afghan Women’s Network, Agency Coordination Body for Afghan Relief, Afghan Civil Society Forum, and the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.

Violence against women in Afghanistan, especially under the Taliban, is widespread. The Feminist Majority is working to pass the Afghan Women’s Empowerment Act, which provides funding for women-led non-profits, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. It is anticipated that Congress will take up the Act when it returns after the November 7 election.

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School Shootings Target Girls

Two fatal school shootings in the past week share a disquieting common factor: the shooters singled out girls. In Monday’s shooting in an Amish schoolhouse, the gunman sent boys and adults outside before shooting girls execution-style; last week in Colorado, a man took hostage and sexually assaulted six female high school students, killing one.

Targeting of women and girls in school shootings is not new. Many have noted the similarities between the recent shootings and a 1989 massacre at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, during which a rejected applicant to the school opened fire on a classroom of female engineering students, screaming “I hate feminism.”

In general, school shooters are nearly always male and their victims are predominantly female, says Dianne Cyr Carmody, an Old Dominion University professor who has studied gender and school shootings, in an interview with Ms. She looks at such massacres as ‰a spillover of violence [against women] from the private sphere.‰

Few mainstream press accounts of the recent shootings have noted the gender trend, instead focusing on schools’ lack of security or killers’ “mental problems.” The feminist blogosphere, however, has spoken out on the issue: Page Rockwell of Salon’s Broadsheet likens the attacks to “terrorism” and calls them “a queasy reminder of what true, deranged misogyny looks like.” Other feminist bloggers, including Echidne of the Snakes and Feministing, have also weighed in.

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Clinton Introduces Bill to Protect Sexual Assault Victims

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act in the Senate last week. The CARE Act (SB 3945) would require hospitals to routinely offer emergency contraception (EC) and post-exposure treatment for sexually transmitted infections to sexual assault victims.

According to the bill, between 25,000 and 32,000 rape and incest victims become pregnant every year. It is estimated that 22,000 of these pregnancies could be prevented if victims had timely access to EC. While exceedingly safe and effective if taken within 5 days, EC is most effective (95%) if taken within 24 hours.

The bill provides for risk assessment of sexual assault victims and appropriate treatment such as antiretroviral drugs, which have been proven to prevent infection of HIV. The bill would require that risk assessment and treatment be available to all victims, regardless of ability to pay.

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Los Angeles Fire Captain Claims Sex Discrimination

Los Angeles fire captain Alicia Mathis filed a complaint against her department last week, claiming gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, and harassment. According to the Los Angeles Times, this could be the first class-action lawsuit brought by female firefighters against the department. In front of the Los Angeles City Hall, Mathis recalled her experiences, including having a fellow firefighter climb in to her bed and kiss her at night, being denied a transfer in favor of a less qualified man, and her fear of speaking out against the male harassers in her department, according to the Times. She said that, while her decision to make her complaint public could possibly end her career, her stories and the stories of her fellow female firefighters have propelled her to step up as the public figure in this case.

“It took a lot of courage for her to step forward like this and she has my support 100 percent … I’ve been fighting racism and sexism in this department for 31 years – the system is broken,” said Captain Jerry Thomas, reports the Los Angeles Times. In the past, African-American and rookie firefighters have been the most vocal about the discrimination they have experienced; a 1995 report also found rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Mathis and her attorney may not pursue the lawsuit if the fire department adopts certain internal systems, such as creating a procedure to document harassment complaints and the formation of a panel to investigate complaints.

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CA: Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Bill Protecting Abortion Patients, Providers

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill designed to protect patients and employees of reproductive health clinics from anti-abortion extremists who may use violence against them. Introduced by Assembly Member Noreen Evans in February and signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, the bill, AB 2251, codifies that “no person, business, or association shall knowingly publicly post or publicly display on the Internet the home address, home telephone number, or image of any provider, employee, volunteer, or patient of a reproductive health services facility” with the intent to incite or threaten violence against the identified individual.

Too often, patients, employees, and supporters of abortion clinics become the target of violence. Assembly Member Evans commented on the necessity of the bill, saying, “Women should never face vigilante justice for exercising their reproductive rightsÉ The same goes for those who work to enable women to exercise those rights,” CBS reports.

Other bills relating to women’s health signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger included a law to protect a women’s right to timely access of prescription drugs, regardless of a pharmacist’s ethical concern; a law to mandate health care coverage for the HPV test; and a law to raise standards for hospitals that collect breast milk from mothers for their own children, CBS reports.

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Afghan Women’s Affairs Provincial Director Killed

Safia Amajan, the provincial director of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar, was killed by gunman today outside of her home. There is speculation that she was killed in retaliation for her outspoken support of women’s rights and her work opening schools for women in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press and BBC News. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the murder.

Amajan had unsuccessfully requested bodyguards and secure transportation from the Afghan government; at the time of the attack, she was getting into a taxi to go to work, BBC reports. Aleem Siddique, spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said his agency “is appalled at the senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that because of threats against girls’ education and violence against girls’ schools, many Afghan girls are turning back to the secret home schools that were the only means for the education of girls under the Taliban regime. Some experts have estimated that every day in Afghanistan a girls’ school is destroyed or a teacher is murdered. The Post reports that almost half of the 748 schools in the four southern provinces, where Taliban insurgents have been most active, have closed, and in Kandahar, all schools are closed in five districts.

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Women for Peace Call for an End to the War

The National Organization for Women (NOW) and CodePink held Women for Peace Day yesterday, drawing attention to the strong presence of women in the peace movement. The event was part of Camp Democracy, a month-long camp set up on the National Mall in Washington, DC to promote peace and nonviolence. Women for Peace Day featured discussions on how to bring troops home from Iraq peacefully, candidates who want to send troops home from Iraq, and an update on violence against women in Juarez. “The violence in Iraq has already cost too many lives,” said NOW President Kim Gandy. “Service members and civilians are dying every day in a conflict initiated by George W. Bush. Women must now come together and work toward ending the violence — a goal that the US government seems incapable of accomplishing.” Olga Vives, executive vice president of NOW, said that, because of the war, many programs for children and women have received a reduced amount of governmental funding or have been completely eliminated. Speakers also emphasized the importance of the November elections, encouraging observers to volunteer at election sites to help ensure all votes are properly processed. Mary Anne Wright, a retired army colonel, said, “If we don’t watch what happens in November, we can kiss American democracy goodbye.” More information on Camp Democracy and the rest of this month’s programming is available here.

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Proposed Bills Threaten Rights of Sexual Assault, Rape Victims

The US Senate Armed Services Committee may vote as early as tomorrow on two pieces of legislation that could greatly reduce the rights of victims of sexual assault and rape. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Warner (R-VA), and The Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Frist (R-TN), aim to clarify how suspected terrorists should be treated, interrogated, and prosecuted. Groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), however, are concerned that the bills’ content could significantly redefine sexual crimes such as rape.

Under the Geneva Conventions, which articulate how uniformed prisoners of war should be treated, rape and sexual violence are considered torture; sexual violence and abuse are considered cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and “outrages upon personal dignity” are considered crimes. Both bills on the Senate floor omit these three principles of the Geneva Conventions, making it difficult to prosecute perpetrators of rape and sexual violence. According to CCR, the definitions of rape in the two proposed bills are inconsistent with definitions in international law and other US law. The definitions also exclude sexual abuse that is not characterized by genital or anal penetration, such as other forms of physical contact and non-physical abuses, like forced nakedness, humiliation, and harassment, which were prevalent in the Abu Ghraib scandal earlier this year.

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Camp Democracy Wages Peace

During the month of September, Camp Democracy will be set up on the National Mall in Washington, DC in an effort to bring attention to the situation in Iraq and restore peace and democracy. Those attending the non-partisan Camp Democracy will have the opportunity to participate in activist workshops which will focus on a variety of subjects, including ending the war, human rights, and media training.

This Wednesday, the women’s peace group CodePink and the National Organization for Women are sponsoring Women for Peace Day at Camp Democracy. CodePink, a group that aims for compassion-based policies and a focus on international law while rejecting the Bush administrations “fear-based policies,” has been promoting the “Troops Home Fast,” a hunger strike to expedite the return of US soldiers. On Wednesday, some participants will break their fast at Camp Democracy. Other activities on Wednesday include a discussion on how to end violence in Iraq, an update on the violence against women in Juarez, a panel discussion by military women, and a history workshop led by Howard Zinn.

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Increase in Honor Killings in Afghanistan

There has been a significant increase in so-called honor killings of women in Afghanistan from last year, announced the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Friday. The AIHRC believes that the increase is due to discrimination against women, the lack of enforcement of laws protecting women, and a weak judiciary, according to IRIN News, a United Nations humanitarian news and information service. So far this year, 185 women and girls have been killed by family members, though many cases go unreported, IRIN reports.

While the Afghan Constitution protects women’s rights, long-term changes in men’s attitudes towards women are necessary to end the practice of honor killings, said Dad Mohammad Rasa, an interior ministry spokesperson, reports IRIN. The number of killings is worse in the south, where there has been a resurgence of the Taliban.

The Feminist Majority conducts a campaign urging the US to increase security in Afghanistan, to protect the rights of women and girls, and to increase funding for organizations working to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan and Afghan women-led non-profits.

LEARN MORE about FMF’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls

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Man Attacks Women’s Health Center

A man drove his car into the lobby of a women’s health center in Davenport, Iowa on Monday, attempting to destroy what he thought was an abortion clinic. David McMenemy, a Detroit native, crashed his car into the Edgerton Women’s Health Center, driving into the building’s interior. He poured gasoline inside the car, hoping to create a blaze that would create significant damage to the building and kill himself, too, the Detroit Free Press reports. He has been charged with second-degree arson and is being held without bond; according to the Macomb Daily, McMenemy has pled not guilty.

The clinic, which has a large obstetrical program and runs the local Women Infant Child (WIC) program, does not offer abortion services or referrals for women seeking abortions. In his affidavit, McMenemy said he thought the center was an abortion clinic, the Detroit Free Press reports. Police are concerned that McMenemy may be connected with others who frequently commit acts of violence against women’s clinics, though no links have been established.

The health center sustained severe damage and will require a week or more before reopening for repairs. The crash occurred in the early morning when the building was vacant; no one was hurt.

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Pakistan: Reforms of Cruel Rape Law Fail

In a blow for women’s rights in Pakistan, the government’s proposals for reforming the country’s cruel rape laws were dropped today. Under the Hudood Ordinances, which are based on sharia law, a woman must produce four male witnesses in order to convict her rapist, a requirement that often cannot be fulfilled simply because rapes are often private crimes. The proposed law would have allowed women to choose whether they would prosecute a rapist under the Hudood Ordinances or under Pakistan’s civil penal code. Religious conservatives, however, strongly opposed the proposed laws and threatened to walk out of parliament if the laws were passed, The Independent wrote.

Women rape victims in Pakistan are often further punished by the judicial system because, when a victim cannot produce four male witnesses, she can be convicted of adultery Ð a crime punishable by death. Human Rights Watch issued a statement denouncing the Hudood Ordinances because these laws render “most sexual assault victims unable to seek redress through the criminal justice system, deeming them guilty of illegal sex rather than victims of unlawful violence or abuse.”

The Independent reports that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found in 2002 that a woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours. These rates, however, might be significantly higher because of social mores, unfair laws, and insensitive treatment from police officers and government officials that discourage rape victims from reporting crimes.

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Indian All-Woman UN Unit to Deploy to Liberia

Over 100 Indian women police officers will soon join United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia to respond to riots and train local police in the volatile West African country. The all-woman unit is comprised of volunteers who have served in Kashmir and north-east India countering insurgencies. According to BBC, this is only the second time that an all-female unit will be used in a peacekeeping mission.

UN advisors offered several reasons for the decision to deploy an all-woman unit. First, it is part of a deliberate effort to incorporate more women in peacekeeping operations; UN police adviser Mark Kroeker told Gulf Times, “This decision is extremely important because as we look at our deployment of women in UN police componentsÉ we still retain an unacceptably small number of 3 or 4 [percent].” Kroeker added that women forces will help the UN access more vulnerable populations that may be intimidated by or respond negatively to male officers. The unit commandant, Seema Dhundia, echoed Kroeker’s opinion, telling AP, “Female police are seen to be much less threatening, although they can be just as tough as men. But in a conflict situation, they are more approachable and it makes women and children feel safer.” In Liberia, where girls, boys, and women are often combatants as well as victims, women peacekeepers may provoke a different response.

Finally, an all-woman unit can work to change people’s views on women; Kroeker also told BBC that this decision “also sends a message to the post-conflict societies where we work that women officers can have any position and play [any] role in a police organization.”

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