More than 50 Burundian women delegates convened in the four-day All-Party Women’s Conference to discuss ways of promoting peace in their country and securing women’s rights.
The gathering, sponsored by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Mwalimu Nyere Foundation, will tackle issues such as establishing women’s constitutional rights, implementing a quota system to place more women at the highest levels of decision-making, and prosecuting soldiers accused of rape and other gender-based war crimes.
According to a report released on July 19th by the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch, both Burundi’s army and rebels have a gruesome record of raping and inflicting sexual violence in camps where over 350,000 civilians reside. UNIFEM officials estimate that 65 to 85 percent of Burundian refugees are women and children.
The Nigerian government will soon create a national committee, Women For Peace, that seeks to unify women in efforts to eradicate gender discrimination and enlarge their roles in the decision-making process concerning national and international conflicts. The special adviser to the president on Women Affairs, Chief Titilayo Ajanaku, emphasized that the committee would be a diverse group that reaches out to women of varying interests and backgrounds. Ajanaku, condemning Nigeria’s abolishment of the Women Affairs ministry, stated that the committee would be crucial to increasing the value of women’s status.
According to a report released by the British Pregnancy Service (BPAS), 2,460 Irish women a year travel to England for abortions – or twenty women a week. This year, already 1012 women have traveled to England for the procedure.
Ann Furedi, the BPAS spokesperson, commented, “There is no denying that Irish women have abortions. Laws and constitutional bans do not prevent it. They simply cause women the distress of having to travel, of having to raise difficult sums of money and sometimes having to conceal their actions.”
With the arrest of relief worker Mary MacMakin on July 11 and her deportation ordered by the Taliban on July 12, non-governmential aid organizations in Afghanistan are working in a tense atmosphere. A survey of the 40 international aid organizations in Kabul conducted yesterday revealed that their Afghan women employees had not gone to work, fearing Taliban retaliation. U.N. officials are still deciphering whether a far-reaching “crackdown” on women’s employment has been ordered, or whether a single Taliban minister is behind the move, the Associated Press reported late yesterday. International humanitarian groups received a letter of warning last week, and American relief worker Mary MacMakin was arrested yesterday and held in a juvenile detention center, apparently as a part of a crackdown, and was ordered today to leave Afghanistan within 24 hours.
U.N. officials confirmed, in a late-breaking story by the AP, that MacMakin and the seven Afghan women arrested with her were released today and ordered to leave Afghanistan. The women say they were treated well. MacMakin’s Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support of Afghan Women (PARSA) teaches practical farming and crafts skills to Afghan widows.
Since the Taliban forcefully took power in Afghanistan, women and girls have been living under a reign of terror. Barred from working outside the home, women are forced to wear the all-covering burqa, and are living under virtual house arrest. Employing Afghan women is essential not only to the economic survival of the 28,000 widows in Afghanistan (where women are not allowed to leave the home without a close male relative), but to the thousands of children served by international humanitarian aid organizations.
Afghan refugees living in Pakistan face severe consequences if they outwardly criticize the Taliban regime, which has instituted a brutal system of gender apartheid. Human Rights organizations fear that last months shooting of an Afghan writer living in Pakistan is not an isolated incident and that extremist groups, with a presence inside Pakistan, are preparing to target a long list of Afghan’s known to oppose the Taliban. Furthermore, Pakistan’s recent deportation, in violation of agreed standards with the UNHCR, of Taliban critic Mohammad Enam Wak, sends a dangerous signal on Pakistani policy towards Afghan refugees. Afrasiab Kattak, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was quoted, “It appears the whole world has turned their back on the Afghans. These refugees are living in a vacuum and are terribly vulnerable.”
Amnesty International has reported that Pakistan has recently deported former Kabul University Professor Mohammad Rahim Elham in violation of an agreement between Pakistani government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for joint assessment of Afghan refugee claims prior to deportation. Elham’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and human rights activists are alarmed. He was turned over to the Taliban on June 21. Other Afghan intellectuals currently living in Pakistan are fearful for their safety. Amnesty International reports that the Taliban has tortured dozens of intellectuals who have openly advocated ending Afghanistan’s internal “holy war” and establishing a new government that represents and addresses the concerns of all ethnic groups.
UN report cites continued violations against the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
This week United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented his most recent report on the situation in Afghanistan to the U.N. Security Council, citing the ongoing systematic violations of human rights committed by the Taliban regime. Annan reported, “Despite some limited improvements, women and girls have continued to face serious abuses of their fundamental rights, including severe restrictions imposed on their participation in public life.” Women and girls in Afghanistan face the severest impact of what Annan describes as a situation in which people “have little or no possibility for judicial recourse and are largely denied the possibility of shaping decisions that affect them.” According to the report there is no indication of improvement of life under the Taliban, and in fact the situation may deteriorate as future military offensives, and a new wave of human rights violations, loom.
Thirty-eight Afghan passengers from a jet hijacked in February who were denied asylum in Britain by Home Secretary Jack Straw began their appeal yesterday. The hearings involved 32 Afghan men and women and six children.
Shaw refused asylum to the passengers on the grounds that they faced no danger of persecution in their home country. Straw has previously denied any attempt to prejudice the 69 asylum applications received by Parliament.
Barry Stoyle, director of the Refugee Legal Center, which is providing attorney’s for many of the refugees, said that Straw’s decision would force the asylum-seekers to return “to a country with no constitution, rule of law or independent judiciary and which commits human rights abuses on a massive scale.”
To say that Afghans face no persecution in Afghanistan is to ignore the fact that the Taliban militia, which controls 90 percent of Afghanistan, has imposed a strict system of gender apartheid against all women living in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban’s edicts, which have been brutally enforced, banish most women from the work force, closed schools to girls and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative.