Iran Selects Women’s Rights Film as Oscar Nominee

Iran announced its decision to submit a film that defends women’s rights to compete in the foreign film category of the Oscars. The film, written by women’s rights advocate Kambosia Partovi, is about a widowed woman working to keep up her late husband’s restaurant while deflecting her brother-in-law’s requests to marry her, following the tradition of taking her as his second wife, according to the Globe and Mail.

Partovi is well known for his argument against the subordination of women, according to the Guardian Mail. He also wrote the 2000 Golden Lion winner, Circle, as well as I, Taraneh, 15 Years Old, both of which also represent the problems women face in Iran.

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Study: UK Pregnant Women Face Discrimination in the Workplace

A recent study of 1,100 pregnant women in the United Kingdom finds that pregnant women are not receiving adequate support in the workplace. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and Tommy’s Baby Charity, an organization which promotes safe and healthy pregnancies, conducted the survey to assess attitudes and experiences of women during pregnancy. The research showed that one in six women were afraid to tell their employers they were pregnant.

The survey found that 45 percent of women in the UK are treated unfairly by their employers. Ten percent of expectant mothers faced negative reactions from bosses when announcing their pregnancy. Some women gave accounts of being told they could or should terminate their pregnancies. One woman announced her pregnancy to her boss, who subsequently suggested, “Oh well, you could still lose it yet. It’s early days,” The Independent reports.

Although companies are legally obligated to allocate paid time-off without discrimination, numerous women revealed a fear of being fired. The EOC confirmed this fear, finding that 30,000 women lose their job as a result of pregnancy. One in four women were under pressure from their employers who expected them to work just as they did before. In spite of medical circumstances, one woman was made to lift heavy boxes while pregnant.

Jane Brewin, the chief executive of Tommy’s Baby Charity told The Scotsman, “These are alarming statistics, as they show just how little pregnant women at work are being supported through their pregnancy – and how this is detrimentally affecting them, both mentally and physically.”

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HPV Vaccine to Launch in Europe by End of Year

Merck, maker of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, has announced it will be partnering with the French drug company Sanofi-Aventis to release the HPV vaccine in Europe before the end of the year. Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands will be the first to launch the vaccine, with France, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, and Portugal following later in 2006. Spain, Italy, and Greece will launch the drug in early 2007.

The HPV vaccine is aimed towards women ages nine-26 to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil has been found to be most effective when given to young women before they become sexually active, as the vaccine only prevents contraction of the disease, and does not treat infected women. Gardasil is the first immunization recommended for children that prevents a sexually transmitted disease.

According to the FDA, over half of sexually active women will contract HPV in their lifetime. The FDA also states that HPV is responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancer and 90 percent of genital warts cases. The HPV vaccine is already available in the US, Australia, and Mexico.

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Report Reveals Bride-Kidnapping, Domestic Abuse in Kyrgyzstan

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report yesterday that exposed the bride-kidnapping and violent domestic abuse that occurs among women in Kyrgyzstan. According to the report, women as young as twelve years old are forced into marriage after being captured by groups of men who bring her to the home of the future groom. The woman is often subjected to rape, as well as physical and psychological pressure from the groom and his family in order to gain her consent for marriage. Once married, many Kyrgyzstan wives endure violent beatings and stabbings; some are even killed by their husbands.

While Kyrgyzstan has a law which requires police to respond to and prevent domestic abuse through a serious of specific procedures, Krygyz authorities neglect these obligations, according to HRW. Many government officials believe that domestic violence is more of a private issue than a law enforcement issue. When asked in an interview what the government could do to stop violence against women, one government official said, “Women should be more obedient and pay more attention to men and then domestic violence would decrease,” according to the report.

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Chile Appeals Court Overturns Temporary Ban on Emergency Contraception

A Santiago, Chile appeals court panel overturned a provisional ban on emergency contraception (EC) last week, allowing women over the age of 14 to obtain EC without parental consent and at no cost from public clinics. The temporary injunction was put in place after two parents and the mayor of La Florida, Chile, Pablo Zalaquet, filed a lawsuit trying to block the government’s liberal decision.

While EC has been available with a prescription in Chile for around $20, and only with parental consent for young women, the decision to provide it for free and with no required parental consent is an attempt to make EC more accessible for younger and poor women. Government spokesperson Ricardo Lagos Weber said, “This seems correct, equitableÉ it obligates us to take responsibility for the profound and serious reality that the sexual initiation of young people in Chile is occurring at a very early age,” reports Reuters.

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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.

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

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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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President Bush De-funds UNFPA for Fifth Year

President Bush announced on Friday that he is withholding the $34 million Congress had allotted for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. This is the fifth year President Bush has withdrawn funding from UNFPA Ñ a total of $161 million dollars lost in funding. UNFPA provides services to over 140 struggling nations, territories, and areas, funding programs to lower infant and maternal mortality, stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease, increase access to contraceptive services, and decrease incidence of obstetric fistula.

President Bush has withheld funding for UNFPA since 2001, after spurious claims that funding was going towards forced abortions and sterilizations in China. The claim was proven false by a Department of State investigation in 2001, though President Bush still uses the claim to withhold funding from UNFPA. The $34 million could have prevented 385,000 infant and child deaths, 27,000 maternal deaths, and four million induced abortions, or funded contraceptives to prevent 12 million unwanted pregnancies, according to PlanetWire.

“This is the 5th year in a row that this administration has listened to its far right constituency at the expense of the world’s neediest women and children É It’s another in a series of actions that pander to the base while severely impacting women’s health. The administration didn’t let facts get in the way of its decision, and women suffer,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “ÉThe Bush administration is playing politics at the expense of providing women with the means to take control of their health, their families and their lives,” said Dr. Lawrence Smith, Jr., president of the Population Institute, in a statement about the withdrawal of funding.

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Women’s Rights Groups Advocate Woman as UN Secretary-General

As the United Nations general session opens today, presided over for the first time by a woman, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women and Equality Now are arguing that the UN must select a woman as its next Secretary-General. Current Secretary-General Kofi Annan finishes his second term in December. A woman has never held the post of secretary-general in the UN’s 61-year history.

While the Security Council, which is composed of five permanent members and ten elected members, has already had two unofficial “straw” polls for Annan’s replacement, none of those considered in the polls were women. On Friday, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania nominated the first woman to ever be considered for secretary-general, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. UN tradition dictates that the next Secretary-General should be from Asia, limiting Vike-Freiberga’s chances of being elected.

Jessica Newirth, president of Equality Now, points out in a Women’s Media Center commentary that there are many qualified women that could take the post, such as Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, and former UN High Commissioner Sadako Ogata of Japan, among others. Kofi Annan has also said publicly he would like to see a woman be the next UN Secretary-General, calling women’s role in decision making “central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole,” according to Neuwirth.

Final voting on recommended nominees will most likely occur in the General Assembly in mid-October, though it could occur as late as December.

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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

JOIN Ms. and receive the premier feminist magazine delivered to your door. The Fall issue of Ms., on newsstands October 10, includes a feature story on the increasing attacks against Afghan girls schools.

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Temporary Halt on Free Emergency Contraception in Chile

A Santiago, Chile Court of Appeals has placed a provisional suspension on Chile’s progressive decision to distribute free contraception to women 14 and older without parental consent. The government’s program had included free distribution of emergency contraception (EC). The injunction was issued Wednesday after a group of parents and two mayors claimed that “the EC-for-everyone plan infringes on parents’ rights because it doesn’t require that teens seeking emergency contraception have parental authorization”, Salon reports.

Soledad Barria, Chilean Health Minister, told Chile’s National Television that this injunction is harming young women as well as all low-income women. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet agrees, saying, “Any person with a doctor’s prescription can buy [EC], because it’s been legalized for sale, but there are people with fewer resources who can’t buy it, and so we have opted to provide it at doctors’ offices as needed,” according to Salon.

According to The Santiago Times, Barria says that the Health Ministry plans to appeal the court’s decision saying, “We would consider it very grave if this affects the control and the distribution of contraceptives and information to youth.”

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Global Protest Calls for UN Intervention in Darfur

In a global “Day for Darfur” on Sunday, September 17, activists in thirty-seven countries will speak out to demand intervention in the escalating humanitarian crisis in western Sudan. Protesters will be calling for introduction of UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur by the end of the month, when the current African Union security forces are scheduled to leave. In a statement last Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland pronounced “collapse” of the region imminent unless UN forces are permitted to intervene.

Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejected last month’s UN decision to introduce 20,000 UN peacekeeping troops, accusing the UN of trying to “recolonize” Sudan, Reuters reports. Without security forces, humanitarian agencies now providing aid to millions of displaced people would be compelled to leave the country, precipitating the death of approximately 100,000 Darfuris per month, according to Egeland.

Protesters participating in the massive day of action will wear blue hats to symbolize the need for UN peacekeeping forces, who typically wear blue berets or helmets. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected at the rally in New York City, where former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be among the speakers demanding that the international community put pressure on Sudan.

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READ MORE about student activists taking action against Sudan in this month’s Ms. magazine

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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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Ban on Women at Mecca Met with Resistance; Officials Reconsider

Women Muslims across the world have spoken out against recent proposals in Saudi Arabia to ban women from praying at the most sacred shrine for Muslims, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Grand Mosque, which Muslims across the world face during daily prayers, is the annual destination for many Muslim pilgrimages each year. The proposed ban would be an attempt to reduce crowding, but the widespread opposition to the proposals has made Saudi officials reconsider.

Aisha Schwartz, founder and director of the Muslimah Writers Alliance, started a petition in protest of the proposals, which has already gathered over 1,000 signatures. The petition begins, “The religion of Islam was revealed for both men and women. Both sexes are equal when it comes to the performance of religious duties and in terms of rewards and punishments.” According to Arab News, Muslims in 38 countries have joined together to ensure that women cannot be denied access to mosques.

Reuters reports that the Saudi clerics and officials responsible for the proposals appear to have backtracked already. Instead of banning women, Mohammed bin Nasser al-Khozayem, the deputy head of Grand Mosque affairs, said that spaces designated for women may be expanded to reduce crowding.

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Focus Must Return to Afghan Women — Before It’s Too Late

Afghan women’s rights are slipping away. With increased violence, “[t]he Taliban are showing that they can operate anywhere at will, even in very high security areas” said Joanna Nathan with the International Crisis Group in Kabul, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Taliban attacks on girls’ schools are increasing. Experts estimate that a girls’ schools is bombed or a teacher murdered every day. According to Human Rights Watch, attacks have closed schools in several entire districts in Afghanistan, and nearly one-third of all districts have no schools for girls.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation/Feminist Majority, which conducts the Campaign to Help Afghan Women and Girls, said, “We must step up security and funding for programs for Afghan women and girls. The Afghan Women’s Empowerment Act to provide increased funding is yet to find one Republican cosponsor. We can’t say we have freed the women of Afghanistan as we watch their rights slip away.”

TAKE ACTION Urge your Senators and Representative to cosponsor the Afghan Women’s Empowerment Act

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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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UNFPA Releases 2006 State of the World Report

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its 2006 State of the World Population report yesterday in a morning briefing in Washington, DC, emphasizing the importance of women’s issues and international migration. According to the report, women migrants typically leave their native countries to escape the oppression they face and to gain freedom in a new country. However, while half of all migrants are women, they often face double discrimination because of their gender and their foreign-born status. Approximately one-third of households headed by foreign-born women are at or below the poverty line. Often the sole or primary providers, women also tend to contribute the majority of the $232 billion that migrants send back to their families in their home countries every year, said Maria Jose Alcala, principal author of the report.

The panel of speakers releasing the report also focused on trafficking, to which migrant women are often susceptible. Luring migrants to a new country through false promises of legitimate jobs and protection, traffickers expose victims to violence and unsafe conditions, according to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Women are disproportionately targeted: of the 2.5 million people who are trafficked each year, 80 percent are women, and of these women, 11 percent are forced into sex trafficking, which involves being forced to have sex while enduring violence, rape, and threats of being sent back to their home countries.

The panel’s promotion of more gender specific laws include the “Pimp Tax” law, a current project of Maloney’s. Because federal, state, and local mechanisms to prosecute sex traffickers are weak and difficult to enforce, Maloney proposes that the law investigate and arrest traffickers on tax evasion. Because “pimps” do not pay taxes on the money they make off of trafficked women, Maloney’s law would enable the IRS to become involved. In 2005, Maloney also helped pass the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act which better equips US law enforcement officials to study trafficking and enforce laws against traffickers.

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More Education Leads to Safer Sex and Less HIV for Girls in Africa

A recent report by Action Aid International finds that girls who are better educated begin having sex later, are more likely to use condoms, and have a decreased chance of contracting HIV. The report, “Girl Power: The Impact of Girls’ Education on HIV and Sexual Behavior,” finds that girls who have completed secondary school have less risky behavior than those who have only completed primary school. The report also finds that better educated boys are more likely to have safer sex and protect themselves against HIV than less educated boys.

The authors of the report stress the special need of girls to be educated, as “Young women receiving higher levels of education are likely to wait longer before having sex for the first time, and are less likely to be coerced into sex.” Women are hurt by the structure of the education systems in most African countries, which charge fees for schooling that increase with grade level, leaving many girls without the opportunity to finish primary school, let alone secondary school.

The report recommends that schools stop charging students for primary school to increase education rates for both girls and boys. It also recommends that comprehensive sexual education be taught in primary school, with condom use heavily promoted, according to Population Action International.

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Chile: Birth Control Free for Women Over 14

The Chilean government recently decided that contraception will be publicly available for all women over the age of 14. According to IPS, all public health centers must dispense birth control, including emergency contraception (EC), free of charge. The decree also ensures that younger women can without authorization from their parents obtain a prescription for birth control pills.

The Catholic Church and conservative politicians are already criticizing the decision that aims to give women of all ages and incomes control over their sexual and reproductive lives. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a pediatrician, responded, saying to the Santiago Times, “The obligation of the state is to provide alternatives, and the obligation of families, of each one of us, is to communicate with our children, explain things to them, and to teach them.” Government Spokesperson Ricardo Weber expanded on the real need for Chile to provide these services, telling IPS that 14 of every 100 young people are sexually active by the age of 14.

The decision was made by the Chilean Health Ministry after the Chilean Center for the Development of Women asked for greater accessibility to EC.

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Britain May Criminalize Violent Pornography

In Britain, a proposed law would criminalize the possession of extreme and violent pornography. The proposal was in reaction to a 30-month campaign by Liz Longhurst, a woman whose daughter was strangled by a man who admitted to an obsession with violent Internet pornography. Longhurst collected 50,000 signatures that would make the possession of violent images (including internet and digital images) illegal. Currently, British laws criminalize the distribution and publication of material considered obscene, but online materials are not covered.

As with many censorship laws, the lines are unclear as to what is to be considered extreme and violent. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the laws would apply to pornography that features “violence that is, or appears to be, life threatening or is likely to result in serious disabling injury.” The law, however, would not apply to people who happened across such images nor affect the mainstream entertainment industry’s obscenity laws, BBC reports.

The proposed law must still be approved by Parliament, which is currently out of session until October.

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