President of Afghanistan Signed Amendment to Include Mothers’ Names in Children’s Birth Certificates

In a historical move, President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani signed the amendment for the mothers’ names to be included in Afghan national IDs.

The movement began by Laleh Osmany in 2017 in the Herat province with the hashtag #WhereIsMyName. The goal was to push for mothers’ names to be included in official documents, including their children’s birth certificates. The movement also wanted to normalize using women’s names in public places. For many Afghan men, revealing the names of their female relatives in public is considered shameful and dishonorable. They consider it insulting if someone calls their females family members by name in public. Women are often referred to as the mother of, daughter of, wife of, or sister of their male family members. Afghan law only permits fathers’ names to be recorded on berth certificates. Women’s names are also not mentioned in their wedding invitations, prescriptions, or death certificates. Tombstones bear only the names of their husbands. This also made it impossible for Afghan women to obtain passports for their children, travel with them, or register them for school, among many other basic parental rights and responsibilities.

“I feel like a bird in a cage whose door has just been opened, achieving the dream of flying in the sky,” said activist Sonia Ahmadi, who joined the campaign when it began in 2017. “In a society where everything is against women and they work to keep women down, this is a big step forward. It gives me an extraordinary feeling of happiness.,” Ms. Ahmadi told ABC.

Although this historical victory brought hope to many Afghans, women faced obstacles and backlash by the patriarchal and conservative country. After it was approved by the cabinet last week, former head of the moral police during the Taliban era, Mawlawi Qalam Uddin, called the change a “Western plan”.

“This plan has come from America and Europe. Nobody can force this plan on the people of Afghanistan,” he said at a press conference in Kabul. Another former Taliban figure, Sayed Akbar Agha, also called the amendment “a violation of Islamic principles.” The Taliban enforced a strict interpretation of Islam law during their five years rule (1996-2001) which limited women’s rights by banning women’s access to education, hospitals, and employment.  While the Afghan peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are occurring in Qatar, Afghan women fear that the achievements they have gained since the fall of the Taliban could be negotiated away. The Taliban said during the peace talks that within the limits of Islamic law and Afghan culture, they would allow women to be educated and employed. But for Afghan women, trusting the Taliban’s way of “Islamic Law” is difficult.

Sources: ABC News 08/14/20; BBC 09/12/20

Afghan Peace Talks: Focus on Ceasefire and Women’s Rights

Months after an agreement was signed between the United States and the Taliban, the Intra-Afghan talks began this week. The opening ceremony received international attention, and many of the speeches given by representatives from partner countries focused on ceasefire and women’s rights and human rights. Afghan women have made clear that they will not accept a deal that will jeopardize their rights and that the structure of the government and the Constitution of Afghanistan must not remove the provision of equality.

The Taliban has long rejected the Afghan government, referring to them as a puppet government, as well as only the “Kabul Administration.” The Taliban group has also used violence as a point of leverage and has historically been opposed to long term ceasefires. Despite the Taliban’s objection, Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the Afghan government’s side of the negotiations said that for the Afghan government, “our priorities are a reduction in violence and a permanent ceasefire.

Afghans have been working toward this step, considered a major milestone and a historic moment for Afghanistan, since the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The talks are held between the Afghan government and the Taliban group, which was one of the terms agreed to by the Taliban in the agreement with the U.S. The opening ceremony was scheduled one day after the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that triggered the United States to intervene in Afghanistan.

On the opening day, 15 partner countries and organizations spoke, many of which acknowledged the issues of rights and equality, reaffirming their position that for Afghanistan’s stability, human rights and women’s rights must be respected. The Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who also serves a representative from one of the five observing countries of the talks, firmly addressed the status of women and the importance of equality for a developed and peaceful society. Ms. Retno Marsudi said, “The Afghan people must be at the heart of this peace process…that leaves no one behind, including women.”

Among the negotiators in the Afghan government’s team, there are only four women, including some outspoken leaders. Fawzi Kofi, long-time Member of Parliament and leading women’s rights activist, has been very critical of the Taliban. She recently survived an attack in mid-August. Habiba Sarabi is a long-time advocate of women’s rights and served as the first governor of a province, Bamiya, in Afghanistan. Sharifa Zurmati is a former Member of Parliament and a long-time advocate of women’s rights, and Fatima Gillani is another prominent woman and one of the few early women politicians in Afghanistan who also headed the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Afghanistan.

Reuters, 9/12/20, NPR, 2/29/20

Afghanistan Gains a Seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women

On September 14, 2020, for the first time in history, Afghanistan secured a seat at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Afghanistan received the highest amount of votes and committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment globally. Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s representative to the UN, said that it is of “critical importance during Peace Talks to demonstrate new Afghanistan.” Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesperson of the Afghan President, also told Al Jazeera that winning a seat on the prestigious commission “means a lot to us”. Afghan women are not only reshaping the future of Afghanistan and their meaningful role but also will demonstrate their potential globally”. 

Gaining a seat on the UNCSW is one of many achievements that Afghan women have made during the last two decades. Despite the threats, harassment, and attacks, Afghan women have made progress, from participating in presidential and provincial elections to winning a seat in parliament. Afghan women have worked hard and studied hard to hold better positions in social and political arenas.

As the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban occur in Qatar, Afghan women are using every force to speak out to make sure that their rights and achievements won’t be traded away during these peace negotiations. Through campaigns and writing letters to the Taliban and world leaders, Afghan women expressed their concerns and demands. Over 100 world leaders signed a statement in support of Afghan women and their meaningful participation in intra-Afghan talks.  

Afghan politician and women’s rights activist Fawzia Koofi is one of the four women (out of 21 on the Afghan government team) who are participating in these peace talks with the male-only Taliban side. Koofi told AFP that “the Taliban have to understand that they are facing a new Afghanistan with which they have to learn to live.” Koofi, who also attended unofficial talks with the Taliban in 2019, spoke about difficulties that female negotiators face, “it’s not just about what you are talking, people look at what you wear, whether your scarf is of the right size or not.” Koofi survived an assassination attempt last month in Kabul. During their six-year rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban limited women’s rights by banning women’s access to education, hospitals, and employment. Last year, a Taliban official told Al Jazeera that the group would strike a “moderate tone” on women’s issues. But for Afghan women, it is very difficult to trust the Taliban because women don’t know what the Taliban mean by their “moderate tone” or imposing of Sharia law.

Sources: GIWPS 09/10/20;  Al Jazeera 09/15/20; NDTV 09/14/20   

Whistleblower Reveals ICE Facility Practiced Forced Hysterectomies

On Monday, Dawn Wooton, a whistleblower who formerly worked as a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, detailing medical neglect and a high rate of hysterectomies in the facility.

The facility is Irwin Detention Center, run by private corporation LaSalle Corrections, which runs 18 detention centers holding up to 13,000 people throughout the South.

Wooton is represented by Project South, a legal advocacy organization, and the Government Accountability Project, which provides representation for whistleblowers. The complaint is also signed by immigrant advocacy organizations Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” Wooten explains in the complaint.

“She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary,” she continued.

Wooton also reported that the facility’s conditions have worsened in the face of COVID-19, with facility staff refusing to test detained immigrants in a timely manner, concealing the numbers of positive tests, and failing to separate those who have been exposed from those who have not. 

When Wooton spoke out against these practices, she was demoted, and immigrants who spoke out against the conditions were often pushed into solitary confinement.

One detained immigrant reported to Project South that she had spoken to five women at the facility who had had hysterectomies between October and December of 2019.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” said the immigrant, whose name was not disclosed by the organization.

Wooton’s complaint does not disclose the number of people coerced into hysterectomies or the name of the gynocologist. ICE said that it does not comment on matters presented to the inspector general.

Sources: CNN 09/15/20; Project South 09/14/20; The Guardian 09/14/20; The Intercept 09/14/20

Federal Court Blocks Trump Order Prohibiting Census from Counting Undocumented Immigrants

Yesterday, a three-judge panel in New York ruled unanimously that President Trump’s executive order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count was unlawful. 

The President’s July memo stated that undocumented immigrants should not count for purposes of deciding the reapportionment of the House. The court’s decision mandates that his order violates the 14th Amendment as well as federal laws about how congressional seats are allocated, and acknowledges that the harm that the order would cause would last a decade. 

Trump’s order directed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to provide the president with two counts– one of the whole population, and one excluding undocumented immigrants.

The court ruled that those in the country illegally qualify as people to be counted in the states they reside, writing, “Throughout the Nation’s history, the figures used to determine the apportionment of Congress — in the language of the current statutes, the ‘total population’ and the ‘whole number of persons’ in each State — have included every person residing in the United States at the time of the census, whether citizen or non-citizen and whether living here with legal status or without.”

Dozens of cities, counties, states, and organizations representing marginalized communities challenged Trump’s memorandum. 

Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement that “this is a huge victory for voting rights and for immigrants‘ rights. President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear — every person counts in the census.”

Sources: New York Times 09/10/20; State of New York 09/10/20; Politico 09/10/20; White House 07/21/20

New Billboard Campaign in Illinois Informs Public that Abortion is Covered by Medicaid in the State

This week in Chicago’s suburbs and across Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund launched a new billboard campaign to inform the public that abortion care is covered by Medicaid in Illinois. The billboard reads: “Abortion Is Healthcare. It’s Covered By Illinois Medicaid”.

Under the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 law still in effect today that prohibits federal funding from being allocated for abortion services, Medicaid cannot cover abortion unless states use their own Medicaid dollars to fund that care. Only sixteen states opt-in to using their Medicaid programs for abortion care, with thirty-four states, and the District of Columbia, following the federal standard. The Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income people and people of color, who simultaneously experience an elevated risk for unintended pregnancy, a severe lack of abortion coverage, and overlapping barriers to access.

Illinois began to opt-in to using its state Medicaid to fund abortion care three years ago, but the Chicago Abortion Fund identified a gap in understanding among Illinois residents. Executive Director of the fund Megan Jeyifo said that folks using their hotline “have a Medicaid card in their wallet and don’t know that with that card they can go to a clinic and receive abortion care at no cost”. 

Illinois is seen as an abortion access haven in the midwest, with people from across the country traveling to receive abortion care in the state, especially as neighboring states continue to restrict access. A strong, long-standing reproductive justice community in Illinois can be credited for the protective policies that the state is known for.

Sources: WBEZ 09/08/2020; All* Above All; Guttmacher Institute 01/2020; ACLU 09/17/2017

D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department shot and killed 18-year-old Deon Kay

On Wednesday, September 2, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Alexander Alvarez shot and killed 18-year old Deon Kay, who is Black, in Southeast DC. 

The police department released body camera video recording showing the aftermath of the shooting. The footage shows an officer exiting his police car and approaching a parked car in the parking lot of an apartment building. Officer Alvarez encountered Kay, who was holding a gun. Kay threw the gun past Alvarez, and Alvarez shot Kay in the chest, killing him. 

Early Thursday morning, before MPD released footage, Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted at Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD Chief of Police Peter Newsham, “@MayorBowser a community is waking up to one less Black future to build and hurting because you and @ChiefNewsham Terror Gang has once again taken the life of a young man.”

The executive director of the ACLU of DC Monica Hopkins said in a statement that “in addition to being unsuccessful in reducing gun violence in the District, the Metropolitan Police Department’s tactics ignore the complexities of why young people like Deon may have guns to begin with. 

“The time is overdue for D.C. to overhaul its approach to ending gun violence and focus on non-police solutions that address the underlying roots of community violence instead of continuing aggressive police tactics that lead to more fear in communities, more shootings by police, more death, and more family and community trauma.”

After the shooting on Wednesday evening, protesters gathered both outside of Mayor Bowser’s house and outside of the 7th District police station. 

One protester said into a megaphone at Mayor Bowser’s house, “if you don’t defund the police, then you shouldn’t bother running for reelection.”

Sources: WUSA9 9/3/20; DCist 9/3/20; Twitter 9/3/20; ACLU 9/3/20

Abortion Rights Organizations File Lawsuit Against Tennesee Anti-Abortion Law

Reproductive rights groups challenged a new Tennessee law requiring abortion providers to inform medication abortion patients that their abortion pill can be “reversed”, despite no conclusive medical evidence that an “abortion reversal” pill is effective or even safe.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday by several abortion clinics in Tennesee. The plaintiffs make the case that the law is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and because it compels speech. 

The complaint states that “the only foreseeable effect of providing patients with this information in advance is that patients who believe the State’s medically inaccurate disclosure may be misled into thinking that they need not have firmly decided to have an abortion prior to taking mifepristone, erroneously believing that the abortion can be ‘reversed’ if they later change their mind.” 

About 4 million people have had medication abortions since the FDA approved the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol for abortions in early pregnancy in 2000. 

Patients have to be able to trust that their doctors are being honest with them and providing evidence-based medical information, not a biased, politically motivated script designed to shame them. Forcing doctors to share misinformation with patients is cruel during normal times and downright dangerous during a pandemic,” Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement.

“And yet they still went ahead and passed this law in a desperate attempt to score political points. We have no choice but to fight back because the health and safety of our patients is our top priority.” 

Sources: NewsChannel5 Nashville 8/31/20; Courthouse News 8/31/20; Tennessean 8/31/20

Police Have Killed 751 People This Year

According to Mapping Police Violence, a database built by Samuel Sinyangwe, there were only 27 days in 2019 that the police did not kill someone. Mapping Police Violence claims to be “the most comprehensive accounting of people killed by police since 2013.”

The database highlights the racial disparities in police killings. The data show that while Black people comprise 13% of the total population, they account for 28% of those killed by police since 2013. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, and they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed compared to white people.

Further, police “killed more people in the first half of 2020 than they did during this period in past years”. Prominent stories of victims like George Floyd made media headlines and gained traction, possibly because of graphic video footage that was circulated on social media. This database highlights how many stories go unheard.

Police are also not being held accountable: in the thousands of killings by police since 2013, 99% have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. Even in the most high-profile of cases, like Breonna Taylor, national media coverage and public demand for accountability have not led to the officers responsible being charged

Some experts say that gender may play a role in the ways in which the justice system treats victims of police brutality. Critical race theorist and coiner of the term “intersectionality”, Kimberle Crenshaw discusses the disparity in public knowledge and familiarity around women and men victims of police violence.

Sources: Mapping Police Violence 8/24/20; PBS 7/23/20; Ted Talk 10/2016