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Norway has provided a $15 million grant to the Nigerian government to help the country reduce maternal and child mortality. The grant comes days after the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey of 2013 results spotlighted persistently high rates of child marriages and maternal deaths across the nation.
Nigeria currently accounts for 13 percent of the world's maternal deaths, with 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth each year. The Nigerian Health Ministry is currently working to carry out the Harmonized Country Plan of Priority Interventions (HCPPI) with the intention to save the lives of an additional 420,000 mothers and children by 2015 at a total cost of $650 million, but was facing a significant challenge funding the program. With Norway's help, the program will now flourish.
"The Tripartite Agreement we have signed today represents one of the many efforts to meet the resource gap," said Nigeria's Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu. "We have available commitments totaling $121 million currently being mobilized through projects from the Private Health Sector Alliance, UNICEF, GFATM, the Federal Ministry of Health, USAID, and GE Healthy Imagination among other, leaving $299 [million] outstanding."
Nigeria's HCCPI will target three northern states - Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina - and expects to reduce maternal and neonatal death by 40 percent before the end of 2015, saving the lives of 2961 mothers' lives and 19,825 small children.
In allowing for better implementation of HCPPI, Norway's grant will help Nigeria meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)by next year. The fourth and fifth MDGs called on countries to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds, reduce their national maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters, and achieve universal access to reproductive health and family planning. In Nigeria, only 9.8 percent of women are using family planning services, and 16.1 percent have an unmet need for family planning services.
7/16/2014 - Church of England Votes to Allow Women Bishops
The General Synod, the decision-making body of the Church of England, voted Monday to allow women to become bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, supported the vote, saying he thought the public would find the exclusion of women "almost incomprehensible."
"This is a watershed moment for the Church of England and a huge step forward in making our society fairer," said Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister of England. "Allowing women to become bishops is another long overdue step towards gender equality in senior positions. I welcome the Church of England's decision which means that women can now play a full and equal role in the important work of the Church."
Parliament will now consider the changes. If Parliament approves them, a formal announcement will be made in November at the next meeting for the General Synod. Women can start to be appointed as assistant bishops early next year, and the first woman could be appointed as bishop by next summer.
The General Synod began to ordain women as priests in 1994. Women now hold senior positions and make up about one-third of Anglican clerics. A strong push to allow women to become bishops began in 2005, but a small margin of lay representatives in the General Synod blocked it in 2012. This conflict led to discord within the church, as well as between the church and the government, since it is the official church of England.
Women already serve as bishops in some countries with Anglican Communion churches, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada, while others do not even ordain women as priests.
The Nigerian Demographic Health Survey of 2013 (NDHS) revealed persistently high child marriage rates and a need for increased family planning resources in Nigeria.
Nigeria accounts for 13 percent of global maternal death rates, with 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or child birth each year. An estimated 222 million women around the world wish to either delay or prevent pregnancy, but lack access to contraceptives - and Nigeria is no exception. The NDHS revealed that only 9.8 percent of Nigerian women use family planning, while 16.1 percent have an unmet need for family planning services. Although Nigeria has made significant progress in decreasing maternal deaths across the nation, the study also showed that only half of Nigerian women had four antenatal care visits and only 38 percent of births were assisted by an attendant. 70 percent of Nigeria's deaths are caused by abortion complications, hemorrage, eclampsia, or sepsis.
Additionally, as many as 17 million girls across Africa, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. According to the NDHS, 78 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married in Nigeria's Jigawa state, making it the state with the most early marriages, but child marriage rates across Nigeria often outpace those in other nations around the world. Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications and less likely to get an education.
The African Union launched its first campaign to end child marriage last month, and the Child Rights Act raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls when it was passed in 2003, but federal law is sometimes implemented differently at the state level, and only a few of Nigeria's states have acted to implement the law. The UNFPA has urged Nigeria to take additional action to prevent 4.6 million girls from marrying before 18 by 2030.
"Ending child marriage requires strategies for girls' empowerment, social and cultural norms change, legal reform and policy action," the UNFPA stated to the Daily Times. "Proven solutions involve girls schooling (especially lower secondary) and programmes that offer life skills, literacy, health information and services that offer life skills, literacy, health information and services, and social support."
TAKE ACTION! Organize on campus for global women's reproductive rights with Feminist Campus, and sign FMF's petition to integrate HIV/AIDS services with family planning services across the globe.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called on Pope Francis yesterday to take "tangible steps" to prevent widespread sexual abuse by clergy members instead of asking for forgiveness from victims.
Yesterday Pope Francis met with six people who were sexually abused by clergy members as children to ask for their forgiveness. He led them in a private mass and met individually with the survivors, one man and one woman each from Ireland, Britain, and Germany. In his homily yesterday, he also pledged to crack down on child sexual abusers in the clergy.
Although advocates for survivors were glad to see the Pope call for more accountability, advocates feared that the meeting was simply a public relations stunt, allowing Catholic church leaders to sidestep dealing with the issue head-on. "These meetings are public relations coups for the Vatican and distracting placebos for others. They provide temporary but false hope," said Mary Caplan, a member of SNAP. "In meetings, people can share knowledge. But Catholic officials don't lack knowledge. They lack courage - the courage to be honest, to "out" and oust their criminal colleagues, both those who commit and conceal sexual violence against children. And they lack the incentive to act responsibly because those who act irresponsibly are virtually never defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even defrocked. No meeting with victims - however many or compelling or articulate they may be - changes this fundamental, distressing and unhealthy reality."
Barbara Blaine, Founder and President of SNAP, who was herself raped by a parish priest as a teenager, commented that sexual abuse by church clergy and its cover up is still ongoing. "Stop talking about the crisis as though it's past tense, and stop delaying while your abuse panel discusses details," Blaine said. "You know the right thing to do."
SNAP released a statement with 15 steps the Vatican could take to protect children from sexual abuse and hold offending clergy members accountable. Among other things, SNAP calls on the Vatican to insist that bishops permanently post information about child molesting clerics on diocesan and parish websites; to ensure that only licensed therapists work with abuse victims, instead of priests or nuns; and to use independent corrections staff to monitor child molesting clerics instead of other clergy members.
In the US alone, between 1950 and 2010, 6,100 priests were accused of abuse, leading to an estimated 100,000 victims. Globally, thousands more have been accused, and they have been frequently protected from punishment by being transferred to a different parish where they could start abusing others, as shown in recently released documents of the Chicago archdiocese.
While the Vatican has known about this issue for decades, they have done little to hold abusers accountable. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report demanding the Vatican take action in February, and the UN Committee Against Torture held a hearing to question Vatican leaders about their actions to address global child sexual abuse.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill yesterday with an amendment to remove a provision banning the Peace Corps from funding abortions for its volunteers, even in cases of rape or incest.
Unlike other employees with federal health care plans - including Peace Corps employees - Peace Corps volunteers currently do not have access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or endangered health or life. The Republican-controlled committee had blocked previous efforts to repeal this restriction, but yesterday the amendment passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an identical amendment last week. The full House and Senate must now vote on the FY 2015 appropriations legislation for the repeal to go into effect.
"With today's vote, no longer will women in the Peace Corps be denied coverage for abortion care after they've been raped or when they face life-threatening pregnancy complications," said Nancy Northop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources." Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month.
Although the Peace Corps amendment was a victory for reproductive health and rights, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass three other amendments that would have improved US funding for reproductive health programs. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to strike the Global Gag Rule from the appropriations bill. The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign organizations who received US funds from counseling, advocating, or making referrals on abortion. That amendment failed by 19-25 vote.
"Year after year, Republicans attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy endangers the lives of low-income women around the world by denying funds for critical health services," said Lee in a statement. "I remain committed to the fight to prevent this dangerous policy from being reinstated."
Amendments offered by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to remove restrictions on US funding for UNFPA, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) to strike language that caps overall funding for international family planning and reproductive health at no more than $461 million - a 25 percent cut from the 2014 level of $610 million - were also defeated.
If passed, these amendments to the appropriations bill would have improved, or even saved, the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. Approximately 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy, and millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions.
Engaging the US in the global fight to end gender-based violence will take center stage tomorrow as part of a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at fully combating violence and discrimination against women worldwide.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Foreign RelationsSubcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues hearingwill preside over the hearing at which several women Senators will testify, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
The Senate Subcommittee hearing will focus on how the US and the international community can work to prevent violence against women, promote women's rights, and empower women and girls globally. Senator Boxer introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in May as a step toward reducing violence against women worldwide. The international community has also used the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women's Treaty, as a tool to fight violence against women globally. Although 187 countries have ratified the treaty, the US has not, joining Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau in its failure to ratify CEDAW.
Gender-based violence is the most widespread human rights violation around the world. According to the World Health Organization at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, although some national studies show prevalence rates as high as 70%. In conflict zones, women are more susceptible to rape, which has been systematically used as a weapon of war. Child marriage also continues to be a scourge. More than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides who suffer from sexual assault and life-threatening early pregnancy. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15, and 90% of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage according to a recent UNFPA report.
Follow @FemMajority for live tweets during tomorrow's hearing, starting at 9:45am.You can also watch the webcast.
Community and religious leaders in the United Kingdom came together this week to condemn the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Church of England and the Muslim Women's Network UK were two of 160 groups who supported the announcement denouncing FGM as a form of violence against women and a denial of women's human rights not supported by religious doctrine. The groups will sign a joint declaration condemning FGM - currently a criminal offense in the UK - during the government's Girl Summit in July.
"No girl or woman should ever be forced to choose between her safety and her religious community and tradition and it is our sacred obligation to be just agents of change against this unjust practice," said Shahin Ashraf, Muslim Chaplain and National Network Coordinator for the Muslim Women's Network UK.
Sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision, FGM is the removal or cutting of part or all of a woman or girl's genitals. The practice, which is medically unnecessary, can lead to serious health issues such as infection, illness and death. FGM still affects up to 140 million women and girls worldwide, with an estimated 20,000 girls at risk in the UK.
The practice of FGM on girls under 18 was made a crime in the United States in 1996. The law was strengthened by President Obama in 2013 to make it a crime to transport a girl outside of the US for the purpose of subjecting her to FGM.
Immigration activist groups have filed a complaint against the US Customs and Border Protection agents, citing 116 allegations of child abuse at the US-Mexico border in Texas and Arizona.
The complaint includes the allegation that more than 80 percent of those child immigrants did not receive enough food and water, around half were not given medical care, and nearly one in four minors were abused physically. Unfortunately, the allegations don't end there. The activist groups, which include the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, are also alleging unsanitary conditions and the sexual abuse of children and the complaints say all of this has been going on for years.
"After completing a perilous journey into the United States, many are subjected to various forms of abuse, harassment and other harms at the hands of the Border Patrol," part of the complaint reads. "Children consistently reported being held in unsanitary, overcrowded and freezing-cold cells."
Chris Cabrera, a leader within the National Border Patrol Council, estimates that more than 60,000 of these unaccompanied minors have crossed the Mexican border into the US just this year. Often these children are coming to escape poverty or violence in Mexico or Central America and are hoping to join a parent who is already in the country. Many unaccompanied minors end up turning themselves in to Border Patrol in hopes of being helped into the US. The allegations come just a few days after the Obama administration assigned a third US military base to these unaccompanied child immigrants for emergency housing.
"Given these longstanding problems, and in light of the rising number of unaccompanied children seeking relief from dangerous conditions in their home countries," the complaint reads, "the need for broad and lasting agency reforms is clear."
Syeda Ghazala made history this week as the first woman to become chief of police in Pakistan's largest city.
In 2011, Pakistan was rated theÂ third-most dangerous country for women. Karachi still ranks as one of the top 10 most violent cities in the world. Now, Ghazala manages a 100-unit police force, made up of only men, in Clifton, a Karachi suburb with a population of more than 18 million people.
"My husband opposed my decision to join the police force 20 years ago," Ghazala told the Associated Press. The 44-year-old mother earned the highest score during the training promotion, besting her male colleagues. She says of the new job, "It was a big challenge. I was a little bit hesitant to accept it."
The promotion is evidence of a larger shift in thinking about women in leadership across Pakistan. Senior leadership in Ghazala's unit want to see more women joining the force in non-traditional roles. "Our society accepts only stereotype roles for women," senior police officer Abdul Khaliq Sheik said. "There is a perception that women are suitable only for particular professions like teaching."
According to the Associated Press, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women do run police forces, but only in stations specifically designed to help female victims.
Over seven million Afghans, or 58 percent of the population, successfully voted in the runoff presidential election on Saturday, despite several attacks from the Taliban at polling centers.
"The participation of men and women across the country demonstrates, once again, the commitment of the Afghan people to shape the future of their country and to reject violence and intimidation," Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote in the April election, a runoff was held between the top two contenders - Abdullah Abdullah, who won 44.9 percent of the vote in the first election, and Ashraf Ghani Amadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) will announce preliminary results for the runoff election on July 2 and expect the final results to be announced on July 22. Whoever wins the majority of the vote will replace current president Hamid Karzai, marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
Both Abdullah and Amadzai have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which provides that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The candidates also signed a petition for women's rights, announced in a press conference held Thursday. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.
Afghan women's groups Thursday held a press conference announcing that both of the presidential front-runners had signed a six-point petition for women's rights. The news comes on the eve of the nation's runoff elections for the presidency, which are being held tomorrow. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.
A runoff election for the presidency will take place tomorrow in Afghanistan after the first election on April 5 failed to earn any candidate running over 50% of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister and World Bank economist, will compete.
Afghanistan's April elections were a tremendous success. Over 7 million Afghans came out to vote in the elections across the nation despite inclement weather, and at least one-third were women. Turnout was so high that the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC) extended voting hours at voting centers to accommodate crowds. The electoral commission has added 3,500 more polling sites for the runoff election.
For the women of Afghanistan, the elections represent an opportunity for their burgeoning women's rights movement to elect a leader who supports their equality.
"Despite desperate efforts of anti-government elements to thwart the 2014 electoral process," former Minister of Women's Affairs Massouda Jalal wrote on the FMF blog in May, "the will of the Afghan people prevailed. We made it. We were able to show the world that our security forces are robust enough to protect our infant democracy and our people remain worthy of international support."
Representatives from over 140 nations are attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London this week. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress and United Nations special envoy Angelina Jolie are co-chairing the event, the largest ever of its kind.
The summit aims to "shatter the culture of impunity" for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict, take practical steps to reduce the dangers women face during conflicts, increase support for survivors, and debunk the myth that rape in war is inevitable.
"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians . . . done to torture and humiliate people and often to very young children," Jolie said. "We need to see real commitment and go after the worst perpetrators, to fund proper protection for vulnerable people, and to step in to help the worst-affected countries."
The summit, with up to 1,200 government ministers, activists, and other leaders attending, will feature meetings and discussions, film screenings, theater and art displays. Several of the events are open to the public, and you can watch by livestream.
Hague and Jolie launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) in 2012, which included a United Nations Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that has been endorsed by 141 countries so far. Hague and Jolie began to work together after Hague saw a film Jolie directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey, about how rape was used as a weapon of war in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict in the 1990s.
Rape is frequently used as a military tactic to "humiliate and demoralize individuals, to tear apart families, and to devastate a href="http://stoprapenow.org/uploads/aboutdownloads/1282162584.pdf">communities." Soldiers often see rape as a spoil of war, and the lawlessness of countries in conflict means perpetrators usually face no punishment, and survivors rarely receive justice or the medical or other recovery services they need. Past conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina included the rape of thousands of women and girls. Currently, an average of 40 women are raped per day in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws
WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.
"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."
Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.
"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.
FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 9, 2014
Contact: Megan Perry
6/5/2014 - Mass Grave in Ireland Contains Remains of Almost 800 Children from Catholic Mother-and-Baby Home
The remains of almost 800 children found in a mass grave in western Ireland have been determined to be from a home for unwed mothers that operated in Tuam, County Galway for 35 years between 1926 to 1961.
The deaths of the children likely occurred because of neglect, disease and malnutrition, which was rampant according to a 1944 government investigation of the home. Mothers who gave birth at the home told Catherine Corless, the researcher who discovered the origin of the bones, that they received extremely poor healthcare. They told her that they were only seen once by a doctor when they were admitted to the house, and long labors were often unattended.
The bone repository - found in a septic tank - was originally discovered in 1975, but it was assumed to contain the remains of victims of the mid-nineteenth century famine until Corless conducted her research.
The "mother-and-baby home" in Taum was one of many Catholic Church-run institutions across Ireland created to house unwed pregnant women, including rape victims, and hide the "stain" they would create on the morality of the country. The Church has been under fire, especially from the United Nations, for operating Magdalene Asylums, or Magdalene Laundries, for unwed women from the 18th to 20th centuries in Ireland and across Europe and North America, as well as for church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Women in the laundries were forced to work in terrible conditions, and children were often sold without the mother's consent. Increasing awareness of the offenses committed by the Church has made it much harder for the Vatican and governments to ignore them.
"How can we show in Ireland that we have matured as a society if we cannot call out these horrific acts of the past for what they were? They were willful and deliberate neglect of children, who were the most vulnerable of all," junior minister for education, Ciaran Cannon, told Reuters. "They were deserving of love and nurturing, but they received the exact opposite. They were shunned by society at the time. The only way we can address that injustice is to tell their story, to determine the truth."
The government is considering launching an inquiry into the home, and people are pulling together to place a plaque at the site commemorating the children buried there.
President Obama announced last week that 9,800 United States military troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 to help train and advise Afghan security forces, as well as assist in counter-terrorism operations. The number of troops will then continue to be scaled back to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by 2016.
"Over the last several years, we've worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans," said Obama in his announcement of the plan. "One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations. Since then, they've continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country."
In June 2013, the US and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). According to the White House, there are no plans to decrease the size of the Afghan security forces, now at 352,000. Since the transition, the ANSF has taken the lead in fighting insurgents and has successfully recaptured territory the country lost to the Taliban in previous years. The United Nations Security Council has also commended the ANSF for successfully providing effective security for the historic April 2014 Afghan elections, which saw lower levels of violence than the 2009 elections.
During his remarks, President Obama made clear that the drawdown of US troops would not impact the United States' commitment to Afghan re-development. "Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come," said Obama. "But our relationship will not be defined by war, it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support."
Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May 2012 which included "U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation." Afghanistan committed "to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans - men and women." The SPA is still in effect.
The US has also made a substantial five-year commitment to Afghan women and girls through the USAID project Promote, the agency's largest gender program in the world. Geared toward women between the ages of 18 and 30 who have at least a secondary education, Promote is expected to increase women's economic, social, and political participation through education, job training, micro-finance and credit for female entrepreneurs, training for policy-making, and strengthening of women's rights groups and coalitions. USAID will contribute up to $216 million to the project; other donors can contribute up to $200 million in additional funding, for a total of $416 million over the five-year period. The recently announced troop drawdown does not change these commitments.
The President, however, did state that the decision to maintain troops in Afghanistan is contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Current President Hamid Karzai will not sign the BSA, but the front-runners to be the next president have both said they will. Former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are the two top presidential candidates. Because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2014 election, a runoff will be held June 14 to determine the next president.
At a three-day international maternal health summit in Toronto last week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, announced that Canada has pledged $3.5 billion for programs aimed at improving maternal and newborn health in developing countries.
"There is no better investment in the world's future prosperity than women's and children's health," said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the summit.
The funds will add on to previously committed funds for the Millenium Development Goals - goals and strategies agreed to by all the world's countries and leading development institutions to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality, among other issues, by a target date of 2015. Canada's funds will be allocated for between 2015 and 2020.
99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions. Unfortunately, Canada's pledge excludes abortion and birth control from its funding.
"Women have to have better control of their reproductive rights; we know that when women are healthy and educated, they contribute more to society," said NDP MP Helene Laverdiere in protest of the exclusion.
The African Union launched its first campaign to curb child marriage in Africa last week, in cooperation with African governments, UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development, and several civil society organizations.
"What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying 'No to Child Marriage,'" said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. "This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married."
The campaign will run for an initial two-year period, with national launches in anticipated in at least 10 countries. The campaign will focus on policy action, raising awareness, and implementing legal frameworks that protect children. Some countries already have additional strategies in mind. Zambia is involving traditional chiefs to change the cultural norms around child marriage.
As many as 17 million girls across the continent, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. Child marriage rates are the highest in Niger (75%) and Chad (68%). Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications, and are less likely to get an education.
A 25-year-old Pakistani woman was brutally and publicly murdered by her family this week for marrying the man she loved.
Farzana Parveen married a man several months ago following a years-long engagement. She was three months pregnant. Her family did not approve of the marriage because they did not arrange it, and the husband believes they were trying to get money from him. After the couple married, Parveen's family threatened them and filed an abduction case against the husband. On the couple's way to the courthouse Tuesday to contest the abduction claim, 20 of Parveen's extended family members waited outside for them and started beating them with batons and bricks from a nearby construction site until she died.
"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," the father was quoted saying to a police investigator. He is currently under arrest and facing murder charges.
"HRCP is appalled by the manner of Farzana Parveen's death just a few yards from the Lahore High Court on Tuesday," said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement. "Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognises for all adult citizens but one where the state has failed to prevent abuse and violence."
HRCP reports that almost 900 women were murdered in 2013 in so-called honor killings, and many perpetrators who commit violence against women are acquitted or given light sentences due to poor police work and prosecutions and the unwillingness of the state to confront the issue.
The Nigerian army announced yesterday that it has determined the location of the 200 girls abducted by extremist group Boko Haram more than one month ago, noting that they are still in the country. They have ruled out the use of force to rescue them and turned down a deal to exchange prisoners who are members of Boko Haram for the girls' release, so it is unclear what their next step will be.
"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," said Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh. "But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back."
After the government faced an outcry from Nigerians and people around the world for acting too slowly to find them, several international forces got involved. The US has provided air surveillance, and President Obama sent military personnel to Chad last week to help find the girls.
Since the kidnapping in April, Boko Haram has killed hundreds of civilians. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group last week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.
The White House announced this week that it has deployed 80 US military personnel to Chad to help find the over 200 Nigerian girls abducted in April by militant group Boko Haram.
"These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area," he wrote in a letter to the House and Senate leaders. "The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required."
They will join the US military and law enforcement officials and international forces already there.
It has been over a month since the girls were abducted, and the search for them has come up empty. Boko Haram released a video last week showing some of the girls praying and offering to exchange them for imprisoned members of the group, but there have not been many other leads. The group, which has a long history of terrorism in Nigeria, appears to be escalating its violent attacks. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group this week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.
Boko Haram, the terrorist group that kidnapped over 200 teenage girls from their school in Northeast Nigeria one month ago, released a video yesterday on YouTube offering to free the girls in return for the release of imprisoned group members.
Around 100 girls are shown in the video praying and wearing full grey veils. "We will not release them while you detain our brothers," Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau says. Nigeria has reportedly deployed two army divisions to find the girls. "The government of Nigeria is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents," said senior Ministry of Information official Mike Omeri.
Several countries have offered assistance to the Nigerian government, including the United States. An anonymous source told the New York Times that US surveillance aircraft have already joined the search for the girls and satellite images have been provided to the Nigerian government.
Nigerian officials updated the number of girls still in the hands of Boko Haram to 223 after 53 escaped. After the kidnapping, Nigerians demanded that the government needed to do more to secure the girls' safe return home. Rallies were held around the world in support, and a social media campaign spread using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Shekau threatened in an earlier video to sell the girls into slavery, and many feared that the girls had already been trafficked into other countries or forced into marriage to Boko Haram members.
Boko Haram has a long history of terrorism in northern Nigeria. Human Rights Watch reported in 2012 on the group's atrocious activities, which have included murder, abduction, rape, mutilation, and the use of child soldiers. The group kidnapped 8 more girls from Warabe and killed as many as 300 people in an attack on a city in the northeastern region of Nigeria last week.
Two reports by United Nations agencies reveal that there has been significant progress in reducing maternal mortality worldwide over the last decade, but much more can be done to protect women's lives.
Maternal deaths have dropped 45 percent since 1990, according to the new UN data. In 2013, an estimated 289,000 women worldwide died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications - a sharp decrease from 523,000 in 1990. The current 2013 rate, however, still comes to about 800 women dying every day, one every two seconds. Only eleven countries have reached their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015, and several countries - including the United States - actually saw their maternal mortality rates increase over the last decade.
Ninety-nine percent of all maternal death occurs in the developing world, with women in Sub-Saharan Africa facing the greatest risk of dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yet, most maternal death is preventable. A World Health Organization (WHO) study published this week points to the common causes of maternal death. Twenty-eight percent of maternal deaths are caused by pre-existing medical conditions that are exacerbated by pregnancy, such as diabetes, malaria, HIV, and obesity. Severe bleeding was the second most common cause. Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, obstructed labor, unsafe abortion, infections, and blood clots are additional causes.
"Together, the two reports highlight the need to invest in proven solutions, such as quality care for all women during pregnancy and childbirth, and particular care for pregnant women with existing medical conditions," says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, the Assistant Director-General of Family, Women's, and Children's Health for WHO. The reports also demonstrate the need for more accurate data, strong health systems, progress in preventing adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and comprehensive sexual health education.
To fully combat maternal mortality, however, the United States and the international community must also work to provide universal access to reproductive health care, including contraception, empower women and girls economically and socially, ensure access to basic education, end child marriage, confront sexual violence and conflict, and provide comprehensive health care, including access to safe abortion to women and girls who are victims of war rape.
The City Council of Los Angeles, California approved a resolution this week condemning Brunei's brutal new "kill-a-gay, flog-a-woman" penal code and urging the nation and its Sultan to divest its ownership of the Beverly Hills Hotel, not long after a similar resolution was unanimously approved by the Beverly Hills City Council.
"Now, therefore, be it resolved, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-2014 Federal Legislative Program support for legislation and/or administrative action which condemns the government of Brunei for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flogging and severing of limbs and urges the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel Air Hotel," the resolution says [PDF].
The Brunei Investment Agency owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Bel-Air Hotel, and other Dorchester Collection Properties. The Agency is managed by the Brunei Ministry of Finance, which is controlled by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei.
Brunei's new penal code is set to be implemented in three phases over three years. The first phase, which began on May 1, will include fines and prison sentences. The second phase includes corporal punishment such as amputations and flogging women who have abortions. The stoning to death of gay men and lesbians is slated for the third phase.
According to news reports, the US State Department indicated on Tuesday that the ambassador to Brunei had discussed concerns about the law with the Brunei government. The Feminist Majority Foundation is calling on the United Nations to condemn the government of Brunei and to explore additional options if the Sultan fails to rescind these inhumane laws.
In protest of the new laws, the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a massive petition drive and social media campaign, using the hashtag #StopTheSultan, calling on the government of Brunei to rescind the new code and asking the United Nations to take action if these laws go into effect as planned. FMF also pulled its annual Global Women's Rights Awards from the Beverly Hills Hotel and held a rally on Monday in the park across from the venue. Several celebrities, including actor and activist Frances Fisher and comedian Jay Leno, who co-chairs the Global Women's Rights Awards with Mavis Leno, joined a coalition of women's rights and LGBT groups at the rally, calling on the Sultan of Brunei to immediately rescind the penal code.
Take Action: Sign the FMF's petition to rescind Brunei's brutal code and share it online using the hashtag #StopTheSultan!
Fast food workers are planning the largest one-day action so far on May 15. Workers will strike in 150 cities around the United States, and protests will be held in thirty other countries, including England, India, and South Africa.
The campaigners demand $15 per hour in wages and the ability to form a union. McDonald's - which is facing several class-action lawsuits for wage theft - will be targeted in particular. Just this March, a $500,000 settlement was reached with the owner of seven McDonald's franchises in New York for failure to pay 1,600 mostly minimum wage workers certain wages and legally-required stipends.
Fast food workers across the US have been striking and protesting for higher wages and more labor protections for over a year now - changes that would particularly help women and people of color. Seventy-three percent of all front-line fast food workers are women, and 43 percent are black or Latino. Fifty-two percent of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance because their wages are too low to survive on. "Meanwhile, the CEO of McDonald's raked in about $13.8 million in fiscal 2012, an estimated 737 times what the average fast-food worker earned," Michelle Chen reports in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms.
Several city and state legislators, most recently in Seattle and Maryland, have taken it upon themselves to raise their communities' minimum wages, and President Obama issued an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10. Just last week, however, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on legislation that would have increased the federal minimum wage.
The Beverly Hills City Council voted unanimously yesterday to approve a resolution urging Brunei to divest its ownership of the Beverly Hills Hotel and condemning the Southeast Asian nation's brutal new "kill-a-gay" and "flog-a-woman" penal code.
"The City of Beverly Hills strongly condemns the government of Brunei as well as other governments which engage in similar policies for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flogging and severing of limbs," the resolution says. "The City of Beverly Hills urges the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills."
The Brunei Investment Agency owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Bel-Air Hotel, and other Dorchester Collection Properties. The Agency is managed by the Brunei Ministry of Finance, which is controlled by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei.
"We are pleased that the Beverly Hills City Council is taking action," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "This new Taliban-like penal code is a clear violation of international law and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights."
The new penal code is set to be implemented in three phases over three years. The first phase, which began on May 1, will include fines and prison sentences. The second phase includes corporal punishment such as amputations and flogging women who have abortions. The stoning to death of gay men and lesbians is slated for the third phase.
According to news reports, the U.S. State Department indicated on Tuesday that the ambassador to Brunei had discussed concerns about the law with the Brunei government. The Feminist Majority Foundation is calling on the United Nations to condemn the government of Brunei and to explore additional options if the Sultan fails to rescind these inhumane laws. "'Kill-a-gay' laws, or laws that allow the flogging of women for abortion, violate international law and have no place in civilized society," said Mavis Leno, Feminist Majority Foundation board member.
In protest of the new laws, the Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its annual Global Women's Rights Awards from the Beverly Hills Hotel and held a rally on Monday in the park across from the venue. Several celebrities, including actor and activist Frances Fisher and comedian Jay Leno, who co-chairs the Global Women's Rights Awards with Mavis Leno, joined a coalition of women's rights and LGBT groups at the rally, calling on the Sultan of Brunei to immediately rescind the penal code.
FMF has launched a massive petition drive and social media campaign, using the hashtag #StopTheSultan, calling on the government of Brunei to rescind the new code and asking the United Nations to take action if these laws go into effect as planned.
TAKE ACTION: Sign FMF's petition to stop the Brunei's new Taliban-like penal code and urge the United Nations to condemn the government of Brunei and explore all options, including sanctions, against Brunei if the government does not rescind these horrific laws.