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6/19/2015 - TPP "Fast Track" Headed Back to the Senate Again
In what has become a procedural roller-coaster, the House voted 218 to 208 yesterday to pass Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trade Promotion Authority, also known as "fast-track," will now go back to the Senate for a vote on Tuesday to determine whether or not to move forward with the bill.
The Senate approved fast-tracking the TPP in May as a package deal, that included Trade Adjustment Assistance, a bill that provides assistance to workers who will lose their jobs because of the TPP. Senate Democrats would not agree to approve fast-track without the TAA.
Republican leaders in the House decided to separate the two provisions, requiring members first vote on the TAA and then on fast-track, but both bills had to pass for fast-track to reach President Obama. House Democrats blocked TAA on Friday-- a bill they would usually support-- in order to stop fast-tracking of the TPP. It is unclear as to how the Senate will vote on fast-track without the TAA.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who was one of the authors of the original trade package, explained to CNN that the minority of Democrats who supported the TPP have been called out for their support of fast-tracking. Fearing backlash from labor groups if they vote again for the TPA without the worker's rights and assistance that they TAA offers, Senate Democrats may be more hesitant to vote for "fast track" this time around.
In addition, House Republicans have amended the the customs bill, part of the larger trade package, to weaken anti-human trafficking measures in the fast track bill. Under an amendment offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the US may also be prevented from considering climate change during trade negotiations.
"We're really nervous about a provision that binds the hands of negotiators and prevents them from doing anything on climate change," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for the environmental organization 350.org.
Over 2,000 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, released a joint letter opposing fast tracking the TPP, representing labor, environmental, farming, civil rights, digital rights, human rights, public health, faith, student, consumer, and other concerns.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been negotiated in near-secrecy, has been heavily criticized by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Fast-tracking TPP would prevent lawmakers from addressing concerns in the agreement by offering amendments. It would also prevent Congress from having significant input into US trading partners. That is a big concern, especially since among the countries included in the TPP is oil-rich Brunei, a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.
The Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their Senators and Representative to vote against Fast Track and oppose the TPP.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission released a report this month showing that China's maternal death rate has dropped by over seventy-five percent in the past twenty-five years.
China's maternal mortality rate dropped from 23.2 per 100,000 births in 2014 to 21.7 per 100,000 births. The maternal mortality rate in 1990 was 88.8 per 100,000 births, which means there has been a 75.6%-percent drop in the last twenty-five years.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission attributed China's progress to more social programs that gave allowances to rural Chinese women to give birth in hospitals and equitized medical care. Chinese health professionals also give free pre-pregnancy check-ups and care to reduce the spread.
"[The lowered mortality rate is] the result of strong political will and willingness to invest in healthcare for children, which is a tremendous achievement given the size of the country and population," said Pia MacRae, country director for Save the Children in China. MacRae recognizes, however, that China still needs to take further steps in addressing inequalities in children's health due to uneven development across the country. She says there is still much to be done on lasting improvements in children's health, in particular supporting the training and supervision of frontline health workers in remote areas of rural China.
According to the China National Program for Women's Development (2011-2020), China wants to continue the decrease the number of maternal deaths to 20 deaths per 100,000. With this new report, China officially meets their Millennium Development Goals, as designated by the United Nations. Members of the UN were to cut their maternal mortality by seventy-five percent by 2015.
6/12/2015 - New Nigerian Law Forbids Bans Genital Mutilation
Last month outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law formally banning female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite the progressive action, many say that it will take years for FGM practices to cease due its cultural pervasiveness.
The United Nations defines FGM as any "harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization." The practice of FGM is often done without anaesthesia, medical professionals or proper equipment. An incomplete list of potential effects of the procedure includes infection, infertility, heavy bleeding, cysts, complicated childbirth, and chronic pain.
"With such a huge population, Nigeria's vote in favour of women and girls is hugely important," FGM programme manager of Equality Now Mary Wandia told the Guardian. "We hope, too, that the other African countries which have yet to ban FGM - including Liberia, Sudan and Mali, among others - do so immediately to give all girls a basic level of protection."
According to a 2013 UNICEF report, about 125 million girls and women in the world undergo FGM procedures. FGM is most common in Africa, where it is known to be practiced in 29 countries. A handful of Asian, Middle Eastern, and South American countries regularly practice FGM, and it can be found in some western countries including Canada, Australia, and the United States among diaspora populations.
"It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women," Stella Mukasa, Director of Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Center for Research on Women wrote on the topic of FGM. "Doing so involves laws and policies, as well as community level engagement and programs that work to empower girls directly."
6/9/2015 - Rana Plaza Victims Will Receive Compensation
After a two-year campaign for compensation for the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the International Labour Organization has succeeded in securing $30 million in compensation.
In April 2013 a multi-story building in Bangladesh that housed five garment factories and a shopping center collapsed, killing at least 1,127 workers and injuring another 2,500. Women made up the majority of the workers in the building, providing low-cost labor to factories producing clothing for Western brands, including those sold in the US, Canada, and Europe. Bangladeshi officials have since charged 41 people with murder for failing to listen to inspectors orders to close the building due to the discovery of cracks in the facade. Among those charged was Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, who was arrested after the collapse attempting to flee the country.
In 2014 the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee calculated that they would need $30 million to pay the 5,000 claimants in the tragedy. The International Labour Organization set up the Rana Plaza Fund, which met the goal of $30 million yesterday after an anonymous donor filled the remaining $2.4 million gap.
Since Bangladesh does not have a national workplace injury compensation program, workers' rights activists both locally and internationally are calling on apparel brands and retailers like Gap, H&M, The Children's Place, and Walmart, who sold clothes produced at Rana Plaza, to pay compensation to the injured survivors and the families of the deceased. Over the two-year campaign, workers' rights groups and labor unions held more than a hundred store actions and demonstrations at corporate headquarters.
6/8/2015 - Organizations Urge the President to Reinterpret Helms Amendment and Aid Nigerian Refugees
Catholics for Choice in partnership with the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) launched a campaign last week in response to more than 200 girls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram members, urging President Obama to reinterpret the Helms Amendment to include abortion care.
Over 400 women and children who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were returned earlier this year, many of whom are pregnant as the result of rape. Organizations hoping to aid these women are calling on President Obama to sign an interpretation of Helms that could allow for foreign assistance in providing abortion care. The law currently says, "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." However, as abortion in the instance of rape, incest, or life endangerment is not a method of family planning or birth control, Catholics for Choice and CHANGE are urging the President to sign into effect an interpretation of Helms that would allow the girls in Nigeria, some of whom are very young, to access what could be life-saving abortion care.
While the Nigerian government has made abortion illegal except in the case of life endangerment, Nigerian officials signed the Maputo Protocol which demands "the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where pregnancy would pose a danger to the woman's physical health, mental health, or life." Even so, there has not been U.S. pressure on the Nigerian government to act in accordance with the Maputo Protocol and allow for abortion in cases of war rape.
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice said in a press conference on Friday, "This policy is a disgrace to who we are as Americans. The Obama administration knows this. Catholics for Choice and our partners have spent six and a half years pleading, prodding, but to no avail."
Other organizations have been struggling to get the President's attention as well. Last year, Rev. Harry Knox, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, stated that the Helms Amendment, "has been misused to deny compassionate abortion care to women and girls who face a pregnancy that results from rape." He also said it was the United States' "moral imperative" to provide abortion care.
The schoolgirls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram are running out of time to access safe abortions. Bea Arthur, a therapist and activist who often works with victims of sexual violence, warns of the long-lasting effects that denying a victim of violence can have. "Telling someone they can't have a choice extends that trauma and denies them their own humanity, integrity, and basic human self-respect," she says. Studies also indicate that women who are impregnated as a result of rape and bear children are especially vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress. There is also a strong likelihood of these women experiencing severe negative psychological consequences from facing stigma or isolation within their communities.
Over the weekend, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to pass a national referendum legalizing same-sex marriage.
Ireland became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality through popular vote on Friday. The final vote was decisive, with over 1,201,607 voting in favor of the referendum and 734,300 voting against it. Reuters estimated that "more than 60 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, the highest turnout at a referendum there in over two decades."
This high voter turnout was reflected in international social media trends as well as "Vote Yes" campaign strategies. The hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter on the day of the election in Ireland, as those living abroad discussed traveling home to cast their ballot in this historic vote.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the outcome of the vote "disclosed who we are - a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people."
Ireland, a largely Catholic country, has a complex history with its LGBT community, and only decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990s. One "Vote Yes" campaign volunteer discussed the rapid shift in the nation's view on the issue over the span of his lifetime. "When I was born and was a teenager I was illegal as a homosexual in Ireland," volunteer Ross said, "and [now] we're voting to make us equal in our constitution."
The country has had a turbulent relationship, too, with abortion, which remains illegal in Ireland. Earlier this year the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland called for a judicial review on the region's restrictive abortion law. Currently, abortion law in the area has abortion illegal in all cases except when a pregnant person's life is at risk or when there is the risk of permanent or serious damage to the pregnant person's mental or physical health.
The US Senate voted 62 to 38 yesterday to advance "fast track" trade legislation, just one week after Senate Democrats filibustered the controversial bill that would allow President Obama to force Congress to vote up-or-down on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
The TPP is a far-reaching trade agreement that has faced staunch opposition from a broad coalition of labor, environmental, women's rights, and human rights groups. These groups charge that the agreement not only threatens US jobs, but it threatens environmental regulations, food and safety standards, workers' rights, and access to affordable medications.
The deal, which has been negotiated in near-secrecy, has also been heavily criticized by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Fast-tracking TPP would prevent lawmakers from addressing concerns in the agreement by offering amendments. It would also prevent Congress from having significant input into US trading partners. That is a big concern, especially since among the countries included in the TPP is oil-rich Brunei, a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.
The penal code, which is being implemented in phases, calls for fines and imprisonment for women who become pregnant outside marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and so-called "indecent behavior." Once fully implemented, Brunei's strict draconian penal code would punish women who engage in same-sex sexual relations with whipping, fines, or imprisonment. The code will also impose flogging or death by stoning for men engaging in sex with men and for extramarital sex between men and women. Women are often more likely to be victims of stoning because of deep-seated gender bias and discrimination.
Fast-Track will now proceed to a final vote in the Senate where it is expected to pass. The legislation will then have to be taken up in the House. Earlier this month, the Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their Senators and Representative to vote against Fast Track and oppose the TPP.
A large earthquake hit eastern Nepal today, two weeks after a quake killed 8,000 people in the country. Health experts are increasingly worried about the approximately 126,000 pregnant women in Nepal who are seeing their health suffer, in part because of the many clinics that were destroyed by the quakes.
Pregnant women were already one of the most vulnerable groups during the earthquake as they were less able to run, said Nuzhat Rafique of UNICEF. Several women had miscarriages, and a traumatic event such as this one can cause women to give birth prematurely - which can be dangerous for both the child and the mother. Many health facilities have either been destroyed or are not open and operating. About 14,000 women are expected to give birth in the coming weeks, and thousands of them are at risk of complications that require emergency care, according to CARE.
"There are no health facilities functioning the way they normally do, so women really get affected when there is no health post to go to," Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the regional director for Southeast Asia of the World Health Organization, told Al Jazeera.
The quake today has a magnitude of 7.3, which comes 93 miles southeast of the 7.8 quake that hit on April 25. National Geographic reports that today's quake was an aftershock, and that more could be on their way.
Shaheen Chughtai of The Guardian notes that Nepal has 28 million people who live under the poverty line and who don't have access to proper sanitation. That, paired with the fact that Nepal sits in an extremely seismically hazardous area, is a recipe for disaster.
"Their ability to cope with a major disaster is crippled by the lack of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted, Chughtai writes. "Many thousands of Nepalese are going to need a great deal of help."
While long-term improvements need to be made to ensure the safety of Nepal's citizens, immediate assistance needs to come first.
"The next step would be to mobilize outreach teams from those shelter homes and tents, and tent facilities to peripheral areas," Rafique said. "And involving communities and volunteers to reach those women who need these services."
Click here to donate to CARE, a humanitarian organization that will provide emergency relief and long-term recovery in Nepal, while making sure to focus on the specific needs of women and girls.
In two different operations in under a week, Nigerian troops have rescued more than 400 women and children who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
On Tuesday, Nigerian troops announced they rescued 200 girls and 93 women from Boko Haram - and today news has come out that troops rescued another 160 women and children.
While the news is promising and shows progress made in Nigeria to combat Boko Haram, the girls rescued were not the Chibok girls who inspired the #BringBackOurGirls movement last year. It is possible that a few of the kidnapped Chibok girls were part of the mix of those rescued, but that information has not yet been made clear.
Army spokesperson Sani Usman said they were working to verify actual numbers, but that they expect even more people will be rescued soon. He says the 160 figure for the most recent rescue is an estimate "because more are coming in as operations continue."
The terrorist group Boko Haram has wreaked havoc on northern Nigeria since 2009. Boko Haram has continually attacked northern Nigeria since 2009; they have targeted officials, civilians, women, children, and have kidnapped many. In a recent attack, hundreds of gunmen attacked the town of Baga, leaving up to 2,000 people dead. The majority of those killed were women, children, and the elderly who could not flee quickly enough.
More than a year ago, over 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Activists took to social media to demand the release or rescue of the girls, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Several false promises and announcements were made to rescue the girls, but it is only now that progress seems to be happening in the effort to rescue those kidnapped.
"This development is just cause for celebration and undoubtedly an immense relief to the women, girls and their families. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; there are thousands more women and girls, and men and boys who have been abducted by Boko Haram," said Netsanet Belay, Africa director at Amnesty International.
President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah of Afghanistan held their promise to appoint four women in the new cabinet, and the nation's lower house of Parliament approved them along with the rest of the 16 cabinet nominees introduced by the Afghan government on Saturday.
Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, speaker for the lower house of parliament, confirmed on Saturday that there are four women among that the 25 member Cabinet of President Ashraf Ghani. This approval comes as a relief to Afghan women, who previously protested the lack of representation of women in the country's parliament.
The newly appointed female ministers include minister of women's affairs Dilbar Nazari, minister of counter-narcotics Salamat Azimi, minister of higher education Farida Momand, and minister of labor, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled, Nasrin Oryakhail.
Nominees for these positions of leadership for various ministries presented their policy agendas to lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday before final votes took place on Saturday. During her presentation, Nazari vowed that she would work to further women's rights and opportunities in Afghanistan.
"I commit that I will not hesitate from any efforts in order to increase the capacities of women," she said.
All four women are highly accomplished and well suited for their positions as ministers. Nazari has been a member of parliament and worked with the United Nations. Azimi has been a University Chancellor and professor, and Momand is a doctor and has worked in several government hospitals. Oryakhail, too, is a doctor, and has been a medical instructor at the Kabul Medical University.
Niloofar Rahmani, the first woman to serve in the Afghan military since the fall of the Taliban, was honored by the US State Department with the International Women of Courage Award last month.
Rahmani was one of ten women recognized by the State Department for this prestigious award. Among them were women's rights leader and peace building advocate Majd Chourbaji of Syria, and May Sabe Phyu, who is leading gender equality efforts in Burma.
Capt. Rahmani was only 18 when she heard that the Afghan Air Force was recruiting female pilots. "I wanted to fly with my brothers, shoulder to shoulder," she said. After completing six months of intensive English courses to prepare her for undergraduate pilot training, Rahmani earned her wings in July 2012, just two years after hearing about the Air Force's recruitment of female pilots. She soon after became the first female pilot to serve in Afghanistan's military since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban.
Rahmani's father was a strong supporter of his daughter, but he also warned her about the possible dangers and difficulties ahead of her. "Go for it, but you must be strong," Rahmani remembers him saying. Despite repeated threats from the Taliban and some conservatives to kill Rahmani as well as her parents and siblings, 23-year-old Rahmani refused to quit. "If you don't fight for your rights, they will never give them to you," she said during her visit to the US.
While visiting the United States to receive the award, Rahmani met with from First Lady Michelle Obama, the Navy's Blue Angels, and the CEO of Girls Scouts San Diego. Rahmani then traveled to Miramar to meet fellow commanders and female pilots. Finally, she participated in the 59th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
"We need females to be a doctor, to be in each part of society. And we need female pilots too," Rahmani said. "I have the support of people all over the world. They know what I am fighting for. [The award] is for all the females in my community."
The United States ranks 16th in the recently released 2015 Social Progress Index, which assesses and scores countries worldwide across three categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The US was 21st, 35th, and 8th in these smaller categories, respectively.
The US also ranks 55th in maternal mortality, 32nd in early marriage, defined as the percentage of women who are married between the ages of 15 and 19; 14th in satisfied demand for contraception, with 85% of women able to access contraception if they wish; and 15th in acceptance for the queer community.
The SPI was created in response to the use of GDP as the main measure to judge a country's success. Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism and SPI executive director, is adamant that GDP "shouldn't be a guide to all decision-making." (The economist who invented the concept of GDP has himself written that a nation's welfare can "scarcely be inferred" by using it as an indicator.
"GDP tells us quite a lot about a country's progress," Steve Almond, one of the authors of the SPI, said, "but it's definitely not the whole story."
The SPI was first brainstormed at the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing. The Index's methodology was created by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School with help from from The Economist's New York Bureau Chief Matthew Bishop, Hernando de Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Scott Stern of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The index also includes an interactive map of the world to easily compare each country on these issues and a definition page for each term.
Iranian women will now be allowed to attend major sporting events, Iran officials announced on Saturday.
Although the new policy still holds barriers for women attending specific sports - those considered to be more "masculine" such as wrestling or swimming - this announcement reverses an antiquated rule that forbid women to watch matches attended by men.
Abdolhamid Ahmadi, the deputy minister for sports, told the state news agency on Saturday that the country's national Security Council had approved a government proposal to allow women to watch games this year. It is still not clear which sports women can watch, but they are likely to include basketball and volleyball. In these stadiums, women will have special assigned seating, with mixed seating available for families.
This issue gained international attention last summer when a young British-Iranian woman was jailed for attempting to watch a men's volleyball match. 25-year-old Ghocheh Ghavami was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail and a two-year travel ban, before she was released on bail after five months in prison. Last week, an appeals court dismissed the charges against Ghavami.
Ghavami and other activists are hopeful for what this change could mean for women in Iran. 38-year-old women's rights activist Najiyeh Allahdad celebrated this small victory. "We have done all we could to get our rights back. This should have happened some time ago. It is now clear for me that this government is really trying hard to improve our lives."
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Northern Ireland won its call for a judicial review on the region's restrictive abortion law.
The High Court in Belfast ruled that the HRC could seek a review of current law. Abortion in Northern Ireland is currently illegal in all cases except when a pregnant person's life is at risk or when there is the risk of permanent or serious damage to the pregnant person's mental or physical health.
The HRC is asking for a change in the law to allow for abortions in the case of incest, rape, or "serious malformation" of the fetus. "Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations," the HRC said, "the commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name."
Northern Ireland's abortion law differs from the rest of the United Kingdom due to the fact that the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland. An attempt to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland was shut down in 2000 when the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against it.
Women's rights activists who protested Saudia Arabia's driving ban in November remain imprisoned.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Alamoudi, 33, were arrested while they were crossing into Saudi Arabia on November 30. Both women were using driver's licenses from the United Arab Emirates and aimed to raise awareness on Saudi Arabia's ongoing ban on female drivers. Al-Hathloul, a UAE-based Saudi journalist and Al-Alamoudi have been held in a Saudi prison for nearly one month and they have been referred to a court on terrorism charges. While driving towards the Saudi border, Al-Hathloul filmed herself and explained that "she is trying to keep up pressure on Saudi authorities to allow women to drive."
Saudi activists who spoke to BuzzFeed News by phone said that it was the women's social media activity that led to their arrest. "The officials were waiting for them," one said, "to arrest them. They had their activity on Twitter all logged, they said the women had been agitating against the [Saudi] kingdom." Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi authorities to release the women.
Women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia and Iran were freed last week. Both women were arrested in October and served around 90 days in prison for their non-violent crimes.
Iranian activist Mahdieh Golroo, who was arrested for attending a gathering in Tehran in protest of acid attacks on several women in Isfahan, was released Tuesday on a bail of about $200,000 USD. Golroo's confiscated personal items such as a laptop computer and her cell phone were searched by the security forces when they went to her home after her arrest. She spent 45 days in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, known for its detainment and torture of political prisoners. During her time in present, her family could meet with her only in the presence of intelligence agents.
"While it is a welcome development that Mahdieh Golrou is currently out on bail," Gissou Nia, Deputy Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Global Voices, "her legal process is far from over and her prosecution is part of a broader plan perpetrated by Iranian officials to silence women's voices."
Five days after Golroo's release, Suad al-Shammari, co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was released from prison in Saudi Arabia. She was arrested for "insulting Islam" by speaking critically about the nation's clerics and the kingdom's religious police, who enforce brutal Sharia law. Shammari's daughter, Sarah al-Rimaly, has said that her mother is "recovering" from "a lack of nutrients" because she depends on a special diet.
Although Saudi Arabia's new King Salman is granting certain prisoners amnesty, Rimaly claims her mother's release was unrelated to his decision.
An Egyptian appeals court convicted and sentenced a doctor today for performing female genital mutilation (FGM) that lead to a 13-year-old girl's death. This is the first time a doctor has been convicted in Egypt of this crime.
Although Egypt criminalized FGM in 2008, it remains widespread in the region. Egypt has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world.
"I am really happy," said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki in an interview with The Associated Press. "Here is a judge that understands." el-Danbouki also called the verdict "a triumph for women."
FGM is widely regarded as a human rights violation. The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia, is designed to decrease women's sexual desire and is seen in many cultures as essential for a women's suitability for marriage. The practice is known to increase the risk of HIV transmission as well as infant and maternal mortality rates.
A 2013 report by UNICEF showed FGM in decline worldwide but estimated 30 million women and girls still are at risk. The report covered data from over 20 years in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East where the practice is still prevalent, including Somalia, Guinea, Djbouti, and Egypt - where nine out of ten girls still are subjected to FGM. According to the report, about 125 million women in the world have undergone FGM.
FGM was made illegal in the US as recently as 1996. Renewed efforts to curb FGM in the US came to fruition last summer, when the Obama administration set up a preliminary working group for FGM prevention and action. Its first step is to examine the extent of FGM in the US and explore ways to eliminate the practice.
Russia has banned transgender people as well as "those who suffer from disorders of sexual preference" from obtaining driver's licenses.
The new regulations put trans folks and anyone suffering from "fetishism, exhibitionism, and voyeurism" among those with primarily physical impairments such as blindness who are barred from driving. The Russian government claims it is tightening medical controls for drivers because Russia has too many road accidents.
"Banning people from driving based on their gender identity or expression is ridiculous and just another example of the Russian regime's methodical rollback of basic human rights for its citizens," said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First in a press release. The regulations have been criticized by the Russian Psychiatric Association and the Association of Russian Lawyers, who rightfully labeled it discriminatory. The ARL is seeking support from human rights organizations in pushing the Russian Constitutional Court to clarify the regulations.
The driving ban is just the latest in Russia's strategy to criminalize and stigmatize its LGBT citizens. In 2013, Russia banned "homosexual propaganda," a move which furthered the anti-gay climate in the nation and effectively condoned widespread terror against gay and trans residents. The law has been criticized by President Obama and European leaders like Angela Merkel, and came under fire during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi - where athletes and activists spoke out against discrimination and out athletes fought to compete. Some also worry that the anti-gay sentiments held by Russia will spread to other Eastern European countries.
1/5/2015 - Transgender Woman Elected Mayor in India
Raigarh, a city of 300,000 in the state of Chhattisgarh, India has become the first city in India to elect a transgender mayor.
On Sunday, independent candidate Madhu Kinnar was elected mayor over Mahaveer Guruji of the popular Bharatiya Janata Party by more than 4,500 votes.
Nine months before, the Indian Supreme Court declared transgender people, known as hijras, as a legal third gender in a landmark ruling that legally recognized the identities of an estimated two million people in the nation. Since the ruling, all legal documents include a third category for transgender people, and the government has been required to construct separate public bathrooms and special hospital wards.
Kinnar, who comes from the low caste community Dalit, used to earn her money singing and dancing in trains. She says she was overwhelmed by the support she received from the public.
"I consider this win as love and blessings of people for me. I'll put in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams," Kinnar said.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo returned last week from a nine-day official visit in Afghanistan with a call to the Afghan Government and the international community to continue its focus on creating sustainable solutions to reduce violence against women.
This was Manjoo's third visit to Afghanistan, and the Special Rapporteur noted many positive developments since her travel to the country in 1999, during the Taliban regime, and in 2005.
In particular, Manjoo cited the creation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW) by presidential decree in 2009 as "a key step towards the elimination of violence against women and girls."EVAW criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women - including rape, child and forced marriage, domestic violence, trafficking, and forced self-immolation - and specifies punishment for perpetrators. Although enforcement of EVAW has remained a challenge, the law was recently used last month to convict and sentence a local mullah to 20-years imprisonment for the rape of a 10-year old girl in Kunduz.
Despite this success, Manjoo noted with concern that many women and girls continue to lack access to the formal justice system. Her investigation also found problems with corruption within the justice system as well as distrust concerning the ability of the courts to appropriately adjudicate matters related to women's rights. These factors combine with societal pressure to push women and girls outside of the formal justice system to resolve disputes.
Afghan women and girls are reluctant to report crimes of violence. Manjoo reported several reasons, including "lack of knowledge of the law and its protective remedial provisions; fear of reprisal from the perpetrators and family members; financial and other constraints, including the lack of freedom of movement; and fear of being treated as criminals instead of victims, when reporting crimes committed against them."
Afghanistan, however, has several opportunities to address barriers to eliminating violence against women. A comprehensive review of the Penal Code is expected to be carried out over the next year. According to Manjoo, this review will include gender-based violence crimes, including sexual harassment. In addition, Afghanistan is expected to draft a new, comprehensive family code.
Manjoo found that the legislative and institutional developments in Afghanistan were "a reflection of political will in addressing the promotion and protection of women's rights which is further reflected in the appointments of women in high level positions." That political will is likely to carry on, as newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken a public stance of support for promoting women's rights, and his wife First Lady Rula Ghani actively works on advancing women's issues.
The role of the international community in supporting efforts to end violence against women in Afghanistan is also key. In the preliminary statement of her findings, Manjoo wrote that the increase in efforts over the past decade by the international community to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan was noticeable during her most recent visit, and she called on the international community to stand with Afghanistan to continue this work.
"It is crucial to recognize that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and that it is strongly linked to the social, cultural and economic situation of women," wrote Manjoo. "The importance of accountability as the norm for acts of violence against women cannot be over-emphasized, more especially within a context of generalized impunity for violence in public and private spheres. Accountability for all crimes committed against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and, the transformation of society, need to remain a focus for the government of Afghanistan, independent State institutions, civil society organisations and also the international community."
She continued, "It is imperative that the best interests of all women and girls in Afghanistan should guide the response of relevant stakeholders to ensure coherent and sustainable solutions, in the quest to address the individual, institutional and structural causes and consequences of violence against women and girls."
Manjoo's findings will be discussed in a comprehensive report presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.
An Afghan court convicted seven men for the gang rape and robbery of four women in Paghman district near the city of Kabul.
According to reports, a group of men - some dressed in police uniforms and carrying assault rifles - stopped a group of cars traveling in Paghman last month, pulled the women from their cars, and raped them in a nearby field. The women had been traveling with their families; one was pregnant. The men also beat the women and stole their jewelry and phones. After the attack, the women were taken to a hospital by their families. The attack was reported to police after one of victims died in the hospital.
The vicious public attack received national attention and sparked outrage among Afghan women leaders. Last week, President Hamid Karzai speaking at a women's group event after meeting with a delegation of women about the attack, said "I am strongly against the death penalty and I have always been against it, but I have asked for the death penalty, and I asked the Chief Justice to issue a death sentence for these criminals."
Judge Safiullah Mujadidi conducted the trial on Sunday, which was televised nation wide in Afghanistan. During the trial, the victims appeared publicly in the courtroom to identify their attackers. Another woman, allegedly raped by the men three years ago, also identified the men as her attackers.
Hundreds of Afghan women and men rallied in the streets of Kabul chanting and holding signs saying, "My sister is your sister," "Raping women is raping the nation," and "We demand justice from the government." The Afghan Women's Network held rallies in eight cities in Afghanistan calling for "immediate justice" and showing support for the victims.
After a short trial, the court convicted all seven men on various counts related to the attack, and sentenced them to death. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the speed of the trial - which reportedly lasted only two hours - and possible due process violations. The men will have a chance to appeal.
The Paghman attack has brought national attention to violence against women in Afghanistan and the need for a more robust response to crimes committed against women. One activist on Sunday, told reporters, "If this act goes unpunished, the women of Afghanistan will continue to be victims. This is really a very significant moment, I would say, even maybe in the history of Karzai's government."
President Karzai issued the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law) in 2009 by executive decree. The law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. The law, however, has had mixed results. While more crimes against women have been reported, overall there is still massive under-reporting of violence against women, according to a report released by United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last year. In addition, the report found inadequate investigation of these crimes and continued lack of prosecution.
As of September 15, same-sex couples in Ecuador will finally be able to register their civil unions. Same-sex marriage in Ecuador is still illegal, but the status of civil union will be noted on national ID cards, and will allow certain legal and financial benefits to the couple.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa met with LGBT leaders days before the announcement. At the meeting, Correa received a report from the leaders that documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people in Ecuador that were a result of the lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
"If there was any doubt about heterosexual or same-sex civil unions being put on national ID cards, there is none any more," Correa told Telesur after the announcement, "and if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights."
Trans-feminist activist Diane Rodriguez, who attended the meeting with Correa, told Think Progress that the new resolution is a "huge step forward." She continued, "It's like giving us full citizenship," exampling that, "in emergencies, my partner can make decisions about my health care at a hospital. Or at the bank, we can open a joint account." Rodriguez, however, noted that civil unions do not bring the full rights of marriage, pointing out that same-sex couples in Ecuador still cannot adopt children together.
Homosexuality itself was illegal in Ecuador until 1997, but since then significant progress has been made toward LGBT equality. Ecuador is currently ranked just under the US and Mexico in terms of their protection of LGBT rights on the Social Inclusion Index of 2014. Same-sex couples, however, are constitutionally banned from marrying, and President Correa has stated that he does not support same-sex marriage in Ecuador.
Over a hundred people celebrated the August 25th "Orange Day to End Violence" with a bicycle race in Bamyan, Afghanistan hosted by the nonprofit organization Shuhada.
Fifteen girls participated in the race to raise awareness about violence against women. Many others, including government and education leaders in the province, escorted them to the finish line. Prizes were given to the top three winners.
In a news item, the Shuhada Organization noted, "For more than a decade, civil society in Afghanistan, with the support of the international community, has advocated to end gender-based violence, with a particular focus on violence against women and girls. As a result, significant progress and achievements have been made to ensure equal rights for women and girls. Today, women's rights and equality between men and women are enshrined in the Afghan Constitution and the Ending Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law)."
Through the celebration of Orange Day, Shuhada, with the support of UN Women, aimed to promote awareness of and support for the EVAW Law, especially among youth, men, and faith-based leaders. The law, which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators.
Zahra Hussini, a member of the biking team that competed, also used the occasion to share her concern about the lack of resources for young women in sports. "I wish, one day, the girls of my country would participate at the international level without facing any kind of race, gender or ethnic discrimination," Hussini said. Hussini said even the act of riding a bicycle can be challenging for females. "We get a lot of harassment, and it is not a common thing for women to do in Afghanistan," she said.
Started by the United Nations Secretary-General's UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, Orange Day has been celebrated all over the world since July 2012. The focus of August 25 was ending violence against girls.
Approximately 63 percent of sexually active Cameroonian women who want to avoid pregnancy do not have access to a modern form of contraception, according to a recently released report by the Guttmacher Institute and the French Institut de Formation et de Recherche Demographiques (IFORD).
Around 6,000 Cameroonian women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. A tragic figure, representing the reality of living in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, with 782 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. But, according to the report, "Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Cameroonian Women," nearly 30 percent of these women did not want to become pregnant in the first place.
Women cite several reasons for not using contraception, including the lack of adequately trained health care providers, frequent unavailability of contraceptive supplies, and limited choice of methods. As a result, they are at risk for unintended or mistimed pregnancies. The poorest women are especially at risk, with 90 percent of them at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. On average, the poorest women in Cameroon have two more children than they report wanting. These women are also the least likely to have access to quality obstetric care.
About 36 percent of unintended pregnancies in Cameroon end in abortion, but restrictions on the procedure force women to resort to clandestine, potentially lethal methods of abortion. However, according to the report, if the need for contraceptives for all women were met, there would be a 75 percent decrease in unplanned births, abortions and miscarriages. The lives of 1,300 women who die in pregnancy and childbirth would be saved each year, and there would be 13,000 fewer infant deaths annually. Additionally, each dollar spent on contraceptive services would save the Cameroon health system $1.23 on maternal and newborn care.
Globally, 529,000 women and girls die each year 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. Although maternal deaths have dropped 45 percent since 1990, only 11 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.
Increased international funding for maternal health care and family planning that is inclusive of contraception and abortion is vital to reducing maternal mortality. To fully combat maternal death, however, governments everywhere need to take an even broader approach by empowering women and girls economically and socially, confronting sexual violence and conflict, providing comprehensive health care, ending child marriage and ensuring that girls everywhere have access to basic education.
Children should begin receiving formal education about sexual health as early as age 10, according to a new study published in the journal Global Public Health.
The study's researchers note that although sexual health programs typically focus on older adolescents, sexuality and gender identity begin emerging between the ages of 10 and 14. Programs should therefore be refocused to to help ensure that this age group has the opportunity to learn about sexual health, contraception, and healthy relationships well before they begin experimenting with sexual activity.
"As younger adolescents experience rapid transitions to unfamiliar experiences and face life-changing situations such as leaving school, having sex, becoming parents or acquiring HIV, parents, teachers and concerned others have a narrow window of opportunity to facilitate their healthy transition into later adolescence and adulthood," the researchers write. "If programs, based on the healthy adolescent framework, rooted in human rights and gender equity, are implemented at a time when adolescents are still malleable and relatively free of sexual and reproductive health problems and gender role bias, very young adolescents can be guided safely through this life stage, supported by their parents, families and communities."
These findings call into question the wisdom of sex education, even in the US, that starts well-after most teenagers have already become sexually active as well as abstinence-based programs. But, the study authors emphasize that formal sexual education is especially important in lower- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world's adolescents live.
The World Heath Organization reports that complications from pregnancy and childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls, and each year, an estimated 529,000 women and girls die worldwide - some 70,000 from unsafe abortion - with millions more left maimed or injured. Ninety-nine percent of these pregnancy-related deaths occur in the developing world. While there are many other factors compounding this issue, including child marriage and lack of access to modern contraception, improved sexual health education for adolescents could help to prevent some of the thousands of maternal deaths worldwide, as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS.