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Several International Women’s Day events highlighted women’s role in the peace-making process worldwide, and focused on the fact that women and their children often constitute the majority of the victims of war and conflict. At a conference on women and conflict management, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Bosnia and Herzegovina Elisabeth Rehn noted that women ambassadors to the U.N. are the most active in pursuing peace worldwide, and praised recent resolutions, mostly reached by women, to increase representation of women in all levels of the U.N. At the event, the Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan circulated a plea for the United Nations to “form an international tribunal and bring to justice the Taliban and all other war criminals that commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and cultural genocide in Afghanistan.”
Earlier this week, the United Nations awarded the first-ever women’s peace prizes, established by the U.N. Development Fund for Women and the London-based International Alert. Honorees included Flora Broniva, a Kosovar woman jailed by former Yugoslav government agents for aiding independence-seeking separatists who founded the League of Albanian Women, a group that protested the war and cared for women, children and the elderly. Two Pakistani sisters were also honored; Asma Jahangir and Hina Hilani have worked for two decades defending women’s rights and human rights in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Veneranda Nzambazamariya of Rwanda was also honored for her work in restoring peace to Rwanda after the 1994 genocie through the collective of more than 30 women’s organizations that she headed; Nzambazamariya was killed in a plane crash last year.
Finally, a conference in Cape Town, South Africa also highlighted the role of women in armed conflict. 32 witnesses told their stories of war and conflict, including Nooria Shafiq, an Afghan woman who fled to Pakistan six months ago. Shafiq told of how the Taliban tortured and killed her husband and uncle, and then beat her for appearing in public without a male relative. The conference raised awareness of the fact that women and children are increasingly becoming targets in wars worldwide. South African deputy defense minister Nozizwe Mandala-Routlage noted, “Civilians now make up 90 percent of casualties, compared to 10 percent in World War II.”
A report by Catholics for a Free Choice released this week exposes the connection between the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CAFHRI), a conservative anti-reproductive rights group that lobbies the United Nations, and the anti-abortion group Human Life International, and reveals “shocking remarks” about Hillary Clinton made by its president Austin Ruse. The report illustrates CAFHRI’s history of covering up its connections to the anti-abortion movement, and its attempts to obscure one of its main functions as a resource for the Vatican’s delegation to the UN.
The report reveals remarks made by Ruse at a March 2000 address to a militant anticommunist organization called the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation. Ruse remarks that a priest from the Holy See’s UN delegation guaranteed him “absolution if I just took [Hillary Clinton] out – and not on a date.” Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) president Frances Kissling said the remark was part of “an increasingly warlike mindset” among conservative groups at the UN. CFFC’s report also reveals that, while CAFHRI claims to be an independent organization, it was established by Human Life International; CAFHRI sought to deny this connection, as well as its primary purpose as an ally for the Vatican’s UN delegation.
Today marks the 144th International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women worldwide and to continue the fight for global equality for women and girls. On March 8, 1857, in one of the first organized actions by working women, hundreds of women garment and textile workers in New York City protested against inhumane working conditions, the 12-hour workday, and low wages. Police attacked and dispersed the women. Two years later, these women formed their first union. March 8 is set aside to recognize the achievements and successes of women around the world.
Celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with the Feminist Majority Foundation.
In recognition of International Women’s Day, the International Labor Organization released a report on the status of working women around the world. According to the report, women now make up 40 percent of the global workforce, however great barriers remain for women at all levels in all areas of the world. Wage inequities and glass ceilings persist, and for women of color, the parity between women’s and men’s wages is even greater. The International study encouraged countries’ governments to pass legislation that would ensure equality and eradicate discrimination, and suggested labor unions and workers’ organizations focus on improving women’s access to higher-level positions.
A study released today by Population Action International (PAI) reported women in America face greater reproductive health risks than women in Singapore, Australia and much of Europe, while women in Africa and Afghanistan have the highest risk of reproductive health problems. The report surveyed 133 countries—91 developing countries and 42 developed countries, representing 95 percent of the world’s population—and determined countries’ risk index by examining 10 factors, which included the number of births to teenagers and women, contraceptive use, prevalence of HIV and AIDS, access to prenatal and childbirth care, birth-mother mortality rate and the countries’ abortion policies.
The study showed that women in developing countries die at a rate 33 times higher than women in Europe, the US and other rich nations. The study also reported 150 million women want to prevent or delay pregnancy, but have no access to birth control. The United States ranked 15th in the study, just above the Czech Republic and Lithuania, two countries with far fewer resources. The study attributed the low rank to the enormous number of teenage mothers in the US—more than any other industrialized country. The study suggested the high numbers of young mothers in the US reflected the lack of reproductive health information available to young women and girls. PAI urged the United Nations to honor its 1994 commitment of $17 billion annually to improve worldwide reproductive health services.
3/7/2001 - Torture of Women a Worldwide Phenomenon
Amnesty International released two new reports this week showing that women worldwide are tortured and abused both by relatives and by government officials, including police. In “Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds,” Amnesty International asserts that “[t]orture is fed by a global culture which denies women equal rights with men, and which legitimizes violence against women.” The report confirms that women in every country are beaten and raped by husbands and boyfriends, and that women in poor countries often suffer violence after being sold for their labor, traded into marriage, or forced into sex-trafficking networks. 20 percent of women in the U.S., the report says, have been physically or sexually assaulted. The report was released to coincide with International Women’s Day tomorrow, and it reveals that many governments fail to protect women and girls from torture and abuse. In fact, women in many countries suffer violence from armed groups, police, and other government agents.
Another recent Amnesty International Report on incarcerated women reveals that many states in the U.S. do not protect inmates from sexual abuse, applying different standards to prison employees and often holding the prisoner responsible for her attacker’s behavior. An article in the recent issue of Sojourner reveals that inadequate medical care is another problem facing women in prison. At the Central California Women’s Facility, for example, at least nine recent inmate deaths were caused by medical neglect.
In the U.N.’s largest series of raids in Bosnian brothels, 177 women were freed from prostitution and 38 brothels were closed in an operation carried out on March 2. The women, primarily from Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia, will be interviewed by U.N. officials to build a case against the brothel owners. Bosnia has become a center for foreign women lured into sexual slavery.
Under a directive from President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell reviewed 55 “special offices” within the State Department, deciding to abolish 21 of them. Powell provisionally kept 25 special offices, but the State Department announced that six of them will be reviewed in the near future, among them the interagency council on women. The abolishment of this office would be detrimental to women’s human rights, and would limit the U.S.’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises that affect women worldwide. The position was established under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
3/5/2001 - Taliban Destroys 2000 Year Old Artifacts
In their latest attack on culture and human-rights, the Taliban has vowed to destroy ancient Buddhist artifacts, including two giant Buddhist statues in central Afghanistan that are two-thousand years old. The Taliban claims that the statues are an insult to Islam, but these statues predate Islam in Afghanistan. Many countries have issued statements decrying the destruction of the historical artifacts. India and the United States have offered to transfer the statues out of Afghanistan for safekeeping.
2/27/2001 - Women Skiers Gearing Up for 2002 Winter Olympics
The world’s top women skiers competed in the world championship games in St. Anton, Austria, this month as they prepare for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Switzerland’s Sonja Nef won the gold medal in the woman’s giant slalom and leads the giant slalom standings as she prepares for the World Cup (March 7 – 11) in Are, Sweden. American Kristen Clark won the downhill event at the world championships, with teammate Picabo Street placing 7th. American women took five of the top 10 places in the event. American ski team coaches are enthusiastic and optimistic about their teams’ performance in the Winter Olympics and hope to make up for a dismal showing at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
2/26/2001 - Taliban Publicly Executes 2 Afghan Women
Hundreds of people gathered at a sports stadium in Afghanistan to witness the public hanging of two Afghan women convicted of prostitution by the Taliban. BBC correspondents say that, although public execution has become common under the Taliban, it is rare for women to be executed in this manner. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Afghans continue to attempt to flee Afghanistan, but Tajikistan and Pakistan have essentially closed their borders. Pakistan is threateneing to forcibly return 100,000 of the some 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan because it can no longer deal with the humanitarian crisis. Some 1 million Afghans, both in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in neighboring countries, are facing death by starvation and exposure to freezing temperatures during one of the most severe droughts in the region in the past 30 years. The situation is exacerbated by the collapse of humanitarian services to refugees, displaced persons, and the population in Afghanistan.
2/23/2001 - UN Court Issues 1st Ruling on Rape as War Crime
In the first war crimes case focused solely on rape and sexual slavery, the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague convicted three former Bosnian Serb commanders of rape and torture, issuing sentences ranging from 12 to 28 years imprisonment. It is the first case of its kind to focus on sexual assault with no other accompanying crimes, and the first to apply the concept of slavery to sexual violence and not only to cases of forced labor. Setting an important precedent, the decision is a major victory for women’s human rights worldwide, firmly establishing rape as a crime against humanity.
Judge Florence Mumba declared, “Rape was used by members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of terror.” Over the course of the 11-month trial, 16 victims testified that Bosnian Serb armed forces enslaved Muslim women and girls in “rape camps.” Women and girls as young as 12 years old were repeatedly raped and gang-raped, sold to other soldiers, and forced to live as sexual slaves.
A report issued by the non-profit group Global Alliance shows that workers in the Nike plants in Indonesia and other parts of Asia suffer daily physical, sexual and verbal abuse by the plant managers. Through interviews with over 4,000 Nike employees at 9 factories, researchers heard testimony about plant supervisors forcing employees to work overtime, women employees being coerced into having sex and being fondled as they work on the assembly line.
Global Alliance, a non-profit conglomeration of companies including World Bank, Nike and Gap, is committed to improving the lives of factory workers, found 56 percent of employees said they witnessed supervisors verbally abusing co-workers, 15.7 percent reported observing improper touching and 13.7 percent said they saw physical abuse. Worker also reported punishments at the plant included scrubbing toilets and running laps around the plant’s grounds. Jason Mark, spokesperson for Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group closely following the Nike factory situation credited Nike for doing the survey. “I think it demonstrates a welcomed candor, but the question is what will Nike do with this information,” said Mark. Nike Vice President Maria Eitel told the New York Times that Nike would respond to the report by implementing a system under which plant employees can file complaints against co-workers and supervisors. Global Alliance will return to the Nike factories to conduct more interviews next year.
In a detailed report Human Rights Watch called upon the United Nation Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an immediate, full-scale investigation into the Taliban's summary execution of hundreds of civilians in central Afghanistan in January. Most of the civilians murdered by the Taliban were members of the Hazara ethnic group.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch of men being rounded up by soldiers and taken to a relief office in Nayak where most were executed. Other witnesses told of seeing piles of bodies and mass graves at various places in the Yawkalang province. The report states, "ethnic and religious minorities, and the Hazaras in particular, have been especially vulnerable in areas of conflict, and Taliban forces have committed large-scale abuses against Hazara civilians with impunity."
"The Feminist Majority Foundation joins with Human Rights Watch calling for an immediate and full investigation of the execution of Afghan civilians. The Taliban's brutal rule of gender apartheid and genocide violates international humanitarian and human rights laws. The world cannot just stand by while these atrocities continue," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Pro-choice Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have voiced their support for the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2001, co-introduced Thursday by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Nancy Johnson (R-CT) that would overturn President Bush’s January 22 reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule.
The United States already prohibits fund from being used to perform abortions, but the Mexico City policy denies funding to any family planning programs outside the U.S. that provide abortion services, counseling, referrals or activism to change abortion laws, even if the services are paid for by the organization’s own money. “Too often, women in developing nations do not have access to contraceptive or family planning services they need because contraceptives are expensive, supplies are erratic, services are difficult or impossible to obtain, or the quality of care is poor,” said Sen. Snowe. “Yet it is now the policy of the United States not to support these organizations—a policy that is confounding to me because these very organizations reduce the number of abortions through their services.”
While the legislation has 50 co-sponsors in the House, and pro-choice Senators are confident they can garner support in the Senate, anti-choice GOP leaders said even if the bill passes in Congress, Bush would veto it. The Bush administration said Wednesday that the Mexico City policy does not prevent funding for programs that treat women who are ill from botched abortions. Sen. Boxer responded, “Well, isn’t that compassionate.”
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
V-Day, the gala benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, opened to a sold out crowd of 18,000 at Madison Square Gardens Saturday evening. Actors and musicians, including Jane Fonda (who donated $1 million to the event), Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Rosie Perez, Claire Danes, and Queen Latifah, performed the Monologues, raising awareness to stop violence against women. As part of the V-day festivities, Oprah Winfrey performed Ensler’s tribute to Afghan women, entitled Under the Burqa.
In 1996, the Taliban, overthrew the government of Afghanistan and unilaterally declared an end to women's basic human rights. Women can now no longer work outside of the home. Girls and women are prohibited from attending school. In addition, women are required to completely cover their bodies with a burqa including a mesh covering over the eyes. Ensler wrote Under the Burqa after visiting Afghanistan 8 months ago. During the evening, thousands of people signed petitions for the Feminist Majority’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan. Many in the audience wore burqa swatches as a symbol of remembrance for Afghan women and girls.
Buy a burqa swatch as a symbol of rememberance.
2/9/2001 - Pakistan Rejects Afghan Refugees
Pakistan officials are refusing to allow a new crush of Afghan refugees who have fled their homes in search of a safeguard from the Taliban militia that occupies 95 percent of the country. Over 170,000 Afghan refugees have already crossed the border to Pakistan and live in camps without sufficient shelter, drinking water or food—hundreds die every week from starvation and freezing winter temperatures. The situation in Afghanistan is compounded by the worst drought to hit the country in 30 years and a bitterly cold winter.
In addition to the drought and severe winter conditions, women and girls are fleeing Afghanistan to escape the brutal gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban regime, which strips women of education, employment, and mobility, placing women and girls into a state of virtual house arrest.
Learn more about the situation in Afghanistan and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid.
Help the women and girls of Afghanistan! Take action today and urge President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to continue to withhold United Nations recognition of the Taliban militia until the rights of Afghan women and girls are fully and permanently restored, increase humanitarian assistance, and allow more Afghan women and girls into the US as refugees.
At a retreat for Democratic House members this weekend, George W. Bush faced tough questions about his first executive order, which reinstated the “global gag rule,” and about his new faith-based social services program. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accused Bush of using a double standard, reinstating the global gag rule and then allowing religious organizations to perform social services, not religious ones, using government money. The gag rule prohibits family planning programs outside the U.S. who receive US funds from using private, separate monies to counsel abortions, and threatens removal of much-needed funding for a whole range of reproductive and women’s health services. Democratic participants said Bush did not directly answer Pelosi’s questions, and did not provide a “clear” explanation of his reasoning for the faith-based program.
The European Union also criticized Bush’s decision to reinstate the global gag rule, announcing last week that it will “fill in the gaps” created by Bush’s decision. EU Development Commissioner Paul Neilson said last week that EU officials were “angered” by Bush’s executive order, and said that supporting the work of programs like the UN Fund for Population Activities and International Planned Parenthood Federation was paramount.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
Amnesty International reports that Taliban officials issued an order to its forces to kill all men between the ages of 13 and 70 living in the Yakawlang area. “These deeply disturbing reports once again underline the need for action by the international community to ensure protection of the civilian population in Afghanistan,” says Amnesty International. Numerous reports have emerged regarding the Taliban’s latest acts of atrocities committed against the predominately Hazara population in central Afghanistan. Non-governmental organizations calculate that approximately 600 Afghans were killed and dozens more injured by Taliban forces, including humanitarian aid workers and even patients in medical facilities. According to the Afghan Islamic Press, opposition forces in Afghanistan have discovered three mass graves, containing at least 70 bodies including those of “many women and children”, found 28 miles north of Taloqan.
The discovery of mass executions of civilians by the Taliban comes at a time when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 120,000 Afghan refugees have fled to Pakistan within the past five months. In addition, both UNHCR and the World Food Program (WFP) have issued emergency appeals for more aid to assist with the Afghan refugee crisis. On January 24 the WFP office in Pakistan announced that they were likely to run out of food for Afghan refugees in the next three months unless the agency receives urgent aid. Yusuf Hassan Abdi, spokesman for UNHCR said last week “unless more funds are available we will simply no be able to cope with this refugee crisis.” UNHCR estimates that everyday between 200 to 600 Afghan families arrive in Pakistan seeking safety.
The Feminist Majority’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan joins UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Amnesty International in strongly condemning the latest wave of Taliban atrocities. “As each day passes, thousands of Afghan women and children are suffering and dying along the borders of Afghanistan as they seek safe refuge in neighboring countries,” says Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. “The new US administration must increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and continue to refuse official recognition of the Taliban’s brutal gender apartheid regime,” adds Smeal.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) yesterday announced their plan to introduce legislation reversing Bush’s policy, and have already garnered the support of several pro-family planning Republican legislators. Tens of thousands of women in developing nations will die each year as a result of George W. Bush’s first executive order reinstating the Reagan/Bush Sr. policy that bars family planning programs outside the U.S. that receive federal aid from using separate, private monies for abortion counseling.
Programs that provide a wide range of resources, including gynecological exams, AIDS prevention and treatment, and contraception, will be forced to lose a large percentage of their operating costs, or to discontinue services formerly paid for by private dollars. With no other option, young women in developing nations will again turn to illegal abortions, too many of them dying as a result of serious infections. “This is going to affect 13, 14, 15 year-old girls in developing nations,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “These girls will face death from botched, illegal abortion as well as the brutal treatment inflicted on unmarried, pregnant women in many countries: acid attacks, beatings, and death.”
Take Action:Write a letter to the editor opposing the global gag rule.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
1/22/2001 - Bariya Ibrahim Magazu Receives Inhumane Flogging
On January 19, in oil-rich Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent of Africa, an Islamic Court in the north carried out a “Sharia” sentence of 100 lashes with a cane on 13-year old Bariya Ibrahim Magazu on charges of premarital sex (zina) and making “false” charges against the three men she claimed raped her. The punishment was executed despite an international outcry from women’s and human rights organizations that seemingly had won postponement and reduction of Bariya’s sentence. In September 2000, 13 year-old Bariya Ibrahim Magazu was sentenced by an Islamic Court in the Nigerian state of Zamfara, one of the first states in Nigeria to accept Islamic Sharia law, to a flogging sentence of 180 lashes, via cane. Bariya was brought before the Islamic Court after it was discovered that she was pregnant and unmarried. During the trial, when asked the name of the father of the child, Bariya stated that she was “pressured” into having sex with three middle-aged men from her community. Women’s rights activists visited with the family of Bariya and discovered that these men were likely to be between the ages of 20 and 30 and married. Other unconfirmed reports indicate that Bariya’s own father had debts with each of the three men and therefore arranged for her (Bariya) to have sex with each of the men as a method of repaying the debt. Although the three men were indicated in the case, none were given a blood test to determine paternity.
The case of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu is yet another example of the constant violations against the human rights of women based on claims of following so-called cultural traditions and practice. The Feminist Majority Foundation condemns the flogging of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu. “Let the record speak the truth, this brutal flogging is an act right off the pages of the Dark Ages,” says Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Even at the start of the new millennium marking the world’s passage of another one thousand years, some in this world still believe that women do not hold inalienable human rights which are indeed the rights of women since the beginning of time,” exclaimed Smeal.
Officials in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara claimed that the 13-year old “immediately after the punishment thanked Allah for having the punishment.” The Deputy Governor of Zamfara, Mahmoud Shinkafi reported that, “she walked home and when she got to her village she was very happy. The disgrace in public is what deters people. She will never be disgraced again...she has her whole dignity.”
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed his deep concerns after hearing of “reports that civilians were deliberately targeted and killed during recent fighting in the Yakawlang area of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan.” The United Nations has said that 100 people were killed and one UN Afghan staff person missing after Taliban forces recaptured Yakawlang. However other non-governmental organizations report that some 600 people have been executed at the hands of Taliban forces. Reportedly, Taliban soldiers also looted the area healthcare facilities and murdered of hospital patients and staff. Yakawlang is located in Hazarajat, the home of the ethnic minority group the Hazaras. In a statement released by the UN, Secretary-General Annan called this "only the latest tragedy to befall the Hazaras," a largely Shi'ite ethnic group that has traditionally been the most disadvantaged in Afghanistan.
At Wednesday's Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Secretary of State-Designate Colin Powell, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked Powell whether he would continue to make the restoration of the human rights of Afghan women and girls a policy priority. Powell condemned the Taliban's treatment of women and girls as "atrocious, bordering on barbaric" and pledged to make the issue a priority. In the confirmation hearing, Boxer also raised the issues of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and global women's health.
1/17/2001 - No Rights for Women in Kuwait, Court Says
Kuwait’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the nation, dismissed a case seeking to grant women the right to vote and to run for office. Judge Abdullah Issa, president of the Constitutional Court, stated that women’s “rights are denied” under the current law until the legislature amends it.
The Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA) has made an international appeal for help and humanitarian aid for Afghan refugees who have fled the brutal Taliban regime and the region’s worst drought. According to reports from the UN and the World Food Program, the drought in Afghanistan has left one million people starving and suffering from severe malnutrition. Nearly half a million Afghan refugees are displaced within Afghanistan and another 70,000 refugees, primarily women and girls, who have fled to the border of Pakistan face unclean drinking water, starvation, no shelter, and are afflicted with disease and hypothermia. According to WAPHA, there are reports that Afghan women, children and men are reduced to eating grass and that many have died. The World Food Program made an urgent appeal for $4.9 million in emergency assistance to help feed Afghan refugees. Despite the severity of the crisis, the international donors have not yet responded to the plea.
Women and girls are fleeing Afghanistan to escape the brutal gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban regime, which strips women of education, employment, and mobility. Learn more about the human rights violations committed by the Taliban, as well as the Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan.
What you can do:
Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid
Call upon the US Government to release Emergency Funds to help the women and girls of Afghanistan
Urge the US Government and United Nations to work to restore women’s rights in Afghanistan
Learn more about how to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan