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11/10/2000 - Tokyo Tribunal To Address Issue Of “Comfort Women”
Women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II, often known as “comfort women” will convene in Tokyo on December 7-10 to testify and demand accountability from the Japanese government. The Japanese military lured and/or abducted as many as 200,000 young and poor women from Korea, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines during WWII for the purpose of sexually servicing its soldiers. These so-called "comfort women" were kidnapped or coerced into entering military brothels by men who made false promises of legitimate employment. There, the women were raped by as many as 20 or 30 Japanese soldiers each day.
The accompanying one-day public hearing scheduled for December 11 will address the fact that “comfort women” still exist and are not a thing of the past in countries during armed conflict. Women from Sierra Leone, Burundi, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Mexico (Chiapas), Vietnam, Somalia, Burma, Okinawa and Korea will be in attendance and present testimony and analysis.
According to a New York Times report, death is a way out for many young oppressed Turkish women with no resources and no educational opportunities. Trapped in her home, forbidden to leave, find a job or go to school, a 22-year old women jumped to her death after being beaten by her parents and another relative for wearing a tight skirt. This is all too common a story in Turkey. Largely due to constant oppression such as this, Turkish women in the southeast choose death over life, resulting in a suicide rate double the rest of Turkey. Nearly half of the women in southeastern Turkey are illiterate, mostly because their families refuse to permit schooling for girls.
Worldwide, the suicide rate among women is high in conservative and repressive societies, stated Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women. This is also evident in Afghanistan where the extremist Taliban regime seized power in 1996, enforcing a strict system of gender apartheid that stripped women of their freedom of movement, right to work and right to education. In September 1999, the Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women, made a fact finding mission to Pakistan and Afghanistan and reported, “the high rates of depression indicate the health fall-out of these (Taliban) policies.” A study released by Physicians for Human Rights, titled “The Taliban’s War on Women”, found that a startling 97 percent of Afghan women living in the capitol city of Kabul exhibited signs of major depression.
For the first time ever, women in British Columbia can take emergency contraception without a prescription, a stark change in the drug’s 30-year availability with a prescription.
Emergency contraception involves taking two doses of birth control pills 12 hours apart within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. The pills contain estrogen and progesterone, hormones that prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs and induce menstruation, and are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Doctors recommend taking anti-nausea medication to counter common side effects such as nausea, vomiting and breast pain.
Emergency contraception is available in the United States with a prescription, except in Washington state where it is available through pharmacists without a prescription. Many European countries offer emergency contraception without a prescription. In France legislation has been drafted to overturn a high administrative court ruling that forbids the distribution of emergency contraception in schools.
11/3/2000 - Vatican Denounces RU 486
The Vatican has denounced the sale of RU 486 (also known as
mifepristone) and has suggested that Catholic chemists refuse to sell the pill as “conscientious objectors”. Although abortion has been legal for over 20 years in Italy, Catholic doctors are permitted by the Vatican to
refuse to perform abortions.
RU-486 is a proven safe method for terminating unwanted pregnancies in early stages. Moreover, the availability of the drug, advances the rights of millions of women over their bodies and provides a safer environment to undergo the procedure. Increased acts of violence against abortion doctors, providers, staff, and clinic patients at clinics are evident across the globe. The availability of RU 486 allows greater privacy for women seeking abortions and counters bombings and arson attacks by anti-abortion extremists.
Only a few months ago during the United Nations Beijing Plus 5 meetings, the Vatican exercised its authority as the only non-state and religious entity with permanent voting status within the UN during negotiations over a follow-up document to the Beijing Platform for action. The Vatican joined by Libya, Algeria, Iran, Sudan, Nicaragua, and Pakistan fought against the inclusion and greater protections for a woman’s right over her body, safe access to abortion, reproductive health treatment, and respect for an individual’s sexual orientation.
11/3/2000 - Taliban U.N. Seat Push Fails
On November 1, for the fourth consecutive year, a U.N. committee deferred for another year the decision on granting a seat to the Taliban militia, an extremist group that now controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan. The “Taliban intensified its lobbying for the U.N. General Assembly seat this year,” according to the Associated Press, but failed to gain recognition by the international community as the official government of Afghanistan. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban’s rule. “Feminists must continue the campaign to urge the United Nations and other official bodies not to recognize the Taliban regime, which has imposed a brutal system of gender apartheid on the women and girls of Afghanistan,” says Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.
Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan.
Violence and bombing continue in Afghanistan as the terrorist regime the Taliban struggles with the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Massoud for control of the country. The Taliban, which took power in 1996 and now controls more than 95 percent of Afghanistan, recently seized Taloqan, a former stronghold of Massoud’s Alliance. Refugees fleeing to Pakistan fear a United States attack against Afghanistan, as negotiations over Taliban-harbored terrorist Osama bin Laden fail. Moscow, approached by Massoud for military support, joined the U.S. and India in alarm about terrorism extending out of Afghanistan. Pakistan has not made any move against the Taliban, and has long been suspected of supplying weapons to the regime. Pakistani government officials announced that, in the event of a U.S. air strike against Afghanistan, they will not allow the U.S. to use Pakistani air space. Pakistan religious groups have close ties to the Taliban, providing weapons and fighters for its so-called “holy war.” The Taliban, an extremist militia, has imposed a system of gender apartheid against the women and girls of Afghanistan, sending them into a state of virtual house arrest.
10/30/2000 - US Congress Passes Anti-Taliban Resolution
The US Congress passed a resolution late last week criticizing the human rights abuses of the Taliban, and calling for the reconvening of a Grand Assembly of Afghan leaders, a representative government for Afghanistan, and democratic elections. The measure passed by a vote of 381-0 in the House, with 32 not voting, and passed unanimously in the Senate. The resolution calls on the US administration to take steps to bring about significant change in Afghanistan: an end to the human and political rights abuses committed by the Taliban, an end to terrorist activities, and an end to illegal drug production in Taliban-controlled regions. The Taliban-controlled areas have been the number one heroin producers for the world. This marks the first time that the US Congress has passed a resolution on issues other than terrorism and the harboring of Osama Bin Laden. The resolution specifically mentioned human rights abuses against Afghan women and girls.
In a major step forward, U.S. House and Senate leaders, by a vote of 307-101 and 65-27, agreed to remove the anti-choice restriction known as the “global gag rule” from the $14.9 billion foreign aid bill. U.S. House and Senate leaders agreed to a plan that would increase funding for international family planning programs to $425 million in year 2001(FY 2001), an increase of $40 million appropriated for the current year (FY 2000). The “global gag rule” restricted most overseas programs that receive U.S. family planning funds from using any funds from any source, including their own money, to discuss abortion as an option or work for greater access to abortion. Even in countries where abortion is legal, organizations accepting U.S. funds were prevented from providing abortion services or promoting abortion rights with their own funds.
Removal of the “global gag rule” will ensure better reproductive health for those living in poverty worldwide, of which 60% are women and girls, and would benefit the large numbers of women forced to seek unsafe abortions. At least 25% of all unsafe abortions occur among girls between the ages of 15 and 19. United Nations (UN) estimates show that at least 78,000 women across the globe die annually from unsafe abortions. Many feminists argue that the UN estimates are low and do not account for thousands more due to the lack of accurate in-country reporting systems. The removal of U.S. restrictions on international family planning will take effect on February 15, 2001, therefore contingent on the upcoming presidential elections. The elected president will have the ability to reinstate restrictions on international family planning by executive order.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
10/27/2000 - Malaysian Minister Argues Women Voices “Seduce Men”
The chief minister of an opposition-ruled Malaysian state who recently claimed that women were the main cause of social ills and moral decadence due to attire that exposed their bodies has now stated that women should be banned from Koran recital contests in claiming their voices seduce men. Minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat also added that women in such recitals used “high melodic voices” which may be an attraction to men. He added that a woman’s voice could be considered similarly provocative as revealing clothing.
A joint House-Senate negotiations committee voted yesterday to strike the “global gag rule” from the $14.9 billion foreign aid bill. Congress members agreed to a plan that would raise funding for international family planning programs to $425 million, compared to $385 million for last year. It will also remove restrictions first instated by Reagan in 1984 that specify that no U.S. funding can go to organizations that practice, provide, or counsel abortion. Under yesterday’s agreement, no funds will be distributed until February 15, making the negotiations an uneasy victory for pro-choice activists. The next president will have the power to reinstate the restrictions. The House is expected to vote on the foreign aid bill today; it will then go to the Senate for approval.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
10/23/2000 - Manila Mayor Against RU-486
Manila mayor Lito Atienza has stated that he will arrest anyone who attempts to ship the abortion pill RU-486 into the city, dubbing the pill as a “do-it-yourself murder kit”. His statement was in response to an announcement made by the Philippine secretary of health authorizing RU-486 for victims of rape and incest. The pill, also known as mifepristone, has recently been approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration.
Mifepristone (RU486) is a medical breakthrough in women’s health overall and a safe, effective method of terminating pregnancy in 49 days or less. The pill is administered orally, is non-invasive, requires no anesthesia, and bears less risk of infection. Many women prefer mifepristone because the procedure is more private and allows them greater psychological control in ending a pregnancy. In addition, medical studies have shown mifepristone shows promise as a possible treatment for uterine fibroid tumors, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, meningioma (brain tumors), some types of breast cancer and other serious diseases and conditions that mostly affect women. The Feminist Majority Foundation has for the past twelve years campaigned to make mifepristone available to women in the United States, both as an abortion pill and also alternative treatment, or compassionate use, to serious illnesses affecting women’s heath.
10/23/2000 - Zambian Women Lack Political Power
Lombe Chibesakunda, Permanent Human Rights Commission Chairperson in the African country of Zambia, publicly stated that “women in Zambia have continued to be under-represented at all level of decision making in government and other institutions in the communities”. While Zambian women constitute over half of the population and the majority of the voting population, less than 10% of Zambian women participate in the political decision making process. Chibesakunda cited several factors which contribute to this under-representation including, low education, negative traditional attitudes and stereotypes by society, women’s weak socio-economics status and woman’s inadequate skills and limited access to productive resources.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently released finding that rank Afghanistan as one of the three hungriest nations in the world, along with Somali and Haiti. The FAO found that 70% of the Afghan population is undernourished, living without 26% of their basic food requirements. The Taliban’s oppressive system of gender apartheid has made the situation worse by enforcing laws that completely violate women’s human rights, make women the most vulnerable group inside Afghanistan and make the delivery of humanitarian aid extremely difficult. The Taliban’s gender apartheid in Afghanistan the 1996 edict that banned women from employment. More recently, in August 2000, Taliban officials ordered the closing of “widow bakeries” operated by the United Nations Word Food Program which employed a number of Afghan women and provided bread at subsidized prices for the country’s poorest women and their families feeding almost 270,000 people every day.
The ruling Taliban, who now control nearly 95% of Afghanistan, oppress women through a brutal system of gender apartheid that has banished women from the work force, closed schools to girls, limited women’s access to medical treatment, expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. The Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan works to fully and permanently restore the human rights of Afghan women and girls.
10/20/2000 - UN Official Condemns Religious Extremism, Taliban
Special Reporter of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission Abdelfattah Amor, in a recent interview with the Associated Pres, called for international efforts to combat religious extremism, which he called “an ever-growing scourge” in the world. Amor cited the Taliban as the greatest example of how religious extremists are “using religion as a political tool in the interest of power,” and noted that, as in Afghanistan, it is vulnerable groups like women and minorities that are the target for religious extremist groups. In a report on incidents that were not in compliance with the 1981 UN Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief, Amor noted that religious extremism is a serious problem in many countries: Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka as well as Afghanistan. Amor called for international cooperation in resisting religious extremism. The UN will hold a conference next November in Madrid on school education and freedom of religion, tolerance, and nondiscrimination.
Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan or learn more about the Taliban’s human rights violations against women and girls.
10/18/2000 - Hillary Clinton Denounces Taliban’s Terrorism
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton said that her vision of US foreign policy includes promoting women’s rights and human rights, humanitarian assistance and international family planning. Clinton said, “We will not have strong markets to invest in, or democratic allies to depend on if children aren’t in school, if ethnic cleansing is ripping apart communities and if women are being silenced and brutalized, as they are in Afghanistan.” Currently, the terrorist Taliban militia has taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and his imposed strict gender apartheid on Afghan women and girls. Women are under virtual house arrest and have been barred from work and school. Under Taliban rule women have been stripped of their visibility, voice, and mobility.
A recent report by independent United Nations investigator, Kamal Hossain, revealed that the Taliban militia’s terrorism and repression of women continues and “cannot be justified under any reading of Islam” and that Taliban militia police “mete out punishment in a rough and ready manner without due process” to women and men alike.
10/13/2000 - Setback For Women In Kano State, Nigeria
Kano State in Nigeria took a major step toward limiting women's rights this week. The Sharia Implementation Committee of Nigeria has proposed that the government mandate that male medical staff not be permitted to attend to pregnant Muslim women. Kano State has begun a process of implementing Sharia law. Sharia, claimed by extremists to be a strict interpretation of Islamic law, has been used by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and other countries to limit the rights of women. Many members of the Islamic faith disagree with the interpretations of Sharia held by these nations. The Taliban, the ruling extremist regime in Afghanistan, has used Sharia law to legitimize gender apartheid on women and girls living in the country that involves a ban on women working, their freedom of movement and a mandate that forces all women to wear the restrictive burqa. In Saudi Arabia, implementation of Sharia law forces women to follow strict dress code, does not permit women to drive and requires women to obtain permission from a male relative to travel. In many of these countries, implementation of Sharia law has prevented male health workers from attending to Islamic women. The Sharia legal code becomes fully operational on November 26, 2000 in Kano State.
Two Gambian Islamic religious leaders, including the leader of the Muslim Council in Oslo and a Somalian are facing prosecution for aiding and abetting female genital mutilation (FGM) in Norway. The religious leaders allegedly told a 20-year old Somalian girl to consent to mutilation, providing her with inaccurate information in an attempt to convince her that "the practice was neither harmful or dangerous." If convicted, the three face three to eight years imprisonment. The Norwegian governments' prosecution of these men is seen as a major step toward fighting FGM among African immigrants in Europe. Female genital mutilation is a brutal and debilitating ritual that some cultures, the majority of which are in Africa, practice. As citizens from these nations immigrate, the practice is forced underground in their new countries or families send their daughters abroad for mutilation. Female genital mutilation involves the painful sewing of the vagina and/or removal of the clitoris. Research findings indicate that between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice, victims of FGM face possible health risks including death from excessive bleeding, infection or complications during childbirth, blockage of the birth canal with scar tissue and sexual dysfunction. Cultural myths surrounding the practice claim mutilation as a symbol of chastity, a rite of passage and a link to fertility.
A coalition of "center-left" legislators seeking to win legislation designed to improve sexual and reproductive rights, reported the Chilean Times. The bill includes clauses such as the right to be sexual outside of the context of reproduction and the liberty to choose one's sexual partner. Also, the current requirement for physicians and midwives to report women who have undergone treatment for complications from abortions to the police would be removed. Women who have undergone treatment for abortion complications and those who administer the procedure face possible jail time if they are reported to the police. Under the proposed legislation, women who are victims of rape would also be able to obtain emergency contraception. The bill, if passed, could be a major victory for Chilean women who, largely due to lack of access to effective contraception and abortion, has one of the highest rates of illegal abortions in Latin America. Chile currently has one of the most restrictive abortion law in Latin America - abortion is illegal and the defense of necessity is highly improbable.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
10/10/2000 - United Kingdom Tackles "Honour Killings"
The British newspaper, The Observer, reports that within the last five years there have been at least 20 deaths in Britain that are linked to so-called crimes of "honour". The United Nations Population Fund estimates that, globally, as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered by members of their own families, usually a close male relative, for acts that so-call "dishonour" their families. Across the globe in countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda women and girls have been brutally killed because they were raped, suspected of loosing their virginity, looking at a male who is not their husband or close family relative and taking walks without the permission of their family.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the only United Nations body that exclusively addresses women's rights, has condemned such "honour" driven violence as gruesome. The committee monitors global compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and recently won a major victory with the ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which will take effect in December 2000. The protocol grants the committee legal authority to seek redress for gender discrimination on the behalf of women and women's rights groups who have exhausted their national systems. Legal prosecutions for perpetuators of so called "honour" killings remain few and largely without stiff penalties. Perpetuators of these crimes often go without any jail time but in a few cases some may receive sentences from zero to six months in jail, oddly in countries where persons charged with murder are often sentenced with death.
The chief minister of an opposition-ruled Malaysian state recently claimed that women were the main cause of social ills and moral decadence, due to attire that exposed their bodies. Minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat also added that their clothing invited men to rape or molest them, stating, "Even my faith as a religious teacher can be weakened by watching them." Many Malaysians were infuriated with the ministers' comments, including Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam Forum Malaysia. Anwar urged leaders in Malaysia to educate men to take responsibility for their own actions and to treat women as fellow human beings of equal worth and dignity, adding that, "the solution to society's ills does not lie in the shrouding, segregation and control of women."
The Medical Research Council of South Africa, the country's foremost medial body, released a study that finds teachers responsible for 33% of all rapes of schoolgirls. South Africa has one of the highest instances of rape and child abuse in the world. Last year there were more than 50,000 reported rapes, however, most rapes are unreported and the Medical Research Council estimates that the real number is nine times the reported figure. Over the past ten years the number of rapes of girls 15 years and younger has doubled according to the council. The study cited that a key reason for the rape of children is that men fear contracting AIDS from older women. Also, South African tribal myths that claim sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS have equally contributed to the increased numbers of sexual violence. Tolerance of sexual violence is reinforced by law enforcement officials who fail to treat rape cases with the seriousness they deserve.
10/5/2000 - Lesbian and Gay Backlash Ignited In Namibia
Lesbians and gays in Namibia are outraged over a statement made by Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo urging police officers to "eliminate gays and lesbians from the face of Namibia." In the past, Minister Ekandjo compared homosexuality to murder. The Namibian Constitution, adopted in 1990, states specifically that "recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is indispensable for freedom, justice and peace". Minister Ekandjo claims that the constitution does not guarantee rights to homosexuals.
The French parliament will soon debate new legislation that seeks to liberalize abortion laws by extending the legal period for abortion to 12 weeks. In 1975, France legalized abortions within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. The proposed legislation would curb the large numbers of women, estimated at least 5,000, who each year have to leave France to seek abortions in countries that hold more progressive abortion laws, i.e. Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands. Girls under the age of 18 would have access to abortion without parental consent under the new legislation.
10/5/2000 - Taliban Lobbies for Recognition
Using military gains as leverage, the Taliban militia has met with high-level officials in France, the US and other countries to press for recognition as Afghanistan’s ruling government. The US has continued to withhold recognition because of the Taliban’s support of bin Laden, the regime’s rampant terrorism throughout Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s horrific violations of human rights. In last week’s meeting between US State Department officials and representatives from the Taliban, talks included pressure from the US regarding the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, specifically the ban on women and girls’ employment and education.
The Taliban’s gains of territory in Afghanistan are a result of additional support from Pakistan. A joint venture between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government has put leaders of neighboring countries, including India and Russia, on guard, fearing the partnership could reshape the politics of Central Asia.
One week ago the government of Italy placed the final signature required for implementation of the most important international protocol created to protect women's rights. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) grants women and women's rights groups who have exhausted national systems seeking redress for gender discrimination to petition the CEDAW Committee to act on their behalf. With a mere 10 countries required to ratify the protocol, 62 countries are now signatories leading way to legal implementation on December 22, 2000.