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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.
10/3/2000 - Human Rights Incorporated Into British Law
Women, immigrants, lesbians and gays applauded the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights in Great Britain this week. Touted as the greatest advance for personal liberty supporters believe that for the first time enshrined in English law is a right to fair trial, asylum, privacy, education, family life, religion and equality particularly for minorities including lesbians and gays, and freedom from torture, slavery and forced labour.
Conservative opponents fear that too much power will be given to interest groups representing homosexuals, minorities, and women at the expense of government authority. Before acceptance of the act, Great Britain was forced by the European Convention to discard its policy of banning homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. Conservatives argue the act will encourage lesbian and gay sexuality in schools which would criminalize teacher efforts to prohibit this behavior.
More than 3,000 young girls may be mutilated each year in Britain according to findings released by researchers. Although the destructive practice is outlawed in the country a loophole in the law does not restrict families from sending young girls abroad for genital circumcision/mutilation during which young girls undergo the painful sewing of their vagina and or removal of the clitoris. The World Health Organization reports that two million women and girls face genital mutilation annually. Research findings indicate between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice, all of whom face possible health risks in the form of death from excessive bleeding, infection or complications during childbirth as scar tissue may block the birth canal.
Female genital mutilation continues among many countries of the world including those in Africa. Its acceptation among the populace is due to cultural myths surrounding the practice that view it as a mark of chastity, a rite of passage into womanhood, and a link to increased fertility.
Three Somali asylum seekers have presented a request to Australian immigration officials to be sent home citing "depression, trauma and anxiety and mental pressure" within Australia's detention centers and therefore "prefer to go back to Somalia and die as innocent victims." The asylum seekers have been kept behind barbed-wire fences at the Port Headland detention center since arriving in Australia and submitting applications for asylum. Earlier this year, the United Nations (UN) criticized Australia's policy of holding refugee and asylum seekers in detention camps while their refugee applications are reviewed. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, "(Australia) is the only country that detains all people that arrive without documentation, whether they are a risk to the community or not."
During the UN Millennium Summit held in New York, Australia announced that it will not ratify the optional protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and asked that the treaty be removed from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's list of international covenants to be signed. On August 28, 2000, Australia announced that it would "veto nearly all visits by UN human rights investigators in response to criticisms of (its) treatment of Aborigines and asylum-seekers."
9/28/2000 - Cambodia Takes Stand Against Sex Tourism
Cambodia's Minister of Tourism Veng Seryvuth marked World Tourism Day by "declaring that it should no longer be seen as a destination for sex tourists. Hotels, guesthouses and nightclubs in Cambodia will be required to put up signs stating "No child sex tourism". The United Nations estimates that at minimum, 4 million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery. It is reported that countries in Asia have the highest volume of trafficking in the world, aside from Eastern Europe. The Vietnamese Ministry of Justice reports some 100,000 Vietnamese women have been forced to work in Cambodia's commercial sex industry with almost 15% of these being children under the age of 16.
Women's rights activists are urging the international community and governments to develop tougher laws on sexual trafficking that would include punishment for all traffickers that profit from the recruitment, transport and sale of women into prostitution and greater protections and rights for all women who are recruited, transported and sold into prostitution, regardless of their "consent".
9/22/2000 - The Plight Of Afghan Refugees
More than 2 million Afghans are living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran with the vast majority consisting of widowed women and children. Large numbers of Afghans who seek refuge in Pakistan seek educational opportunities for their family especially women and girls. Since 1996, when the Taliban militia took control of Kabul, women in areas under Taliban rule have been oppressed by a strict system of gender apartheid, under which they have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility. The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which have been brutally enforced, banished most women from the work force, closed schools to girls in cities and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative.
However, current conditions of most refugee camps in Pakistan offer little remedy. Basic life sustaining elements such as food and water are provided through emergency relief efforts led mostly by the United Nations (UN). Afghan refugees living in refugee camps remain fearful of possible threats to their security while living in camps. The severe drought that has devastated Afghanistan has also impacted the surrounding region including Pakistan forcing conditions inside of refugee camps to worsen. One widowed woman living in a refugee camp in Pakistan commented, "we get water from a very place and sometimes at home we do not have water or even flour to cook with. One of my sons spends all his time fetching water and so I can't send him to school." The severe drought is forcing many refugee children to become malnourished and face other serious health problems. UN officials have voiced their concern of the safety of the Afghan refugees who "have no guarantees about conditions back in their villages but say they have had enough in Pakistan and [they] just want to get back home." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogato reiterated that the priority of the UN is to ensure the sustainability of those Afghans returning to their homeland. In addition, refugees living in the cities of Pakistan also face abhorrent conditions and receive almost no assistance from UNHCR. The majority of refugees who have fled the Taliban are ethnic minorities who face hostility in camps and seek refuge in the cities of Pakistan instead.
9/22/2000 - Swiss Parliament Accepts Abortion Rights Bill
On September 21st, Switzerland's upper House of Parliament passed an abortion rights bill, by a vote of 21 to 18, that would allow a woman to have an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Two years earlier the Lower House of Parliament voted to pass another pro-abortion legislation that grant women the right to the medical procedure with a 14-week time limit. It is anticipated that both Houses of Parliament will soon reach a consensus on the abortion legislation and that the new legislation will be in effect as law by the year 2002.
9/22/2000 - U.S. Will Oppose Taliban U.N. Spot
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced yesterday that the United States will oppose awarding the terrorist Taliban regime a seat at the United Nations. Albright said the decision would be based on the Taliban’s violation of women’s human rights, its harboring of Osama bin Laden, and suspected operation of a terrorist network. The Taliban sent a delegation to New York today to lobby for U.N. recognition. The extremist regime took control of Afghanistan four years ago and issued edicts to strip women of education, employment, and mobility. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates favor giving the Taliban U.N. representation.
Take Action: Urge the U.S. and the U.N. officials to take a more active stance on the human rights violations committed against the women and girls of Afghanistan.