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The British government is planning to announce later this week that it will support the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The move by the British government leaves the United States, which opposes the ICC without full exemptions for its military personnel and officials, in stark contrast with the members of the European Union all of whom support the ICC. China, Libya, Saudia Arabia, and the United States represent four of the seven countries opposed to the court.
The establishment of the International Criminal Court would be momentous in the worldwide effort to protect the human rights of women and girls. The court's mandate presents clear language, fort the first time ever in international law, defining gender crimes including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, crime of apartheid, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as crimes against humanity. Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Jesse Helms who has blocked U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also adamantly opposes the establishment and jurisdiction of the ICC. For a treaty to be ratified in the U.S., it must be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and by a 2/3 vote of the Senate.
8/23/2000 - Lung Disease Rate Among Women Rising
A recent report reveals that chronic lung disease among women has almost doubled in seven years due to heavy smoking. Almost half of the 50,000 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease diagnosed in England and Wales between 1990 and 1997 were among women. These numbers constitute a steep rise in the percentage of women with the disease, from .8 percent of the total population in 1990 to 1.36 percent in 1997. Chronic lung disease is incurable and is the fifth most common cause of death world-wide, according to the 1998 World Health Report. Some doctors theorize that the current high rate of the disease among women is the result of smoking patterns from the 1950s and '60s when smoking among women was widely portrayed as fashionable.
In an effort to increase fertility and replenish the country's population, the Singaporean government is offering substantial incentives to women to bear more children. The government is paying employers up to $20,000 to grant working mothers eight weeks of maternity leave for a third child. Altogether, the Singaporean government will be shelling out at least $260 million for new financial incentives and childcare arrangements to help mothers. Couples bearing a second or third child will benefit from the "Baby Bonus" of a Children Development Account which the government will fund until the child's sixth birthday, contributing from $500 to $1000 annually to the account. In addition, the government is offering huge tax breaks to working mothers of multiple children, cutting taxes as much as $20,000 to $40,000 for mothers of a third or fourth child. Singapore's current efforts mark an abrupt change from the country's former "Stop at Two" policy as the country now mobilizes an effort to increase child-bearing and strengthen Singapore's population.
Contrary to popular beliefs about the birth control pill, a recent British Medical Journal study showed that new types of pills, specifically third generation pills introduced in the 1990's, do not increase the risk of blood clots. Fear of blood-clotting due to third generation pill usage has caused the percentage of women using the drug to fall from 53 to 14 percent among women using oral contraceptives. The recent study provides encouragement for women to resume usage of birth control pills containing desogestrel and gestodene, as the study found no evidence of increased blood clotting in comparing the rate of venous clotting in women between 1992 and 1998.
8/22/2000 - Women In Southern Africa Score Political Power
The 1997 gender equality mandate for Southern Africa, better known as the Declaration on Gender and Development, spearheaded a movement in which women can embark on the decision-making process with equal footing. The Declaration set forth provisions for women to achieve at least 30 percent of seats in Parliament and other governmental structures by the year 2005. Women in the Republic of South Africa now comprise 117 seats, or 26 percent, of the 442 seats in Parliament. In other parts of Southern Africa the numbers for women in decision-making positions are less promising. For example, only 8 women hold seats in Botswana's 44 member Parliament. Recent political elections in Zimbabwe did very little to increase women's representation in Parliament, in fact they undermined some advancement. Prior to the elections women held 22 seats in Parliament, today they hold only 12.
Women's rights activists argue that the difficulty in achieving the 30 percent goal by the year 2005 is due in part to "deep-rooted cultural and social attitudes" among their male counterparts. Representation by women in politics and other decision-making positions is critical for the removal of barriers to their human rights like inheritance rights, land and property rights and access to education. Statistics show that girls make up two- thirds of the 110 million children without education.
8/21/2000 - Taliban Target Afghan Widows Unmercifully
The Taliban militia's harsh new policies are compromising the lives of thousands of Afghan widows. In an attempt to enforce a system of gender apartheid, Taliban authorities imposed a new ruling that forbids women from being employed by foreign aid agencies. Many agencies provide food to thousands of poor Afghan widows and their families, and cannot operate without the help of Afghan women employees. Earlier this month, a public outcry prompted the Taliban to reverse a ruling ordering the United Nations to close bakeries run by Afghan widows that provided bread at subsidized prices to thousands of Afghan families.
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. 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.
United Nations agencies are feeling the repercussion of a growing problem witnessed in the global women's movement - lack of resources to support and fund women's projects. Specifically, the United Nation's Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and its Trust Fund were forced to make narrow decisions on more than 200 funding requests totaling $12.5 million (US) dollars to fund only 17 projects with a total of $1 million (US) dollars aimed at eliminating violence against women. According to UNIFEM's Executive Director, Noleen Heyzer the biggest obstacle in sponsoring violence prevention "is not a lack of ideas" but " a lack of resources." Programs funded by UNIFEM range from a Women's Centre for Legal AID and Counseling in Jordan to promote dialogue among judges on issues like honour and crimes against women to the International Women's Judges Association to assist with the creation of a group of 300 judicial officers and academicians to lead training sessions for judges on making informed decisions on violence against women and gender discrimination.
8/18/2000 - Olympic Committee Rejects Taliban Plea
The International Olympic Committee officially rejected the Taliban's appeal to participate in the 2000 Sydney Olympics on the basis that the Taliban militia is not internationally recognized as a legitimate ruling group. The IOC defends its decision on the grounds that the Taliban's full-beard requirement for male athletes directly contradicts IOC clean-shaven regulations. Yet in the IOC's decision, it failed to cite its own code of ethics that prohibits "discrimination between participants on the basis of…sex," a code which the Taliban clearly violates due to its strict system of gender apartheid. Meanwhile, Taliban members argue that the IOC is discriminating against them for not including women athletes among their proposed Olympic delegation. Such an argument is ironic coming from an extremist militia that routinely discriminates against Afghan women and girls.
8/18/2000 - Birth Control Pill Celebrates Four Decades
Four decades after its introduction, more than 100 million women across the globe take the birth control pill. The preferred contraceptive for women between the ages of 16 and 49 was first introduced in 1960 in the United States but did not become available in the United Kingdom until 1961. Despite research that proves the pill as an agent in countering infertility and decreasing the risk of pelvic disease, the oral contraceptive remains under attack. Pro-life groups argue that the pill is "responsible for a rise in sexually transmitted diseases" that have reached "epidemic proportions" in cities. Many researchers and women's rights activists praise the pill for it use in deterring unwanted pregnancies, protection from ovarian cancer, and the liberation of women worldwide.
Those seeking to abolish female genital mutilation (FGM) in Tanzania confront new obstacles as communities practicing FGM begin to carry out the practice underground. This recent underground movement has formed in reaction to the 1998 Sexual Offenses Act which makes genital mutilation of young women under 18 a federal offense. According to a recent World Health Organization report, two million females face potential mutilation of their genitals each year. Between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have already undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia.
Female genital mutilation continues among many countries of the world including those in Africa 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. Women that undergo the painful sewing of their vagina and or removal of clitoris face the risk of death from excessive bleeding or infection. For those who survive, further complications can occur during childbirth as scar tissue blocks the birth canal.
8/15/2000 - Taliban Seeks Inclusion In Sydney Olympic Games
Members of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan have issued a plea to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be included in the upcoming Sydney Olympics, claiming they will serve as “messengers of peace.” The Taliban, which was suspended from the IOC in 1998, has been anything but peaceful since it took over Afghanistan by force in 1996. The extremist militia has instituted a strict system of gender apartheid, banning all women and girls from school and work and requiring them to cloak themselves in a full-body covering, the burqa. This system of gender apartheid has been severely detrimental to the physical and psychological health of Afghan women.
“Due to the Taliban’s draconian treatment of Afghan women and girls, their plea for inclusion in the Sydney games must be denied until the full restoration of women’s human rights in the country is achieved,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
8/15/2000 - South African Rape Rate Soars
A recent Medical Research Council study of South Africa found that incidents of rape may be as much as ten times higher than the previously reported 240 per 100,000 rapes annually. Date and marital rape were found to be especially common in the country, with a third of all rapes committed by relatives or male acquaintances of the rape survivors. The report sites patriarchal South African society as the primary social force behind the country’s high incidence of rape. Tolerance of sexual violence is reinforced by law enforcement officials who fail to treat rape cases with the seriousness they deserve.
8/15/2000 - War Crimes Tribunal Established In Sierra Leone
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to establish a war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone. The tribunal, the third of its kind to be created in the past decade, will serve as a forum for trying “crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The tribunal will hopefully bring to justice rebel leader Foday Sankoh and members of the Revolutionary United Front who are charged with the torture of civilians and hostage of 500 UN peacekeepers in May.
President-elect Vicente Fox, of the Roman Catholic Church-supported National Action Party (PAN), is forced to make clear his position on abortion due to the recent case of Paulina del Carmen. Ms. Carmen, a 14 year-old resident of Guanajuato state who was raped earlier this year in her home, was denied what she thought was her legal right to an abortion. Until recently, Mexico allowed legal access to abortion is cases of rape or where a mother's life is endangered. Ms. Carmen's abortion denial marks an unprecedented turn in Mexico's less than favorable laws governing women's reproductive health. Health officials for the state who denied Ms. Carmen's access to abortion have commented that "state citizens have a right life, but no right to an abortion".
Women's rights activists were suspicious of Fox's position on abortion at the outset of the presidential elections that took place in July, but now are more fearful of his ties with the Catholic Church and their role in policy decisions. "This abortion controversy has become something of a thermometer. People see it helping determine if Fox's victory was for change, or a vote for conservatism," remarked Martha Pérez, member of the Mexico City's Free Vote Defense Council. Experts estimate that while abortion remains illegal in Mexico, more than 1 million are performed in the country annually and abortion remains the fourth-highest cause of death among Mexican women.
Combating pervasive and "degrading" sexual harassment from their bosses, 270 women union members sued their employers at a Seoul hotel in an unprecedented class-action harassment suit. The suit charged that approximately 70 percent of female union employees at Lotte Hotel were subjected to sexual harassment, citing 480 instances that include groping, fondling, suggestive remarks, and exposure to graphic Internet sex sites. The suit also condemned the hotel management for its refusal to respond to the women's regular complaints. "Sexual harassment has always been a fixture in Korean society but now there are more opportunities for the women to take loud action," affirmed Park Yeon-suk, a spokeswoman for the Korean Sexual Violence Consultation Center (KSVC). Equal employment legislation prohibiting sexual harassment was enacted last year in South Korea. If the suit prevails, the Seoul District Court could award the women US$1.6 million dollars.
8/14/2000 - Convicted Pedophile Walks Away Free In Britain
A convicted pedophile in Britain will not have to serve his sentence for sexually assaulting one of his female students. A judge ruled that Raymond Cullens had "suffered" enough because he had been named in Britain's tabloid News of the World. The ruling comes after a week of violent protests by anti-pedophile campaigners.
Survivors of rape and torture won $745 million in a verdict against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The federal jury in New York came to a decision on August 9th after hearing grueling accounts of the rape and torture perpetrated by Karadzic and his supporters, who used everything from fishhooks, large sticks, and lit cigarettes to brutalize the women.
Witnesses also testified that they were forced to clean the blood of the walls from their own and other prisoners' beatings. "This case established ... rape is a form of genocide," said Maria Vullo, a lawyer for the women. One woman, who said she was singled out because she was a Bosnian Muslim, fainted on the stand as she described how soldiers wearing photographs of Karadzic raped and tortured her in front of her two children. Karadzic is believed to be hiding in Bosnia, and was indicted for genocide by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Women’s rights advocates in the Middle East are fighting to end “honor” killings, polygamy, and repressive marriage laws. Men convicted of “honor” crimes, frequently glorified rather than condemned, sometimes serve less than three months in jail. Asma Khader, a woman lawyer in Jordan, recounts a litany of horrific cases that she has studied; in one familiar situation, a man shot his sister to death when he learned that she had been raped. The killing, he says, was necessary to preserve family honor. Khader is one of the leaders in a movement to abolish article 340 of Jordan’s penal code, which allows judges to consider reduced sentences for so-called honor killings.
Coalitions of women’s rights and human rights organizations in the Middle East also aim to reform marriage law. Polygamy, though not a widespread practice, continues to exist in some regions. The Moroccan government proposed reforms that include banning polygamy, raising the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 18, and giving women equal inheritance rights. The Supreme Council on Family Affairs in Qatar may grant women more rights in divorce and inheritance disputes. In Iran, where fathers can marry off daughters as young as the age of nine, the Parliament is debating a bill, introduced on August 9th, that could possibly raise the marriage age of women to 18.
Despite these promising reforms, discrimination and rigid interpretations and distortions of Islamic principles continue to endure, often condoning polygamy and violence against women. Recently, a Turkish state-funded religious foundation published a book stating that men can beat their wives as long as they avoid the face and do not strike too hard. In his book, The Muslim’s Handbook, Kemal Guran states that polygamy is acceptable if the wife is ill and the man cannot afford a servant. “I am outraged that such a book was published with state funds – with money women paid in taxes,” said Zuhal Kilic, the head of Kader, a group which promotes women in politics. The Muslim’s Handbook is yet another addition to the genre of wifebeating books that have infuriated the public; in July women’s rights advocates in Spain sued imam Mohamed Kamal Mostafa, a prominent Muslim cleric, for inciting violence in his book Women in Islam, which offered men tips on how to beat their wives effectively.
Although women constitute 52 percent of Burkina Faso’s population and contribute to 80 percent of the agricultural production, they may not receive their fair share of a 700 million dollar debt cancellation benefit. One of the poorest countries in Africa, Burkina Faso recently benefited from the Heavily indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which canceled half of the country’s foreign debt. Burkinabe women demand that the money be used to increase women’s economic independence through providing subsidies to women and increasing educational opportunities. In 1997 the rate of primary education in Burkina Faso was 25 percent for boys and only 16 percent for girls, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
In three of Brazil’s state capitals women are running against women for the seat of mayor, a refreshing indicator that women’s participation in local politics is flourishing. Researchers point to a glass ceiling in politics, in which women’s leadership is only accepted at the local level. Women’s participation in local politics soar in regions where they are closely associated with community issues and where “family networks” are prevalent. However, at the municipal and federal levels, power is reserved for male clan members. The number of female lawmakers in Brazil’s national Congress has dropped from 34 in the 1994 elections to 28 in 1998. The number of female city councillors rose by 111 percent when a quota system that reserved 20 percent of candidacies for women was established in 1996. Women’s rights advocates in Brazil are urging reform of quota laws on a national level.
8/11/2000 - New Zealand Considers Monitoring Sex Offenders
The New Zealand government may make sweeping changes to its current policy towards sex offenders. It is considering to establish a register to track sex offenders and pedophiles, toughen sentencing laws against serious sex offenders, and enacting mandatory police checks on people planning to work with children. These proposed changes follow an incident earlier this year in which a convicted rapist attacked and stabbed to death a 23-year-old woman two months after he was released from prison.
Two Bangladeshi women garment workers were crushed under the wheels of a speeding minivan that was being chased by the police in the capital Dhaka on August 8th. Clashes between opposition activists and the government during the weekend left at least 50 people injured. An alliance fighting to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for the seven-hour general strike on August 8th, alleging police brutality against opposition activists.
Violence against women in India is increasing, and basic rights, such as the right to choose whether to marry, continue to be denied. In June of this year, a woman was burned alive in front of a bustling railway station in one of India’s most urban cities. The 41-year old single woman had refused to marry a suitor, who decided to douse her with kerosene and set her afire. Despite her screams, no one stopped to help until she was nearly dead and had burns covering 95 percent of her body. Other forms of violence, such as acid throwing and bride burnings, persist despite India’s legal protection of women’s rights. The National Crime Records Bureau indicates a 40 percent increase in reported incidents of sexual harassment and a 15.2 percent increase in dowry deaths between 1998 and 1999.
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers will train and equip West African battalions that will then be sent to Sierra Leone to support government troops and United Nations peacekeepers. A senior Clinton administration official stated that the U.S. had “gone through an agonizing reappraisal” of its policy toward Sierra Leone, where the Revolutionary United Front rebel forces have ravaged the country and in May kidnapped hundreds of United Nations peacekeepers. The RUF is notorious for gruesome practices such as chopping off the breasts of women, systematically raping women and children, and kidnapping children to use them as soldiers.
8/8/2000 - Women Protest Anti-Abortion Law in Mexico
Hundreds of Mexican women protested anti-abortion legislation that passed in Mexico’s Guanajuato state, which is governed by President-elect Vicente Fox’s conservative National Action Party (PAN). The legislation, passed by the Guanajuato Congress on August 4th, criminalizes abortion even in cases of rape and where the woman’s health is endangered. Women gathered outside the headquarters of PAN in Mexico City, unfolding one banner that read: “PAN members should not make laws based on religious fanaticism.” Public health and women’s rights advocates fear that Guanajuato’s hostility towards women’s reproductive rights portends deeper restrictions on abortion in the future. Women’s organizations maintain that PAN represents a massive threat to women’s rights, noting the notorious case in which PAN officials in Baja California denied a 14-year old rape survivor’s request for abortion.
Currently, the Mexican government only permits abortion in the cases or rape or where the woman’s life is endangered. Abortion is the fourth leading cause of death among Mexican women, and an estimated 300,000 illegal abortions take place every year in Mexico. The Ministry of Health notes that an average of 1,500 women a year die from botched procedures, although some say that the numbers are twice or three times that high.