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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.
8/8/2000 - Women in India Rally for Quota in Parliament
Women protesters rallied in India’s capital on August 8th, urging passage of legislation that would reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state legislatures for women. “Women are no longer satisfied with the government’s assurances and promises and want action,” stated Sonia Gandhi, the main opposition Congress Party president. Gandhi has argued that the bill, which was introduced in Parliament in December 1998, is crucial to increasing women’s representation in the highest levels of decision-making. Currently, there are 41 women members of parliament in the 545-member lower house of parliament.
The Zimbabwe police is investigating claims by the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) that war veterans abducted and sexually abused at least 10 schoolgirls. Thousands of squatters are illegally occupying white-owned farms across Zimbabwe, creating daily tension and violence that threatens the livelihood of the country’s tobacco exports. According to the CFU, which represents mostly white farmers, the veterans kidnapped and abused 10 black schoolgirls on a farm.
Guatemala’s army was responsible for 92 percent of child abductions during the country’s brutal 36-year civil war, according to a recent report released by the Archdiocese of Guatemala. The 200-page report, based on information from interviews with parents and relatives of 86 children, marks an unprecedented step by the Guatemalan government to discuss the forced disappearances of children.
Gunmen in Afghanistan shot and killed 12 people on August 5th, including seven Afghan aid workers employed at the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation. Ravaged by decades of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. There are an estimated 10 million landmines in Afghanistan. “In the capital, Kabul, alone an average of 50 people a day died or were injured by mines and shells in 1995,” said a United Nations report. De-miners have discovered 51 different types of mines, including one that leaps from the ground before it explodes. Mines in Afghanistan not only pose a severe security threat for civilians, but also impede the cultivation of land and food production. Although the massacre occurred in a Taliban-controlled region, Taliban officials have denied responsibility for the killings.
In an effort to end forced marriages of British nationals, the British Foreign Office and Home Office have devised a multi-faceted program that will offer support to victims of forced marriage through increased outreach and law enforcement. The measures include issuing potential victims of forced marriage with pocket-sized lists of support telephone numbers and establishing a program that will enhance interaction between British and overseas police forces. Every year at least 1,000 British women, the majority of whom are teenagers, are coerced into marriages in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as well as Africa and the Middle East. In June of this year the Home Office published a report condemning the practice of forced marriage as a violation of human rights. “Multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness,” remarked Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien.
8/7/2000 - HIV/AIDS Strikes Women First
As a result of economic inequity, persistent discrimination, and unequal healthcare access, women are the most vulnerable to HIV infection, according to the latest UNAids report. Women in sub-Saharan Africa, who constitute 55 percent of the HIV infections, continue to struggle for access to contraceptives and education and for freedom from sexual assault, rape, and violence. In an open letter to South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki prior to the 13th International Aids Conference, a group of women’s organizations called on Mbeki to act decisively on the gender-specific concerns of women in the epidemic. The letter argued that gender inequality is the key obstacle to AIDS prevention, noting that the number of women’s HIV infection is skyrocketing in countries where women’s sexual and reproductive rights are violated.
Amid a wave of anti-pedophile violence, the British government refused to make public a list of convicted sex offenders but promised to protect children from abuse and molestation in other ways. Two weeks ago, Britain’s top-selling tabloid The Sunday News of the World began running photographs and whereabouts of men convicted of molesting children who have been released from prison. Rioting crowds have demanded that the list be made public, igniting lynch mob attacks and firebombings that have ravaged 11 communities across England and Scotland. Much of the violence has been directed at homes of people wrongly identified as suspected pedophiles.
News of the World recently collected 300,000 petitions that urge the government to establish “Sarah’s Law,” in memory of Sarah Payne, an eight-year-old girl who was abducted and later found dead and naked in July. The law would be similar to “Megan’s Law,” the 1994 U.S. legislation named after Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old girl raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender. Megan’s Law required that all sex offenders register with the police and alerted community organizations to the presence of repeat offenders in the area. The law also prohibited verbal and physical vigilantism.
Pakistan’s military ruler stated that his government will continue to support the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, claiming that he did not want to antagonize the ethnic population living on either side of the border. The global community has condemned Pakistan’s support of the Taliban, which is known for its oppressive policy toward women and girls. Pakistan, which is suspected of offering the Taliban military and economic assistance, is the only country apart from the United Arab Emirates to officially recognize the regime. “The Taliban Administration represents the majority Pashtun population in Afghanistan and it is in our interest to support them,” General Pervez Musharraf stated. The general’s statement, which will undoubtedly alienate the multiple ethnic groups persecuted by the Taliban, marks the first time that a Pakistani leader has defended support for the Taliban on an ethnic basis. Musharraf’s statement clearly reflects that international pressure on Pakistan has had little effect.
Physicians and public health advocates are urging the Kenyan government for immediate legalization of abortion, an issue they say is crucial to ensuring complete reproductive health care services to women. Abortion, which is illegal in Kenya except in cases where the woman’s health is endangered, is one of the top five major causes of maternal mortality in Kenya. The current ban on abortion, according to Dr. Charles Okumu, the director of Nairobi Gynae Center, forces women to seek unsafe and frequently fatal abortions. But it is the poor in Kenya who bear the brunt of damage inflicted by the abortion ban; one female gynecologist who requested anonymity noted that abortions are available to women with money. Abortion on request, she commented, is only illegal for the poor.
Around 900 women students from 115 countries will pursue postgraduate studies at the International Women’s University in Hanover, Germany. The project, depicted as “innovative and unprecedented in form and character,” will end its four-month long pilot phase on October 15th during the world exhibition Expo 2000.
The women’s university stresses an interdisciplinary form of study that focuses on the themes of body, city, information, migration, water, and work. The International Women’s University hopes to establish and fortify a global network for academic women and increase opportunities for research on women’s issues.
The United Nations Chairman of the Security Council Sanctions committee on Sierra Leone announced on August 1st the composition of a panel that will examine the trade of diamonds for arms and other military material. Although the U.N. Security Council enacted a diamonds embargo, the illegal trade persists in diamond-rich Sierra Leone, where brutal rebel forces trade their diamonds for weapons, fuel, and other materials necessary to maintain their nine-year long battle. The United States also recently urged the Liberian government to cease support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, repeating its threat to impose sanctions. Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan met with Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering on August 3rd for the second time in two weeks. Pickering stated, “I told him we were disappointed that we hadn’t seen any significant change” in Liberian policy. It is estimated that Liberia purchases 60 percent of rebel-mined diamonds from RUF in return for arms and other materials.
In a report released to the Security Council on August 1st, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan characterized the situation in Sierra Leone as "dangerous and volatile." The report states that there is “no credible sign” that the Revolutionary United Front rebels will resume the peace process and end its attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, describing RUF’s violence as a matter of “grave concern.” RUF rebels are known for gruesome practices such as chopping off the breasts of women, systematically raping women and children, and capturing children to use them as soldiers.