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International relief agencies have been working in an renewed climate of danger to their well-being since last week's Taliban edict ordering all aid agencies and the United Nations to dismiss all Afghan women staff. The Taliban now says this edict as motivated by consensus that Afghan women international aid workers could serve as spies.
Taliban officials took into custody Mary MacMakin after the release of the edict but has been deported from Afghanistan because of Taliban charges of spying and the spread of anti-Taliban propaganda. MacMakin dismisses the Taliban charges saying instead that she is a "threat for the Taliban because my work is with women.'' MacMakin who heads the Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan, has worked since 1997 to help Afghan women find home-based income generating projects. MacMakin states that "they (the Taliban) don't want women to work outside of the home, don't want them to be educated or give them a hint of freedom or be creative."
Since the Taliban control of the Afghan capitol Kabul in 1996, the extremist regime has enforced laws that refute women and girls access to education, employment outside of the home and quality medical care. The Taliban's attacks on the human rights of women and girls have contributed to Afghanistan's ranking of having the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. A report released by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights indicates that every day in Afghanistan an average of 45 women die of pregnancy related causes resulting in 16,000 maternal deaths annually.
If Britain's Labor Party succeeds in passing new laws that mandate quotas, every political party will be legally required to select women and black members of Parliament (MPs) in parliamentary seats. In the upcoming elections, only one woman has been selected to run in the 29 available seats. Advocates of the new laws argue that the quota system is a necessary first step to erasing pervasive discrimination against women and minorities. Women's political representation in Britain ranks nearly at the bottom of developed countries. A dismal 18 percent of MPs are women compared with 43 percent in Sweden, 36 percent in Finland, and 31 percent in Germany.
The United Nations' commemoration of World Population Day on July 11th emphasized the crucial link between reproductive rights and women's empowerment. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan remarked, "Too many women still cannot choose when or whether to become pregnant. Too many women resort to abortions that are not safe." Every minute a woman dies because of pregnancy or childbirth complications, according to a report recently released by the United Nations Population Fund. The report stated that sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and lack of access to contraceptives and reproductive health education contribute to women's poverty, transmission of AIDS and STDs, unemployment, and death.
An Egyptian oil ministry official flung his wife from a third-floor window after she refused to give him a larger helping of chicken than his sons. Doctors are treating the woman for a fractured spine in the hospital, while the police has arrested the husband.
With the arrest of relief worker Mary MacMakin on July 11 and her deportation ordered by the Taliban on July 12, non-governmential aid organizations in Afghanistan are working in a tense atmosphere. A survey of the 40 international aid organizations in Kabul conducted yesterday revealed that their Afghan women employees had not gone to work, fearing Taliban retaliation. U.N. officials are still deciphering whether a far-reaching "crackdown" on women's employment has been ordered, or whether a single Taliban minister is behind the move, the Associated Press reported late yesterday. International humanitarian groups received a letter of warning last week, and American relief worker Mary MacMakin was arrested yesterday and held in a juvenile detention center, apparently as a part of a crackdown, and was ordered today to leave Afghanistan within 24 hours.
U.N. officials confirmed, in a late-breaking story by the AP, that MacMakin and the seven Afghan women arrested with her were released today and ordered to leave Afghanistan. The women say they were treated well. MacMakin's Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support of Afghan Women (PARSA) teaches practical farming and crafts skills to Afghan widows.
Since the Taliban forcefully took power in Afghanistan, women and girls have been living under a reign of terror. Barred from working outside the home, women are forced to wear the all-covering burqa, and are living under virtual house arrest. Employing Afghan women is essential not only to the economic survival of the 28,000 widows in Afghanistan (where women are not allowed to leave the home without a close male relative), but to the thousands of children served by international humanitarian aid organizations.
The United States and other nations and institutions should pay a "significant level of reparations" for their failure to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994, reported an independent international panel. The seven-member group targeted the U.S., France, Belgium, and the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches for their apathy and inaction during the massacres that claimed the lives of up to 800,000 people. Thousands of women were raped and killed in this brutal period, but nations and institutions largely ignored these atrocities. Though President Clinton and Belgium's government have apologized to Africa for the absence of international aid, neither France nor the Roman Catholic Church have accepted blame for their complicity in the genocide.
The Okinawa Women Against Military Violence says that more than 4,700 crimes have been committed by U.S. troops in Okinawa, Japan since 1972, many of which have been offenses against women and girls. On July 3rd a drunk U.S. soldier entered the home of a 14-year-old girl and is facing charges of molestation. Since the incident, the United States military has imposed a limit on alcoholic beverage consumption and a 5 a.m. curfew for soldiers after a hit and run accident that involved an intoxicated U.S. military officer.
Unless information and communications technologies (ICTs) are equally shared between women and men, the economic and social gap between sexes will worsen, warns Noeleen Heyzer, the head of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In Guyana, for instance, a group of rural women generated new wealth when they used their website to sell 17 hand-woven hammocks, 1000 dollars each. But male leaders took control of their ICTs, leaving women to comment, "We women do most of the work, and the men get rewarded." Though ICTs can potentially eradicate poverty and increase global connectivity, they can also exacerbate gender inequality. "If the global community and national level policy makers are not pro-active about ensuring that the benefits of ICTs are equally available to and shaped by women and men, we will fail to reap the full potential of these powerful tools," Heyzer said.
7/12/2000 - Mexican PAN Has Anti-Women's Rights Record
The recently elected right-wing National Action Party (PAN), led by president-elect Vicente Fox, has a disturbing history of hostility towards women's human rights. In the PAN-controlled state Chihuahua, PAN legislators repealed clauses that allowed abortion in circumstances where the women were raped or where their lives were in danger. Elsewhere, in Ciudad Juarez, a city within Chihuahua, more than 100 young women have been raped and killed in the past six years that PAN has been in power - with little legislative or judicial action being taken. Local NGOs charge that Fox's "indifference" towards women and his strong ties with the Catholic Church will threaten the family planning programs and birth control used by over 11 million Mexican women.
Women's groups in Bangladesh are criticizing the government's move to renew a constitutional law that gives women only a tenth of the seats in the 330-member national parliament. The 30 seats reserved for women are not elected by the public; rather, they are nominated and installed by the other 300 directly elected lawmakers. Women's groups are urging the government to follow through on its promise to increase its gender quota and to allow direct election of women lawmakers. With such a policy, female MPs would no longer be seen as "ornaments," as one MP says, but instead representatives who are treated as meaningful participants of the political process.
7/11/2000 - CEDAW Committee Deplores Honor Killings
Gender inequity persists in forms such as "honor killings," trafficking and sexual exploitation, and legal restrictions on property rights, reported members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the only UN human rights body that exclusively addresses women's rights. The committee spotlighted the gruesome nature of "honor killings," which occur when men kill a female relative suspected of actions perceived as shameful and damaging to family honor. Women have been killed for speaking to a man, being raped, and being suspected of adultery or pre-marital sexual intercourse. In over 90 percent of the cases families of the women had ordered or performed the killing themselves. This killing is often glorified as a necessary duty, and in countries where legal punishments exist, the perpetrators face lenient sentences for the murders.
The 23 experts convened for three weeks at the United Nations headquarters to review studies on women's status in seven countries and offer recommendations for eradicating gender inequality. CEDAW committee monitors global compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which has been ratified by 165 countries, excluding the United States.
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7/11/2000 - Date Rape Underreported in Australia
Women in Australia are reluctant to report date rape, according to a study released July 5th by the Australian Institute of Criminology. Only 30 percent of women who had been sexually assaulted reported the crimes to the police. The Institute attributed the disturbing results of the study to persisting values that portray date rape as acceptable or inconsequential. The study also linked drug use with date rape, citing the widespread tactic of spiking drinks with alcohol and illegal drugs, therefore deceiving women into having sex. Date rape has only recently been acknowledged as a crime in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 1996, an overwhelming 89 percent of rape survivors knew the perpetrator; 55 percent were raped by current or previous partners, boyfriends or dates.
Public health advocates and women's rights activists are celebrating the July 7th opening of the first teen sexual health education center located in the capital of China. In a country where sex remains a taboo topic and the number of reported AIDS cases is increasing, the center's creation represents an unprecedented move towards promoting safer sex and sex education. The center, partly funded by the US-based Ford Foundation, will distribute a quarterly newsletter and establish a counseling hotline and website. "China is at the doorstep of an AIDS and STD (sexually transmitted disease) epidemic. The number of new cases is increasing and the situation is becoming very alarming. I hope many such centers will follow all over China," stated Doctor Janos Annus, the World Health Organization's representative in China.
Women in Africa and developing nations are being left behind in the technological revolution, threatening to exacerbate gender inequities and further push women and girls into impoverishment. Women remain economically marginalized due to the global feminization of poverty. For instance, in the sub-Saharan economies, women perform up to 80 percent of the agricultural work, but earn only 20 percent or less of the revenue. At the United Nations Beijing +5 Conference in New York, delegates criticized the obstacles that women faced in gaining access to the Internet and other technology. "In developing countries for instance, almost all computers and telephones are owned by men. Women therefore have very little access to the Internet," said Sarah Murison of the UN Development Programme on Gender.
Afghan refugees living in Pakistan face severe consequences if they outwardly criticize the Taliban regime, which has instituted a brutal system of gender apartheid. Human Rights organizations fear that last months shooting of an Afghan writer living in Pakistan is not an isolated incident and that extremist groups, with a presence inside Pakistan, are preparing to target a long list of Afghan's known to oppose the Taliban. Furthermore, Pakistan's recent deportation, in violation of agreed standards with the UNHCR, of Taliban critic Mohammad Enam Wak, sends a dangerous signal on Pakistani policy towards Afghan refugees. Afrasiab Kattak, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was quoted, "It appears the whole world has turned their back on the Afghans. These refugees are living in a vacuum and are terribly vulnerable."
The sex-trafficking trade, which deceives and coerces women and children into sexual slavery, continues to flourish as a highly profitable enterprise for the criminals who capture and sell their victims. The United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recently decried the increase of sex-trafficking in Austria, Lithuania, Moldova and Romania. The Interior Ministry of Macedonia has begun to address this epidemic in European countries by strengthening the customs services at its borders and collaborating with neighboring countries to fight the organized sex-trafficking business.
Profits have surged in the mail-bride industry. A $17 billion a year business where up to 150,000 women are sold annually. New Family, an organization that focuses on women's rights within the family, recently called for an investigation of Israeli companies that provide mail-order brides from Ukraine. "The police and the Interior Ministry have an obligation to investigate what is happening, and if it becomes clear that the women are being abused and imprisoned, it must be stopped," said New Family Chairwoman Irit Rosenblum, a global co-sponsor of Feminist Expo 2000.
7/6/2000 - Clinton Signs U.N. Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Conservative Senate Leaders Continue to Block Ratification
On July 5th President Clinton signed two United Nations (U.N.) documents that protect the role of children in armed conflict, sex trafficking and slavery. One document includes the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which raises the international legal age of children serving as soldiers from 15 to 18 years of age. The harmful use of child soldiers has been the focus of the U.N. and many women's and human rights organizations ranging from Africa to Afghanistan. According to an U.N. Wire story last December, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan denounced the strict Taliban regime use of child warriors younger than 14, citing that it has "sparked a firestorm." Over the past six years the Pentagon has been a major opponent of the Protocol age restriction on recruitment in lieu of a U.S. policy to recruit under the age of 17 with parental consent. The Pentagon dropped its objections after the presentation of facts showing that a very small proportion of the U.S. military would be affected.
The second signed agreement, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, criminalizes all forms of sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. An important step for the Clinton Administration, and one which some women's rights advocates hope will be extended to adults in broader language, thus protecting the rights of all trafficking victims in a pending U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.
In 1990, the United States signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but in ten years has failed to gain the consent of the Senate for ratification. According to U.S. Constitution, an international agreement/treaty of any kind can become an official binding agreement with the consent of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 2/3 vote of the Senate. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked the ratification of other important human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the U.S. signed in 1979.
The international war crimes trial of a Bosnian Serb accused of raping four Muslim women marks the first international prosecution for wartime sexual enslavement. On July 3rd, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal rejected the defense's motion to dismiss 11 torture counts against two defendants. The prosecution, supported by the courageous testimonies of 16 Muslim women, charged that rape was a military tactic designed to "ethnically cleanse" the region, and intimidate and traumatize women and girls. Witnesses described how dozens of women and girls - one as young as the age of 12 - were captured, beaten and raped nightly. The International War Crimes Tribunal of Yugoslavia mandates a maximum life sentence for crimes of rape and enslavement.
According to a Washington Post report, global organizations and national governments ignored the warnings of an imminent AIDS plague in Africa. Despite the World Health Organization's warnings that tens of millions would be infected with the HIV virus by 2000, the Washington Post charges that the US Congress, global organizations, and foreign capitals resisted funding resources that could have prevented the health crisis in Africa. "If this would have happened in the Balkans, or in Eastern Europe, or in Mexico, with white people, the reaction would have been different," remarked Peter Piot, executive director for the UN Program on HIV/AIDS.
Women in Africa suffer the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. For example, hundreds of women during the pre-election violence in Zimbabwe were raped and infected with the disease, which will undoubtedly worsen the exploding pandemic. Patriarchal values place taboos on the usage of contraceptives, and women who defy the norms are frequently shunned. The infection rate in the sub-Saharan region is 20 percent higher among women than men. The AIDS epidemic has also orphaned more than 13 million children.
On July 4th, the Constitutional Court of Kuwait refused to grant Kuwaiti women the right to vote and hold political office based on claims of procedural flaws. After the all-male Parliament rejected a suffrage bill last year, women's rights activists turned to the courts in hopes that the 1962 election law, which bars women from voting and holding office, would be declared unconstitutional. Women will have another chance to gain the right to vote in September, when the court will review the arguments of a Kuwaiti man who sued his local polling office for prohibiting women from voting.
Although Vicente Fox Quesada's presidential victory on July 2nd has been seen as an advancement for democracy, he has failed to clearly outline a position promoting women's rights in his policy priorities. Fox, whose campaign was heavily funded by the Catholic Church, has vocally opposed abortion and gay and lesbian rights. Fox's conservative stance on these issues will further threaten women's reproductive rights and prevent the chances of legislation passing to grant women in Mexico rights over their bodies including full access to abortion. Abortion continues to be illegal in Mexico, and lesbians and gays are still popular targets of hate crimes and persecution.
In a severe setback to women's reproductive rights, France's highest administrative court overruled a decision that had permitted the distribution of "morning-after pills" at schools. In November of last year, Deputy Education Minister Segolene Royal allowed high schools to hand out the Norvelo pill. The Norvelo pill can be used 36 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. France had become the first country that authorized the dispensing of the pill and drew vehement criticism from the Catholic Church.
7/5/2000 - Gay Scout Troops Are Acceptable In Canada
On June 30th, 800,000 people marched in Toronto's annual gay and lesbian parade, many of whom were there to show their support for the world's first official gay and lesbian Scout troop. The cheers and encouragement drew sharp contrast to the US Supreme Court decision last Wednesday, which gave Boy Scouts of America the right to exclude gay members. The Court made the decision on the basis that an organization has the right to decide association, and that homosexuality was not in sync with the organization's commitment to have "morally straight" members. Andy McLaughlin, spokesperson for Scouts Canada said, "Sexual orientation has no bearing on the ability of a person to participate in or deliver our programs."
Britain's Home Office Working Party released a report condemning the practice of forced marriage. Each year over 1,000 young British Asian women, often deceived by their families to return to Asia, are coerced into frequently abusive marriages. The working party's report rejects reaction to this practice as a "cultural issue" rather than a clear, unflinching violation of human rights: domestic violence and child abduction are crimes. The Working Party's report comes on the heels of a recent British High Court decision, which ruled that parents who take their daughters abroad to trap them into marriage are guilty of child abduction.
Women globally struggle to achieve their political aspirations due to obstacles such as poor economic status and patriarchal stereotypes. Tanzania, for example, has only a dismal 16 percent representation of women in parliament, a slight 6 percent increase since it gained its independence from Britain 39 years ago. According to a study by the Tanzanian Inter-Party Committee, unequal incomes for women and high campaign costs have dismayed and alienated most women who seek political office.
This trend in Africa is similar to trends in Europe and Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country where the average monthly salary is $21, registration for candidacy costs $650 - more than 30 times the average person's salary. Only five of 36 women candidates gained political seats last February's elections. At the Beijing Conference in 1995, governments resolved to establish quotas that would balance power for men and women at the highest levels of decision-making. Tanzania's failure to attain its goal of 30 percent female representation is no exception; the study identifies a long list of countries, ranging from Uganda to Argentina to the United Kingdom, as also failing to live up to their goals.