6/30/2000 - Afghan Intellectuals Threatened in Pakistan
Amnesty International has reported that Pakistan has recently deported former Kabul University Professor
Mohammad Rahim Elham in violation of an agreement between Pakistani government and the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees for joint assessment of Afghan refugee claims prior to deportation. Elham's
whereabouts are currently unknown, and human rights activists are alarmed. He was turned over to the Taliban on
June 21. Other Afghan intellectuals currently living in Pakistan are fearful for their safety. Amnesty International
reports that the Taliban has tortured dozens of intellectuals who have openly advocated ending Afghanistan's
internal "holy war" and establishing a new government that represents and addresses the concerns of all ethnic
6/29/2000 - UN report cites continued violations against the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan
UN report cites continued violations against the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan
This week United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented his most recent report on the situation in
Afghanistan to the U.N. Security Council, citing the ongoing systematic violations of human rights committed by
the Taliban regime. Annan reported, "Despite some limited improvements, women and girls have continued to face
serious abuses of their fundamental rights, including severe restrictions imposed on their participation in public life."
Women and girls in Afghanistan face the severest impact of what Annan describes as a situation in which people
"have little or no possibility for judicial recourse and are largely denied the possibility of shaping decisions that
affect them." According to the report there is no indication of improvement of life under the Taliban, and in fact the
situation may deteriorate as future military offensives, and a new wave of human rights violations, loom.
The raping and enslavement of women and children were rampant during Sierra Leone's eight years of civil war, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch and U.N. groups. Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels seized and repeatedly raped girls as young as 10 years of age, coercing them into sexual slavery and often infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. Although last July's peace accord sparked false hope for an end to the atrocities against women, the rebels' instigation of conflict in May has again endangered the lives of women and children. In Freetown alone, more than 4,500 children - nearly 60 percent girls - were reported missing after RUF's invasion in 1995.
After being imprisoned and tortured in Iran for four years, the women's rights and human rights advocate Mahnaz Samadi was jailed in the U.S. for allegedly leading "coordinated attacks designed to liberate Iran." Ms. Samadi, who has not committed any crimes in the US and was granted political asylum in 1995, has been praised by House members and human rights organizations as a legitimate advocate of democratic reform in Iran. A bipartisan group of 62 House members protesting the Immigration and Naturalization Service's mistreatment of Ms. Samadi stated in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, "Given the Iranian regime's record of crimes against humanity, it is the right of the Iranian people, including Ms. Samadi, to resist their repressive rulers."
July will mark three months of Ms. Samadi's detention by INS authorities. She is now waiting in solitary confinement for a hearing which will inevitably send her to certain death in Iran. According to a Boston Globe report, deportations by the State Department and INS more often target immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
After seventy-one years of struggle for democracy in Mexico to overthrow the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the world's longest ruling political party with a history of corruption and economic irresponsibility, feminists and lesbian and gay rights activists face an even greater threat to their equality in Sunday's upcoming elections: the possibility of the National Action Party (PAN) coming to rule. Feminists worry that election of the PAN government will mean a large range of setbacks for women and gays and lesbians. The deeply conservative PAN, which has strong ties to the Catholic Church, strongly opposes abortion, and feminists fear that the already limited access to abortion in Mexico would be further jeopardized. Currently, abortion in Mexico is legal only in cases of rape or in which the mother's life is at risk. Limits on sex education in school and birth control programs are also likely to occur under PAN's authority. PAN's presidential candidate Vicente Fox, who is openly against abortion, has in the past called homosexuality an "aberration," which leads many gay rights activists to fear a likely escalation of already strong anti-gay sentiment in Mexico. Reports have indicated that persecution of gays and lesbians in Mexico has been so severe that many seek refuge status in other countries.
Women's rights activists in Argentina's capital, as well as health advocates and physicians, are celebrating a momentous advancement in promoting the reproductive rights of women. On June 23rd the Buenos Aires legislature approved a new law that guarantees women and girls free access to contraceptives and information on reproductive health. The groundbreaking law, which sparked protests predominantly from the politically powerful Catholic schools and churches, aims to prevent unwanted pregnancies and botched abortions. An estimated 1,300 abortions, although illegal under Argentina law, are practiced daily in Buenos Aires, and 16 percent of babies in Argentina are born to women between ages 10 and 19. According to a study by the Latin American Centre on Health and Women, 48 percent of women in Latin America do not use any form of contraception, and 37 percent of the pregnancies are unwanted.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
Under pressure from the Pakistani and Iranian governments, some Afghan refugees are returning to Afghanistan despite deadly drought, threat of renewed fighting and landmines, and denial of basic rights such as education for women and girls. According to United Nations data, women and children make up over 80 percent of the refugees repatriated in 1999. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supervises the "voluntary repatriation" program, aimed most recently at returning 200,000 Afghan refugees to Afghanistan. "We are obliged to volunteer for the return," an Afghan refugee in Iran was quoted in Gulf News.
An international network of women's activists from the United States and East Asian countries aim to expose U.S. military's involvement in multiple cases of rape and sexual abuse towards women and children. The pre-summit meeting, which prepared proposals that will be submitted at the upcoming Group of Eight summit in July, drew 40 delegates from South Korea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the U.S., as well as 40 Okinawan activists.
Suzuyo Takazato heads the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, an international organization which was founded after three U.S. servicemen gang-raped an Okinawan schoolgirl in 1995. Takazato stated, "Cases of sexual violence against women (perpetrated by U.S. military personnel) have been brushed aside as being just personal tragedies - which has forced the victims to remain silent." More international pressure is necessary to urge governments to end sexual violence caused by military personnel on or near military bases. The soon to be established International Criminal Court would serve as an indicator of governments' commitment to ending the cycle of violence targeting women and girls during conflict situations.
To fight the increasing rates of rape and sexual attacks against women, the police force in Botswana should establish more effective methods of prevention and deterrence, asserts a recent report by the Botswana police service. The study is the first of its kind to focus on violence against women and girls and cites that the urban capital Gaborone had the highest percentage of non-investigated rape cases: 50 rape cases were reviewed, but not one person was convicted. The report urges the police to develop more effective investigative techniques and communications systems.
6/28/2000 - Police-Protected Sex Trade Thrives In Cambodia
More than half of Cambodia's 20,000 to 55,000 prostitutes are kidnapped and then physically coerced into the sex trade, according to a human rights organization's report released yesterday. According to the Cambodian group Licadho, brothels have become "probably the fastest-growing forum for torture in Cambodia in recent years." The report targets the police and military, which act as the customers, middlemen, and protectors in the violent industry. An overwhelming 38 percent of the prostitutes in Cambodia had been abused, with some reporting that the abusers stifled their resistance through beatings, force-feeding of drugs such as heroin and valium, or electrical shock. States Licadho, "Few other categories of torture victims endure such a complete traumatic experience: physical, sexual and mental abuse, deprivation of freedom."
Today in Islamshah, located outside of Tehran, 3,000 Iranians gathered in a demonstration initiated by women to demand basic amenities including gas, water, and electricity. The protesters, who blocked a main road and burned tires, criticized the city's impoverished living conditions, vowed not to leave until the government heard their complaints. Last week, the conditions of Iranian women's human rights became a revived subject when two women's rights activists were released from jail after attending a Berlin seminar on democracy and subsequently being charged for threatening Iran's security.
6/28/2000 - British Women Frustrated With Sexist Politics
Although Margaret Thatcher served as the first female Prime Minister of Britain, present day MP conservative women believe they are treated unfairly due to their sex. Of the 26 seats held by retiring Labor men, only one thus far has gone to a woman. In response to the sexist political climate, 14 women have organized a mentoring program to train political candidates to become future parliamentary leaders. Blair's senior colleagues warn that he cannot afford to lose women's votes in the upcoming elections. Just 18 percent of British MPs are women, according to Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission.
The Ontario government will spend up to $30 million, up from present $7.6 million, to link shelters for abused women and rape crisis centers with police departments. The plan includes installation of panic alarms, telephone and computer systems allowing victims to find the release status of their attackers and a program to educate victims on court procedures. The plan will also expand the crisis-assistance programs in Ontario, which help pay trained volunteers who offer emergency 24-hours-a-day-assistance. Also, the number of free cellular telephones distributed to protect survivors of violence will increase from 300 to 3,000. The move to initiate the increased expenditures and develop better programs emerges just one week after a 35 year old woman was shot to death by her estranged husband, despite court orders that he stay away from her.
6/27/2000 - Women Make Political Gains In Japan
A record high of 35 women won seats in the lower house of Japan's Parliament on June 25th. Although the trend speaks promisingly for women's advancement, many remain cautious of the Parliament's male-dominated nature and the nation's persistent sexist attitudes. Yasunobu Iwai, a professor of political science at Tokiwa University, remarks, "The attitude persists in Japanese politics that even if women get angry, it's OK because they'll go back to the kitchen." Japan has one of the worst political gender inequities of any industrialized country, with women constituting a mere 7 percent of the 480 lower-house seats. Patriarchal stereotypes that characterize women as the caretaker rather than the politician endure in Japanese society. The Japanese women's movement can take credit for the latest political gains for women and last year's landmark decision that legalized the birth control pill.
The Constitutional Court of Kuwait will decide on July 4th if Article I of the 1962 election law, which denies political rights to women, violates several articles of the constitution that guarantee equal rights to men and women. If the five-judge court finds Article I unconstitutional, Kuwaiti women will finally gain the right to vote and hold office.
Traffickers in Nepal capture thousands of Nepalese girls and sell them to brothels all across Asia. Some survivors, as the Los Angeles Times reports, have returned to volunteer as patrol guards who arrest the traffickers attempting to smuggle the kidnapped girls past India's borders, thanks to a grant from the International Labor Organization. These women have caught 70 traffickers and saved 240 girls from brothels since 1997. Many were kidnapped at a young age and now praise their jobs as empowering opportunities to save other young girls from physically and emotionally debilitating experiences.
6/27/2000 - Women Are Still Acid Targets In Bangladesh
In the twelve months through March 1999, 174 women reported acid attacks in Bangladesh. While some women die, the intent of the acid throwing is to ruin the lives of the women by severely physically deforming them. The maximum penalty for such a crime in Bangladesh is death, although no man to date has ever received this sentence.
6/26/2000 - Summit in Britain Addresses Body Image
Responding to criticism that dangerously thin models in fashion magazines contribute to rising rates of anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, the British fashion magazine industry suggested Wednesday that self-regulation can improve women's physical and emotional health. Editors, advertisers, and affiliates of the fashion industry attending the unprecedented Body Image Summit in London promised to endorse a code that would ban anorexic models from its pages and use models who "varied in size and shape." Last month, the British Medical Association, calling for "more realistic body shapes" in fashion magazines, targeted the media industry for its role in perpetuating low self-confidence among women and girls.
6/26/2000 - Shots Fired at Women Protesters in Cambodia
After nearly one week of protests, up to 3,000 Cambodian garment workers - the majority of whom are women - continue to demand higher wages and improved working conditions in their factories. Security guards, fired several shots into the crowd. One woman was critically injured and hospitalized due to the violent attacks during the demonstrations. Though the threat of violence remains constant, the striking workers have vowed not to return to work until their requests for increased monthly wages -- 40 dollars to 70 dollars - shorter working hours, and improved working conditions are honored.
6/26/2000 - Zimbabwe Women Fear Electoral Extinction
Women constitute over half of the country's population, but only 55 of the 566 candidates contesting 120 political seats are female in this year's elections. Although this is the largest number of female candidates in Zimbabwe's history, the numbers are a far cry from the goals created during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. For instance, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patrotic Front (ZANU-PF) last year voted to establish a 33 percent quota system of equal representation in Parliament, but this agreement is yet to be fulfilled. Thoko Matshe, the head of Zimbabwe's Women's Resource Centre and Network and global co-sponsor of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Expo 2000, argued that the focus on elections as a battle between political parties has stolen the spotlight from a needed dialogue on women's political representation.
Women's rights advocates in Kuwait may potentially experience a historic advancement in gender equality. Objecting to the government's 1962 election law that forbids women's right to vote, Mr. Adnan Al-Isa, filed a lawsuit against his local polling office for its refusal to allow five women to vote. For the second time in history, such a lawsuit has been sent to the Constitutional Court. According to Deutsche Presse-Agenturs, Al-Isa remarked, "It's a victory for women and an indication we are on the right track." A similar lawsuit was also sent to the high court in May, when female activist Rola Dashti launched an unprecedented legal attack on Article I of the election law. Last year, Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, issued a decree urging the Parliament to grant women the right to vote and hold office by the year 2003. But in November's bitter political debate, the measure lost by two votes, 32 to 30. Following these disappointing political defeats, women's rights activists have focused their attention on Kuwait's judicial branch, hoping that the courts will legitimize their cause by declaring Article I of the election law unconstitutional.
Pro and anti abortion forces demonstrated outside of Parliament in Northern Ireland on Tuesday over the possible extension of Great Britain's 1967 Abortion Act to Ireland. Despite the effort of pro-choice lobbying, the majority of the Stormont Assembly voted with anti-abortion forces. The motion passed without a recorded vote. An amendment proposed by Monica McWilliams of the Women's Coalition of South Belfast to discuss the 1967 Abortion Act within the Health Committee also fell. Currently women in Northern Ireland must travel to Great Britain for abortion services. McWilliams called the situation one in which women who pursue abortions are made to "feel like criminals". McWilliams noted, "If this assembly takes the moral high ground, it will do nothing to help those 2,000 women who feel the need to travel to Great Britain every year for an abortion".
6/26/2000 - Rwandan Women Gain Inheritance Rights
Ancilla Abondibana became one of the first Rwandan women to win a case under the new Rwandan law that gives women of Rwanda the right to inherit property. The law is a result of the changing political and social structure of Rwanda due to the country's 1994 genocide, which killed 500,000 people in less than 100 days. The provision states that men and women children inherit property "in equal parts without any discrimination between male and female children" (6/22/00 Christian Science Monitor). The new initiative is a landmark breakthrough for women's rights because most other African countries denies women the right to inherit land.
6/26/2000 - First Zanzibar Women to Run for President
Zanzibar Minister of Finance, Amina Salum Ali, announced her plans to run for the presidency of Zanzibar after the recent encouragement of Union President Benjamin Mkapa called for more women to pursue leadership positions government.
Thirty-eight Afghan passengers from a jet hijacked in February who were denied asylum in Britain by Home Secretary Jack Straw began their appeal yesterday. The hearings involved 32 Afghan men and women and six children.
Shaw refused asylum to the passengers on the grounds that they faced no danger of persecution in their home country. Straw has previously denied any attempt to prejudice the 69 asylum applications received by Parliament.
Barry Stoyle, director of the Refugee Legal Center, which is providing attorney's for many of the refugees, said that Straw's decision would force the asylum-seekers to return "to a country with no constitution, rule of law or independent judiciary and which commits human rights abuses on a massive scale."
To say that Afghans face no persecution in Afghanistan is to ignore the fact that the Taliban militia, which controls 90 percent of Afghanistan, has imposed a strict system of gender apartheid against all women living in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban's edicts, which have been brutally enforced, banish most women from the work force, closed schools to girls and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative.