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Afghan journalist Najiba Ayubi will be honored with a 2013 Courage in Journalism award at a second awards ceremony hosted today by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in Los Angeles.
Najiba Ayubi is the managing director of The Killid Group in Afghanistan, a public media group made of eight local radio stations and two weekly, national magazines. She also co-founded the Afghan Independent Media Consortium and the Freedom of Expression Initiative to promote free expression in journalism.
During Najiba Ayubi's 25 years as a journalist, she has faced threats from every direction, including from members of Afghanistan's parliament, the country's secret service, warlords, and anonymous aggressors, but she courageously continues reporting on politics, women's rights, and other sensitive issues. "Every time I confront a threat in journalism, I feel some sort of satisfaction in my heart, and I recognize I am doing something very important that I am being threatened for," Ayubi said.
Despite the challenges facing journalists in Afghanistan, Ayubi has said that media has grown in the country. "When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, all journalists, raised their voices and created a new Afghanistan media," she said, "and with the support of the international community Afghanistan media has become as extensive as it is today."
IWMF will also honor Nour Kelze, a photojournalist for Reuters in Syria, and Bopha Phorn, an investigative reporter for The Cambodia Daily, with Courage in Journalism awards. Edna Machirori, the first black female editor of a newspaper in Zimbabwe - considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists - will also be honored with the IWMF annual lifetime achievement award.
You can watch the livestream of the award ceremony here.
10/28/2013 - Saudi Women Campaign Against Driving Ban
Over 60 women claimed to have driven in Saudi Arabia this weekend in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive. Some 35 women filmed and uploaded videos of themselves driving on Youtube. Although there is no official traffic law that bans women from driving, women are not allowed to get licenses, and the government issued a decree just last week making it illegal for women to drive.
Because of the ban, women must rely on male relatives or drivers to get around. This unjustifiably limits women's mobility and constrains them economically, especially because there is no mass transit system in Saudi Arabia. Women need to drive to get to schools and jobs, making this an economic issue as well as a human rights one.
The freedom to drive is an important part of the right to mobility, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive. This prohibition directly conflicts with the commitments the Kingdom has made to protect the human rights of Saudi women, including those in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
This is the 3rd of this kind of campaign since 1989, and it has been the most successful effort so far. Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she drove on Saturday. "I'm very proud," she said. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign."
The campaign went ahead despite some obstacles. Several prominent women leaders received phone calls last week from the Interior Ministry warning them not to drive Saturday. One woman, Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Yousser, also had two "suspicious cars" following her for the whole day. Roadblocks were set up in Riyadh and police checked cars to make sure that women were not driving.
Some news outlets report that there were no arrests, but a few women have come forward to say they were stopped and held briefly. In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany said she had been taken into detention and was later forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again. Saudi news website sabq.org reports that six women had been stopped for driving in Riyadh.
In Washington, DC, several feminist leaders, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, gathered at the Saudi Embassy to show their support for the women driving.
The World Economic Forum recently released its 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks the US 23rd in women's equality. The Global Gender Gap Index is a framework for depicting gender-based disparities around the world and tracking progress on gender parity by using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria. Each country's ranking is determined by measuring internal gender-based gaps in the ability to access resources and services.
Eighty-six out of 133 countries improved their global gender gap between 2012 and 2013, with women's political participation experiencing the most progress. But according to the report [PDF], although the US is doing well in women's education, the country is still struggling to make major progress in closing the gender gap in politics and economics. The US ranks 60th--below India, China, and Uganda--in terms of political empowerment, which takes into account indicators like the ratio of women to men in congress and ministerial positions. Currently, women only make up 18 percent of Congress, having risen only 1 percent since last year. US women also still struggle with a significant wage gap, making an average of 77 cents to every dollar that men make. African-American women make an average of 64 cents to a man's dollar, and Latina women make 55 cents.
One factor negatively affecting women's economic equality in the US is the lack of mandatory paid maternity leave and other supportive family services. The US is one of only three countries that has no mandated paid maternity leave. In contrast, Pakistan has 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and Canada has 50 weeks. In the US, federal law requires businesses to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but many women can't afford to take time off unpaid.
10/25/2013 - Head of US Global AIDS Program to Step Down
United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby is expected to step down from his position by the end of the year. As the head of the US Global AIDS program, Ambassador Goosby leads the implementation of PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - which funds HIV/AIDS programs around the world.
PEPFAR has supported HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people. Under Goosby's leadership, PEPFAR has created partnerships to support countries' efforts to implement HIV prevention programs and care services and has focused efforts on reaching particularly vulnerable populations.
While PEPFAR has had unprecedented success in fighting HIV/AIDS globally, the problem remains staggering - particularly for women. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
Prevention efforts, however, have been marred by politics and the misguided influence of conservative religious ideologies on science. As reported by Jeanne Clark in the Summer 2013 issue of Ms., despite official guidance supporting comprehensive sex education, PEPFAR continues to be held hostage to abstinence programs, which are not proven to be effective in preventing HIV transmission. Research also shows that integrating HIV counseling and testing into family planning and maternal health services can improve service delivery. Yet, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, and providers receiving PEPFAR money can refuse to offer family planning services. Persistent condom shortages in the global south have also made women more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill have urged that the next leader of PEPFAR must ensure that women's rights are at the center of the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS. They also call on President Obama to appoint a woman in the post. "The majority of people living with AIDS in countries receiving U.S. assistance are women," they write. "Women are critical in the fight against HIV, and must have a place at the decision-making table."
An independent United Nations human rights expert called on the U.S. this month to stop the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.
Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, referenced the Angola Three in his remarks condemning the practice. The Angola Three refers to three inmates sent to solitary confinement in Louisiana's Angola Prison after the killing of a prison guard. Robert King spent 29 years in solitary before he was exonerated and released. Herman Wallace spent more than four decades in solitary before he was granted a new trial and released at age 71. Wallace died shortly thereafter from liver cancer. Albert Woodfox, who maintains his innocence, is still incarcerated.
"The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola Three clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the US penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law," said Mendez.
Mendez has asked to visit U.S. prisons in California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania, but has not been able to schedule the visits, which must be cleared by the U.S. State Department as well as the state governors. Solitary Watch estimates that across the US there are around 80,000 prisoners being held in some form of solitary confinement on any given day. California in particular currently holds around 11,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades (Watch a video here). Prisoners are held for around 22 hours per day in tiny cells with no sunlight. If their stay is prolonged, they may experience many adverse psychological effects, including high rates of self-mutilation and suicide [PDF].
Mendez this week briefed the UN General Assembly's Third Committee--it's main social, humanitarian, and cultural body--that solitary confinement should never be indefinite or prolonged for any person. He also emphasized that under no circumstances should minors, people with mental disability, or pregnant or breastfeeding women be kept in solitary confinement.
In addition to the U.S., Mendez plans to visit several countries to investigate their prison systems, including Mexico, Thailand, and Georgia, among others.
Online marketplace Etsy is currently under fire from activists for allowing a shop, called "FyourT," to sell T-shirts that make light of and encourage rape. One shirt read, "Autumn is perfect for date rape," and another read, "I'm a sensitive guy. I only rape pregnant women."
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) created a petition on Change.org to remove the shirts yesterday afternoon. It has over 5,000 signatures today and continues to gather more.
"What we're really trying to do is striving to change the way Americans think about sexual violence," said Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN. "We've been using social media to encourage our supporters to take a stand against these t-shirts and against sexual violence."
Etsy has removed the shirts, but the shop remains open with other offensive and sexist items.
Facebook is similarly facing criticism for allowing users to post graphic images and videos of violence against women. A video of a woman being beheaded by a man in a mask has recently made the rounds on the social media site. While some people shared it to criticize the violence, others did so to glorify it.
Facebook decided to pull the video only after receiving complaints that they need to do more to protect children and teenage users. It wrote in a press release about some changes it will make to protect users from this kind of content: "When we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence."
However, BBC reports that at the time of their investigation into the matter, there were still other beheading videos on the site without any warnings to viewers. In addition, some people still question why Facebook's policies allow for graphic violence to be shown, but ban images of a woman's "fully exposed breast."
10/22/2013 - First Gay Pride March Held in Montenegro's Capital
About 150 people participated in the first gay pride march held in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, on Sunday.
Violence threatened to mar activities as 1500 anti-gay protesters rioted, throwing rocks and firebombs at police officers who were attempting to keep the peace. Two thousand police officers were on duty for the march. Officers responded to the protesters with teargas and other means. About 60 officers and rioters were injured. No marchers were reported to have suffered any injuries.
Despite the show of opposition, march organizer Danijel Kalezic, head of Queer Montenegro, saw the gay pride march as a positive step. "We were up against enormous challenges but we did it," Kalezic told Al Jazeera. "From this day we are no longer invisible. This was the first Pride and every year there will be more and more of us."
The march was the second gay pride event to be held in the country. A previous march, held in the coastal town of Budva in July, was interrupted by violence and protesters yelling "kill the gays." Anti-gay extremists also threatened a march organizer, posting fake death notices with the organizer's name and photograph on public buildings. Violence forced organizers to shorten the route, but several marchers were injured.
10/18/2013 - Nearly 30 Million in Slavery Worldwide
The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based organization, released its first Global Slavery Index Report Wednesday estimating 29.8 million people live in various forms of modern slavery worldwide.
Ten countries account for 76 percent of the total number of slaves. India has the most slaves in total - some 14 million people - nearly half of the world's slavery population. China and Pakistan have the second and third largest enslaved populations. Mauritania has the highest number of slaves per capita. Slaves in Mauritania are treated as property inherited by previous generations, "masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants," according to the report [PDF].
Although the greatest numbers of slaves are found in Asia and Africa, modern slavery - defined as forced labor, human trafficking, and treatment of individuals as property to be bought, sold, or destroyed - exists on every continent. The United States, for example, has an estimated 57,000-63,000 enslaved people.
"It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent," said Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation. "This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world."
The Walk Free Foundation intends to update the Index every year. The report also looks at government response to slavery. The analysis includes an examination of the criminal justice response, victim services and support, government accountability, budget allocation, and the strength of targeted responses in vulnerable populations, like migrant workers or workers in the informal economy.
A woman was forced to give birth on the lawn of a medical clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, after the clinic refused to administer her care.
Irma Lopez, of indigenous Mazatec ethnicity, walked an hour from her home to deliver her third child at the Rural Health Center in the village of San Felipe Jalapa de Diaz. Even though Lopez was reportedly fully dilated, a nurse refused to provide care, saying she was "still not ready" to deliver and that she should go outside. The health center's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, continued to refuse care while Lopez and her husband tried for two hours to get help. Irma eventually was forced to give birth to her third son, alone and without the aid of pain medication, on the lawn of the clinic.
A witness took a photo of Lopez squatting on the lawn in pain, her baby still attached at the umbilical cord. "The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care," said Mayra Morales, Oaxaca's representative for the national Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. "They are not being offered quality health services, not even humane treatment."
Although health officials say Irma and her son are in good health, Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest, most rural states where many women die of hemorrhaging or preeclampsia. According to the World Health Organization, hemorrhage and other complications of delivery are leading causes of death in Mexico, and women in rural areas and indigenous women are at greater risk. Mexican states with the highest indigenous population have the largest rate of maternal death by a wide margin.
The Oaxacan government suspended the health center's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, and officials are conducting state and federal investigations.
Today marks the International Day of the Girl - a day to highlight, discuss, celebrate and advance girls' lives and opportunities across the globe. For the first time ever, girls will convene at the United Nations for a Speak Out, organized in partnership with the Working Group on Girls, that will give participants the opportunity to share with governments and UN agencies how girls are creating change in their communities and discuss how the international community can support girls' efforts.
The Speak Out comes at the end of 11 Days of Action organized to draw attention to girls' particular need and concerns. As part of this campaign, Girls Learn International, a project of the Feminist Majority Foundation, initiated a photo challenge to celebrate and highlight the importance of the International Day of the Girl (IDG).
The United Nations declared October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child in 2011 to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to improve girls lives. The goals of IDG, explained in The Girl Declaration, include improving the education, health, safety, economic security, and citizenship of child and adolescent girls. The theme for this year is "Innovating for Girls' Education."
You can watch the day's events live
Registration wrapped up on October 6 for both the Afghanistan presidential and provincial council elections. Twenty-seven candidates have registered for the presidential race, and 2,327 candidates registered to run for the provincial council, including 240 women. Every one of the country's 34 provinces has one or more women candidates running in that election.
Of the presidential candidates, one is a woman, Khadija Ghaznawi. Each presidential candidate is running with two vice presidents, at least seven of whom are women. Most of the presidential candidates discussed peace talks and good governance as the focus of their platforms, but policy priorities will become clearer when campaigning officially begins on February 2.
Included in the slate of contenders is Abdullah Abdullah, former Afghanistan Foreign Minister from 2001 until 2005, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former Finance Minister from 2002 until 2004. Qayum Karzai, the brother of current president Hamid Karzai, is also running. President Karzai, who has run the country since the 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban, is not entitled to run for a third term.
Also registered to run for president is Gul Agha Sherzai, a former warlord and provincial governor, who, NPR reports, is accused of drug trafficking and pedophilia. Adbul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf, credited with bringing Al-Qaeda to Afghanistan, has also registered. Sayyaf has long been suspected of human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch reported in 2003 that Sayyaf was known for his sometimes violent political intimidation tactics. The report noted that many Afghan women in the southeast, where Sayyaf is based, believe that Sayyaf opposes women's rights and supports further restrictions on Afghan women.
The Afghanistan Independent Electoral Commission will vet the candidates before final approval in November.
The April 5 election is the first independent election organized by Afghanistan. Jan Kubis, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, announced last week that the UN has pledged financial and technical support, including security and international observers.
Dr. Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), has been named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in South and Central Asia for 2013 by Central and South Asia Business.
As chairperson of the AIHRC, Dr. Samar oversees the progress of human rights education programs across Afghanistan, the implementation of a nationwide women's rights education program, and the monitoring and investigation of human rights abuses. She is also the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on human rights for Sudan.
Previously, Dr. Samar was the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan. She has long been a strong supporter of Afghan women's rights, working shoulder to shoulder with Afghan women leaders to bring positive change to the lives of Afghan women and girls. In 1989, Dr. Samar founded The Shuhada Organization, providing healthcare services and education to Afghan women and girls. The Shuhada Organization continues to operate in Afghanistan and has expanded its reach.
Dr. Samar is well-respected in the international community and has been nominated and awarded numerous honors throughout her influential career, including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and winning Feminist Majority's Award for Global Women's Rights in 2007.
Other Top 10 awardees include philanthropists, government leaders, and activists like Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old educational activist who survived an attack by the Taliban.
On September 28, advocates mobilized in over 50 countries for the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. A flash mob in Indonesia, a pro-choice picnic in New Zealand, and a silent march in Kenya are examples of the variety of events organized by sexual and reproductive rights organizations and women's advocacy groups around the world. They demanded an end to discrimination of women and girls, an end to stigma around abortion, and they called on governments to "uphold, protect, and fulfill women's right to safe and legal abortion."
According to the September 28 Campaign, statistics show that 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortion, accounting for 13% of maternal deaths worldwide.The majority of deaths, 98% according to the Guttmacher Institute, occur in developing countries where modern family planning methods are the least accessible.
"What is needed is the political will on the part of the governments to ensure the right of women to decide on all aspects of their reproductive health, including the right to choose whether to continue or end pregnancy," said Kathy Mulville, Executive Director of Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), according to the campaign's press release.
The September 28 mobilization also demanded the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the United Nation's post-2015 goals. However, activists believe SRHR should go beyond maternal healthcare and reproductive health to cover a wider range of issues, such as access to contraceptives, sexual orientation and gender identity, and abortion rights, among others.
9/27/2013 - Afghanistan Holds First Social Media Summit
Afghanistan held its first social media summit this week in Kabul, the first in a three-part project. The summit - entitled "Paiwand," meaning "connection" in Dari - was organized by local digital media agency Impassion Afghanistan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Themed "Social Media for Social Good," the summit brought together over 200 activists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and government officials from across the country to discuss social activism, entrepreneurship, governance, transparency, and the upcoming April elections. Participants explored ways to expand the use of social media in the country, particularly in relation to civic engagement.
About 2.4 million Afghans, around 10 percent of the population, have access to the internet, and around 1.7 million use social media, primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google-Plus. There are some 700,000 Facebook users alone, and 10 percent of them are women. The growth in internet access since the collapse of the Taliban is striking, but many Afghans still live in rural areas with no reliable electricity supply, and internet resources are not always available in local languages.
Despite obstacles, youth are finding ways to use social media forums to express themselves and start online campaigns for social change. A video about sexual harassment in Kabul went viral this summer. Luisa Walmsley, a Kabul-based independent information and communications technology sector and business development consultant who was a panelist at Paiwand said, "young educated Afghans see the Internet as a really powerful way to solve those problems poverty, illiteracy, lack of quality education, and more, and social media as a tool for discussing the solutions."
Following the summit, workshops in the country's provinces will be held to teach people how to use social media tools in the hopes of growing the online community.
9/25/2013 - UN Report Shows Reductions in Global AIDS
A United Nations report released Monday shows reductions in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, as well as significant progress towards reaching the 2015 UN Millenium Development Goal on HIV.
The report by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS finds that new HIV infections among adults and children were estimated at 2.3 million in 2012, a 33% reduction since 2001. Among only children, there was a 52% drop in new HIV infections. Part of this reduction can be attributed to programs, such as one in Ethiopia, that work to prevent transmission of the virus from HIV-positive mothers to their children, and train nurses and midwives on emergency obstetric and newborn care.
AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 30% since the peak in 2005, as the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy has significantly increased. In 2005, only 1.3 million people in low- and middle- income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy, while an estimated 9.7 million people were accessing treatment in 2012. Free treatment has helped with this increase in access, as shown in Zambia.
As little as 54% of all people eligible for HIV treatment worldwide actually receive it. Prevention efforts are also often stymied by persistent condom stockouts, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69% of all people affected by HIV live. This problem is especially acute for women and girls. Women make up 58% of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region, and young women ages 15-24 are as much as eight times more likely than men to be HIV positive. More than 90% of pregnant women living with HIV reside in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Gender inequality, punitive laws and discriminatory actions are continuing to hamper national responses to HIV," according to UNAIDS, "and concerted efforts are needed to address these persistent obstacles."
9/24/2013 - Pakistan Frees Taliban Military Commander
Pakistan freed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former Taliban military commander and second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The release came on Saturday and was welcomed by the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) as a move to reinvigorate stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban militia before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.
Afghan women leaders have criticized the prospect of Taliban peace negotiations and the release of Taliban detainees. Female MP Shukria Barakzai expressed concern to the BBC that the Afghan government wanted to make a peace deal "whatever the price," even if it meant sacrificing the women of Afghanistan. Pakistan has already released 33 Taliban prisoners this year. Senator Lailuma Ahmadi cautioned, "The released prisoners will join the Taliban again."
Her fears are not unfounded. Just this month, Tolo news reported that Mullah Ghulam Mohammad--released this August by the Afghan government from Bagram Prison--had rejoined the Taliban and was responsible for the killing of 13 Afghan local police in the Badghis province. Several experts have warned that the release of Taliban prisoners could lead to further insecurity and violence and pressed that the government should have proper mechanisms in place to ensure that former prisoners do not return to the battlefield.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Pakistan released Mullah Baradar but would not comment on his location. HPC deputy head Attaullah Ludin noted, however, that Baradar had not been handed over to the Afghan government.
Catholics for Choice launched its "See Change" campaign last week calling for a review of the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations.
The Holy See--the government of the Roman Catholic church--currently holds Non-Member State Permanent Observer status at the UN which gives it an influential role in the intergovernmental body, including access to UN proceedings, that no other religion enjoys. According to Catholics for Choice, the Holy See has used its position to prevent progress for sexual and reproductive health, women's rights, and other areas. "It's high time that the Vatican is required to act as other religions do at the UN, said Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien. "Religious voices are important, but should not be granted extra deference simply because they are religious."
In its campaign, Catholics for Choice notes that since 1964, the Holy See has used direct access to the General Assembly and international conferences to attempt to impose an ultraconservative agenda on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike." The organization has demanded that the Holy See be treated as a participating nongovernmental organization at the UN--like every other religious group.
The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity, Vatican City, qualifies it as a state. However, to be considered a state, it must have a defined territory, a government, the ability to have relations with other States and a permanent population. Vatican City does not meet all of these requirements, but it still holds influence today largely because of custom.
A short video details the history of the Vatican's status and influence, as well as the goals of the "See Change" Campaign.
9/24/2013 - 50 People Injured in Bangladesh Protests
At least 50 people were injured Sunday in Dhaka, Bangladesh after police tried to break up massive garment worker protests with tear gas and rubber bullets, and workers responded by throwing bricks at the officers.
Up to 50,000 garment workers have been protesting for several days to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $100. The current minimum wage is around $38 per month, which is only 14 percent of a living wage for the country. A protesting woman said, "We work to survive but we can't even cover our basic needs." A new law was expected to make it easier for garment workers, 80 percent of whom are women, to form unions to demand higher wages and better working environments, but management has responded to recently registered unions with violence, bribes, and threats.
Bangladesh has seen significant labor unrest after a series of deadly factory incidents, including the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed 1,132 workers. While there are 2,000 factories in Dhaka like Rana Plaza, there are only 40 building inspectors, and 3 in 5 industrial structures are reportedly vulnerable to collapse.
The country is the cheapest place to make clothing because of lax safety rules and low wages. Several retailers that purchase clothing made in Bangladesh have entered into a pact to improve factory fire and safety rules, but some major ones have not, including Walmart and GAP.
Over the past 10 years, the Republic of Congo has reduced the number of women dying in childbirth by 50 percent and, if progress continues at this rate, may reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015. Experts cite improvements to maternal healthcare and efforts to enhance family planning programs as contributing factors to this sharp decrease in maternal death.
The majority of women in Congo live in urban areas and give birth in health care facilities, but these facilities were often inadequate. According to Dr. Leon Herve Iloki, director of the National Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality, birthing facilities have improved tremendously. "Forceps? You didn't have them. You didn't have other instruments for helping in delivery. Even beds were not always there."
The government, with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also began offering women free Caesarean sections in 2011. The procedure used to cost $500 or more, an insurmountable obstacle to many poor women whose choices were to come up with the money or "die there, on the table," according to Rose-Marie Moundele, a woman whose sister-in-law recently delivered a child by Caesarean. UNFPA has also supported the government's initiative to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a preventable medical condition caused by prolonged labor. Women can now receive free care for this condition. Obstetric fistula is a major contributor to maternal death among poor women.
Experts also credit family planning for the decline of maternal mortality. UNFPA has supported the Congo Health Ministry's attempts to create better family planning programs."Promoting family planning is among the cheapest investments to reduce maternal mortality," said UNFPA Representative David Lawson at the launch of the initiative in November 2011. A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health showed that 45 percent of Congolese women use contraceptives.
Progress, however, has been uneven. For women living in rural areas and for indigenous women, there is little access to quality health centers. Although midwives attend births in rural facilities, improvements to infrastructure are needed. Health officials in the country hope to see further developments in other areas of maternal health as well, including cheaper pre-natal checkups and strengthening of family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.
Five men have been arrested in connection with the shooting death of a senior female police officer in Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Negar died on Monday after being shot by gunmen near police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand. Negar was the highest-ranking female officer in the province. Her predecessor, Islam Bibi, also a woman, was murdered in July.
Women comprise less than one percent of Afghanistan's police force, with about 1,600 women serving and about 200 more in training. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty before her death, Negar discussed the importance of having women police officers. She said, "Women are needed, and they shouldn't be scared [to join]. We should take pride in the fact that our people are happy with the work we do and they thank God that we women police exist."
Fifty-three percent of Afghans approve of having female police in their communities, according to a recent UNDP police perception survey. In the same survey, seven in ten Afghans reported that they would be more likely to report a crime to a female police officer, and nearly six in ten said they would be more likely to trust a female officer to resolve a crime fairly. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior has pledged to increase the number of women police to 5,000 by 2015.
UN Women, the United Nations agency committed to gender equality and women's empowerment, condemned the recent intimidation and targeted killings of Afghan women government officials. Several prominent women have been intimidated, abducted, and killed - including Afghanistan's most senior female police officer, Lieutenant Negar, who died on Monday after being shot by an unidentified gunman in Helmand.
"Recent cases of targeted killings point to the urgent need to guarantee women's and girls' rights as the Government of Afghanistan prepares for a full takeover from international forces and moved towards provincial and parliamentary elections," said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. "The empowerment of women and realization of their rights are fundamental to the reconstruction of Afghanistan so that women and men can take responsibility for the future development of their country."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay ending a visit to Kabul yesterday also expressed concern over pervasive violence against women in Afghanistan and called on the Afghan government to ensure enforcement and implementation of the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women law (EVAW). The law criminalizes several acts of violence against women, including rape, forced self-immolation, physical abuse, child marriage, and human trafficking. A United Nations report, however, revealed only a small number of prosecutions.
Pillay also used her trip to Afghanistan to continue to call on President Hamid Karzai to reconsider his recent appointments to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). "I urge an extra effort by the President and his Government to ensure that the human rights gains of the past 12 years are not sacrificed to political expediency during the last few months before the election," said Pillay. Karzai appointed five new commissioners to the AIHRC in June, including Mullah Abdul Rahman Hotak, a former Taliban leader opposed to women's rights. Pillay emphasized, "The rights of women in particular must not be sacrificed, they must be particularly protected."
Pillay further commented on the role of women in the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan, stating that "any peace process must be inclusive and just in order to be durable and lead to a stable Afghanistan and that means ensuring the full and active participation of women in all aspects of any peace process."
9/17/2013 - New USAID Projects Aim to Empower Afghan Women
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently announced several programs aimed at empowering women and girls in Afghanistan.
The three-year women's empowerment project launched last week aims to strengthen the Ministry of Women's Affairs' (MoWA) capacity to support women. The Ministry of Women's Affairs Organizational Restructuring and Empowerment Project (MORE), which will be implemented in partnership with The Asia Foundation, will support the delivery of key components of MoWA's National Priority Program: institutional reform and organizational capacity building, public awareness and education, outreach, and news-media relations. Institutional reform will be achieved through employee trainings on policy leadership and advocacy, human resource management, financial management, and other areas, as well as a scholarship program for MoWA employees. Outreach will be supported through door-to-door campaigns, workshops, and seminars, and there will be a special grant to fund outreach in the provinces. The project will also strengthen ties between MoWA and other Afghan ministries to encourage other ministries to incorporate gender into their own policy development.
Another USAID program, aimed at increasing literacy of Afghan women and girls, will provide 840 women with literacy classes and establish 40 community libraries. The two-year project, called Afghanistan Reads, aims to improve the educational status of women and girls by strengthening reading comprehension and increasing access to reading materials. Currently, out of about 146,000 students in medical, technical, and vocational higher education institutes, 17 percent are female. USAID partnered with the Linda Norgrove Foundation and Canadian Women for Women Afghanistan to fund the program.
In a press release, USAID said, "The United States applauds the progress Afghan women and girls have made over the past 10 years. We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women."
USAID also announced that it will contribute $55 million to assist the Independent Election Commission with budget needs for Afghanistan's April 2014 elections, and that it will continue to support the Ministry of Public Health.
9/16/2013 - Top Female Afghan Police Officer Murdered
Afghan Lieutenant Negar, the most senior female police officer in Afghanistan, died early Monday morning, one day after being shot by unidentified gunmen.
Negar, who only goes by one name like many Afghans, was shot in the neck outside her home in the province of Helmand on Sunday. She is the third top policewoman to be murdered in recent months. Her predecessor, Islam Bibi, was killed in July. Female police officers are under threat from both the Taliban and drug traders.
"They have given us warning that one of us will be killed every three months and we will be killed one by one," Afghan policewoman Malala said to The Associated Press.
According to BBC News, women make up just under 1 percent of Afghanistan's police force, with about 1,600 females serving and about 200 more in training.
Pakistan announced last week that it would free captured Taliban commander Mullah Adbul Ghani Baradar later this month. Baradar is one of the founders of the Taliban and was second in command when he was captured in Karachi through a joint operation between Pakistani and American intelligence forces in February 2010. At the time of his capture, the New York Times reported that Baradar
directed the Taliban's military operations and headed the group's leadership council.
Afghan and Pakistani officials intend for the release of Baradar to advance peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that the country welcomed the decision to release Baradar, stating "his release will certainly help the Afghan peace process." Pakistan has already released 33 Afghan Taliban prisoners this year. At least some of those released are believed to have rejoined the militia group.
Formal peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan and U.S. governments were set to begin last June in Qatar. Talks stalled, however, after the Taliban opened an office in Doha proclaiming itself to be an official government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Together with Women for Afghan Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation has consistently warned about the dangers of negotiating with the Taliban and has urged that the international community continue to pursue other peace channels through funding for economic development, security, and women's rights. "The Taliban can't be trusted," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women. "They are killing civilians on a daily basis. You can't negotiate peace on the one hand and kill civilians with the other." Naderi also cautioned against backsliding on women's rights, essential to the development of Afghanistan and the reconciliation process. "The Taliban will say that they will accept the Afghan Constitution and will respect girls' right to go to school and women's right to work, but when the US leaves, they can do what they want. Negotiations with the Taliban are not good for women."
The four men found guilty Tuesday of the fatal gang-rape of a 23 year-old student in New Delhi, India have been sentenced to death by hanging. AP reports that they will be hanged.
Vinay Sharma, Ashkay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Sing were convicted of murder, rape, and kidnapping; last December, they tortured and raped a young woman who had been heading home from the movies. The men raped her one-by-one for nearly an hour before violating her with a metal rod, and afterward left her on the side of the road. The victim died two weeks later of critical damage to her organs,sparking massive ongoing protests in the region and around the world. (The men were joined as well by a minor who was sentenced previously this year and the bus driver, who committed suicide in jail in March prior to sentencing.)
Protesters outside of the court erupted in cheering when the men were handed their sentence, and the victim's family felt the decision was fair. "We are very happy," the victim's father told reporters. "Justice has been delivered." Calls for the men to be executed had come from high-profile politicians and many other Indians throughout the ongoing trial.
According to Indian government statistics, a woman is raped every 22 minutes in the region. Karuna Nundy, a lawyer for India's Supreme Court, says the high-profile rape case has caused a surge in reports. Last year, 433 women had reported rapes between January and August; this year the number rose to 1,036. "It's all very new," she said. "It's a beginning." It is likely survivors feel more empowered to report in light of the outpouring of support this victim's case received, and how public the pursuit for justice on her behalf has been. Protesters sought out the death penalty, as did the prosecutors in the case, in order to send a message about sexual violence in India.
"In these times when crimes against women are on the rise," Judge Yogesh Khanna said when announcing the sentence, "the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act." He added that the crime was one of the "rarest of the rare category" deserving capital punishment, which is not a common sentence in Indian courts.
The sentence must be confirmed by India's High Court and can be appealed to the court, and their lawyer has confirmed that they will appeal within the month.