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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.
9/12/2013 - Women Commit Majority of Suicides in Afghanistan
95 percent of all suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women and girls.
According to officials at the Ministry of Public Health yesterday at World Suicide Prevention Day in Kabul, more than 2,500 Afghan women have already committed suicide in 2013. Experts cited extreme levels of violence against women and forced marriage between young girls and grown men as some major reasons for the disproportionate rate.
Minister of Public Health Suraya Dalil said girls ages 16 to 19 are most likely to commit suicide.
Although officials said suicide rates in Afghanistan increased in the last year, another report showed that cases of self-immolation have fallen by 40 percent since 2012.
At a four-day conference at the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul last week, over 180 female judges affiliated with the Afghan Women Judges Association (AWJA) and other leaders discussed strategies for improving the number of Afghanistan's female judges and ensuring justice to those who come to the courts. Women now make up 10 percent of the total number of Afghan judges, which is an impressive increase from 3 percent five years ago.
Female judges currently face many obstacles to doing their work, including threats to their security and social stigma. A senior United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan judicial officer, Damian Klauss, said recruiting female judges should be a priority, despite the challenges. He said, "It is important that courts are seen to be fair and impartial if they are to be considered legitimate, and a judiciary that accurately reflects the population they serve plays a vital role in that regard. Afghanistan does not lack for talented women lawyers, and the country would benefit immensely by their service in the judiciary."
The AWJA, which was formed in August 2012 and currently has 186 members, has called for at least one seat in the High Council of the Supreme Court to be reserved for a woman, and the association has sent several judges to receive training on gender issues, violence against women, and legal interpretation.
Judge Anisa Rassoli, head of the AWJA, said having more female judges is essential because "if a woman judge is present in a province, a woman complainant can share her problems with full confidence. She may not feel easy to share them with a man judge."
This push to get women more involved in the legal system comes at a time when the country and the global community are also working hard to involve more women in the political system before the presidential and provincial elections taking place next year.
9/10/2013 - Four Men Found Guilty in Delhi Gang Rape
Four men have been found guilty by District Court judge Yogesh Khanna of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi, India last December.
The victim and a friend were trying to taxi home after seeing a movie when the men lured them onto a private bus. They beat both of them and raped the woman as the bus driver drove around for an hour, then threw them out naked onto the road. The victim died two weeks later of severe internal injuries. She was able to provide evidence against the attackers while on her hospital bed.
The attack and death of the student led to huge protests across India about sexual violence and the status of women. It resulted in the introduction of tough new laws to punish sexual offenses, including allowing the death penalty to be used in serious cases of rape. Karuna Nundy, an attorney and advocate for the Supreme Court, said, "I think the legacy of the case, the most positive aspect, is the change in the law. There has been something of a change in the way violence against women is perceived. There is a shift from victim-blaming to a sense of women's bodily integrity and dignity. That's been a significant but not comprehensive shift. It's a beginning."
Another suspect, a man who was a juvenile when he committed the attack, was sentenced in August to three years in a reform facility. Also, the suspect thought to be the bus driver was found hanged in his prison cell in March.
The four convicted men will be sentenced tomorrow. They face either life imprisonment or death by hanging.
Two UK non-profits will testify today that women diagnosed with fetal anomalies are denied abortions and forced to deliver their stillborn babies.
Britain's Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) charity and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will host a conference today, calling for the British health secretary to address this issue. According to The Guardian, 800,000 women will become pregnant in the UK each year. 35,000 will be told their fetus is at risk and fewer than 4,000 will have an abnormality diagnosed in their unborn child.
For many of those 4,000 women, ARC and BPAS said, they were forced to induce labor and denied the option of aborting the fetus.
"Ending a wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of foetal anomaly is extremely distressing for women and their partners," said Jane Fisher, director of ARC. "At such a difficult time our research tells us that it is important that women are given the space and time to decide on the termination method that they can best cope with."
According to The Guardian, pregnancy terminations due to fetal abnormalities are legal under Ground E of The Abortion Act. They account for just 1 percent of all abortions in the UK.
An eight-year-old Yemeni girl died from internal bleeding the night of her arranged wedding to a man who is believed to be around 40.
The child has only been identified as Rawan. She died in the tribal area of Hardh in northwestern Yemen, on the border of Saudi Arabia. She is believed to have suffered tearing to the genitals and severe bleeding.
According to a 2010 report by the Social Affairs Ministry, more than one-quarter of Yemen females marry before the age of 15. In 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni child bride died after spending three days in labor, according to The Daily Mail. The minimum age for marriage used to be 15, but Yemen annulled that law in the 1990s, arguing that parents should be allowed to decide when their children marry.
Activists in the region are calling for the end of child marriage and the arrest of both Rawan's husband and her family.
9/9/2013 - Taliban Murder Female Indian Writer
Last Wednesday, a prominent female Indian writer was murdered by the Taliban outside of her home in the Paktika province after criticizing the terrorist group.
Sushmita Banerjee, 49, wrote a popular memoir in 1995 about her life as the wife of an Afghan man in Kabul while the Taliban ruled. The book was later adapted into an Indian movie. Banerjee also wrote about the Taliban for Outlook India magazine.
According to Afghan police, Taliban militants tied up Banerjee's family members last Wednesday, and then shot her outside. She was first targeted by the Taliban in 1998, when she was educating women in Afghanistan about social and health issues.
"They [the Taliban] ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals," Banerjee said, according to Time Magazine.
Enhancing women's political participation is at the forefront of preparation for Afghanistan's next set of presidential and provincial elections. The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) has partnered with the Asia Foundation to launch a new project that will support voter turnout among women in the April 2014 election as well as female elected officials and candidates running for office.
With 4.5 million pounds of funding from the United Kingdom, the project, entitled "Increasing Women's Political Participation and Dialogue Opportunities in Afghanistan," will run through December 2015. The Asia Foundation announced that the project will not only boost the ability of women to vote, but would also "provide capacity-building assistance to female members of parliament, female provincial councilors and potential female candidates to run in 2014-2015 elections" and "support women candidates to deliver campaign messages, facilitate networking and mentoring events with public figures and civil society organizations." In announcing the program, UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander emphasized, "Women are key to building a democratic and safe country. They are the future of Afghanistan."
The IEC has been working to advance Afghan women's participation in the electoral process through the establishment of a Gender Unit in 2009, targeted public education directed at women voters, the use of female polling staff and observers, and the development of appropriate security measures. Challenges to female candidacy and voter turnout remain, including inaccessibility of polling booths for women in remote areas as well as concerns for the safety of female candidates and voters. Despite these challenges, however, over four million Afghan citizens voted in the 2010 parliamentary election. About 39 percent of these voters were women, and women made up 15 percent of parliamentary candidates. Currently, women hold 28 percent of seats in the National Parliament.
In early August, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) published a five-year research project looking into the cost, quality, health benefits and stigma reduction of integrating HIV programs and sexual and reproductive health service programs in Kenya, Malawi, and Swaziland. Named The Integra Initiative, the study, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and carried out in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Population Council, provides "evidence to support the integration of HIV counseling and testing into mainstream family planning and maternal health services."
Researchers found that integration can improve service delivery and increase the number of people receiving HIV counselling and testing. For clients, integrated services save them time and money, allow them to develop trusting relationships with their providers, and give them the opportunity to meet other clients living with HIV. IPPF's Director General, Tewodros Melesse, said, "We know that there is a clear and obvious link between sexual and reproductive health and HIV so providing [sexual, reproductive,] and HIV services in the same place and at the same time makes good sense." While the results are promising, more investment in research is needed.
These results are in line with a key goal of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to expand service integration--although the program is not currently meeting this goal. In Ms. Magazine's Summer 2013 issue, Jeanne Clark writes in "Unholy Alliance" about how PEPFAR-funded abstinence-only programs and conservative religious organizations affect prevention efforts.
Clark writes, "Even though current PEPFAR guidance has shifted to support comprehensive reproductive and sexual-health programs, the abstinence programs still have a lingering effect, leading some providers to de-emphasize condom education and other comprehensive prevention strategies. On Dec. 1, 2009, PEPFAR released its five-year strategy, which indicated that a key goal is to expand integration of HIV prevention, care, support and treatment services with family planning and other reproductive-health services. Yet the Fiscal Year 2013 Country Operational Plan Guidance states in no uncertain terms that 'PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family-planning commodities.' That means that women cannot get contraceptives at the same site where they receive HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, treatment and care."
Researchers in the US have discovered a potential new way to detect ovarian cancer. Currently, tumors are difficult to detect in the early stages of ovarian cancer, and there is no effective mass screening program.
The study, which was published on August 26 in the journal Cancer, followed 4,051 post-menopausal women for an 11-year period. Scientists have long known that levels of the protein CA125 are higher in the blood of women with ovarian cancer, so the women's CA125 levels were tracked through yearly blood tests. The participants were sorted into low-, medium-, or high-risk of cancer groups based on their protein levels, and women who had high levels were referred to a gynecologist for an ultrasound. Several women were then treated for early stage cancer.The findings suggest this screening method may be effective at early detection of cancer.
Early detection is vital because currently the survival rate is 90 percent if it is caught early, but only 30 percent if it is caught in the later stages. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as bloating and abdominal or pelvic pain, are often dismissed, so women may ignore them until they are already in the late stages.
"Early detection of ovarian cancer will be the key to transforming survival rates. However, this study is very small, and there is no guarantee that the results will be replicated on a larger scale," Annwen Jones, the chief executive at Target Ovarian Cancer, said in a statement.
Trials of 50,000 women are ongoing in the UK and expected to be completed by 2015. If the UK trials confirm the findings from the present study, tracking CA125 levels could become routine practice.
8/23/2013 - American Photojournalist Gang-raped in India
A 22-year-old American photojournalist was gang-raped in an isolated Mumbai neighborhood Thursday night, Indian police said.
The woman, an intern at an American magazine that has not yet been named, was on-assignment with a male colleague when the attack occurred. Five men tied the colleague's hands with a belt and beat him. They then took the woman to another part of the lot and raped her.
Police said she was in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. She underwent a minor surgical procedure Thursday night.
One man has been arrested and confessed to the crime, police said. He also gave the names of the other four attackers.
The attack is reminiscent of a similar gang rape that occurred in December in New Delhi. In that case, a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped in a New Delhi bus and later died. This most recent assault sparked a silent protest of about 1,000 people Friday night.
In response to the attack in December, the Indian government passed a strict law that increases prison length for rape and makes acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.
An Indonesian education official has proposed that all high school-aged girls be required to pass a "virginity exam," in order to attend school.
Muhammad Rasyid, who leads the education office in South Sumatra's district of Prabumulih, says the mandate would discourage young girls from premarital sex and promiscuity. Although he said the tests could begin as early as 2014, the proposal has come heavily under fire from public education NGOs and other Indonesian officials.
The test would involve an invasive vaginal exam to determine if the girl's hymen has been torn. Critics of the plan have noted that hymens can be torn from activities other than sex - including sports or health problems - and that education is a fundamental human right regardless of sexual activeness.
A coalition of educational organizations issued a press release on Wednesday, saying "The purpose of such a test is absurd. The 1945 Constitution as well as the 1999 Human Rights Law stipulate that education is one of every citizen's constitutional rights. Therefore, the right of access to education cannot be denied under any circumstance. The planned test also violates the 2013 National Education Law, which stipulates that education shall be maintained with justice and without discrimination."
Nurul Arifin, a female politician from the Golkar Party, called the proposal "discrimination and harassment against women." Another province attempted to implement a similar plan in 2010, but it was abandoned following a public outcry.
Women in Sweden have started to wear hijabs in public in response to an attack against a pregnant Muslim woman.
Over the weekend, a Muslim woman wearing the hijab had her scarf ripped off and her head slammed into a car. Her attacker shouted racist slurs, prompting the authorities to consider the case a hate crime. She was hospitalized with a concussion, and her case prompted other women to come forward about attacks they themselves have suffered based on their beliefs.
In solidarity, other Swedish women have started to wear the hijab in public and posting photos to Twitter with the hashtag #hijabuppropet (#hijaboutcry). The campaign has been joined by politicians Asa Romson and Veronica Palm and TV host Gina Dirawi. Dirawi, who even changed her profile picture is support, tweeted: "Risk of being beaten and discriminated against for how they choose to dress, everyday life for many women in Sweden 2013."
Men have also joined the campaign, wearing headscarves and tweeting their support. One male supporter tweeted: "Yes wear veils today to show solidarity for all women, are put up with harassment and attacks!"
In an opinion piece published in Aftonbladet by #hijauppropet organizers, that demanded that Justice Minister Beatrice Ask and Swedish lawmakers "ensure that Swedish Muslim women are guaranteed the right to personal safety and religious freedom, without being subject to verbal and physical attacks."
"In addition, we demand that responsible politicians actively draw attention to and fight the structural discrimination that affects Muslim women," they wrote. "We believe that's reason enough in a country where the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims is on the rise - and where women tie their headscarves extra tight so that it won't get ripped off - for the prime minister and other politicians to take action to stop the march of fascism."
Minister Ask has agreed to meet with the campaign members on Tuesday, and told reporters the situation "must be taken very seriously."
No arrests have yet been made in the case.
A law legalizing same-sex marriage in New Zealand takes effect today.
The country's Births, Deaths, and Marriages department reported that 31 same-sex couples planned to wed the first day the law went into effect. They also reported that over 1,000 marriage applications were downloaded in a week since they became available for same sex couples, about three times the average download rate. New Zealand is the 14th country worldwide to legalize same-sex marriage and is the first in the Asia-Pacific.
Paul McCarthy, an Australian resident who married his partner Trent Kandler , told Reuters "Being able to marry here as an equal citizen, even though we're not citizens of this country, means we're being viewed as equal - and that's all we really want."
Reverend Matt Tittle, who performed the ceremony for another same sex couple who took advantage of the new law, told reporters, "The world is still a dangerous and even deadly place for gay, bisexual and transgender people. We thank God that's not true in New Zealand. All love is holy."
The law was passed by Parliament in April by a vote of 77 to 40, despite opposition from religious groups.
8/16/2013 - Afghan's Youth Celebrated in Bamyan
Afghanistan celebrated International Youth Day on Thursday with a large, free outdoor concert in Bamyan. Over 7,000 people of all ages came together to listen to over a dozen acts by Afghan musicians from around the globe and speeches from provincial leaders. The event was organized by UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan, and last about four hours.
Bamyan's Deputy Governor, Asif Mubaligh, focused on education in his speech to the crowd. "Focus more on education to garner medals and other accomplishments," he said. Habiba Sarabi, provincial Governor, spoke about the importance of youth engagement, emphasizing that "young people today belong to the largest generation of youtrh the world has known." In Afghanistan, two-thirds of the estimated population of 27 million are young people.
"I call on the government, the private sector, civil society, and academia," said UNAMA's head for western Afghanistan, Andrew McGregor, "to keep the doors wide open for young people." He expressed hopes that young people would grow to be democratic leaders and productive Afghan citizens.
The UN General Assembly declared August 12 International "Youth Day in 1999. It was first observed in 2002.
8/15/2013 - Women in Papua New Guinea Face Severe Violence
A new report reveals that women in Papua New Guinea (PNG) face severe gender-based violence, affecting two thirds of families.
The study, by Australian organization ChildFund, was based on interviews [PDF] with 37 women and 14 men in four different villages. In the interviews, women reported being attacked with knives, axes, and whips. One woman was beaten by her husband using the body of their unconscious one-year old child.
Another woman, Helen, had her lower lip bitten off in a random attack by a stranger near her home in the capital city. She told interviewers [PDF] "Sometimes when I sleep, I dream he will come to me and I am really scared about it. I think he is coming back again."
None of the women interviewed told ChildFund that their husband had not beaten them.
Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund, told reporters "It is appalling the level of inaction, taken against these instances of violence, and despite recent statements by the Prime Minister, which are very welcome, there's a huge amount to be done for government to improve its effort, to take this issue seriously."
According to AFP, life expectancy for women in Papua New Guinea is 65 years, and the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reports that 70% of PNG women will be raped or experience violence in their lifetime. The country is ranked 134 out of 148 countries in the UNDP Gender Inequality Index.
Afghan member of Parliament, Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, and her three children were kidnapped on Saturday while they were traveling in Ghanzi by members of the Taliban. Kakar's two daughters and son have been released after an operation lead by NATO forces and Afghan intelligence. Kakar remains in custody.
The kidnappers have demanded the release of four Taliban prisoners in exchange for Kakar's freedom. According to a spokesperson for the Parliament, it is the first time a member of Parliament has been kidnapped in 10 years.
This abduction is the most recent in a long string of attacks on high profile women leaders in the region. Last week, a female senator and her family were attacked by Taliban gunmen, who killed the senator's eight year old daughter and left the senator wounded. In March, a female teacher in Pakistan was murdered on her way to teach at a girls school. And in December 2012, the head of Women's Affairs in Laghman province was killed just months after assuming the role after her predecessor was murdered in July of the same year.
8/13/2013 - Afghan Activist and Former MP Seeks Asylum
Noor Zia Atmar, one of the first female members of parliament in Afghanistan and an outspoken leader for women's rights in the country, has requested asylum after fleeing from her abusive husband.
Atmar was in office from 2005 to 2010 and championed reforms to benefit Afghan women and girls. However, after fleeing from an abusive husband and being disowned by her family, Atmar has lived in a shelter for the past two years. Now she has requested asylum, citing that she is no longer welcome in her home country.
"Women are in a worse condition now. Every day they are being killed, having their ears, noses cut. It is not just women in villages - it is also people like me," Atmar told the Sunday Telegraph. She elaborated to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "I was the victim of abuse. I had a very bitter life while I was with that man. He was getting drunk and hitting me every day. That was his routine. It reached the point where he threw a knife and other sharp objects at me. [That's why] I'm currently in a women's shelter."
Atmar also fears what will happen to women like her if shelters are closed. Recently, the Parliament failed to pass the End Violence Against Women act (EVAW) when the decision was tabled. If EVAW had come to a vote and been rejected, it could have forced women's shelters across the country to close their doors. "I'm worried that if these shelters close, my sisters [Afghan women] and I who have suffered from domestic violence won't have anywhere to go. This is our worry," she told reporters. "If a woman has had her arm or leg broken or has had her nose or ears cut off, should we throw them on the street? In the current situation in Afghanistan the shelters are the only places of refuge for women."
The British embassy has refused to grant Atmar asylum, citing that they do not give asylum for domestic violence alone.
After being shut down in mid July, a local radio station devoted to women is back on the air in the Afghan province of Sar-e Pol.
The radio network, "Voice of Women," owner alleged that it was shut down after they refused to pay the police $400 a month in bribes. Though the police refute the claims, owner Shafiqullah Azizi took the case to the governor of the province. The radio station came back on the air earlier this month.
The shutdown and subsequent relaunch of the radio station highlight the precarious situation of women's rights in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has pledged that women's rights are non-negotiable in the peace negotiations with the Taliban. However, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has voiced concerns that without international support women's rights could be rolled back in Taliban sympathetic areas or even by the government in order to reach a peace deal.
Tensions continue between Russia and the United States in light of an anti-gay law that could jeopardize athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
American Olympic athletes have pledged that they will still attend the Olympics despite calls for a boycott from activists. Nick Symmonds, a 800-meter runner and supporter of gay rights, posted on his blog that if he races against a Russian athlete, "I will shake his hand, thank him for his country's generous hospitality, and then, after kicking his (butt) in the race, silently dedicate the win to my gay and lesbian friends back home." Johnny Weir, Olympic figure skater and openly gay, has said he is prepared to be arrested at the Olympics. "In Russia, just the sheer fact that you could be gay, you can get arrested, fined, and it's a terrible thing to even think of," he said. "Myself, even, just walking down the street, going to get Starbucks in the morning, and somebody could arrest me just because I look too gay." But he resolved that despite the threat he will go "Because [this is] what I'm trained to do and [this is] what I've devoted my life to."
While the Olympics are putting the country in the spotlight, Russia's anti-gay laws are an example of a trend that is spreading in Eastern Europe. Earlier this year, Poland's former president Lech Walesa told reporters that LGBT members of Parliament should have to sit in back "and even behind a wall." On the Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnel, Stuart Milk, LGBT activist and nephew of Harvey Milk, told Lawrence "This is what we're seeing not just in Russia, but throughout eastern Europe. You know, I just got back from the Baltic states, from the backyard of Moscow, and we've seen these law come up for a vote. And even in the European Union. At the heart, these laws reflect some of the societal attitudes that we have been working on."
Afghan Senator Rouh Gul Khairzad and her family were ambushed by Taliban on Wednesday in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan. Khairzad's daughter as well as her driver were killed, and Khairzad and her husband were seriously injured and taken to Muqur District Clinic for treatment. There is no word about the senator's condition in the hospital. Senator Khairzad with her husband and family attempted to go to their home province Nimroz from capital city Kabul for Muslin holiday Eid. The ambush took place between Nimroz and Kabul on the main highway in Ghazni province. Ghazni is one of the provinces where the Taliban has a strong present.
Zabiullah Mujahid, Taliban's spokesman could not confirm or deny the responsibility of this attack and "saying it was hard to obtain information from the area." On Tuesday, Mullah Mohammad Omar, a Taliban leader, publicized a massage related to Eid and said that he wants a better relationship with the world and would support "modern" education and will respect ethnic and religious communities in Afghanistan.
Nicholas Haysom, the UN Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and acting head of the UN Assistance Mission of Afghanistan, said in a statement "We condemn this attack in itself - but what makes it worse is that it took place on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, a time of peace and goodwill."
According to Associated Press, Khairzad was elected in upper house in 2010, and she is also the head of the defense and internal security commission.
7/30/2013 - Women's Rights At Stake in Afghan Peace Talks
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has voiced concerns that the rights of women in Afghanistan may be compromised in the interest of peace negotiations.
The Afghan government has pledged that women's rights are non-negotiable in the peace negotiations with the Taliban. However, the committee is concerned that without international support women's rights could be rolled back in Taliban sympathetic areas or even by the government in order to reach a peace deal.
At a news briefing, the chair of the committee, Nicole Ameline, told reporters We have had official assurances ... I would like to consider a government's word as credible. But she suggesting that women's rights may be compromised. We are worried about Afghanistan because we're at a decisive moment. If we don't manage to preserve the rights of women after having devoted so much energy, resources and support in all forms in this country, it will mark a failure by the international community, she said.
The committee cited high prevalence of domestic violence, forced marriages, and an increased number of Taliban attacks on girls' schools. Ameline explained, Afghanistan displays a concentration of forms of violence which for the most part are linked to patriarchal and ancestral systems, and which are exacerbated when they occur in zones which are not necessarily under direct state control.
7/29/2013 - Bananas Thrown at First Black Italian Minister
At a political rally on Friday, an unknown person threw bananas at Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first black minister. This act comes after a fellow politician, Roberto Calderoli, commented earlier this month that the new minister reminded him of an orangutan. Although Calderoli did apologize after negative public reactions to his comment, he remains in office.
Before the rally police found mannequins covered in red paint with signs that said "Immigration kills." The right-wing extremist party Forza Nuova has admitted involvement with the mannequins, but no suspect has been identified for the bananas.
Kyenge has been the target of much racial hostility since her appointment in April. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but naturalized as an Italian citizen, the new minister for integration aims to reform laws to grant citizenship to all persons born on Italian soil, regardless of their parents' immigration status. Her opposition comes from right-wing extremists who find fault with her race and political agenda.
Kyenge has spoken out against the racist attacks , declaring the banana incident "sad" and a "waste of food." She has called for change in national opinions about race and immigration, declaring that "the courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions."
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) published a report Monday saying that 30 million girls are at risk for female genital mutilation (FGM), despite a global decline in the practice. The report (PDF here) covers data from over 20 years in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East where the practice is still prevalent.
The report cites cultural acceptance as a reason for the practice's persistence in some areas. Some countries have shown a promising decline in FGM, yet in others, like Somalia, Guinea, Djbouti, and Egypt, 9 out of 10 girls are subjected to the practice. In places where FGM is in decline, both men and women oppose its practice. About 125 million women in the world have already undergone the procedure.
FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, including by the United Nations. According to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta, "FGM/C [sic] is a violation of a girl's rights to health, well-being and self-determination. What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned."
7/19/2013 - USAID Announces Plan for Afghan Women
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new $200 million program Thursday for Afghan women. The five-year plan, called Promote, is expected to increase economic, social, and political participation of women between the ages of 18 and 30 through education, job training, microfinance and credit for female entrepreneurs, and training for policymaking.
Under the Taliban rule, women faced serious restrictions that regulated their dress, conduct, education, economic participation, health, and activities. While there have been some improvements in women's rights since the fall of the Taliban rule in 2001, many are concerned that the withdrawal of US troops next year will result in a regression of those advances as well as halt further improvements. According to a Human Rights Watch report, "half of all girls are still not in school and female literacy remains extremely low. Child marriage and forced marriage are common, with 39 percent of girls married before age 18."
It is estimated that international donors will contribute another $200 million to the program, bringing total funding for the program to $400 million. Head of USAID in Afghanistan, Rajiv Shah, stated that"It is a unique effort to ensure that women are a major part of Afghanistan's social, economic and political fabric over the next decade, because if they're not Afghanistan is not likely to be successful."