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Dr. Nasrin Oryakhil, president of the Afghan Family Health Association, was among 10 women honored this week by the US State Department with an International Women of Courage award.
Dr. Nasrin, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, operated an underground women's health clinic in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, providing urgently needed maternal health services, including emergency obstetric care. "Sometimes in the evening, Taliban members would barge into her clinic and beat her, demanding her to stop working and start praying," relayed Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, presenting the award. "But she continued working, praying only that God would bring change to her country. One night, after the Taliban assaulted her, Dr. Nasrin went on to perform 17 surgeries."
Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Nasrin, directs the Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul and founded the first clinic for obstetric fistula repair in Afghanistan there. Dr. Nasrin is a member of the Afghan Women's Network and also leads the Afghan Family Health Association, which provides a variety of services to women and girls, including reproductive health programs, a youth hotline, and shelters for women.
Accepting the award, Dr. Nasrin expressed that "the hope of women around the world one day will be materialized when they find themselves in an environment that truly recognizes and appreciates the real essence of being a woman and a mother."
Since 2007, the US State Department has honored 70 women from 49 countries with the International Women of Courage award in recognition of their work advocating for women's rights, human rights, and peace.
Ten Saudi women are petitioning the Saudi Arabia consultative Shura Council to demand an end to absolute male authority over women.
Activist Aziza Yousef told AFP news agency over the weekend that the activists are demanding "measures to protect women's rights," as well as the right for women to drive, ahead of International Women's Day on March 8. They argue that the restrictions women face in Saudi Arabia, which imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic law, are not based in religious teachings.
Saudi women received the right to vote in 2011, but they are prohibited from driving and from working, travelling, and even performing certain medical procedures without a male guardian. In October, over 60 women drove in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive, the lack of which limits their mobility and economic opportunities.
The Shura Council, appointed by the King, advises the monarch but cannot legislate on its own.
Fawzia Koofi, a female member of the Afghan parliament, published an open letter this week to American women, urging them to continue standing shoulder-to-shoulder with women in Afghanistan.
Koofi's letter, entitled "A Letter to My American Sisters," dispels the media myth that women's lives have not improved since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In the last 12 years, women have made significant gains in Afghanistan. Afghan women have established a strong and thriving feminist movement. They outpace American women in elected office, are visible in the media, and hold jobs in medicine, law, the police force, the military, and more.
"If the world could only see through our eyes," Koofi writes, "they might get a glimpse of the fact that Afghan women have come a long way over the last decade."
This is not to say that the journey for Afghan women is over. "While no one can question the gains made by the Afghan people, especially the women, our achievements remain extremely fragile," Koofi continues. "This is partly due to the country's uncertain political future and doubts about the international community's long-term commitment, especially that of the United States."
Koofi ended her letter by calling on the United States and the international community not to abandon the women of Afghanistan and to "help us a little more in fighting extremism, consolidating our gains, moving toward ending violence against women, and achieving something that all women around the world want: equality for both genders and for all."
This is an important time of transition for the Afghan people and their supporters. It is imperative that the U.S. and the international community ensure that Afghan civil society organizations, including women-led groups, remain strong. In particular, we must continue to support women's advancement and equality in Afghanistan.
TAKE ACTION: Pledge with us to support Afghan women and Afghan women's organizations. Let them know that we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the fight for women's and girls' equality. And urge President Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would help to protect Afghan women's rights.
Libya's cabinet introduced a decree last week that will recognize women raped during the 2011 uprising as war victims and provide them with compensation. Compensation could come in the form of financial assistance, a safe place to stay, and physical and psychological health care.
While there are no confirmed figures, it is estimated that hundreds of women were raped during the 8-month conflict that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. The International Criminal Court collected evidence that Colonel Gaddafi ordered the rape of women as a weapon against rebel forces.
Rape victims often face stigma in the conservative country, so it is likely that many victims will not come forward. Libya's justice minister Salah al-Marghani said money could be provided to "elevate the status of victims, so they are not looked at as a burden," by sending victim's parents to Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
The BBC says the decree awaits congressional approval, but the justice ministry will not wait for passage in order to avoid further delays in compensation.
For many victims of war, resources provided by US humanitarian aid ease their suffering; but for victims of war rape care is limited. Survivors of war rape are often denied access to comprehensive medical care that includes the option of abortion, largely because of US policy that is wrongly interpreted to place anti-abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid in conflict zones - in direct violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Girls and women systematically raped during conflict face increased rates of maternal mortality, permanent reproductive damage, and obstetric fistula, in addition to isolation and trauma. Without access to the option of abortion care, victims are forced to risk their health - either by carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, seeking dangerous methods of abortion or, in many tragic cases, taking their own lives.
TAKE ACTION: Urge President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the ban on abortion restrictions in conflict zones, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
2/26/2014 - Afghan Ministry of Justice Amends Criminal Procedure Code to Protect Women Victims of Violence
Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice (MOJ) amended a controversial provision of the draft Afghan Criminal Procedure Code - Article 26 - that would have barred relatives from testifying against each other in criminal proceedings, including in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. President Hamid Karzai had earlier responded to concerns from Afghan women's organizations about this provision by refusing to sign the Code into law unless MOJ made changes to Article 26.
The Afghan Women's Network, with over one hundred women-led organizations, came out strongly against the provision, holding a press conference to broadcast their opposition to the bill, and then leading a public protest through the streets of downtown Kabul. Members of the Network highlighted how the law would effectively prevent the government from prosecuting cases of violence against women, embolden perpetrators of that violence, and essentially validate discrimination against women.
This is a victory for Afghan women who have been fighting for better enforcement of laws that make violence against women a crime - including rape, domestic assault, honor killings, child marriage, and baad, the practice of resolving disputes by giving away one's daughters.
Women's rights and freedom from violence will be even better protected if President Karzai signs the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. The Obama Administration has indicated that failure to finalize the agreement could lead to a complete pullout of US forces and the loss of billions of dollar in international aid. Afghanistan would be left vulnerable to greater influence by the Taliban, who had previously stripped women of all human rights and forced them into a state of virtual house arrest.
TAKE ACTION: Pledge with us to support Afghan women and Afghan women's organizations. Let them know that we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the fight for women's and girls' equality. And you can urge President Karzai to sign the BSA agreement. Without this agreement, the tremendous gains made by Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban will be in jeopardy.
2/25/2014 - Ugandan President Signs Anti-Gay Bill Into Law
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a controversial anti-gay bill into law yesterday.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, passed by parliament in December, could put people in prison for life if they engage in "aggravated homosexuality," which means engaging in acts where someone is infected with HIV, having sex with minors, or being "serial offenders." People who offer services to LGBTQ people, such as human rights groups, could also face criminal charges and years in prison.
In response, Norway and Denmark have already cut off aid to the Ugandan government, and Sweden and the US are considering a similar response. Homosexuality had already been illegal in Uganda, but this law was the first to prevent NGOs from reaching out to LGBTQ populations, and was the first to include lesbians.
To make matters worse for the LGBTQ community in the country, a Ugandan magazine, Red Pepper, today published a list of the :top 200 homosexuals" in the country. Several prominent activists were included on the list, but the tabloid also named a number of individuals who have not yet publicly identified themselves as gay. Those named may now face a greater risk of violence or criminal charges.
Bolivia's highest court issued a decision last week to remove the requirement that women must obtain judicial authorization in order to have a legal abortion.
Bolivia's constitution guarantees equal treatment to all citizens, including women and indigenous peoples. In 2012, Legislator Patricia Mancilla filed a challenge to the constitutionality of several penal code articles that she found discriminatory against women, leading to the court's decision.
"Once again a Latin American court has ruled that governments should not stand in the way of women seeking legal health services," said Gillian Kane, senior policy advisor at Ipas, a global nonprofit that works to increase women's ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to reduce maternal mortality. "This opinion follows earlier favorable court rulings from Mexico City and Colombia, and adds to a growing body of national and international jurisprudence that affirms women's rights to legal abortion."
Ipas reported that the Plurinational Constitutional Court's ruling included several important points: the court ruled that the decision to keep or terminate a pregnancy should rest only with the woman and not be affected by the beliefs of judges or attorneys and also said that the removal of the judicial authorization requirement will improve fast access to safe abortion services, among other points. "While this decision is a positive change in Bolivia's punitive abortion laws, it is only a first step," Kane added. "There are still significant legal barriers that many women will not be able to overcome, and we know they will turn to unsafe abortion."
According to Ipas, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America - a region with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world - are done secretly and unsafely, which significantly increases the potential for injury and death for women.
The government of Nigeria's Delta State commissioned a 100-bed maternal and childcare center at the Warri Central Hospital last week. The center will provide free treatment and medication for pregnant women from conception to delivery and for children from ages 0 to 5, as part of the Free Maternal Healthcare Programme of 2007 and Free Under-Five Healthcare program of 2010.
"These programmes have helped to ensure that all pregnant women in Delta State can access free healthcare throughout the period of pregnancy, delivery and afterwards while our children, below the age of five years, are guaranteed free medical treatment in all public health facilities," said State Governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Dr. Kingsley Agholor, the Medical Director of Warri Central Hospital, reported that the government has reduced the maternal mortality rate in Delta State from 456/100,000 births in 2008 to 221/100,000 births in 2011 with the help of these free programs. "The Delta State government has recorded a lot of successes in the reduction of mortality, morbidity and HIV/Aids prevalence in the state through the provision of quality, accessible and affordable health care services across the state," he said.
In his remarks announcing the new maternal and childcare center, Governor Uduaghan also promoted the use of family planning as a means of increasing maternal and child heath.
The second televised presidential debate in Afghanistan took place Tuesday night. Four of 11 candidates participated in the debate, touching on issues like security, domestic politics, the Taliban, bureaucratic corruption, the economy, and even women's rights.
"The people of Afghanistan have given sacrifices for democracy," said Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of Parliament. "Every person will have equal rights under the law." Several other candidates have expressed strong, positive attitudes towards protecting women's rights: Zalmai Rasul claims he will require at least 20 percent of the country's central cabinet to be women and Ashraf Ghani claims he will involve religious scholars in defending women's rights and eliminating violence against women.
With the help and support of the U.S. and the international community, Afghan women and girls have made steady progress in every sector of society. Previously stripped of all human rights and forced into a state of virtual house arrest, women are now 27 percent of Afghan Parliament, about 35 percent of all primary and secondary school students, and nearly 19 percent of students attending university. Since US troops will pull out in 2014, the future president and all government leaders must work hard to strengthen women's rights and to ensure that their progress is not once again stripped away by the Taliban.
The April 5 election is the first independent election organized by Afghanistan.
In a major victory for Afghan women, President Hamid Karzai yesterday refused to sign Afghanistan's controversial draft Criminal Procedure Code into law. According to a presidential spokesperson, the President has indicated that he will not sign the bill until the Ministry of Justice amends Article 26.
Article 26 would prohibit relatives from testifying against each other in all criminal proceedings, including in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. After the law passed the Afghan Parliament, Afghan women's rights groups launched a strong campaign to stop its enactment, including a public protest in Kabul on Friday.
Our tireless advocacy for the last few weeks paid off," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women. "This is what we wanted - for the bill to go back to the Ministry of Justice for revision." Her sentiments were echoed by Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women's Network, comprised of over 100 women-led organizations: "Who says advocacy and lobbying does not work? It does and we have seen results!"
2/18/2014 - Uganda President To Sign Anti-Gay Legislation
The president of Uganda, Yoweni Museveni, released a statement Saturday saying he planned to sign the sweeping Anti-Homosexuality Bill that passed the nation's parliament in December.
The bill was originally introduced in 2009 with a death penalty provision for some "homosexual acts," but it was delayed because of international uproar and the threat of a loss of aid from several nations. The current bill does not include a death penalty provision, but it could put people in prison for life if they engage in "aggravated homosexuality," which means engaging in acts where someone is infected with HIV, having sex with minors, or being "serial offenders." People who offer services to LGBTQ people, such as human rights groups, could also face criminal charges and years in prison.
President Obama came out against the bill in a statement over the weekend. "The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda," he said. "It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights."
Since the bill was proposed, there has already been an increase in discrimination and violence against gay people. As reported by Jeanne Clark in "Unholy Alliance" in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine, David Kato, a leader of the gay rights movement in Uganda, was beaten to death shortly after the introduction of the bill. In addition, "The attacks against gays in the country have further demonized condom usage," Clark writes. In a country with frequent condom shortages and discouragement of the use of condoms - in part because the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding continues to be held hostage to abstinence programs - millions of Ugandans are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and having unsafe abortions.
2/14/2014 - Afghan Women Rise for Justice at Kabul Protest
Around 100 Afghan women marched in Kabul yesterday to speak out against violence against women as part of One Billion Rising, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.
Calling for "no more violence" and "justice, justice," Afghan women also demanded continued gains for women's equality in the country. "As half of the Afghan population of young adults, Afghan women must have an active role in important historic developments, in the peaceful transfer of political power, for ensuring peace and security and progress in Afghanistan," said the Afghan Women's Network in a statement.
The Network also called for "sustained public campaigning" for women's rights and advancement in Afghanistan. Afghan women leaders have already been organizing to stop the enactment of an article within the Afghan Criminal Procedure Code that would prevent relatives from testifying as witnesses in all criminal trials, including in domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault cases.
Afghan women leaders also expressed solidarity with women internationally in the worldwide fight to end violence against women. "Afghan women, in support of women around the world, say that violence against women must decrease," said Dr. Gulalai Safi, a member of the Afghan Parliament. "We want justice and respect for women."
Millions of people will rise for justice tomorrow for One Billion Rising's global V-Day events, including a rally in Washington, DC.
One Billion Rising "is a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them to gather safely in community outside places where they are entitled to justice - courthouses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, work places, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not. It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release their stories - politically, spiritually, outrageously - through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right." Last year, one billion people in 207 countries joined the action.
This year, participants in DC are rising specifically for justice for military sexual assault survivors, for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and for the passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Participants will also rise against human trafficking, campus sexual violence, internet bullying, street harassment, impunity for perpetrators of violence against women, and a variety of other issues.
Eve Ensler, the creator of One Billion Rising and author of The Vagina Monologues, kicked off the DC events with Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) at a reception on Tuesday.
The rally will take place at 12 pm tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court and will turn into a march to the Capitol. Weather permitting, Upsetting Rape Culture will display The Monument Quilt - a quilt with thousands of stories of survivors of violence - on the Capitol's lawn.
Citing meager wages, dangerous working conditions, and exploitative work practices, Representative George Miller (D-CA) yesterday called on the apparel industry to do more to improve working conditions and support the human rights of workers at garment factories in Bangladesh. "If they don't," Miller said, "their clothing labels may as well read: 'made with violence against women.'"
Miller met yesterday with Reba Sikder, an 18-year-old garment worker from Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, and multiple members of Congress to discuss not only the dangerous and violent workplace conditions that exist for garment workers, but also what can be done to improve the situation.
"The apparel industry has created millions of jobs for Bangladeshi women," said Miller. "But your job should not cost you your life. We must call out the clothing brands that manufacture irresponsibly in Bangladesh. Not only are they complicit in driving the race to the bottom that pits countries against each other at the expense of workers, but they are taking advantage of societal norms that do not hold women in equal regard."
Sikder, a survivor of the factory collapse at Rana Plaza that killed over 1,100 and injured 2,500, has been working since the age of 8 and became a garment factory worker at 14. She explained that on the day of the factory collapse, a huge crack had appeared on the side of the Plaza building - but her boss told her if she did not enter to work, she would lose her wages and overtime for the month. Within minutes of entering the building, it collapsed. She was trapped inside for over two days, injured and surrounded by dead bodies.
"My life has been so incredibly hard in the last year," Sikder said, describing how challenging it is for her to cope with the trauma of the incident in finding new work. "My heart breaks even more for all the other workers and families affected by the Rana Plaza building collapse. Because of the accident, I no longer have any hopes or dreams for the future like I did before." Sikder also called on the US government to take action against manufacturers benefitting from the conditions which support the corrupt garment sector in Bangladesh. "Please think about the workers who have lost their limbs, their feet and their hands, and about the families who have lost their sons and daughters, wives and husbands," she said. "Please think about their pain and how they are forced to live."
Although Bangladeshi garment workers have taken independent action to change their working conditions, they have often been met with violence while protesting. In June, President Obama revoked trade privileges with Bangladesh, citing the poor working conditions in factories.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for gender equality to be comprehensively included in the UN's post-2015 goals yesterday at the opening of the 57th Session of Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
"We believe there should be a stand-alone goal or goals on equality and non-discrimination that addresses all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
In 2000, the UN announced its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- to reduce hunger and poverty, combat maternal and infant mortality, and provide access to universal education and health, among other goals -- all to be accomplished by the end of 2015. It is now creating a post-2015 agenda to expand on the MDGs.
During her remarks, Pillay also encouraged the strengthening of all treaty bodies and celebrated the CEDAW Committee's work so far, especially highlighting the achievements of CEDAW. During its current session, which runs until February 28, the CEDAW Committee will review reports from Bahrain, Cameroon, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Finland on these countries' implementation of the treaty.
CEDAW is the most comprehensive and detailed international agreement which seeks the advancement of women. CEDAW has been ratified by 187 of the 193 member nations of the UN, but the United States never ratified it.
The African Union (AU) and the United Nations signed a landmark agreement last week committing to improving the prevention of and response to sexual violence, particularly conflict-related violence, in African countries.
The agreement aims to strengthen national policies, laws, and organizations already trying to combat sexual violence, and to train police forces and peacekeepers on prevention and best responses. It emphasizes the importance of providing rehabilitative services for survivors, countering the severe stigma that survivors of sexual violence often face, and ensuring that crimes are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice.
"National ownership, leadership and responsibility are absolutely essential if we are to protect women and girls, but also men and boys, from these barbaric crimes," said Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative on sexual Violence in Conflict. She co-signed the document with Ambassador Smail Chergui, of Algeria, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union.
The UN and AU aim to work closely together on curbing sexual violence and other issues, such as economic development. "A solution cannot be imposed from above," Bangura said.
Thousands of people marched to Spain's parliament in Madrid on Saturday to protest a potential new law that would severely restrict women's right to have an abortion.
The law, which was passed by Spain's cabinet in December 2013, would allow abortion only in cases of rape or if the physical or psychological health of the mother is threatened, effectively banning it in all other circumstances. It would toughen conditions for aborting a deformed fetus, and it would require girls under 18 to obtain parental consent to have the procedure.
"I would never have imagined we would find ourselves back here, fighting for something we thought we had won," protestor Maria Pilar Sanchez told Agence France-Presse.
The previous Socialist government legalized abortion before 14 weeks in 2010, but the current ruling party, the Popular Party, often sides with the Roman Catholic Church's conservative views on abortion. The law awaits approval by Parliament, where the Popular Party holds a majority.
Protests were also held in London and cities across France.
Both houses of the Afghan Parliament have voted to pass an act that would prohibit relatives from testifying against a criminal defendant in a judicial proceeding. If signed by President Hamid Karzai, the proposed change to the Afghan criminal code would prevent family members from testifying as victims or witnesses in all criminal cases, including domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases. The act would also ban children and doctors - including those who may have examined victims - from testifying against the accused.
"It is a travesty this is happening," said Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women, which runs over two dozen shelters in 10 provinces of Afghanistan for women and girls who have been victims of violence. "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women."
Women for Afghan Women called on the United States "which has promised not to abandon the women of Afghanistan" and the larger international community "to shout out loud and clear their refusal to accept this assault on women's rights."
Last December, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released their annual report on violence against women in Afghanistan, finding that there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women from 2012 to 2013 , but only 17 percent of those were prosecuted under the country's Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) - a small 2 percent increase from 2012.
At the launch of the UNAMA-OHCHR report, Georgette Gagnon, Director of the Human Rights Unit at UNAMA and OHCHR representative, told reporters, "Police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report."
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has urged the Vatican act to address child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy members and take measures to prevent it from happening in the future.
The CRC recommended that the Holy See remove all clergy who are confirmed or suspected child abusers from their positions immediately, to turn them in to authorities, and to provide the UN with an archive of evidence about the abuse - which they have so far declined to do. The CRC also urged the Vatican invite outside experts and victims to participate in an investigation of child abuse, the abuse of women in Magdalene laundries, and the way these situations were handled by church authorities. The Vatican must should also pay full compensation to victims and families, among several other recommendations.
"The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," the Committee said.
In the US alone between 1950 and 2010, 6,100 priests were accused of abuse, leading to an estimated 100,000 victims, according to Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP. Globally, thousands more have been accused, and they were frequently protected from any punishment by being transferred to a different parish where they could start abusing others, as shown in recently released documents of the Chicago archdiocese.
The CRC report follows a hearing the Committee held last month for Vatican leaders to address global child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and their role in protecting perpetrators. Although these recommendations are a step forward, they are currently non-binding.
Candidates for Afghanistan's upcoming April election kicked off their presidential campaigns on Sunday.
According to TOLO News, many of the 11 candidates have focused on similar, broad issues so far, including security, human rights, women's participation in government, corruption, and economic development. Activists and members of Afghanistan's parliament pointed out the lack of specific goals in the platforms, but they hope candidates will reveal more detailed plans as they campaign for the next two months.
The April 5 election is the first independent election organized by Afghanistan. "This is a very important election, very crucial election because this is the first time from an elected president we are going to go to another elected president," Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, chief electoral officer for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC), told The Associated Press. "We are fully ready - logistically, operationally as well as from the capacity side, the budget side, the timing side."
The IEC has been overseeing election activities to ensure they are conducted in compliance with the laws and with voter confidentiality protected. It has also 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.
The French National Assembly Tuesday passed an abortion provision modifying a 1975 law which requires women to prove they are "in distress" to legally terminate a pregnancy. The accepted measure removes that language, and some lawmakers called it "archaic." It also punishes people who attempt to prevent women from entering facilities where information on abortion is accessible. The bill must be put to a vote before it passes into law.
In France, abortion is legal for up to 12 weeks, after which a woman's request must be signed off by two doctors and is only permissible if having the baby will risk her health or life, or that the baby will suffer from severe illness. Even so, France reports that as many as 220,000 women undergo the procedure each year and that 1 in 3 French women will receive an abortion in her lifetime. "Abortion is a right in itself," said France's women's rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, "and not something that is allowed to conditions." The state began to reimburse abortion costs last year.
The law is part of a larger gender equality bill, the most comprehensive in France's history, which also extends paternity leave to six months, increases fines on businesses and political parties for failure to reach parity, prevents media broadcasts of demeaning or sexist imagery toward women, and bans beauty pageants for girls under 13.
The New York Times called the decision "a refreshing step forward for reproductive rights," as well as "a welcome example of what governments can do to support equal rights and equal opportunities for women." The National Assembly's vote puts France in stark contrast with Spain, which is considering extremely conservative legislation that bans abortion except for cases of rape or a threat to a person's physical or psychological health.
"This might seem merely symbolic," said Vallaud-Belkacem, "but it's a strong message. Women must have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy without having to justify themselves."
President Obama has nominated Dr. Deborah Birx to become the next leader of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which funds HIV/AIDS programs and prevention efforts around the world. Once confirmed, Dr. Birx will be the first woman to serve as the Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.
"The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the nomination of Deborah Birx to be the next Global AIDS Coordinator," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "Dr. Birx is the right woman at the right time. As a highly qualified medical doctor who has dedicated her career to HIV/AIDS research and treatment, Dr. Birx is well-positioned to lead the important work of saving lives through the PEPFAR program."
Since 2005, Dr. Birx has served as the Director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she was responsible for all of the agency's global HIV/AIDS activities. Prior to that role, Dr. Birx served as Director of the US Military HIV Research Program and as Director of Retrovirology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She has extensive experience in HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development and has earned various honors and awards for her work.
Dr. Birx will take the helm of PEPFAR at a critical time. Although PEPFAR has had success in fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide by supporting HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people, the problem remains staggering. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
1/17/2014 - Report: Burma Army Uses Rape as Weapon of War
The Women's League of Burma (WLB) released a report on Tuesday revealing the Burmese Army's continued, systematic rape of girls and women since the country's 2010 elections. The Thailand-based group documented over 100 rapes in its report, Same Impunity, Same Patterns, but believes these are only a small fraction of the rapes and that there have likely been hundreds more that have not been reported.
Overall, 47 of the reported cases were gang rapes, and 28 victims died from internal injuries after the rapes. Some of the victims were as young as eight years old. Most of the cases have been clearly linked to military offensives against ethnic minority Kachin and Shan insurgents in the northeast of Burma, also known as Myanmar. And many of the perpetrators have been high-ranking officials in the Burmese military.
"These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers," WLB writes. "Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression . . . Sexual violence is used as a tool by the Burmese military to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities."
WLB argues that these actions go against international treaties Burma has signed as well as it's own penal code that punishes rapists. To create change, WLB suggests putting the military under civilian judicial control so it can be held accountable for its crimes. It is currently independently in charge of administering its affairs. The group also suggests involving more women in the nation's peace process, signing the international Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict [PDF], and adopting laws aimed at protecting women from violence.
Colonel Jamila Bayaz, a 50-year-old mother of five, this week became the first women to be appointed police chief in Afghanistan. Bayaz will lead the 1st District of Kabul.
Although the job will not be without risk - a senior police woman was murdered in Helmand last September - Bayaz appeared excited to take on her new role, and hopes it will inspire more women to join the ranks of the police force in Afghanistan. "This is a chance not just for me," said Bayaz, "but for the women of Afghanistan. I will not waste it."
Increasing the number and rank of women in policing will play a critical role in decreasing violence against women in Afghanistan and has been an important goal for the United States and the international community. "I want to thank America and the international community for all of their help and support," said Bayaz. "I would not be here today if it weren't for all of their assistance."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States that would help determine the post-2014 role of the US in Afghanistan. The BSA provides that the US will continue to offer assistance to strengthen security, provide humanitarian aid, and support economic and civic development.
In an open letter to President Obama, Afghan civil society leaders asked the President "to ensure that the United States will stand behind the true aspirations of the Afghan people for free, prosperous and democratic future." The letter continues, "Over the coming years, Afghanistan will be completing its political and security transitions as the foundation for the future that we seek. It is our sincere hope that the people of the United States, who were with us during difficult years, will remain with us as we complete the challenging transition period and become more self-reliant."
The first female law firm in Saudi Arabia launched last week, founded by the first Saudi female lawyer Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran. Saudi Arabia issued law licenses to Al-Zahran and three other female lawyers in October 2013, the first time the country issued such licenses to female law graduates.
Al-Zahran told Arab News that her law firm's objective will be to fight for Saudi women's rights and to get women's cases heard in court. "I believe women lawyers can contribute a lot to the legal system," she said. "This law firm will make a difference in the history of court cases and female disputes in the Kingdom."
The launch of Al-Zahran's law firm is a step forward for women in Saudi Arabia, where adult women are still required to have male guardians who make decisions on their behalf, such as the right to travel, study, work, or marry. Saudi women are required to cover themselves in public, and they are banned from driving, forced to rely on male relatives or guardians to travel anywhere.
Last October, over 60 women drove in October in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive.