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8/21/1997 - Megan's Law Upheld by U.S. Appeals Court
A federal appeals court upheld New Jersey's controversial Megan's Law on Wednesday, August 20. The law requires local police to notify residents if a convicted sex offender is considered a threat to the community. The court, however, did specify that the process used to determine whether or not an individual poses a risk to the community must be reformed. Currently, authorities look at a number of factors, including the offender's original offense, his/her record in prison, and whether or not s/he has a job or other ties to the community. The law was challenged on the grounds that requiring convicted sex offenders to register with authorities at the end of their stay in prison violates the "ex post facto" clause of the constitution. Both courts rejected this argument.
8/21/1997 - Man Sues to Join Women's Health Club
Christopher Cox filed a discrimination complaint with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights because he was denied entry into a woman's health club. Cox wishes to join the Anchorage, Alaska Women's Nautilus Club because of the location and low prices. Cox states that "we live in a society today.... where the bottom line is the one who is stomped all over is the male, especially the white male." Owner John Sanky said "I don't think [Cox] is a crusader for male rights," and alleges that Cox had offered not to complain if Sanky gave Cox's girlfriend a free membership to the club. Cox denies this.
Paula Haley, director of the Commission for Human Rights, states that it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of gender in a place of public accommodation. The Commission will investigate whether or not a health club is such a place.
Nora Marzouk Ahmed's punishment for eloping was death. Her father killed her for corrupting the family honor seven days after she had married. This incident, which took place on August 19 in Cairo, is not unusual in Egypt. On August 18, a man in a village 40 miles north of Cairo was arrested for setting his daughter on fire for eloping. According to Egyptian feminist activists, fathers, brothers and husbands kill and abuse women every year for having pre-marital sex, eloping, going outside with a man who is not a relative or going out without a veil.
Nawal Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist author, says, "Honor and integrity in Egypt have become warped. For many Egyptian men, integrity is now linked to the actions and behavior of the women in the family." Saadawi argues that most of these murders occur in lower-income families, where men use family honor as an excuse to beat women.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Virginia High School League (VSHL), alleging that the way the VHSL schedules girl's sports violates Title IX. The VHSL, Virginia's governing body of high school athletics, currently schedules all three divisions of boys' sports in the same season.
For girls, three sports--tennis, basketball, and volleyball--are scheduled at different times of the year, depending on the number of students enrolled in the school. As a result, girls from smaller high schools, who are forced to play their sport in the off season, have fewer opportunities for earning athletic scholarships. No court date has been set for the case.
8/20/1997 - Prosecutor Opts Not to Charge Citadel Harassers
Prosecutor David Schwacke has decided not to charge anyone at The Citadel with hazing two female cadets who left the school in January. One of the women's lawyers, Dick Harpootlian, announced Schwacke's decision on August 19, and argued that the prosecutor had given in to political pressure. Harpootlian plans to contact the state attorney general today to pursue charges.
Jeanie Mentavlos and Kim Messer have alleged harassments which include setting their clothes on fire. Fourteen male cadets received punishment or dropped out of the school after a college investigation.
Mentavlos and Messer were among four women who entered The Citadel a year ago. The two other female cadets at The Citadel completed their first year, and the school expects nineteen more women to enroll this year.
Results of a Canadian study suggest that performing a mammogram in the first half of a woman's menstrual cycle may make the procedure both more comfortable and more accurate. The study revealed that there was an 11 percent greater risk that a tumor would not be detected when a mammogram was performed in the second half of the menstrual cycle. American Cancer Society epidemiologist and mammography expert Robert Smith said that the findings are not significant enough to warrant an official recommendation on the timing of mammograms. However, the study does suggest that the menstrual cycle can influence breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
8/20/1997 - Estrogen Treatment Remains Controversial
Postmenopausal women have a tough choice to make when deciding whether or not to take estrogen. Studies suggest that taking estrogen can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and heart disease by 50%, but research has also linked estrogen to a 43% increase in breast cancer deaths. Experts suggest that the decision whether or not to take estrogen should be determined based on each woman's personal and family history, while also considering the psychological and physical comfort or discomfort she experiences as a result of taking estrogen.
In some cases, changing diet and or exercise patterns may be more beneficial than estrogen treatment in terms of preventing heart disease, and spares women an increased risk for breast cancer. On the other hand, studies have shown that, among women taking estrogen for 10 years, the benefits of estrogen far outweighed the risk of breast cancer, and women taking estrogen lived longer than women not taking estrogen. Women who are considering taking estrogen should consult their physician before making a decision.
8/19/1997 - FDA Considers New Osteoporosis Test
On August 18, a scientific advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration recommended approval of Hologic Inc.'s application for a new osteoporosis test that can predict whether women are at risk of developing the condition. The company's Sahara Bone Sonometer uses ultrasound to measure bone density. This test, unlike others which measure the hip or spine, measures the density of a heel and is less complex than the X-ray tests currently used to detect osteoporosis. Approximately 28 million Americans, a majority of them women, have osteoporosis, or dangerously thinning bones. The FDA is not obligated to follow its advisory committee recommendations, but generally does.
8/19/1997 - Victory for Breast Implant Victims
In a major victory for women with breast implants, a Louisiana jury found Dow Chemical Company guilty of intentionally deceiving women about the safety of its silicone breast implants. The jury also found that the company had not adequately tested the implants before placing them on the market. This decision, announced on Monday, August 18, ends the first part of a two-part class action lawsuit brought against Dow by 1,800 women who had received breast implants. In the next phase, scheduled to begin in September, the jury will decide whether these women were injured by the implants and to what compensation they are entitled. Prior to this decision, breast-implant manufacturers had been winning the majority of lawsuits.
8/19/1997 - Aberdeen Sex Scandal Continues
A military jury recommended demotion for a drill sergeant and two other sergeants agreed to be discharged in new developments on sexual harassment cases at Aberdeen Proving Ground on August 18. The jury that sentenced Staff Sgt. Herman Gunter could have recommended up to 12 years in prison, but instead ordered him demoted by two grades to E-4, which is the rank of a corporal. Gunter had hugged and kissed a female trainee and obstructed an investigation of his actions. Sgts. Ronald Moffett and Tony Cross agreed to be discharged, avoiding impending court-martials.
8/18/1997 - Federal Judge Prevents Louisiana Abortion Law
A federal judge blocked a Louisiana law that would have allowed women to sue their doctors for up to 10 years after having an abortion. U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous Jr. struck down the legislation because it could lead clinics to close, denying women medical assistance. He also challenged the law's constitutionality. Currently, women who receive unsuccessful abortions can sue doctors three years after the procedure, and the highest sum a woman can receive for damages is $500,000. The new law, however, contains no cap on damages, and critics believe it allows any woman who has had an abortion to sue her doctor for the wrongful death of her fetus or harm to herself. The law would even allow women who have signed consent forms to file lawsuits against their doctors. Porteous issued a temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.
8/18/1997 - Coed VMI Set to Begin Today
A new chapter of history at the Virginia Military Institute is set to open when the school's first coed class reports to campus on Monday, August 18. The class of 400 will include 31 women. Students and staff at the college have undertaken a good deal of training to facilitate the change, and, according to VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting, are prepared to open VMI to women. The state also gave VMI $5.1 million to help recruit female cadets, to hire female staff, and to make necessary renovations to the college.
Although current staff and students at both colleges appear ready for the change, some alumni are more skeptical. A group of graduates from both institutes have announced a plan to found a private, all-male Christian military college which will combine the traditions of the two schools. While the constitutionality of such an institution is likely to be challenged, supporters feel there is a market for such a school.
Afghan girls who have lost the right to education because of the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban movement face a similar problem in Pakistan refugee camps. For the 1.2 million to 1.8 million Afghans living there, severe budget cuts in international aid for the refugees have halted education beyond the sixth grade for children in the camps. This restricted education has disproportionately affected young girls; boys are freer to travel in the strict Afghan culture and can continue their education in Pakistani and private schools. Only 4,000 Afghan girls in refugee camps are getting an education, while 35,000 of the boys are. The lack of schooling for girls will have detrimental effects on all Afghanis because educated women marry later, have less children, practice healthier nutrition and encourage their own children to go to school.
The Peace Corps is focusing more resources on women, both in its membership and in its programs. The 1997 Peace Corps volunteer class is 59% women, almost doubling the percentage of women volunteers 25 years ago. Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan says this trend "completes the mission of the Peace Corps, because we send people reflecting our own country." Community-based educational Peace Corp programs are also starting to focus on women. Peace Corps volunteers, including Molly Bogdan, have started programs in Romania similar to the Ms. Foundation's "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," and are providing increased education on women's and infant health issues.
8/18/1997 - More Women on Probation and Parole
The Justice Department has reported that the number of women on probation and parole has increased over the past several years. In 1996, 21% of all probationers were women, while 11% of people on parole were women. In 1990, 18% of probationers were women, and 8 percent of those on parole were women. Women on parole are most often being supervised for fraud, larceny, theft, and drug offenses. Many of these crimes are motivated by women's economic desperation, which has only been exacerbated by recent changes in the provisions of welfare.
8/18/1997 - Number of Female Judges in Maryland Increasing
In the past 16 years, the number of female judges in Maryland has quadrupled, increasing from 5.4 percent in 1981 to 19 percent this year. Many attribute this growth to Governor Parris Glendening's pledge to increase judicial diversity. Women's rights groups have applauded Glendening's actions and argue that, while insensitivity to gender is still an issue in the courts, male dominance is "gradually eroding."
The twentieth-century Robin Hood is Phholan Devi, an Indian woman who formed a group of male bandits to steal from upper castes and kill 20 men who gang-raped her. After three years as an outlaw, the woman and her gang surrendered to the authorities on the condition that the police would imprison them for no longer than eight years and give their poor families land and education. The authorities instead held her without a trial for 11 years until a lower-caste politician freed her in 1994. Two years later, voters elected her to Parliament.
This champion of rights for women and lower-caste Indians became the center of attention once more this month when authorities filed charges against her again. These authorities have left other members of Parliament accused of murder alone. Phoolan Devi attributes this inconsistency to her sex and the caste system, the old Hindu hierarchy.
As a member of Parliament, Phoolan Devi is fighting for women's rights. She plans to introduce bills that would allow women equal claims to their husbands' property when they marry and that would permit only celibate men to marry virgin women.
8/18/1997 - Indian Prime Minister Opposes Quota Bill
Inder Kumar Gujral, Prime Minister of India, vowed last week t o oppose a bill through Parliament that would guarantee a third of India's parliamentary seats for women. The bill sparked intense debate in parliament and caused divisions in every political party. Gujral says that he supports gender equity but argues that affecting major social change requires a building a consensus. There are currently 39 female members of India's 545-member lower house of parliament.
8/15/1997 - Groups Protest Guess' Use of Sweatshop Labor
The Feminist Majority, along with other human rights, labor rights, and women's rights organizations, participated in a noontime leafleting action in front of Hecht's Department Store on Thursday, August 14. The action was aimed at educating consumers about Guess' inhumane treatment of contract workers. Most of these workers are immigrant women who work for sub-minimum wages in Guess contract shops. Guess has been cited repeatedly by the Department of Labor for overtime and minimum wage violations.
"We cannot stand silently by as these workers are forced to sew Guess clothes under sweatshop conditions, for no benefits, and often, sub-minimum wages," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "We must educate consumers about the sweatshop conditions of Guess contract shops and about Guess' retreat to countries where labor laws and their enforcement are more lax than the U.S."
8/15/1997 - U.S. Suspends Operation of Afghan Embassy
The United States has decided to suspend operations indefinitely at the Afghan Embassy. State Department spokesperson James P. Rubin said the action was taken because "of the U.S. belief that there is no effective government in Afghanistan, which is divided between two warring factions." The embassy is occupied by two diplomats from each government, however the embassy is effectively operated by the Taliban, the Afghan militia that has repeatedly violated women's rights in the past months. The suspension, according to Rubin, reflects the decision by the United States to remain strictly neutral in Afghan affairs.
8/15/1997 - Sexual Harassment Banned in India
In a highly significant ruling, the Indian Supreme Court banned sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The ban also provides that sexual harassment awareness should be advertised in offices and by the government, and provides that complaints should be handled by a committee headed by a woman, with half its members women. The ban, however, does not direct what punishment offenders should receive.
8/15/1997 - Herman an Unusual Power Player
Alexis Herman's work in attempting to resolve the UPS strike is being praised by members of both sides, and she is credited with the resumption of direct negotiations that took place Thursday, August 14. The Secretary of Labor is the lone African-American woman among white men. Political consultants say that she has a "light touch" that will be necessary for her work to end the strike.
8/15/1997 - Citadel Gains First Female Scholarship Athlete
When she signed her scholarship papers on Thursday, August 14, distance runner Mandy Garcia became the Citadel's first female scholarship athlete. Garcia, of North Carolina, will participate in both cross country and track while at the military college. She is currently the only member of the Citadel's women's team, which will compete in the Southern Conference. Coaches and administrators have hailed the move as one more step on the Citadel's path to full acceptance of women.
8/15/1997 - Louisiana to Adopt Covenant Marriages
A Louisiana state law adopted recently makes "covenant marriages," that is, marriages where both parties waive the right to a no-fault divorce, legal. The purpose of this law is to create a "more binding legal union" where couples will be obligated to work out smaller problems, and allowed divorce only over reasons such as adultery, abuse, abandonment, or a lengthy separation. Couples will have to go to court to prove their reasons for divorce are adequate. Groups such as the Christian Coalition have advocated these marriages on the grounds that divorce has negative effects on children. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana counters the Christian Coalition stance, suggesting that children would be better off removed from the hostile environment of an unhappy family. Some predict the law will have negative effects on women, making it more difficult for them and their children to leave abused homes.
Staff Sgt. Herman Gunter has become part of the fifth military trial this year to arise from an Army inquiry regarding sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the training center northeast of Baltimore. On August 14, a military court dropped two allegations against the drill sergeant for "sexual intercourse by fear," a charge similar to rape, and permitted his court-martial on assault and adultery. Army prosecutors refrained from explaining the dismissal of the more serious charges. They also offered no reasons for dropping accusations from one of the three trainees. Gunter faces eight remaining charges, including one count of assault, cruelty and maltreatment.