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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.

8/18/1997 - Afghan Girls Denied an Education in Refugee Camps

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.

8/18/1997 - Peace Corps Offers Increased Opportunities for Women

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."

8/18/1997 - Female Member of India's Parliament Faces Discrimination

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.

8/15/1997 - Army Lessens Charges Against Aberdeen Drill Sergeant

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.

8/14/1997 - Southern Baptists Forced to Reconsider Disney Boycott

The ineffectiveness of their decision to boycott Disney has led Southern Baptists to reconsider their strategy. Leaders of the denomination asked their followers on August 13 to keep from spending at least $100 on Disney products and services over the next year. This goal is more modest than the original one Southern Baptists voted for in June, which was a complete boycott of Disney. The denomination opposes what it calls Disney's "Christian-bashing, family-bashing, pro-homosexual agenda."

8/14/1997 - APA Considers Opposing Anti-Gay Counseling

The American Psychological Association is ready to consider a resolution that would restrict the circumstances under which so-called "reparative therapy"--aimed at converting homosexuals into heterosexuals--can be ethically practiced. Similar but stronger resolutions have failed in the past, but because the current effort does not define the therapy as unethical, it is expected to pass. The resolution is supported by hundreds of medical and psychological groups and is in keeping with the APA's 1973 resolution that homosexuality is not an illness.

8/14/1997 - Women Struggle With HMOs

A study commissioned by the Older Women's League reported that while managed care often provides aid to patients in detecting and preventing health problems, it can limit patients’ access to specialists and unusual treatment options. These findings are particularly ominous for women, who typically live longer than men but suffer from more chronic diseases. Older women also typically have lower incomes than their male counterparts and may not be able to afford medications not covered by their managed-care plan.

8/14/1997 - Comic Strip Causes Controversy

The comic strip "For Better or Worse" will shift attention to the love life of its gay character, Lawrence, for a four-day series. The Universal Press Syndicate informed over 1,700 papers of the forthcoming series, and 20 or more newspapers have decided to use reruns from 1995. Lynn Johnston, "For Better or Worse" creator, faced similar controversy in 1993 when Lawrence revealed he was gay, but in each case the number of newspapers choosing not to run the strip is very small compared to the total number in its distribution. Although Johnston is displeased with this latest controversy, she stated "it's not frustrating for me but for the people who are harassed because they have to put up with this every minute of their lives."

8/14/1997 - Gandhian Activist's Role Remembered

In this fiftieth anniversary year of India's independence from Britain, Indians are celebrating anew the work of Gandhian activists such as Usah Metha. Metha, a 77 year-old women, served as one of the Indian underground's first disc jockeys in 1928. She also worked with Gandhi on his 1942 campaign to force the British to leave India. Metha has continued to promote Gandhi's ideals of nonviolence for nearly 40 years.

8/13/1997 - First Offender Convicted Under Domestic Abuse Law

William M. Smith faces up to 10 years in prison for possession of a firearm due to the federal Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which makes it a federal offense for anyone with a previous domestic violence conviction to own a gun. Without the protection of this law, Smith's second domestic attack on his wife would likely have been classified as aggrevated assault unders state laws, bringing only a two-year maximum sentence. U.S. Attorney Stephen Rapp called the law "an effective tool to stop the escalation of violence which sometimes follows the first domestic abuse incident."

8/13/1997 - Taliban Still Seeking U.S. Recognition

Representatives of Afghanistan's fundamentalist Islamic Taliban militia have increased their efforts to gain U.S. recognition. The Taliban's designated ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, recently met with State Department officials and members of the House and Senate staffs. So far, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have recognized the Taliban. Other countries have failed to do so because of concerns about the Taliban's treatment of women.

Since the Taliban conquered the capital city of Kabul last September, it has imposed a strict form of Islam which forbids women from working, attending school, or appearing in public unaccompanied by a male relative. Before the takeover, women comprised roughly 50 percent of Afghanistan's university students and 40 percent of its doctors.

8/13/1997 - Simpler Procedure Developed for Detecting Breast Cancer

A new technique for detecting breast cancer, sentinel node bioposy, is being fine-tuned by surgeons around the country. The technique, developed several years ago by Dr. Armando E. Giuliano of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, involves a simple procedure that takes less than an hour and can be done on an outpatient basis. Unlike the standard technique, an auxiliary dissection, which involves removing a cluster of lymph nodes from the armpit, sentinel node biopsy removes one lymph node and examines that node for cancer. For women with small tumors, this procedure is 99% accurate; however, it is less accurate for women with larger tumors. Guiliano cautions that a sentinel node biopsy can only be done by an experienced surgeon.

8/13/1997 - South Africa Celebrates National Women's Day

During the National Women's Day celebration in South Africa on August 9, women protested violence and inequalities against women. Women held demonstrations to denounce the violence in their country, which last year had the highest number of reported rapes in the world. Winnie Mandela, President of the African National Congress Women's League encouraged women to end their silence and identify violent criminals. Protestors also highlighted sex discrimination in employment. Recent finance ministry publications proved that their concerns are relevant; only 53% of white women and 36% of black women make as much as 82% of white males in the country.

8/13/1997 - SBA Revisions Help White Women-Owned Businesses

On August 13, the Small Business Administration published proposed changes to its minority program, which allows federal agencies to reserve contracts for minority-owned firms. Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez said the goal of the revisions is adding to the program several thousand new firms. Alvarez believes these additions will be mostly white women-owned firms. Diana Bowling, owner and president of Dyna Corp., supports the proposals. "I've never understood why the SBA hasn't recognized [all] women as a disadvantaged class," she said. "Women are still not part of the 'good old boy' network that is a big part of how [construction] contracts are awarded." Officials hope to make the new SBA rules final in October.