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6/16/2014 - High Turnout in Afghanistan's Presidential Runoff Election

Over seven million Afghans, or 58 percent of the population, successfully voted in the runoff presidential election on Saturday, despite several attacks from the Taliban at polling centers.

"The participation of men and women across the country demonstrates, once again, the commitment of the Afghan people to shape the future of their country and to reject violence and intimidation," Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote in the April election, a runoff was held between the top two contenders - Abdullah Abdullah, who won 44.9 percent of the vote in the first election, and Ashraf Ghani Amadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) will announce preliminary results for the runoff election on July 2 and expect the final results to be announced on July 22. Whoever wins the majority of the vote will replace current president Hamid Karzai, marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.

Both Abdullah and Amadzai have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which provides that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The candidates also signed a petition for women's rights, announced in a press conference held Thursday. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.


6/16/2014 - Florida Governor Signs Bill Restricting Abortion Access

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that redefines the state's current third trimester abortion ban, creating further restrictions for women seeking later abortions.

Current state law does not allow abortions after 24 weeks except if the pregnant person's life or health is threatened. HB 1047 will limit the existing exceptions by removing mental health conditions as a reason to allow a late abortion.

In addition, the law bans abortion at any point in the pregnancy once a fetus is deemed viable unless two doctors certify in writing that it is necessary to protect the health and life of the woman. If two doctors are not available, one must certify in writing that a second was unable to consult on the matter.

"Sadly, this is really about advancing an agenda of political interference with women's decision-making," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in a statement. "Despite continued attempts to legislate women's health, this is not what we want. Personal medical decisions, like the decision to end a pregnancy, should be kept between a woman and her doctor."

The law will go into effect July 1.


6/13/2014 - Women of Afghanistan Push Equality on the Eve of Runoff Presidential Election

Afghan women's groups Thursday held a press conference announcing that both of the presidential front-runners had signed a six-point petition for women's rights. The news comes on the eve of the nation's runoff elections for the presidency, which are being held tomorrow. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.

A runoff election for the presidency will take place tomorrow in Afghanistan after the first election on April 5 failed to earn any candidate running over 50% of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister and World Bank economist, will compete.

Afghanistan's April elections were a tremendous success. Over 7 million Afghans came out to vote in the elections across the nation despite inclement weather, and at least one-third were women. Turnout was so high that the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC) extended voting hours at voting centers to accommodate crowds. The electoral commission has added 3,500 more polling sites for the runoff election.

For the women of Afghanistan, the elections represent an opportunity for their burgeoning women's rights movement to elect a leader who supports their equality.

"Despite desperate efforts of anti-government elements to thwart the 2014 electoral process," former Minister of Women's Affairs Massouda Jalal wrote on the FMF blog in May, "the will of the Afghan people prevailed. We made it. We were able to show the world that our security forces are robust enough to protect our infant democracy and our people remain worthy of international support."


6/12/2014 - Trade Association Files Suit Against Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

A lawsuit filed today challenges Seattle's new $15 minimum wage, set to go into effect over the next several years.

The International Franchise Association (IFA), a DC-based trade association representing corporations like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, and Dairy Queen, filed the lawsuit alongside five franchise owners who operate their businesses in Seattle. The suit, which names the City of Seattle and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services as defendants, claims the city's new minimum wage law unfairly targets franchises [PDF] by categorizing them as "large businesses."

Seattle's City Council approved an ordinance on June 2 that will gradually raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour; Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance into law the next day. The law gives large businesses, defined as any company with more than 500 employees, over three years to implement the changes. Smaller businesses are given an extra four years to phase in the increase. Because franchises are part of national company networks employing, typically, over 500 people, local franchises of larger corporations must adhere to the three-year schedule.

The IFA lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect, claiming it violates both the Equal Protection Clause and Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

Seattle Mayor Murray explained in a press conference that franchisees should be treated differently from small, independent local businesses because franchisees receive advertising, marketing, training, and brand identity from their parent companies. He added that the city had done thorough research on compliance with various laws, and felt confident against any challenges, saying, "I think we're on pretty solid ground here."

The IFA estimates there are 600 franchises in Seattle employing 19,000 workers.


6/12/2014 - Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to ACA Birth Control Benefit

In a unanimous decision, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) birth control coverage benefit does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment, upholding two lower courts' denial of a preliminary injunction against the law to a group of Catholic-affiliated non-profit entities.

The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. In that case, if the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.

The non-profit groups in the case argued that the process to obtain the exemption or the accommodation unduly interfered with their religious beliefs and burdened their exercise of religion, violating both RFRA and the First Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments, finding that the ACA did not substantially burden the religious exercise of any group eligible for either the exemption or the accommodation. The court noted that the law was specifically crafted so that these groups would not be required to "provide" contraceptives to anyone, to "pay for" contraceptive coverage, or to "facilitate" access to contraceptives.

Together with the National Women's Law Center, the Feminist Majority Foundation and 20 other national, regional, and local groups submitted an amicus brief to the Sixth Circuit in support of the ACA birth control benefit. Nationwide, over 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the benefit. The Supreme Court is expected to decide this month whether for-profit companies should be exempted from the contraceptive coverage requirement.

A majority of Americans support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives, and at least 14% of women using the pill are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers. Birth control is basic health care for women.


6/11/2014 - Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict Convenes This Week

Representatives from over 140 nations are attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London this week. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress and United Nations special envoy Angelina Jolie are co-chairing the event, the largest ever of its kind.

The summit aims to "shatter the culture of impunity" for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict, take practical steps to reduce the dangers women face during conflicts, increase support for survivors, and debunk the myth that rape in war is inevitable.

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians . . . done to torture and humiliate people and often to very young children," Jolie said. "We need to see real commitment and go after the worst perpetrators, to fund proper protection for vulnerable people, and to step in to help the worst-affected countries."

The summit, with up to 1,200 government ministers, activists, and other leaders attending, will feature meetings and discussions, film screenings, theater and art displays. Several of the events are open to the public, and you can watch by livestream.

Hague and Jolie launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) in 2012, which included a United Nations Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that has been endorsed by 141 countries so far. Hague and Jolie began to work together after Hague saw a film Jolie directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey, about how rape was used as a weapon of war in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict in the 1990s.

Rape is frequently used as a military tactic to "humiliate and demoralize individuals, to tear apart families, and to devastate a href="http://stoprapenow.org/uploads/aboutdownloads/1282162584.pdf">communities." Soldiers often see rape as a spoil of war, and the lawlessness of countries in conflict means perpetrators usually face no punishment, and survivors rarely receive justice or the medical or other recovery services they need. Past conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina included the rape of thousands of women and girls. Currently, an average of 40 women are raped per day in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


6/9/2014 - South Carolina Legislators Fail to Pass Anti-Choice Measures

South Carolina lawmakers concluded their legislative session Friday without passing two bills that would have restricted access to abortion across the state.

A bill criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks and another that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital were both being considered by South Carolina's legislators until they adjourned for the summer. Some lawmakers were also attempting to define life as beginning at conception. None of the bills moved through the body, which women's groups locally are hailing as a victory.

"Today is a victory for the men and women across South Carolina who have stood up to say 'enough is enough,'" said VP of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Melissa Reed in a statement. "And most importantly, it is a victory for the thousands of women who would have been hurt by these cruel and misguided policies."

The failure to pass the bills comes after a recent poll found that a majority of South Carolina voters in key districts did not think abortion restrictions should be a priority for the state's lawmakers. In addition, Planned Parenthood reported that over 2,000 residents called and emailed their legislators to urge them not to pass restrictions and over 24 medical professionals, researchers, advocates, and voters testified against the bills.

"The bills had little to do with women's health," Jennifer Dalven, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told ThinkProgress. "They were 100 percent about inserting politics where they don't belong."

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. A law requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers in Oklahoma may force two of their three remaining clinics to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.

Many state legislatures have also considered 20-week abortion bans, despite concerns that these bans violate Roe v. Wade by unconstitutionally banning abortion before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a 20-week ban into law this April; however, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a 20-week ban this year because of legal and privacy concerns. At the federal level, Senate Republicans have been pushing unsuccessfully for a vote on a 20-week abortion ban. The US House passed a companion 20-week ban last June.


6/9/2014 - Anti-Choice Group Asks SCOTUS to Review New York City's CPC Regulations

The American Center for Law and Justice asked the US Supreme Court Friday to review a federal appeals court decision reinstating parts of New York City's landmark set of regulations for Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), or "fake clinics."

Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the portion of the New York City law, passed in 2011, that requires CPCs operating in New York City to disclose whether or not a licensed medical professional works on-site at the facility. This so-called "status disclosure" must be posted in both English and Spanish at the entrance to the facility and in the waiting room and must also be communicated orally during meetings and in telephone conversations with potential clients.

The petition filed by the American Center for Law and Justice asks the US Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit's decision to reinstate the status disclosure requirement as well as the court's finding that the law's definition of a CPC is not unconstitutionally vague.

The New York City law immediately became a target after it passed in 2011. At the request of several CPCs, a lower court temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, and although the Second Circuit reinstated its "status disclosure" provision, it did not restore the requirement that CPCs disclose whether their provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortion, or prenatal care. The appeals court also ruled that the City could not require CPCs to disclose that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider.

A Congressional investigation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers found that 87 percent provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion, and many use misinformation to deter their clients from using contraception or pursuing abortion. CPCs target women of color and poor women in particular, including college students. CPCs are common across the nation, and outnumber comprehensive women's health clinics. Most are affiliated with anti-choice or religious organizations.


6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws

WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.

"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."

Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.

"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.

FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.


6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws

WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.

"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."

Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.

"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.

FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.

###

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 9, 2014
Contact: Megan Perry
(703) 522-2214
mperry@feminist.org


6/6/2014 - Walmart Employees Strike Nationwide to Demand Higher Wages

Walmart employees and union organizers with OUR Walmart held strikes in over 20 US cities Wednesday in a campaign to raise wages for workers.

The protesters demand that Walmart pay associates at least $25,000 per year and not retaliate against workers who strike. Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Walmart for retaliating against 60 workers who had participated in strikes or protests against Walmart stores.

"I am trying to tell Walmart that they should not retaliate against workers, and that they need to raise wages and respect us," said Bene't Holmes, a Walmart-employee earning $8.75 per hour at a Chicago-area store, at a candlelight vigil held earlier this week outside the home of Walmart's board chairman, Rob Walton.

The strike and other actions were scheduled around the chain's annual shareholder meeting taking place in Arkansas today.

Walmart employees and organizers have been striking against the company for several years now because of its low wages and poor treatment of its workers, such as widespread discrimination against women. The largest protest yet was held last November. These campaigns, like those of the nationwide movement by fast food workers and other minimum-wage workers, seek to make employers - often bringing in billions of dollars in profit - pay their workers living wages.

An increase in wages would primarily benefit women workers, who make up the majority of low-wage workers in the retail industry. According to a study released by Demos earlier this week, 1.3 million women working in the retail industry live in or near poverty. Low-wages, unpredictable hours, and lack of full-time opportunities, all present real obstacles to these workers' economic security.

Walmart has also been heavily criticized recently for refusing to join the Bangladesh accord, a legally binding agreement to improve working conditions for overseas factory workers that manufacture their clothes. The accord was created after a garment factory where Walmart materials were produced collapsed in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 1,300 workers. Activists have also been demanding that Walmart pay reparations to survivors of the collapse and victims' families.


6/6/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill to Keep Pregnant Women on Life Support Against Wishes

The Louisiana legislature passed a bill this week that will require physicians to keep mentally incapacitated pregnant women on life support against their wishes.

HB 1274 requires physicians to to keep brain-dead women who are at least 20 weeks pregnant on mechanical support if there is a chance the fetus is viable. The law would override requests from family members for removal, and even the wishes of the pregnant woman, but will not apply if a woman has specified in her will that she was not to be resuscitated while pregnant.

"They're making all these godlike decisions for people who should be making this decision on their own for their loved one," Julie Schwam Harris, who testified during the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing, told RH Reality Check.

A similar law in Texas led to a lawsuit by the husband of Marlise Munoz, who was found brain-dead after a possible pulmonary embolism. Even though she had made it clear while alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything happened to her, and her family repeatedly requested that she be taken off support, her hospital would not allow it because she had been 14 weeks pregnant. The fetus was later found to be significantly deformed and nonviable due to the lack of oxygen it suffered when Munoz collapsed, so Munoz was removed from support

Twelve US states invalidate a woman's end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies. Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the bill into law, making Louisiana the thirteenth.


6/5/2014 - Mass Grave in Ireland Contains Remains of Almost 800 Children from Catholic Mother-and-Baby Home

The remains of almost 800 children found in a mass grave in western Ireland have been determined to be from a home for unwed mothers that operated in Tuam, County Galway for 35 years between 1926 to 1961.

The deaths of the children likely occurred because of neglect, disease and malnutrition, which was rampant according to a 1944 government investigation of the home. Mothers who gave birth at the home told Catherine Corless, the researcher who discovered the origin of the bones, that they received extremely poor healthcare. They told her that they were only seen once by a doctor when they were admitted to the house, and long labors were often unattended.

The bone repository - found in a septic tank - was originally discovered in 1975, but it was assumed to contain the remains of victims of the mid-nineteenth century famine until Corless conducted her research.

The "mother-and-baby home" in Taum was one of many Catholic Church-run institutions across Ireland created to house unwed pregnant women, including rape victims, and hide the "stain" they would create on the morality of the country. The Church has been under fire, especially from the United Nations, for operating Magdalene Asylums, or Magdalene Laundries, for unwed women from the 18th to 20th centuries in Ireland and across Europe and North America, as well as for church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Women in the laundries were forced to work in terrible conditions, and children were often sold without the mother's consent. Increasing awareness of the offenses committed by the Church has made it much harder for the Vatican and governments to ignore them.

"How can we show in Ireland that we have matured as a society if we cannot call out these horrific acts of the past for what they were? They were willful and deliberate neglect of children, who were the most vulnerable of all," junior minister for education, Ciaran Cannon, told Reuters. "They were deserving of love and nurturing, but they received the exact opposite. They were shunned by society at the time. The only way we can address that injustice is to tell their story, to determine the truth."

The government is considering launching an inquiry into the home, and people are pulling together to place a plaque at the site commemorating the children buried there.


6/5/2014 - US Support of Afghanistan Will Continue Even As Troops Drawdown

President Obama announced last week that 9,800 United States military troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 to help train and advise Afghan security forces, as well as assist in counter-terrorism operations. The number of troops will then continue to be scaled back to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by 2016.

"Over the last several years, we've worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans," said Obama in his announcement of the plan. "One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations. Since then, they've continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country."

In June 2013, the US and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). According to the White House, there are no plans to decrease the size of the Afghan security forces, now at 352,000. Since the transition, the ANSF has taken the lead in fighting insurgents and has successfully recaptured territory the country lost to the Taliban in previous years. The United Nations Security Council has also commended the ANSF for successfully providing effective security for the historic April 2014 Afghan elections, which saw lower levels of violence than the 2009 elections.

During his remarks, President Obama made clear that the drawdown of US troops would not impact the United States' commitment to Afghan re-development. "Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come," said Obama. "But our relationship will not be defined by war, it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support."

Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May 2012 which included "U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation." Afghanistan committed "to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans - men and women." The SPA is still in effect.

The US has also made a substantial five-year commitment to Afghan women and girls through the USAID project Promote, the agency's largest gender program in the world. Geared toward women between the ages of 18 and 30 who have at least a secondary education, Promote is expected to increase women's economic, social, and political participation through education, job training, micro-finance and credit for female entrepreneurs, training for policy-making, and strengthening of women's rights groups and coalitions. USAID will contribute up to $216 million to the project; other donors can contribute up to $200 million in additional funding, for a total of $416 million over the five-year period. The recently announced troop drawdown does not change these commitments.

The President, however, did state that the decision to maintain troops in Afghanistan is contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Current President Hamid Karzai will not sign the BSA, but the front-runners to be the next president have both said they will. Former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are the two top presidential candidates. Because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2014 election, a runoff will be held June 14 to determine the next president.


6/4/2014 - Sandra Fluke's Campaign for California State Senate Advances to General Election

Women's rights activist and attorney, Sandra Fluke, finished in the top two in her run for an open state Senate seat in California's 26th district. Current state Senator Ted Lieu is running for the retiring Henry Waxman's seat. The two candidates who earn the most votes in California primary elections advance to the general election regardless of political party, so Fluke will now compete against fellow Democrat Ben Allen for the seat. The general election will take place on November 4.

Fluke, then a Georgetown law student, came to national attention in 2012 when House Republicans refused to allow her to testify at a hearing on the Affordable Care Act's requirement for religiously affiliated colleges or universities and hospitals to cover birth control. Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for speaking on the need for women students to have coverage for birth control and for treatment of illnesses such as ovarian cysts. She became an outspoken feminist, and she spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and at Feminist Majority's 2012 Women Money Power Summit in Washington, D.C.

Fluke and Allen are competing for the state Senate seat currently occupied by Ted Lieu, who led in the primary for Henry Waxman's seat in the House for California's 33rd district. Waxman is retiring after 40 years of leadership in the House. Democrat Lieu came in second place in his primary with 19 percent of the vote, falling slightly behind Republican Elan Carr, who earned 21 percent of the vote. But Lieu will win the general election because Waxman's seat is a strong Democratic seat and there were many Democrats running. Wendy Greuel was also competing for the Waxman seat but came in third place, so she will not advance.

Meanwhile, the pro-choice Norma Torres won the primary for a House seat for California's 35th district with 67 percent of the vote. She will compete with fellow Democrat Christina Gagnier in the November election to replace current Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod, who is leaving Congress to run for San Bernardino County Supervisor.


6/4/2014 - Poll Shows Widespread Online Harassment of Women

A recently released poll by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Newmark of Craigconnects reveals that women experience of majority of online harassment - and that the impact can be devastating.

The poll found that 25 percent of all Americans have experienced a form of harassment online; of them, a whopping 57 percent are women. Respondents under 35 were almost twice as likely to have experienced harassment than their older counterparts; of them, 52 percent are women. Sexual harassment was the most common experience women reported, occurring in 43 percent of all incidences.

"There have been several rape threats," HollaBack! cofounder Emily May wrote about online harassment in a Ms. magazine blog published last year. "But it's mostly 'I want to rape you' or 'Somebody should rape you.' Most are not physical threats - they're more about how ugly I am, how nobody would bother raping me because I'm so fat and hideous."

Women bloggers frequently discuss and disclose tales of online harassment, and even women who have evaded harassment themselves know about the widespread practice, with 65 percent of those polled reporting that they know someone personally who has been victim to bullying, threats, or other forms of harassment. "None of this makes me exceptional," freelance writer Amanda Hess wrote after telling a personal story about online harassment in Pacific Standard. "It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection."

Those surveyed in the poll reveal that harassment has significant effects on the well-being of those receiving it, with 29 percent scared for their life and 20 percent scared to leave their house. According to Ms. magazine, harassment may also push writers to tone down their voices or stop writing altogether. "Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old," May confessed in her blog.

"Some people may think the Internet is a place where they can threaten people without consequences, but online harassment has horrifying real-life effects. About 30% of people who are harassed online say that they fear for their lives," said Allyson Kapin, co-founder partner of Rad Campaign. "These poll results show the need for effective responses to the problem at all levels."

The full data set from the poll is available online at onlineharassmentdata.org.


6/3/2014 - Medicare Ban on Transition-Related Transgender Health Coverage Lifted

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board ruled on Friday that transgender people can no longer be automatically denied Medicare coverage for surgery as part of their transition-related health care.

The board ruled that the 33-year old blanket ban on coverage is unreasonable and based on biased standards. When the ban was instated in 1981, surgery was thought of as an "experimental" risk, but now it is considered safe and often medically necessary. Transgender people will now be eligible to receive coverage for surgery - which can include genital reconstruction, breast implants, mastectomies, vocal cord modification, and other procedures - or at least receive an individualized review of their circumstances instead of having their requests automatically denied. Because private health insurance companies and state Medicaid programs usually follow the federal government's policies regarding coverage, advocates hope they will follow suit and expand their options.

The decision was made in response to an appeal by ACLU, GLAD, and NCLR on behalf of Denee Mallon, a 74-year-old transgender woman and veteran who was denied coverage for genital reconstruction surgery. "This decision means so much to me and to many other transgender people," Mellon said in a statement. "I am relieved to know that my doctor and I can now address my medical needs, just as other patients and doctors do."

The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU),Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and National Center for Lesbian Rights in a joint statement called the decision "consistent with the consensus of the medical and scientific community that access to gender transition-related care is medically necessary for many people with gender dysphoria."


6/3/2014 - Canada Pledges $3.5 Billion for Maternal Health Programs Worldwide

At a three-day international maternal health summit in Toronto last week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, announced that Canada has pledged $3.5 billion for programs aimed at improving maternal and newborn health in developing countries.

"There is no better investment in the world's future prosperity than women's and children's health," said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the summit.

The funds will add on to previously committed funds for the Millenium Development Goals - goals and strategies agreed to by all the world's countries and leading development institutions to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality, among other issues, by a target date of 2015. Canada's funds will be allocated for between 2015 and 2020.

99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions. Unfortunately, Canada's pledge excludes abortion and birth control from its funding.

"Women have to have better control of their reproductive rights; we know that when women are healthy and educated, they contribute more to society," said NDP MP Helene Laverdiere in protest of the exclusion.


6/2/2014 - Obama Makes His Mark on Federal Appeals Courts

The make-up of the thirteen US federal appeals courts experienced a marked change under the Obama Administration. Once dominated by a majority of Republican-appointed judges, the US Courts of Appeals now have a majority of Democratic appointees.

President Obama's 49 judicial appointments have led to a significant change in the composition of the federal appeals courts. After the presidency of George W. Bush, 10 of the 13 US Courts of Appeal had a majority of Republican judicial appointees, two were evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees, and only one had a majority of Democratic appointees. Research conducted by the Alliance for Justice now shows that, as of May 23, nine of the 13 US Courts of Appeal have a majority of Democratic judicial appointees, and four have a majority of Republican appointees.

The thirteen US Courts of Appeals hear appeals from the federal district courts as well as appeals of federal administrative agency decisions. These federal appeals courts decide about 60,000 cases each year, ranging from discrimination and civil rights claims, criminal cases, environmental challenges, and others. These decisions are usually the final judgment in a case, as the US Supreme Court hears less than 100 cases per year, making the US Courts of Appeal a critical component of the US judicial system. In addition, federal judges serve on the bench for life unless they resign or are removed through impeachment, so the selection of federal judges can impact the composition of the courts for decades.

Currently, there are 10 vacancies on the US Courts of Appeals. One is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, and three nominees are pending consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve each nomination before the full Senate votes to confirm a nominee. The Senate voted in November to change its procedural rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on presidential nominees to the executive branch and the federal bench, with the exception of nominees to the US Supreme Court. The rule change prevents one party from blocking these nominations from coming to a full vote on the Senate floor.


6/2/2014 - African Union Launches First Campaign to End Child Marriage

The African Union launched its first campaign to curb child marriage in Africa last week, in cooperation with African governments, UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development, and several civil society organizations.

"What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying 'No to Child Marriage,'" said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. "This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married."

The campaign will run for an initial two-year period, with national launches in anticipated in at least 10 countries. The campaign will focus on policy action, raising awareness, and implementing legal frameworks that protect children. Some countries already have additional strategies in mind. Zambia is involving traditional chiefs to change the cultural norms around child marriage.

As many as 17 million girls across the continent, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. Child marriage rates are the highest in Niger (75%) and Chad (68%). Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications, and are less likely to get an education.


6/2/2014 - Obama Proclaims June 2014 LGBT Pride Month

President Obama proclaimed June 2014 to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

"During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains," Obama said in the proclamation.

"Here at home, we have strengthened laws against violence toward LGBT Americans, taken action to prevent bullying and harassment, and prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals. Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act." The act (ENDA) passed the Senate in November, but it has not moved forward since.

Obama added that his administration will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities in the LGBT community, with the help of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS strategy. He also said that his commitment to equality for LGBT people extends around the world, where people face arrest, violence, and execution for who they are.

"I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people," he said in ending the proclamation.

TAKE ACTION: Protest Brunei's Kill-A-Gay and Flog-A-Woman Penal Code!


5/30/2014 - Complaint Filed Against Insurers for Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDS

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and The AIDS Institute filed a complaint yesterday with the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCR) alleging that four Florida insurers are discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS. The complaint claims that the insurers are creating prescription drug policies that discourage people with HIV/AIDS from using their plans, which violates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and federal civil rights laws.

"The ACA provides robust consumer protections, including putting an end to discriminatory practices by health insurers," said Wayne Turner, NHeLP staff attorney, in a statement yesterday. "But these insurance plans are running afoul of that by placing all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest tiers with exorbitant co-insurance and co-pays, and instituting other barriers to obtaining commonly prescribed HIV/AIDS medications. The companies are going out of their way to discourage people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in their plans--a blatantly illegal practice."

The four insurers noted in the complaint - CoventryOne, Cigna, Humana and Preferred Medical - are alleged to have placed all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest drug tiers and to require expensive co-insurance and co-pays, high up-front costs, and prior authorization. For example, Humana requires that members spend a $1,5000 deductible and then contribute 50 percent towards the cost of their HIV/AIDS medication - which can cost over $2,000 for a one-month supply.

The groups are calling on the HHS OCR to investigate the plans and require them to take corrective actions. They want to send a strong message to other plans to prevent this tactic from spreading, which "would make insurance coverage impossible for people with HIV/AIDS, and jeopardize their health and well-being," continued Turner.


5/30/2014 - Oklahoma Governor Signs Admitting Privileges Bill

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill on Wednesday that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. HB 1848 also requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards around equipment and supplies that may be necessary if a medical emergency occurs.

Admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; hospitals may refuse to provide privileges because of religious affiliation or fear of anti-choice protesters and violence; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion.

They are "a veiled attempt to really close down clinics in the name of women's health," said Tamya Cox, staff attorney of lobbysit for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

These laws and the resulting closures of clinics leave many women without access to vital abortion services. Some already have to drive hundreds of miles or across state lines to get to the nearest clinic, but if multiple states continue to pass these laws, even those limited options may disappear. "We are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement after Louisiana's legislature passed their admitting privileges law last week.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. Only one of Oklahoma's three clinics already has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, so the other two may be forced to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.


5/29/2014 - Pakistani Woman Stoned to Death for Marrying A Man of Her Own Choosing

A 25-year-old Pakistani woman was brutally and publicly murdered by her family this week for marrying the man she loved.

Farzana Parveen married a man several months ago following a years-long engagement. She was three months pregnant. Her family did not approve of the marriage because they did not arrange it, and the husband believes they were trying to get money from him. After the couple married, Parveen's family threatened them and filed an abduction case against the husband. On the couple's way to the courthouse Tuesday to contest the abduction claim, 20 of Parveen's extended family members waited outside for them and started beating them with batons and bricks from a nearby construction site until she died.

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," the father was quoted saying to a police investigator. He is currently under arrest and facing murder charges.

"HRCP is appalled by the manner of Farzana Parveen's death just a few yards from the Lahore High Court on Tuesday," said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement. "Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognises for all adult citizens but one where the state has failed to prevent abuse and violence."

HRCP reports that almost 900 women were murdered in 2013 in so-called honor killings, and many perpetrators who commit violence against women are acquitted or given light sentences due to poor police work and prosecutions and the unwillingness of the state to confront the issue.


5/28/2014 - New Hampshire Governor to Sign 25-Foot Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted last week to create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortion services.

SB 319 was filed in response to over 60 complaints by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester since the start of 2013. The complaints detailed verbal harassment, intimidation, and passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. It had largely bipartisan support when it was introduced.

"Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation," said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, regarding some Republican support of the bill.

The bill had already passed the Senate in February, but the House made a few changes before passage and then sent it to the Senate for another vote. It will now go to the governor's desk, where Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley on whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot clinic safety buffer zone is constitutional. The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks. In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature, with the support of local law enforcement, strengthened its law to create a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers.

"We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence," commented Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "These laws are instrumental in protecting patients, doctors, and healthcare workers from harassment and intimidation and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services."

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law at issue in McCullen. The law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next month.