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6/15/2015 - New Poll Reaffirms That 1 in 5 College Women are Sexually Assaulted

A recently released Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll reaffirmed the commonly-cited statistic that one in five women, or twenty percent, who attended college in the past four years say they were sexually assaulted. The data also show that students are divided about the definition of consent, that victims of sexual assault suffer from trauma, and that a small minority of victims report the crime.

The Post-Kaiser poll defined sexual assault to include five types of unwanted contact: oral sex, vaginal sexual intercourse, anal sex, sexual penetration with a finger or object, and forced touching of a sexual nature. In all, 25 percent of women and 7 percent of men said they experienced one or more of the types of unwanted contact listed while in college. And while most of the victims told someone they trusted about the incident, only 11 percent reported the crime to police of college authorities.

The findings of these data reflect the findings of a 2005 congressionally-mandated report by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), underscoring the lack of progress in lowering the 1 in 5 statistic of college sexual assault over the past decade. The NIJ report, which studied random samples from almost 2,500 schools including 2 and 4-year institutions, also found that twenty percent of college women experienced sexual assault, while only 12 percent reported the crime.

The effects of sexual assault manifested in different ways, according to victims. Victims reported having trouble concentrating, resulting in poor grades, panic attacks, and other post-traumatic stress symptoms like rage or depression. Respondents in the poll also gave mixed responses on the topic of consent: In instances of verbal consent, where a "yes" or "no" had been obtained, students were clear on what constituted as consent; responses became much more muddled, however, when asked about consent through non-verbal means such as body language. For example, when asked if actions like a nod, undressing, or getting a condom established consent, 40 percent said it did while 40 percent said it did not. The poll found that men were much more likely to infer consent from sexual foreplay than women.

Responses also varied along gender lines in perceptions of the amount of sexual assault victims. 58 percent of men polled think the number of women assaulted at their school is less than one in five, while an equal 58 percent of women think the number of women assaulted on their campus is one in five or greater. The poll also suggested that campus characteristics- such as size, private versus public, religious affiliation, or reputation for being a "party school" - were non-factors, with the exception of the presence of fraternities and sororities, which was linked to an increased likelihood that women were assaulted.

The poll was conducted from January to March of this year, and surveyed a random national sample of 1,056 women and men between the ages of 17 and 26 who were undergraduates at four-year colleges or had been at some point since 2011. It spanned more than 500 colleges and universities of varying sizes in every state and the District of Columbia.

6/12/2015 - An Appeals Court Just Upheld the Law Closing Abortion Clinics in Texas

Texas' Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld harmful anti-abortion provisions this week stating that forcing a woman seeking abortion care to leave the state does not pose undue burden. The decision also leaves 13 clinics facing imminent closure.

The decision allows the state to uphold 2013 bill HB 2, requiring that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the costly hospital-like standards for buildings known as ambulatory surgical centers (ASC). It gives Texas clinics twenty two days to achieve this multi-million dollar requirement.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, said that the ruling "put a road full of unnecessary hurdles in front of every woman in Texas who has decided to end her pregnancy."

"For scores of Texas women, the repercussions of this ruling will be devastating," Miller added. "Indeed, an estimated 1.3 million women of reproductive age will now live more than 100 miles from the nearest abortion clinic."

The ruling also reverses the lower court's order blocking Texas' admitting privileges requirement except as applied to a single doctor. This provision has already forced approximately half the state's abortion clinics to close their doors over the past two years. The court claimed that this is not an undue burden on Texas women, despite only seven clinics in Texas currently meeting these standards.

The seven clinics that comply are in Texas' major cities: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Only two clinics (in McAllen and El Paso) serve the Rio Grande Valley area. These two clinics will be closed due to non-compliance with ASC standards. In El Paso, women will face a round-trip of over a thousand miles to obtain abortion care, traveling to neighboring New Mexico to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion.

"Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision had the potential to devastate access to reproductive health care on such a sweeping scale," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"We now look to the Justices to stop the sham laws that are shutting clinics down and placing countless women at risk of serious harm," Northup said, urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.

This ruling will especially impact low-income women and single mothers. It adds significant burdens such as coming up with the cost and means of travel, taking additional time off work, and often finding lodging, due to Texas' 24-hour mandatory waiting period.

6/12/2015 - New Nigerian Law Forbids Bans Genital Mutilation

Last month outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law formally banning female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite the progressive action, many say that it will take years for FGM practices to cease due its cultural pervasiveness.

The United Nations defines FGM as any "harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization." The practice of FGM is often done without anaesthesia, medical professionals or proper equipment. An incomplete list of potential effects of the procedure includes infection, infertility, heavy bleeding, cysts, complicated childbirth, and chronic pain.

"With such a huge population, Nigeria's vote in favour of women and girls is hugely important," FGM programme manager of Equality Now Mary Wandia told the Guardian. "We hope, too, that the other African countries which have yet to ban FGM - including Liberia, Sudan and Mali, among others - do so immediately to give all girls a basic level of protection."

According to a 2013 UNICEF report, about 125 million girls and women in the world undergo FGM procedures. FGM is most common in Africa, where it is known to be practiced in 29 countries. A handful of Asian, Middle Eastern, and South American countries regularly practice FGM, and it can be found in some western countries including Canada, Australia, and the United States among diaspora populations.

"It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women," Stella Mukasa, Director of Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Center for Research on Women wrote on the topic of FGM. "Doing so involves laws and policies, as well as community level engagement and programs that work to empower girls directly."

6/11/2015 - UPDATE: Murder Charges Dropped for Georgia Woman Taking Abortion Pills

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards announced yesterday that murder charges against a Georgia woman who ended her pregnancy using a prescription abortion pill she ordered online have been dropped.

According to Dougherty County authorities, Kenlissa Jones was arrested on Saturday after a call from hospital social worker. The social worker reported to police that Jones had gone into labor after taking four abortion pills she had purchased over the Internet. Jones then delivered the fetus, which did not survive. Following her arrest, Jones was taken to the Dougherty County jail, charged with murder and possession of a dangerous drug, and held without bond.

The original murder charge was unprecedented in Georgia, a state that has specific laws protecting women from legal prosecution for acts committed against unborn fetuses.

"I dismissed that malice murder warrant after thorough legal research by myself and my staff led to the conclusion that Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts relating to the end of her pregnancy," Edwards said yesterday in a statement. "Although third parties could be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to an illegal abortion, as the law currently stands in Georgia, criminal prosecution of a pregnant woman for her own actions against her unborn child does not seem permitted."

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) applauded Edwards for dropping the charges, and is calling on prosecutors to drop all charges. NAPW says that Jones "should never have been arrested in the first place."

"A person's health decisions during pregnancy -- including the decision to end a pregnancy -- should never be the subject of criminal investigation, arrest, prosecution, or public disclosure of medical information without consent," NAPW said in their statement. "It is especially troubling to see a young black mother of a toddler charged with a crime that carries the death penalty."

Edwards told a local news station that Jones' case will likely go before a grand jury.

6/10/2015 - Georgia Woman Charged with Murder for Taking Abortion Pills

A 23-year-old Georgia woman was arrested yesterday and charged with malice murder and possession of a dangerous drug for attempting an at-home abortion using the drug misoprostol. The charges, which are unprecedented in the state of Georgia, have left groups on all sides of the abortion debate stunned.

According to Dougherty County authorities, Kenlissa Jones was arrested on Saturday after a call from hospital social worker. The social worker reported to police that Jones had gone into labor after taking four misoprostol pills she had purchased over the Internet. Jones then delivered the fetus, which did not survive. Following her arrest, Jones was taken to the Dougherty County jail and held without bond.

"We don't believe there is any law in Georgia that allows for the arrest of a woman for the outcome of her pregnancy," said Lynn Paltrow, attorney and Executive Director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW).

NAPW released a statement condemning the arrest of Jones, saying that not only is there no law in Georgia that allows for the arrest of women based on the outcome of their pregnancies, such an arrest is actually at odds with existing state law.

"There are no criminal statutes in Georgia that permit punishment of women based on pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes - and the constitution, as well as human rights principles, prohibit such punitive laws directed to pregnant women," the statement reads.

Indeed, Genevieve Wilson, a director of the anti-abortion group Georgia Right to Life, says she was "very surprised by the arrest," and that "I'm thinking that perhaps whoever made the arrest may not have known what the laws really are."

Paltrow and other abortion rights activists are concerned with the increasing trend of criminalizing pregnant women, as in the case of an Indiana woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for charges of feticide after suffering a miscarriage. Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus - there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage, and has since filed an appeal.

"People who seek medical attention for any aspect of pregnancy - including prenatal care, labor and delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion - should not fear arrest. There is no role for police or prosecutors in reproductive health," the NAPW states.

6/10/2015 - Black Girls and Women No Longer Invisible in Police Violence Cases

McKinney TX police officer Eric Casebolt's violent attack on Dajerria Becton, a 15-year-old African American girl at a neighborhood pool party, which was captured on video, went immediately viral over the weekend.

There is little data on police violence toward African American women and girls, which, according to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) "There is a paucity of data in cases of police violence against Black women, which perpetuates the myth that they are not impacted by this problem." Yet we know that 12 African American women were reported killed by police in 2014, and this is only what is currently known. There has been no systematic collection of these data.

AAPF, under the leadership of its Director and Founder Kimberle Crenshaw, a well-recognized UCLA and Columbia University Professor who developed the theory of intersectionality, has created a Black Women Police Violence Database, to which it is inviting the public to add their stories. Crenshaw and the AAPF released a report last month called "#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women." The report highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women.

By Tuesday, after of the publicity caused by the video, which was viewed more than 6 million times over the weekend, Casebolt resigned. The McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley called Casebolt's behavior "indefensible" and "out of control." In a statement, Conley said, "Our policies, our training, our practice do not support his actions." No decision has been made if Casebolt will be prosecuted.

"Ex-officer Casebolt must face legal action for his violent, reckless action against Becton. Until more police officers are held accountable this out of control, violent behavior disproportionately against African American women and girls - as well as boys and men - will continue," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

"So far the public debate about police violence has centered on body cameras and training. But a central element has been neglected: police department recruiting and representation of people of color and women both on police forces and in police command positions."

Of the 170 sworn officers in McKinney's police department, 141 or 83 percent were white and 88 percent were male, according to 2013 data (the most recent that could be located). Only 16 officers or 9 percent were identified as white females. McKinney's police department has only 1 African American woman. Four officers, or 2 percent of the force, were Latinas; 9 or 5 percent were African American males; and 16 or 9 percent were Latinos. Meanwhile the population of McKinney is 26.5 percent black, 17 percent Latina/o, and 44.6 percent white.

"The underrepresentation of women and people of color is a serious problem in one police department after another in our nation," said Smeal, adding "For decades, the FMF National Center for Women and Policing has reported that the underrepresentation of women in policing and the lack of community policing is contributing to police brutality. Our nation must not only change the culture, but also the makeup of its police forces by gender, race, and ethnicity."

6/9/2015 - Virginia's Abortion Clinics Renew Licenses Amidst Regulation Dispute

The Virginia Board of Health announced last week that all 18 abortion clinics in the state have renewed their licenses, despite anti-abortion efforts to place limitations on Virginia clinics.

Virginia has issued a number of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and regulations over the past few years, causing 13 of the state's 18 abortion clinics to fall under regulating violations. The Board of Health announced last week that all of the 18 clinics would nevertheless receive their licenses, as the violations did not have to do with patients' health.

During the 2013-2014 regulation period, Virginia inspectors conducted strict reviews of the state's abortion clinics, giving out demerits for minor administrative deficiencies, like not collecting or filing paperwork properly. As the Editorial Board of the Washington Post pointed out, "the violations that officials did find at the clinics were much less severe than those identified in the state's nursing homes."

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered the state Board of Health to review TRAP laws last year, calling them "extreme and punitive." Virginia Commissioner of Health Dr. Marissa Levine, upon reviewing the laws, explained that she did not feel she had authority to repeal the law, and instead recommended amendments. She called the clinic rules "arbitrary" and "marked by political interference." In December of last year, the Board voted 13-2 to begin to revise several of the more onerous abortion clinic regulations.

Tarina Kaine, Executive Director of NARAL-Pro Choice Virginia, wrote that it was clear that abortion clinics were being disproportionately targeted by these new regulations. "Never in the history of Virginia has an existing facility - be it a hospital, doctor's office, restaurant, or hotel - been forced to retroactively comply with new construction regulations," Kaine wrote.

Proponents of the regulations argue that abortion clinics pose threats to patients at such a level that they should be regulated like hospitals, requiring costly changes to the buildings' structures like creating wider hallways. The evidence, however, shows that in the over 50,000 abortions in two years in Virginia, there has not a single instance of physical harm to a patient.

6/9/2015 - Rana Plaza Victims Will Receive Compensation

After a two-year campaign for compensation for the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the International Labour Organization has succeeded in securing $30 million in compensation.

In April 2013 a multi-story building in Bangladesh that housed five garment factories and a shopping center collapsed, killing at least 1,127 workers and injuring another 2,500. Women made up the majority of the workers in the building, providing low-cost labor to factories producing clothing for Western brands, including those sold in the US, Canada, and Europe. Bangladeshi officials have since charged 41 people with murder for failing to listen to inspectors orders to close the building due to the discovery of cracks in the facade. Among those charged was Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, who was arrested after the collapse attempting to flee the country.

In 2014 the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee calculated that they would need $30 million to pay the 5,000 claimants in the tragedy. The International Labour Organization set up the Rana Plaza Fund, which met the goal of $30 million yesterday after an anonymous donor filled the remaining $2.4 million gap.

Since Bangladesh does not have a national workplace injury compensation program, workers' rights activists both locally and internationally are calling on apparel brands and retailers like Gap, H&M, The Children's Place, and Walmart, who sold clothes produced at Rana Plaza, to pay compensation to the injured survivors and the families of the deceased. Over the two-year campaign, workers' rights groups and labor unions held more than a hundred store actions and demonstrations at corporate headquarters.

6/8/2015 - Organizations Urge the President to Reinterpret Helms Amendment and Aid Nigerian Refugees

Catholics for Choice in partnership with the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) launched a campaign last week in response to more than 200 girls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram members, urging President Obama to reinterpret the Helms Amendment to include abortion care.

Over 400 women and children who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were returned earlier this year, many of whom are pregnant as the result of rape. Organizations hoping to aid these women are calling on President Obama to sign an interpretation of Helms that could allow for foreign assistance in providing abortion care. The law currently says, "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." However, as abortion in the instance of rape, incest, or life endangerment is not a method of family planning or birth control, Catholics for Choice and CHANGE are urging the President to sign into effect an interpretation of Helms that would allow the girls in Nigeria, some of whom are very young, to access what could be life-saving abortion care.

While the Nigerian government has made abortion illegal except in the case of life endangerment, Nigerian officials signed the Maputo Protocol which demands "the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where pregnancy would pose a danger to the woman's physical health, mental health, or life." Even so, there has not been U.S. pressure on the Nigerian government to act in accordance with the Maputo Protocol and allow for abortion in cases of war rape.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice said in a press conference on Friday, "This policy is a disgrace to who we are as Americans. The Obama administration knows this. Catholics for Choice and our partners have spent six and a half years pleading, prodding, but to no avail."

Other organizations have been struggling to get the President's attention as well. Last year, Rev. Harry Knox, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, stated that the Helms Amendment, "has been misused to deny compassionate abortion care to women and girls who face a pregnancy that results from rape." He also said it was the United States' "moral imperative" to provide abortion care.

The schoolgirls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram are running out of time to access safe abortions. Bea Arthur, a therapist and activist who often works with victims of sexual violence, warns of the long-lasting effects that denying a victim of violence can have. "Telling someone they can't have a choice extends that trauma and denies them their own humanity, integrity, and basic human self-respect," she says. Studies also indicate that women who are impregnated as a result of rape and bear children are especially vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress. There is also a strong likelihood of these women experiencing severe negative psychological consequences from facing stigma or isolation within their communities.

6/5/2015 - Senator Gillibrand Continues Fight for Military Justice Improvement Act

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) yesterday filed the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) as an amendment to the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bipartisan amendment, which would move the decision of whether to prosecute serious crimes in the military, including sexual assault, from the chain-of-command and give responsibility to independent military prosecutors, was introduced with 25 cosponsors, including 6 Republicans.

According to Department of Defense data, there were 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2014, an average of 52 incidents of unwanted sexual contact every day. Few incidents, however, are reported. According to Senator Gillibrand's office, as many as 75 percent of survivors report the crime, and of those who do report, 62 percent experience retaliation, despite reforms making retaliation a crime.

Senator Gillibrand, however, questions the accuracy of the DOD data, pointing out that even as the DOD numbers are unacceptably high, the reality of the problem is likely far worse. Conducting her own review of DOD case files, Senator Gillibrand found that 53 percent of the total cases were filed by civilian survivors and non-military spouses. Yet, the DOD's estimates on military sexual assault include only crimes against servicemembers, not civilians.

Survivors are also not receiving justice. Of the 107 military sexual assault cases filed, just over 20 percent went to trial and only 10 percent of all cases resulted in a sexual assault conviction with penalties of confinement and dishonorable discharge, according to a report issued by the Senator. These findings starkly contradict the Pentagon's assertion that the commander-led justice system currently exercised for cases of military sexual assault will lead to tough punishment of service members accused of sex crimes. In fact, a recent report by Human Rights Watch and Protect Our Defenders found that servicemembers who reported sexual assault were 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than to see the offender get convicted for the sex offense.

"The brave men and women we send to war to keep us safe deserve nothing less than a justice system equal to their sacrifice," said Senator Gillibrand, speaking on the floor today. "We owe that to them."

The MJIA was introduced last session both as an NDAA amendment and as a stand-alone bill. Although a majority of Senators supported the bill, it did not get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

6/5/2015 - Medical Experts Are Challenging an Arizona Law that Forces Doctors to Lie to Women

Arizona health care providers filed a complaint in federal court yesterday challenging a recently passed state law requiring doctors to give patients false information, including that it may be possible to "reverse" a medical abortion.

At issue is a provision in SB 1318, which passed 18 to 11 and is scheduled to take effect next month, that requires doctors to provide false information about medical abortions to those seeking abortion care. The law states that "new protocol has been developed to reverse the effects of a chemical abortion," for women using the FDA-approved drug mifepristone, also known also as RU-486.

As Dr. Ilana Addis, chairwoman of the Arizona Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), points out, "The problem is that so-called medical abortion reversal is not FDA approved and has no good evidence to support it."

Dr. Addis calls the provision on medical abortion reversal "tantamount to quackery," in a joint statement with Dr. Julie Kwatra, legislative chair of the Arizona Section of ACOG, where they also call it "blatantly wrong" for Arizona legislators "to force doctors to counsel their patients about voodoo medicine."

Those filing the complaint in federal court are doing so on the grounds that "the Act requires that women seeking an abortion receive false, misleading, and/or irrelevant information, which is harmful to Plantiffs' patients, in violation of those patients' Fourteenth Amendment rights."

The complaint also expresses the concerns of doctors Addis and Kwatra, and writes "There is no credible evidence that a medication abortion can be reversed. Indeed, once an abortion has occurred, whether by medication abortion or by any other means, a woman is no longer pregnant, which cannot be reversed."

This law is one in a series of legislative attacks reproductive rights in the state of Arizona. In the past year alone, Arizona has placed dramatic restrictions on medical abortions, and Governor Brewer signed a bill allowing state authorities to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant. In 2012 the state of Arizona launched a website campaign designed to discourage women from having an abortion.

6/4/2015 - Speier and Meehan Introduce HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act

Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA) today re-introduced the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act to strengthen efforts to combat the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses.

"We have to stop campus sexual assault in its tracks, " said Speier. "We need real enforcement that will make colleges lives up to their obligations under federal law." At an event marking the introduction, Speier reiterated that "Rape is a crime" and noted that the HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act was a result of student organizing and survivors who have had the courage to come forward.

Just this past April, in response to inquiries from Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education, which enforces Title IX, reported that between FY2009 and FY2014, sexual violence complaints at institutions of higher education increased by more than 1000 percent. OCR noted that the number of complaints has made it difficult for the Department to complete timely investigations. The average length of a sexual violence investigation increased from 379 days in 2009 to 1,469 days in 2014. According to OCR, the Department could decrease the length of these investigations if "Congress increases OCR's appropriation to allow OCR to manage its current and projected caseload."

Similarly, the Federal Student Aid office, which is responsible for enforcing the Clery Act, also indicated a need for increased funding. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to report crime statistics to DOE and the public. According to the Federal Student Aid office, the number of forcible sexual assaults on campus has nearly doubled between 2009 and 2014, from 3,264 forcible sexual assaults reported in FY2009 to 6,016 in FY2014.

The HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act would increase funding for Title IX and Clery investigators and also allow students to sue universities for violations of the Clery Act in order to obtain, among other things, compensatory damages. In addition, the bill requires public disclosure of the list of institutions under investigation, the sanctions imposed (if any) or findings issued after investigation, and a copy of all program reviews and resolution agreements entered into between higher education institutions and the Department of Education & the Department of Justice under Title IX and the Clery Act. Penalties for violations of the Clery Act would also be increased from $35,000 to $100,000 per violation. The Act would also require schools to complete biennial climate surveys.

6/4/2015 - President Ghani Confirms: Four Women Ambassadors to be Appointed in Afghanistan

Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan, announced that at least four women will be appointed as foreign diplomats, as well as made other promises for appointments of female government officials at varying levels of Afghanistan's government.

Last week, the Office of the President of Afghanistan tweeted that "at least four women ambassadors will be appointed to represent Afghanistan as top diplomats abroad." The Office also released a promise to appoint one woman as a member of the High Council of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, in another attempt to increase the participation of women in the political arena, four women were successfully selected as ministers in the cabinet. The news has been welcomed by many and comes as a relief to Afghan women, who previously protested the lack of representation of women in the country's parliament.

President Ashraf Ghani, and his wife Rula Ghani, have shown a strong commitment to women's rights, and President Ghani has repeated that women's rights will not be compromised in any negotiations between the Afghan government and other parties. He has been praised for his work in improving women's participation in different sectors and for his firm stance on women's rights.

Women's rights and activist groups have been meeting with President Ghani and have been influential in uplifting women's participation in the Afghan government on all levels. Although the current focus is on women in Kabul and diplomatic positions abroad, the President has promised that in the next 100 days of his governance, he will focus on enhancing women's roles in the provinces. He also shared the news with women's rights organizations that with the help of international community, 35 women will be sent abroad for leadership training.

6/3/2015 - Groups Hold National Day of Action to Oppose "Fast Tracking" of TPP

Activist groups are hosting a National Call-in Day of Action today, asking individuals across the nation to call their Representatives in the U.S. House and urge them to oppose Trade Promotion Authority, or "Fast Track", for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade agreement that has raised serious human rights concerns and threatens US jobs.

Fast Track authority may be voted on as early as next week in the House. The legislation would allow President Obama to force Congress to vote up-or-down, without the opportunity for amendments or discussion, on the TPP. The White House, however, is currently short of the votes needed to approve this dangerous legislation. Activists groups are now asking Americans to call or email their representatives to put a stop to fast tracking the TPP.

Leading the fight in the House against Fast Track is Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). "We will defeat TPA," DeLauro said in an interview with Politico. DeLauro cites the secret conditions in which the TPP has been negotiated as one of her many concerns with the agreement. "The secrecy around the issue has been extraordinary," she said. "We want to have congressional input into this process."

Over 2,000 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, have released a joint letter, opposing fast tracking the TPP, representing labor, environmental, farming, civil rights, digital rights, human rights, public health, faith, student, consumer, and other concerns. Some of these groups have also joined Stop Fast Track, a project of Fight for the Future, to join in actions opposing fast tracking and the TPP.

Although the Senate voted 62 to 37 last month to approve fast track legislation, it was a bumpy ride. Democrats initially blocked the bill from coming to a vote, and some members voiced strong opposition, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with 11 other women's rights groups, wrote a letter to the White House last year expressing concerns regarding the TPP. Particularly troubling is that Brunei -- a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men -- is among the countries included in TPP negotiations. The new Brunei penal code, which is being implemented in phases, calls for fines and imprisonment for women who become pregnant outside marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and so-called "indecent behavior." Once fully implemented, Brunei's strict draconian penal code would punish women who engage in same-sex sexual relations with whipping, fines, or imprisonment.

The Feminist Majority has a petition urging representatives in Congress to prevent the US from entering the TPP.

6/2/2015 - UN Conference for Climate Change Features Workshops on Gender and Climate

The annual United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change began yesterday in Bonn, Germany to discuss how to manage the scientific phenomenon of a changing climate and the effects it has on the Global South and women. The conference will feature a multitude of meetings and workshops ranging from early warning systems in relation to extreme weather to the effect of climate change on indigenous peoples.

The conference, which takes place until June 11, will also have a series of workshops on gender-responsive climate policy and how climate change affects men and women differently. The aim of the workshops is to bring a gendered perspective on aspects of controlling climate change, such as finances and technology.

During this conference, the Women and Gender Constituency presented a position paper asking, in part, "that gender equality, equal access to decision making, and benefit sharing are integrated into all its provisions," and that gender-specific data in regard to climate change "be mainstreamed in all information, communication and reporting systems."

The impacts of climate change around the world disproportionately affects women, from water accessibility to increased violence in the wake of natural disasters. The consequences of human damage to our planet are felt worst by women and girls, and can lead to health problems, victimization, and long-lasting economic and environmental problems for entire nations.

The UNFCCC reports that women make up 70% of the world's poor and often live in countries that are less prepared to handle climate change. Although faced with a larger share of the burden of climate change, women are often simultaneously in distinct positions to create change. "Women are predominately responsible for food production, household water supply, and energy for heating and cooking," the UNFCCC states, giving them a unique perspective for contributing to policy-making efforts in combatting this problem.

"Particularly in rural areas, [women] are the ones who can adopt some important measures necessary to stop climate change," said Francois Richier, the French Ambassador to India. France is preparing for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year by organizing events such as The International Day of Action for Women's Health.

Last year in Lima, Peru, the UNFCCC and multiple advocacy groups organized Gender Day to discuss "women's leadership roles in climate action." UN-level panelists and grassroots activists came together to reflect on how women's perspectives can contribute to the climate change efforts. Featured at this event was the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, a partnership that combines climate finance, women's leadership, and advocacy to educate and enact change in poor areas.

6/1/2015 - Murder Charges in Rana Plaza Garment Factory Collapse

Bangladeshi officials have charged 41 people with murder for the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed at least 1,127 workers, many of whom were young women. Those charged include Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, as well as at least a dozen government officials. Another individual was charged with building code violations.

The multi-story building that collapsed on April 24, 2013, housed five garment factories and a shopping center.Women make up the majority of garment workers in Bangladesh, providing low-cost labor to factories producing clothing for Western brands, including those sold in the US, Canada, and Europe.

The Rana Plaza collapse occurred only one day after inspectors had discovered cracks in the building facade and ordered it closed. That warning was ignored. As reported in the Summer 2013 issue of Ms. Magazine, "The factory owner . . . gave employees an ultimatum: work or lose a month's pay." In addition to those who died, around 2,500 more were injured or maimed. After the collapse, Mr. Rana was arrested attempting to flee the country.

Retailers and labor groups set up a compensation fund for survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy and victims' families. About $24 million has now been paid or pledged, but none of these funds were provided by Bangladeshi factory owners, according to a report in the Guardian. In addition, about a dozen of the retailers linked to Rana Plaza have failed to pay compensation.

Conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh have continued to come under fire, even after the Rana Plaza tragedy. A report released by Human Rights Watch in April 2015 found that poor working conditions, anti-unionism, and violent assault on union organizers still remains an issue for workers. According to Human Rights Watch, "Workers report violations including physical assault, verbal abuse sometimes of a sexual nature, forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full." One woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch explained, "In our factory, 80 percent of workers are female and they will get pregnant but the managers are not doing anything about maternity leave and bonuses. When we protested about it, our supervisors used really bad words against us, such as: "If you're all concentrating on fucking, why are you working here? Go and work in a brothel."

Fewer than 10 percent of garment factories in Bangladesh are unionized. One worker explained to Human Rights Watch how he and his wife were attacked after trying to unionize: "Four people were holding me and beating me on the legs with bars and two people were beating her with iron bars. She was beaten on her head and on her back. Her arms were severely injured and bleeding. Bones of one of her fingers were broken. She had to get 14 stitches on her head. When they were beating up Mira, they were saying 'You want to do union activities? Then we will shower you with blood.'"

The garment industry in Bangladesh employs about four million people and is the second largest in the world behind China. About four-fifths of Bangladesh's exports are from the sale of ready-made garments.

6/1/2015 - Kansas House Passes Amendment to Abortion Bill

The Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill this weekend to slightly lessen Kansas women's access to abortion care. The bill, which was introduced this year in response to a court order that blocked a 2011 anti-abortion bill from being implemented, passed in the House 109-2 and will now go to the governor.

HB 2228 alters the requirement for a woman seeking a drug-induced abortion, requiring a physician to be present for the first administration of the drug, but not for the second dose of the drug. Previous legislation required that the woman return to the doctor's office or stay at the office to wait for the second dose, which is administered hours later. This requirement placed a disproportionate burden on working and low-income women, who would have to arrange multiple trips to the doctors or spend up to 12 hours at the appointment.

Rep. Steve Brunk (R-Wichita), who carried the bill, hopes this minor alteration will alleviate certain burdens for women seeking abortion care, specifically the concern that the drug causes cramps and vaginal bleeding, for which most women would prefer to be in private. "This helps the woman so she can just go home," said Brunk. "She doesn't have to hang around for 12 hours."

Opposition to the bill came from Reps. Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) and Carolyn Bridges (D-Wichita), who said they opposed the bill as "a matter of principle," and that "When a woman needs to have an abortion, it's a legal procedure, and I don't think we ought to be messing with it."

5/30/2015 - This Seattle High School Just Changed the Face of Birth Control Access for Students

A public high school in Seattle will now be offering services for its students to provide long-lasting birth control, such as IUDs or hormonal implants, at the school-based health center.

In 2009 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices as the most effective method of reducing unintended pregnancies for teens. The organization explained that these long-term and reversible methods are often most effective for young people as they eliminate "adherence and user-dependence from the effectiveness equation." The ACOG also warned of the potential barriers to this care, such as the cost, especially for young people.

The Chief Sealth International seems to have figured out a way to make these options affordable for its students. Placement of these long-acting reversible contraceptives requires is often expensive and requires an extra visit to a clinic. Services are available at in-school health clinics in Washington, however, through a program called Take Charge, a Washington State Medicaid program that specifically targets minors seeking comprehensive contraceptive services.

For young people in Washington state who are seeking affordable birth control, but do not want their parents to know or otherwise do not have access to insurance, this is an affordable, attainable, and confidential alternative.

5/29/2015 - Appeals Court Rules Abortion Ban Past 12 Weeks Unconstitutional

The eight circuit Court of Appeals just ruled an Arkansas abortion ban at 12 weeks of pregnancy as unconstitutional, permanently blocking this extreme abortion ban.

SB 134, which state legislators attempted to pass as a regulation, would ban all abortions past 12 weeks with very few exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies. The court ruled yesterday that this ban violated precedents set by the Supreme Court which uphold the right of women to choose to have an abortion before fetal viability. In the appeals court case, Dr. Janet Cathey, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist stated that viability is "generally not possible until at least 24 weeks."

SB 134 was vetoed in 2013 by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, only to have his veto overridden by both houses in the state legislature. It was then struck down in federal court last year by US District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who also deemed the ban unconstitutional, stating that "it impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

Today's ruling affirms that safely and legally ending a pregnancy remains a protected constitutional right in this country," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Northup added, "Women should not have to run to court in state after state, year after tear to protect their constitutional rights from these politically motivated attacks."

5/29/2015 - #SayHerName Protests Take Place in California and Across the Nation

Dozens of topless protesters stopped traffic in San Francisco last week on the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls to protest the lack of national attention for black women killed by police brutality.

The protesters blocked a popular intersection in San Francisco, California, with signs and body paint with messages like this one: "For the murdered, missing, silenced, abused, exploited, unseen." Similar protests have happened in other cities across the nation.

Chinyere Tutashinda, founding member of the BlackOut Collective and a member of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, explained the significance of protesting topless. "We also understand that we live in a country that commodifies black women and black bodies but ignores the death of black women and black girls."

Kimberle Crenshaw, director and founder of the African American Policy Forum, co-authored a report that was also released last week to coincide with the #SayHerName social movement called "#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women." The report highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women.

Crenshaw, who is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University, explained that as a nation we have been focusing on the experience of Black men interacting with the police, but "what we know less about is how Black women experience police brutality." Crenshaw praised the national dialogue surrounding highly publicized deaths of Black men over the past year, but says that there is more to be done to expand. "When [women] are killed," says Crenshaw, "they're not part of the conversation."

Crenshaw added in a press release "Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women's experiences in social movements, media narratives and police demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color."

Hundreds of protesters also gathered in New York City last week, including the family members of Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, and Alberta Spruill, all of whom are Black women killed by police violence.

5/29/2015 - High School Student Wins International Award for Creating HIV Test

Nicole Ticea, a teen from Vancouver, Canada, won a top prize at the Intel International and Engineering Fair, the world's largest high school science research competition for her invention of a simple and low-cost HIV test.

Ticea, who is just 16, created a simple and inexpensive HIV test that can be sold over-the-counter at very affordable rates. It can also detect the HIV virus in babies under 18 months old and adults who have been infected for only three months. The test does not require electricity, can provide reliable results within an hour, and would take an estimated $5 to produce in the United States.

The Vancouver teen, who developed the test with help from a Simon Fraser University professor and grad student, has high hopes for the impact this test could have. "For me, the ultimate objective has always been to see my test being applied in an everyday setting where it can make a difference," she said.

Since Ticea's discovery last year she has created her own company, which received a US grant for $100,00 to continue to develop the technology. At the Intel International awards, Ticea took home $50,000 from the science competition for her invention.

Ticea's invention could mean big things for women worldwide. Over halfof all people living with HIV are women, and worldwide HIV is aleading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Ticea has been recognized by a myriad of other awards, including the Sanofi BioGENEius Challense in Canada, and has been lauded by the World Health Organization

5/27/2015 - California Passes Reproductive FACT Act

The California State Assembly passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act yesterday.

AB 775, or the FACT Act, passed 48-25 in a vote, and requires that unlicensed facilities in California that provide pregnancy-related services disclose that they are not licensed medical providers. The bill also requires licensed reproductive health clinics to inform patients of California programs to help them access affordable family planning, abortion services, and prenatal care.

Assembly members in support of the bill hope that the FACT Act will allow women seeking pregnancy-related care can access the care and services she needs, as well as know all her options. It was authored by Assembly members David Chiu (D- San Francisco) and Autumn Burke (D-Los Angeles), and sponsored by Attorney General Kamala Harris, NARAL-Pro Choice California, and Black Women for Wellness.

"By ensuring women have access to reproductive health information free from coercion, and by informing women of the full range of choices available to live healthy full lives regardless of race, income, or geographic location, we are saying that women are able to make the best decisions about our future," said Nourbese Flint, program manager for Black Women for Wellness.

"With AB 775, all clinics will be held to the same standard," Assemblywoman Burke said, "and all patients will have access to clear, timely information about their health care rights."

"The Assembly sent a clear message that women deserve information to help them make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families," said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California.

The fight for clear and accurate information for pregnant women has long been a fight for women's rights activists. Just last summer, in response to a campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America and efforts by the Feminist Majority Foundation to expose fake clinics, Google removed deceptive crisis pregnancy center (CPC) advertisements from search engine results when users seek information about abortion services. Most of the advertisements claimed that the CPCs provided abortions when they did not.

5/26/2015 - Ireland Votes Overwhelmingly to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Over the weekend, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to pass a national referendum legalizing same-sex marriage.

Ireland became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality through popular vote on Friday. The final vote was decisive, with over 1,201,607 voting in favor of the referendum and 734,300 voting against it. Reuters estimated that "more than 60 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, the highest turnout at a referendum there in over two decades."

This high voter turnout was reflected in international social media trends as well as "Vote Yes" campaign strategies. The hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter on the day of the election in Ireland, as those living abroad discussed traveling home to cast their ballot in this historic vote.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the outcome of the vote "disclosed who we are - a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people."

Ireland, a largely Catholic country, has a complex history with its LGBT community, and only decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990s. One "Vote Yes" campaign volunteer discussed the rapid shift in the nation's view on the issue over the span of his lifetime. "When I was born and was a teenager I was illegal as a homosexual in Ireland," volunteer Ross said, "and [now] we're voting to make us equal in our constitution."

The country has had a turbulent relationship, too, with abortion, which remains illegal in Ireland. Earlier this year the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland called for a judicial review on the region's restrictive abortion law. Currently, abortion law in the area has abortion illegal in all cases except when a pregnant person's life is at risk or when there is the risk of permanent or serious damage to the pregnant person's mental or physical health.

5/26/2015 - Maryland Governor Will Not Veto LGBT Rights Bills

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) has announced that he will not veto two pieces of legislation protecting LGBT rights passed by the state legislature in March, meaning they will soon become law.

The Maryland General Assembly passed SB 743 / HB 862 and SB 416 / HB 838 by wide margins and with bipartisan support on March 24, after which both were sent to the Governor's desk. His office said Friday that he will neither veto nor sign the measures, which will therefore go into effect June 3. The two bills eliminate barriers to updating identity documents for transgender folks born in Maryland and stop insurers from discriminating against women in same-sex relationships who want to access in vitro fertilization and other infertility benefits, respectively.

"We're really happy," Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans told the Washington Post. "These are bills that we worked very hard on." The two pieces of legislation were marked among Equality Maryland's top priorities this session.

Many states offer new or updated birth certificates for transgender individuals, but requirements related to surgery and other medical steps to transition can often make accurate identity documents inaccessible to poorer folks or transgender people who don't wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Maryland's new law eliminates barriers like surgery requirements for transgender folks trying to update their information, and also allows for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to re-issue a birth certificate under these circumstances instead of marking an existing document "amended."

5/22/2015 - New York Politicians, Advocates, and Activists Have Come Together to Protect Nail Salon Workers

Following a report by the New York Times on the exploitation of nail salon workers almost two weeks ago, New York state and city officials have partnered with advocates and volunteers to bring comprehensive educational programs and labor reforms to the 5,000 licensed salons in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who ordered emergency measures last week in the wake of the report - including posting workers' rights information in salons in different languages, shutting down unlicensed salons, implementing new safety requirements, and creating an educational campaign aimed at employees and managers - has introduced a legislative package aimed at building upon those reforms and leading the way for long-term protection for nail salon workers. In addition, he announced a Nail Salon Bill of Rights on Twitter Wednesday, which includes information on the minimum wage and health and safety information for workers.

The Governor is also partnering with non-profit organizations including the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the New York Women's Chamber of Commerce, and Planned Parenthood of New York City to put forward a public education campaign around business owner obligations and workers' rights - which will include in-person events, public service announcements, and materials in a variety of appropriate languages.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, workers, owners and consumers to transform nail salons in New York into safe places that provide good jobs for workers - the majority of whom are Asian immigrant women," said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

"Now is the moment for all us to come together to directly address a crisis that affects the whole community," said Grace Shim, Executive Director of partner organization MinKwon Center for Community Action. "We must involve employers, workers, and customers alike to develop long-term, multi-pronged, comprehensive strategies that both protect vulnerable, immigrant workers and support struggling, immigrant small-business owners."

Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) has also been taking action to protect nail salon workers with a coalition of advocates at his side across the boroughs of New York City, including a "Day of Action" yesterday to educate nail salon workers and their employers about the health hazards of their industry, what's required of salon owners, and what resources are available to workers if they are being exploited. Over 500 volunteers and city officials handed out fliers at more than 1,000 nail salons and canvassed in immigrant communities where salon workers congregate before the workday begins.

"We're here to make sure that nail salons are healthy and safe for everyone," canvasser and Nepali Workers advocate Luna Ranjit told ABC 7 in New York.

These efforts mark a stark change from the state and the city's current systems in place for policing the nail salon industry. (Only 33 nail salon inspectors are employed by the entire state.) Now, the New York City Council is considering legislation that would assign letter grades to nail salons in the fashion of restaurant rankings and require more vigilant and regular inspection.

"During the 14 years I've worked in the industry, the city has never come to see how we are doping," Dahime Asencious, a Latina salon worker, told the New York Times. "I have come to realize that we've been completed abandoned."