Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:31:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Education as a Cornerstone for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 22:32:24 +0000 Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139871 Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, the Barack Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to improve girls’ education around the world. Dubbed “Let Girls Learn,” the programme builds on current progress made, such as ensuring girls are enrolled in primary school at the same rates as boys, and is looking to expand opportunities for girls to complete their education.

The Obama administration’s leadership on this issue is commendable and incredibly important for moving global momentum on girls’ education forward.Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls - and indeed entire communities - will be deprived of future leaders.

We know that keeping girls in school and providing them with a quality education that can prepare them for their future continues to pay dividends down the line, including better health outcomes and better financial stability for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities.

Research shows that girls with secondary school education are six times less likely to marry early compared to girls who have very little or no education. Additionally, each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10 per cent and each extra year of secondary schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by 10 to 20 per cent.

But around the world, far too many girls face insurmountable barriers that often cause girls to drop out of school, ultimately preventing them from getting the quality education they deserve.

Recently, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted research to assess the main causes of school drop out for girls in two districts of the West Nile sub-region of Uganda where only six girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school, a ratio far below the national average.

A predominantly rural and impoverished region, West Nile, Uganda’s recent past has been characterized by war and conflict.

As such, poverty plays a huge role in girls’ inability to continue school. Of the girls who dropped out of school nearly 50 per cent listed financial reasons as the main reason they dropped out of school. Pregnancy was the second most common reason girls gave for leaving school.

While these factors are indeed eye-opening, our research found, however, that gender norms and beliefs about the roles of women as compared to men, were among the most significant determinants of school dropout for girls in West Nile.

Traditionally in West Nile, girls were taught to be subservient to the men to whom they ‘belonged’, first to their fathers and then later in life to their husbands. Despite significant social change that has taken place over the past number of decades,  deeply-rooted gender norms and expectations are carried from one generation to the next and have a profound impact on girls’ and their families’ expectations and hopes for girls futures, and girls’ determination and ability to finish – or drop out of –school.

For example, while most parents surveyed said they value girls’ and boys’ schooling equally, they acknowledge burdens at home, like chores and housework, fall on the girls in the family, rather than the boys. Consequently, girls who reported their domestic chores had interfered with their schooling in the past were three times more likely to drop out.

The domestic sphere remains solely a woman’s domain in the West Nile, and in the face of high adult mortality due to poverty, war, and HIV, girls who lost a parent were even more likely to have to take on a high household chore burden. This set of burdens often includes caring for younger siblings, which likely contributes to girls in the study reporting only starting school on average at the age of 8.25 years, more than two years past the intended starting age of six.

For girls who become pregnant while in school, dropout is almost inevitable. Only 4 per cent of girls who reported they had ever been pregnant were still enrolled in school. Pregnancy is often followed by a forced marriage and the accompanying expectation that a girl’s responsibilities should now shift from her education to caring for her child.

These data highlight just how many barriers girls face in continuing their education, with so many of those barriers finding deep roots in cultural norms that simply don’t value girls the way they value boys. And while this study was conducted in the West Nile region of Uganda, gender norms that continue to hold girls back are certainly not rare around the world.

In order to succeed in letting girls learn, governments, schools, communities and families must dismantle barriers for girls where they exist. Local governments and communities must ensure girls get off to a good start with their education, by disseminating information about existing policies for the age at start of school, because we know that when girls are enrolled in school on time and progress through each grade on schedule, they’re more likely to continue their education.

The education and health sectors must also work with local governments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health services to help prevent pregnancy, which currently marks the end of a girl’s education in Uganda.

Additionally, we know that eight of ten girls who dropped out of school in West Nile, Uganda are eager to return to school if given the opportunity, but for the girls who dropped out due to pregnancy this is a near impossibility.

Re-entry and retention policies for pregnant girls and mothers who gave birth as children must be strengthened so that these girls do not miss out on the opportunity to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is all the more likely for an adolescent single mother without a secondary education.

Education is, simply put, a cornerstone for women’s empowerment and subsequently for local and national development.

Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls – and indeed entire communities – will be deprived of future leaders that could be instrumental in helping to combat poverty in the community, which could empower more girls for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: ‘We Owe It to More Than Half of the Global Population to Do a Better Job’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:29:10 +0000 Josephine Ojiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139802 Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

By Josephine Ojiambo
LONDON, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Undoubtedly, we are at a crucial time in the advancement of gender equality.

As we move towards consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must ensure the rights of women and girls are firmly embedded in the post-2015 development framework.It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

Twenty years ago, leaders and global activists met in Beijing and created what was the most progressive roadmap to champion the rights of women – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark declaration, we must also caution against complacency as countries renew efforts to remove barriers that block women’s full and equal participation in all sectors of society.

An issue of serious concern remains the under-representation of women in politics. Until women are adequately represented at the highest level of policy making and decision making, we cannot hope to achieve the development aspirations of half the population.

We must accelerate efforts to reach the internationally agreed targets of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making roles.

The Commonwealth has made significant progress towards increasing women’s political participation. Out of 43 countries globally that have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent target, more than a third are Commonwealth countries.

We have seen the introduction of important measures to redress the lack of women in political leadership, such as quotas and national gender policies.

In India and Bangladesh, for example, constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women have led to the election of over one million women.

These achievements are good but not good enough. Women continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and subjected to violence and cruelty – female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, trafficking, slavery and sexual violence.

A culture of impunity prevails when it comes to prosecuting and preventing such violations. Under these current conditions, is it any wonder that only 22 out of 193 countries have a woman as head of state or government?

I recall my own formative political experience in Kenya: my mother became the country’s first female cabinet minister in the early seventies, and remains a formidable politician even today. I witnessed the hardships she endured to rise through the ranks, and the adversity she faced when in office, as well as her successes and achievement.

I too had a similar experience when I joined the oldest political party in Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as a volunteer and youth activist.

Over a period of 24 years, I rose through the ranks as a professional volunteer. This role granted me presence and agency; it ushered me forward to eventually be voted in as the first female secretary-general of the party.

It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

I learned many lessons during my experience in grassroots electoral politics – the sharing of good practices, the solidarity of sisterhood within the women’s movement, and the true support of key male champions.

Globally, however, women’s political participation continues to be thwarted by innumerable obstacles. Discrimination against women is rife.

Financial resources available to women to run political campaigns are scant or non-existent. Conflicts between work and family can be overwhelming.

We are all familiar with the tired saying, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’; it is exactly this type of regressive narrative that sets women back. Challenging gender-based stereotypes is still an ongoing, uphill battle.

Therefore, we must find ways to create inclusive and enabling environments where women are able to realise their full political, economic and social potential.

We must turn our attention to paving the way for future generations. Creating pathways that enable more young women to enter the ranks of political leadership is fundamental.

Education is the single most important tool to achieve this. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Statistics show, overwhelmingly, that countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Nevertheless, patriarchal systems continue to downgrade the value women offer society as a whole.

Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

To this end, we will work closely with member governments to fulfil international commitments in line with the stand-alone goal agreed at the 58th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Going forward, we seek to increase women’s participation in the political and corporate sectors through electoral and legislative reforms. We continue to push for the elimination of violence against women and girls in all Commonwealth countries.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment is another priority area. It is the social responsibility of governments to improve women’s enterprise and encourage business activity, thereby strengthening women’s economic power – one of the measures of overcoming poverty.

There is much work to be done. We must now deliver on promises to secure women’s equal participation in all echelons of society. We owe it to more than half of the global population to do a better job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139798 Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:21:59 +0000 Serra Sippel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139727

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

By Serra Sippel
WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the bloody attack on civil rights marchers by police.

President Obama issued what was tantamount to a call to action for Americans to speak out for what is right. He stated: “…Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

As a longtime advocate for the health and human rights of women, I take President Obama’s words to heart. They express the core tenet of policy advocacy.

Advocates should applaud and praise government when it does the right thing for women and girls. And when it doesn’t, we must speak out for what’s right, even if it is disruptive and causes discomfort.

Last week, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) hosted a panel at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where panelists from Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and Dandelion Kenya spoke about the brutal sexual violence and rapes that women face, and the absence of comprehensive post rape care for these women and girls, especially when it comes to abortion access.

The discussion was disturbing and emotional as we heard about the fear, stigma, and suffering that so many women face while governments stand by and refuse to provide comfort and care—including the United States.

The status quo – that no U.S. foreign aid should support safe abortion access – is causing too much suffering in this world and it must end.

Only a few months ago the U.N. secretary-general released an important report stating: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

The Obama administration has taken great strides toward women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health in U.S. foreign policy, from the USAID Strategy on Female Empowerment and Gender Equality to the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

And at the United Nations last September, President Obama focused on the serious problem of rape in conflict, acknowledging that, “mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.”

We applaud and praise the administration for such bold action. However, when it comes to reproductive rights and access to safe abortion for women and girls globally, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate the same bold leadership.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. joined governments from around the world in a promise to women and girls that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and available. Today, the U.S. has not lived up to that promise. And when it comes to abortion access for women and girls raped in conflict, inaction by the U.S. government is unconscionable and advocates must speak out.

The time is now for the president to stand with women and girls and take executive action to support abortion access for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The time is now for the president to answer the call to action echoed by advocates from around the world.

We have sent letters to the president from religious leaders and CEOs of global human rights and women’s rights organisations. We have brought advocates from South Africa, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda to speak directly to the White House to implore the president to act.

We rallied in front of the White House asking the president to stand with women and girls. And, we have gathered at CSW to share first-hand accounts of what women and girls are experiencing globally.

Ending the status quo on foreign aid and abortion means to boldly embrace the notion that women and girls matter. Our U.S. foreign aid must be used to save and improve lives—and that is what safe abortion does, especially for those raped in conflict.

CHANGE and others will continue to “speak out for what’s right” and “shake up the status quo,” because the lives of women and girls matter. I hope we can count on President Obama to join us.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139694 The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Often Forgotten In Cases Of Forced Disappearancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 22:10:55 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139693 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Governments must do more to address the impacts of forced disappearances of women, according to an international justice report released Monday.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented over 54,000 cases of such disappearances from all over the world.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in releasing its report ‘The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearances on Women,’ urged governments to better address the effects of such crimes on females.

The report states women are the minority of those who are forcibly disappeared, but “the majority of family members who suffer exacerbated social, economic, and psychological disadvantages as a result of the loss of a male family member who is often a breadwinner.”

In surveying 31 countries – mostly in Africa and Central and South America – the ICTJ urged governments to remember “the need to consider women’s experiences, including when implementing measures like truth commissions, prosecutions, and reparations.”

The report states while women who have been forcibly disappeared experience much the same treatment as men in detention – including torture and ill treatment – women are often subject to gender-based violence including sexual violence and separation from their children.

The ICTJ said women left behind when a family member or partner is disappeared experience “ongoing victimisation” including poverty, family conflict and psychological trauma, as well as often being forced into low-paying, dangerous or exploitative working arrangements to support their families. Women may also face difficulty in accessing bank accounts, social services or ownership rights of property, which may be held in their partner’s name.

Flow-on effects are felt by children and other family members, including impacts on education, health and general well being.

“Although women make up the minority of those who are disappeared around the world, in almost every country we studied… they make up the majority of those who suffer serious, lasting harm after a disappearance,” said Amrita Kapur, senior associate for ICTJ’s Gender Justice programme.

“When a loved one goes missing, most often women are on the forefront of the search for truth and vulnerable to further abuses, even as they take on the role of breadwinner while raising children. Women’s stories are not being told, making it harder for governments to respond effectively.”

The report is part of an ongoing project between ICTJ and UN Women.

The report posits a set of recommendations to better support women who are left behind after the forced disappearance of a partner or family member. Chief among the findings is a call for a new legal category allowing relatives of a disappeared person to access benefits, inherit wealth and assets, and to dissolve marriages even without the person being declared dead.

The report cites the fact that remaining partners are often unwilling or unable to have their disappeared partner declared dead, but that many social benefits or legal avenues for redress only become available upon declaration of death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Four Ways Women Bring Lasting Peace to the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:52:33 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139684 The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

2015 marks anniversaries for two significant commitments made to increasing women’s participation at peace tables.

Yet despite the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council Resolution 1325 both committing to increasing women’s participation in peace building 20 and 15 years ago, respectively, there has been very little progress to report.

The latest available statistics show that women made up only 9 per cent of negotiators at peace tables between 1992 and 2011. That the most recent data is from 2011 shows that more work is needed even in basic areas such as data collection and reporting of women’s participation in peace building.

IPS summarises here four reasons we should value women’s participation at the peace table more, based on discussions at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) over the past week.

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken

Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

Often the first people invited to participate in formal peace negotiations are the people holding the guns and the last are women who have expertise in building lasting peace.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told a CSW side event on Tuesday last week, “In the Central African Republic, the only community where they were not killing each other was a community where the Christian women said, ‘These Muslim women are our sisters.’

“Why? Because the women in the community said, ‘We have lived together for the last 100 years’,” Bangura said.

In the Phillipines, Irene Santiago was a member of the government panel that negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Santiago came to the table with years of experience working with Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women leaders for peace.

Speaking at a CSW side event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) on Thursday, Santiago said that she knew that her years of experience working with civil society for peace stood her in good stead to make a significant contribution to formal peace negotiations, which she did.

Speaking with IPS, Santiago said women’s voices not only have to be heard, but that they also have to be acted on.

“For women. It’s almost never always about themselves, it’s always about our children, our husbands but also about our communities,” Santiago told IPS.

In Africa, women have fought to be included in peacemaking, even when their contributions have not been recognised.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security to the African Union, says that mediators need to be held accountable when they only invite the people who hold guns to the peace table and ignore women’s contributions.

“I have been involved in many crises where women were knocking at the door and saying we want to be at the table,” Diop said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, known as the father of Security Council Resolution 1325, said that the determination of African women to be involved in peace negotiations should be seen as an inspiration by other countries.

Despite serious difficulties, war and conflict, African women have shown continued determination to hold their countries accountable, Chowdhury said.

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

Also speaking at the IPI, Valerie Hudson, co-author of ‘Sex and World Peace’, said that her research has shown that the way women are treated within a country is one of the most accurate indicators of the quality of relations that country will have with other countries.

Diop agreed with Hudson, saying that countries that are likely to fall into conflict have higher levels of discrimination and inequality.

“Discrimination against women, especially the non-participation and non-inclusion of women in democracy is … one of the root causes of the conflict,” Diop said.

Ambassador Choudhury agreed with these sentiments, telling IPS, “I believe that no country can claim that their country is not in conflict if women’s rights are denied, if women’s equality is not ensured, if women’s participation at all participation levels is not there.

“I think that if we women are violated, if women’s equality of participation is not there we cannot say that we are at peace, we are in conflict with ourselves. This is a conflict which is happening within ourselves and within the countries. We don’t have to go into the traditional description of conflict, civil conflict or fighting with another country,” Chowdhury added.

Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute also speaking at the IPI event said, “A world where 51 per cent are ignored is a dangerous world for everyone. I can’t imagine why any men would be indifferent to this.”

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

Several discussions at the CSW questioned why militaries were the primary actors in peace building, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society’s expertise was not called on.

Santiago told IPS that civil society, especially women, have a lot to contribute to humanise, to concretise, and to make peace negotiations relevant to people’s lives.

Winnie Kodi from the Nuba mountains in Sudan told reporters on Monday that civil society was vital to helping indigenous communities like her own that have been affected by conflict. She said that the main way her people were able to have their voices heard was by working together with NGOs and civil society.

Chowdhury told IPS he is advocating for the U.N. and governments to hold more consultations with civil society, saying that the involvement of women and of civil society is very important.

Santiago also called for renewed focus on the important role of NGOs in the area of women, peace and security,

“Again I see that why are we focusing on the UN as the locus of change,” she said. “To me it is not, it is the means, it is an important audience, but it is not the locus of social change.

“Let us form the global civic networks that we need to bring about the local global and civil change that we need” Santiago said.

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

Challenging militarism and militarisation was another theme discussed during the first week of the CSW, particularly by civil society groups at the parallel NGO forum.

Choudhury told IPS that increased militarism and militarisation is slowing down efforts for equality. “Increasing militarism and militarisation has really been effecting women in a very negative way. This is something that women should stand up against, we should all stand up against,” Chowdhury said.

Militarisation is also affecting indigenous women and men. Maribeth Biano, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, told reporters on Monday that Indigenous women are hugely affected by militarisation in Indigenous territories.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Gender Equality, the Last Big Poverty Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 12:50:40 +0000 Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139675 Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter
NEW YORK, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is estimated that women account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. They also make up 60 per cent of the world’s 572 million working poor.

Rapid global change has undoubtedly opened doors for women to participate in social, economic and political life but gender inequality still holds women back.If you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

Around the globe, women and girls continue to have subordinate status, fewer opportunities and lower income, less control over resources, and less power than men and boys.

Son preference continues to deny girls the education they have a right to. And the burden of care work that women face impinges and intrudes on their opportunities in terms of education and career.

Now a new report to be launched by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Mar. 16 in New York examines the links between SRHR and three core aspects of gender equality: social development, economic participation and participation in political and public life.

The report, Sexual and reproductive health and rights – the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment, provides specific recommendations to governments and to United Nations agencies to make sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality become a reality.

The reason for the report is to assess objectively what we have long suspected, namely that sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to achieving equality.

Why? Because when women are able to maintain good health the trajectory of their lives can be transformed.

There are fewer maternal deaths and less reproductive illness; women and girls can realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are free to participate in social, economic and political life.

Stark figures show that the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights is a cause and consequence of deeply entrenched ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Gender norms leave women and girls at risk and unable to reach their full potential. In some extreme cases, they can kill.

Women die because they cannot access the abortion services they need. Women die of preventable causes in childbirth. Women die at the hands of their violent partners. We see examples of this in all corners of the world.

Globally, one in three women experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lifetime. And, shockingly, women how have experienced intimate partner violence are 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a major public health concern in all corners of the world. It’s a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on development, with high economic costs.

And then there’s work. The percentage of women working in formal wage employment has increased over the last half century but a striking number of women are still likely to work in the informal economy due to gender inequality.

Across cultures and in all economies, women continue to do the bulk of unpaid care work. Women make up the majority of workers in the informal economy – 83 per cent of domestic workers worldwide are women.

Work in the informal economy can be more insecure and precarious, and can have specific impacts on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. For example, lack of regulations can make women more vulnerable to lower wages, limited access to health care, maternity leave or child care and workplace discrimination, including sexual assault.

In virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

Globally, female labour force participation decreases 10-15 per cent with each additional child for women aged 25-39.

Women also tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms. While 55 per cent of men report have an account at a formal financial institution, the figure is just 47 per cent for women .

Here, too, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are key – true economic empowerment and stability comes from ensuring that regulatory frameworks across both the formal and informal economies take into consideration women’s reproductive lives.

In the political realm gender norms limit women’s opportunities to participate in decision making. As a result, women’s domestic roles are over-emphasised, they have less time to engage in activities outside of the home. This then restricts their influence to informal decision making, which tends to be hidden, or not respected.

Hardly surprising, then, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians is female.

One reason for women’s low participation in public and political life is because party politics and strategic resources are dominated by men.

In addition, women also have to overcome barriers that men don’t, such as poor networking, limits on whether they can travel.

Women voters are four times as likely as men to be targeted for intimidation in elections in fragile states. After all, would you vote if you faced threats on your way to the polling station?

What this report shows is that gender inequality prevents girls and women from reaping benefits and contributing to social, economic and political life.

So what’s the answer? Truth be told, no single approach will work. We have to look at solutions that work for women’s varied and complex lives.

But there is something that we can change – something that goes to the very heart of poverty eradication and development goals. We can uphold sexual and reproductive rights.

Because if you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

It’s the freedom from which all other freedoms flow.

Women and girls should have the right and ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives and sexuality, free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

That’s what equality is all about.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Guatemala Praised for Policies on Adolescent Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 19:26:11 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139588 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

The government of Guatemala has been praised for a programme helping young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and finish their education.

On the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday, Guatemala was held up as an example of how governments can develop frameworks to protect and promote the rights of young women.

Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, praised Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her government’s ‘PLANEA’ initiative, providing sexual education to adolescents.

“Young people can break away from the cycle of poverty and create a sustainable future, but first we have to invest in their health, sexual and reproductive health, education, and empower them going forward,” Osotimehin said.

“By helping girls stay in school, we prevent pregnancy, and give them greater autonomy and agency. This can be shared as good practice in Latin America and around the world.”

The ‘Abriendo Opportunidades’ (‘Opening Opportunities’) programme has reached over 6,000 girls. Around 97 percent of Abriendo girl leaders remained childless during the programme, compared with a national average of 78 percent. All participants completed sixth grade of schooling, compared with a national average of 82 percent.

UNFPA said child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are common among girls, especially indigenous Guatemalan girls, in poverty. Around 74 percent of indigenous girls live in poverty.

Baldetti, speaking through a translator, said rape – especially family rape – and adolescent pregnancy were far too common in Guatemala, and outlined changes to policies on young women since her government came to power in 2012.

Baldetti said she was the country’s first female vice president and had instituted a Specific Cabinet for Women – the only one of its type in Latin America, she claimed.

“Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death. This is not just a population issue, it is a development issue rooted in inequality, power imbalances, forced marriages, lack of education, and a failure of systems and institutions to protect them,” she said.

Baldetti explained how Guatemala now treats pregnancies of girls under the age of 14 as “rape crimes,” with a view to prosecuting the man responsible. Specific clinics to deal with such cases have been installed in over 40 locations nationwide.

“We collect the DNA of the person who raped them and collect evidence… in 48 hours, we know who owns that DNA and who aggressed this child,” she said.

Other programmes help young women with children of their own to access food and social assistance, as well as help the young woman back to school.

Guatemala and UNFPA also signed an agreement on ‘South-South Cooperation’ during the presentation, recognising Guatemala’s work and how it might be applied to other countries, especially in Latin America.

“Investing in young people, helping them realise their human rights and capabilities, is key to human development and sustainability. Guatemala is standing up to be counted, and providing this unique example to follow,” Osotimehin said.

“This is a part of the world we need to make progress rapidly. Adolescent girls must be the centre of that development.”

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Congolese Citizens Forced to Pay for Police, Protection Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 22:20:35 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139543 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are as dangerous and lawless as ever, with police and the state offering citizens little or no protection from armed groups.

‘Secure Insecurity,’ a report released Friday by Oxfam, claims citizens in some parts of the DRC are “forced to pay for protection that the state should be providing to its citizens as their right.”

The report says some police charge citizens for their services – US$5 to report a crime, US$10 or up to the equivalent of US$40 to investigate – but even when state protection is freely available, it is often ineffective.

“As a woman in her early thirties told Oxfam: ‘When I went to see the chief about a case of rape in our district, the chief told me that justice doesn’t concern women’,” the report stated.

Stories included in the report also claim the Congolese army and police regularly beat and assault citizens.

Oxfam says the report “reveals how little progress has been made towards building legitimate and credible state authority in many parts of eastern DRC, a disturbing conclusion.”

One woman from the Ruzizi Plain area of Uvira is quoted as saying “we don’t know where to turn, we just want some fresh air; we want peace.”

Oxfam claims “the world’s attention largely moved away from the [DRC]” in February 2013, after the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, in which the government promised to reform security services and build the state’s authority nationwide.

However, a series of renewed conflicts between rival army and militia groups since October 2014 have killed 250 people in the country’s east.

Militia groups have also demanded crops from farmers, set up illegal roadblocks and charged money for passage through, and extorted money from vendors returning from markets. State officials have also been accused of extortion, forced labour, and demanding payment for protection.

‘The population needs to live in peace and security in the areas that are under our [the government’s] control,” a police commander in North Kivu told Oxfam.

“We have deployed a police unit, but it’s too small to assure the security of the population on that hill.”

Conflicts over land, between different ethnic groups, has also led to “theft and slaughter of livestock, killings, kidnappings, destruction and expropriation of fields, preventing access to land and forced displacement.”

Oxfam urged the Congolese government to make the provision of state services in rural areas a priority, as well as reform security services, and ensure security and military salaries are paid.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Pagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:11:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139536 ‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.

Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India.

Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence.

Paul is herself a survivor of infanticide.

She told Women Deliver, “When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy.

“Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother – and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”

Among others, Paul’s story on bonded labour in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad has had a tangible impact on the lives of those she interviewed.

In July she blogged about how one woman featured in the article ‘No Choice but to Work Without Pay‘, Sri Lakshmi, was released from bonded labour by her employer after a local citizen read the article on IPS and took action.

Lakshmi’s daughter Amlu, who once performed domestic labour while her parents went off to work, is now enrolled in a local elementary school.

Women’s issues aren’t ‘soft news’

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia.

Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work.

“For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom.

“One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a major obstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline.

“Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men.

Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Online Vote

Readers have the opportunity to vote for their favourite journalists from the fifteen journalists selected by Women Deliver.

The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Voting is open until 20 March 2015.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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For Women in Asia, ‘Home’ Is a Battlegroundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:01:56 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139463 All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Nearly half of the four billion people who reside in the Asia-Pacific region are women. They comprise two-thirds of the region’s poor, with millions either confined to their homes or pushed into the informal labour market where they work without any safeguards for paltry daily wages. Millions more become victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery.

Others find themselves battling an enemy much closer to home; in fact, for many women the greatest threat is inside the home itself, where domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is a daily occurrence.

Half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence. -- Asia Pacific Forum (APF)
UN Women says that women in Asia and the Pacific retain one of the world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, much of it concentrated within a single home or perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner.

In the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea, for instance, 58 percent of women claim to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in relationships, while 55 percent say they were forced into sexual encounters against their will.

In Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, 66 percent of women report the use of violence by intimate partners; 44 percent suffered the abuse while pregnant.

In East Timor, one in four women experience physical violence at the hands of a partner every year and 16 percent of married women report being coerced by their husbands into having sex.

Any number of reasons could explain this grim reality. According to the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), “Women in the region experience some of the lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the world.”

Even those who have jobs earn less than their male counterparts, with a pay gap for women in the region ranging from 54-90 percent, despite the existence of laws supposedly guaranteeing ‘equal pay for equal work’.

A complete absence of legal provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace means that between 30 and 40 percent of working women in Asia and the Pacific report experiencing verbal, physical or sexual abuse, APF says.

The organisation also found that half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence.

In this legal vacuum, men face almost no consequences for their actions and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle.

It also means that government data on abuse are, at best, extremely conservative estimates, since most women do not report violent incidents – either from fear of reprisals or because of a lack of faith in the legal system to deliver any solutions.

In India, for example, the most recent government household survey found that 40 percent of women had been abused in their homes; but an independent survey backed by the Planning Commission of India puts the number closer to 84 percent.

In Indonesia, where the police recorded over 150,000 cases of violence against women in 2009 – 96 percent of which were incidents involving a husband and wife – activists estimate that just one out of 10 cases actually gets reported; meaning the real number of survivors of domestic violence is at least nine times higher than official figures indicate.

Last year the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) reported that 2013 was one of the worst years for women, with the highest number of reported incidents of violence.

Citing statistics from the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the Commission stated that 14.4 percent of married women, and 37 percent of separated or widowed women, experienced spousal abuse.

Four percent of all women who have ever been pregnant have suffered violence at the hands of a partner, while three in five abused women report long-lasting physical and psychological impacts of the violence or battery.

Policy-makers say tougher implementation of laws partially accounts for the increased number of reported incidents, which saw a 49.5 percent rise from 2012.

The same could soon be true in China, where the recently released draft of the country’s first anti-domestic violence law was hailed by civil society as a step towards stemming rampant abuse – physical, sexual and psychological – in millions of households.

Data from the government-run All-China Women’s Federation show that some 40 percent of women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their relationships, while just seven percent of battered women report the violence to the authorities.

U.N. agencies say a dearth of laws against marital rape in the region has fostered a sense of impunity among husbands. In 2012, UN Women found that only eight countries across Asia and the Pacific had laws that specifically criminalised marital rape, leading millions – including women – to feel that men were justified in sexually or physically abusing their wives.

Too often, the legal system operates in ways that leaves women out in the cold and allows perpetrators of violence to walk free.

Courts are largely inaccessible to women in rural areas; legal fees and the price of forensic examinations are cost-prohibitive to women who are not in control of their own finances; and male biases within the police force means that law enforcement officials are largely unsympathetic to the few who dare come forward to report abuse.

Furthermore, women in Asia are woefully underrepresented in the legal system. While UN Women reports that a “quarter of judges and around a fifth of prosecution staff in East Asia and the Pacific are women […] South Asia lags behind, with women making up just nine percent of judges and four percent of prosecution staff.”

These numbers are even more dismal in the police, with women in South Asia comprising a mere three percent of the police force, a figure that rises to just nine percent for East Asia and the Pacific.

Home to four of the five fastest-growing economies in the world, Asia’s shining visage is darkened by the shadow of misery its women face in their own homes.

Absent the implementation of robust laws, sustained efforts to improve women’s representation at all levels of government and genuine measures to ensure women gain a sturdy economic foothold in all countries in the region, experts say it is unlikely that domestic violence will decline.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139284 No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 

“No.”

“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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