Inter Press Service » Women’s Health News and Views from the Global South Wed, 04 May 2016 17:36:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Indian Women Worst Hit by Water Crisis Tue, 03 May 2016 10:30:48 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 A long, Insulting Walk to Justice for Rape Victims in Bangladesh Fri, 29 Apr 2016 12:32:39 +0000 Tamanna Khan Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits ]]>

Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits

By Tamanna Khan
Apr 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive two-finger test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, the first two instalments of a three-part series.

rape_4__Her dark-circled, deep-set eyes gave her a hollow look. The eyes were full of fear and mistrust.

The girl gave sideways glances as she hesitantly walked into the office of the One-stop-Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital last month. She looked afraid, and when she noticed a man sitting in the room, she immediately cringed.

She is a rape victim.

For about a week after her rescue, she hardly spoke, OCC officials recall.

Her trauma and fear is shared by another rape survivor, a married woman, who was rescued from a sex racket in India last year.

“It’s not easy to tell even your closest family members what has happened to you,” the woman told The Daily Star recently. Humiliation and shame initially prevented her from telling her husband about the sexual assault when he found her in a shelter home in India months after her rescue. Her husband later came to know about it from others.

But Joya (not her real name), a teen girl, did not need to tell anyone anything. When she was found lying unconscious beside a road by her cousin four years ago, the marks on her body said it all.

“My cousin took me to a hospital. I hardly remember anything as my mind was all confused,” she told this correspondent recently by telephone from a shelter home run by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

The Daily Star is withholding all the victims’ names.

In 2012, Joya was abducted by her stalker who “confined and raped her at gunpoint”. Later, her unconscious body was dumped by a road. When her family tried to seek justice, the alleged rapist and his cronies attacked her house and killed her father.

In between long pauses and painful sighs, she described the difficult path she had been walking to get justice. The first blow came at the police station where there were no women’s cells or woman law enforcers.

“I felt very afraid. I couldn’t trust any one of them. They were all men,” she described her feelings at the police station.

“I didn’t want to talk, I felt groggy… screams went through my head and my heart wrenched. I kept on wondering why no one could hear my cries or see my tears.”

Then came the time for medical examination — the two-finger test — and the girl, now 16, had no idea about its insensitive nature.

For the test, doctors use their index or middle finger to check the condition of the hymen and also to look for injuries on the vaginal wall.

So when a female doctor proceeded to do the test, the girl put up resistance at first. But eventually she had to give in because, as her aunt told her, there was no other way to get justice.

Adding to her ordeal, she had to narrate the sexual assault in details repeatedly not just to the police but also to journalists against her will.

“I felt very bad, embarrassed and hurt. But I told myself I needed to do this for justice,” said the girl, who is now in class nine.

Four years on, the hearing of her case has not started yet.

But for those who have gone through the trial, the court proceedings have been a nightmare: character assassination, insensitive and even vulgar questions, cross-examinations for hours are in the defence lawyers’ arsenal to further traumatise the victim.

Fahmida Akhter Rinky, a lawyer for BNWLA dealing with rape cases at the lower court for six years, spoke about the torment a nine-year-old girl went through during a trial recently.

“The child was only about four years old when she was raped. So the judge was careful and talked with the girl softly but the defence lawyer was shouting at her and accusing her of lying about how she was raped,” said Rinky.

This is despite the medical examination documents and other evidence clearly showing that the girl was raped.

“The child was so embarrassed and ashamed that she shrunk in fear,” said Rinky.

The girl recoiled from the humiliation in the courtroom full of people and kept on looking at Rinky.

“I felt so bad that she had to go through that,” said the lawyer.

Often, defence counsels “decidedly” choose a line of questioning aimed at maligning the victim in efforts to make the crime look like the victim’s fault, said Laily Maksuda Akhter, director of Legal Aid Unit of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

To save themselves from all this, especially the two-finger test which law activists vehemently oppose, many rape victims do not report the assault to the police.

“Many victims get so traumatised that they do not want to go through the forensic examination. Children in particular scream, because they fear they would get hurt again,” said Tahmina Haque, psychological counsellor at the OCC.

However, according to Bilkis Begum, coordinator of the OCC, there is no alternative to the two-finger test for women older than nine years. “It is part of any gynecological examination. Injuries cannot be detected without it.”

In many countries, including the UK and the US, doctors use the specula, a medical tool, for the test instead of fingers.

But the main problem lies in the report itself, said Ishita Dutta, project facilitator, SHOKHI, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST). “It is not for the doctors to determine if a victim has been raped or not. But that is what they write down in the reports.”

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Abortion Saga: Morality vs Choice Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:41:25 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri 0 Laws Criminalizing Drug Possession Can Cause More Harm Thu, 21 Apr 2016 10:40:56 +0000 Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.]]>

Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.

By Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer

In many countries, a criminal record, even for a minor offense can have serious implications. Being convicted of a criminal offence renders one ineligible for certain jobs, social grants or benefits or from even being able to exercise one’s right to vote. It can also severely limit the ability to travel to certain countries and can result in the loss of custody of minor children. As prison conditions are often poor and health care services limited, a custodial sentence can have implications on the health outcomes of individuals.

Laws criminalizing drug possession for personal use and other non-violent, low-level drug offences drive people away from harm reduction services, placing them at increased risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis and death by overdose. Prison sentences for women may result in the incarceration of their infants and young children, who stay with them for all or part of their sentence.

Another area where the shortcoming of many drug control policies is evident is that of controlled medicines. Overly restrictive drug control regulations and practices, have effectively excluded 5.5 billion people – or approximately 75 percent of the world’s population – from access to essential medicines like morphine to treat pain.

Many countries are exploring or initiating law and policy reforms with the aim of giving greater prominence to the Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by UN Members States in September 2015 or as enshrined in numerous human rights treaties. Some of these reforms will address the social harms of traditional drug policies on the poor and most marginalized. These include providing alternatives to arrest and incarceration for minor drug offences, harm reduction programmes, decriminalization of drug users and small farmers and increased access to pain medication.

One such example is the case of Jamaica, which decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis and legalized its cultivation and consumption for religious, medicinal and research purposes. Jamaica also reformed its legislation to permit expungement of convictions for the personal possession or use of small quantities of cannabis. These decisions were prompted, in part, by concerns about the serious harmful consequences of criminalization on the long term prospects of young men who otherwise would be ensnared in a legal system that could undermine access to for example decent employment and economic growth as envisioned by Sustainable Development Goal Eight.

Jamaica’s reforms recognize that the connection between drugs and crime is not so straightforward. They put people first and in turn promote its citizens human development. The implications of this measure, together with others described in a recent discussion paper released by UNDP will be important as more countries look to make evidence informed, development sensitive changes to drug policy.


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Gender Equality and Equity in Health Will Anchor Drive Towards a Sustainable National Development Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:37:56 +0000 Sicily Kariuki and Siddharth Chatterjee Sicily K. Kariuki, (Mrs), CBS is the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Sicily K. Kariuki.  Photo Credit: @UNFPA

Sicily K. Kariuki. Photo Credit: @UNFPA

By Sicily K. Kariuki, CBS and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Last month, the Government of Kenya (GoK) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the sidelines of the 60th Session of the UN Commission of Women in New York, launched the report on the ‘Assessment of the UNFPA Campaign to End Preventable Maternal and New-born Mortality in support of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa’

The assessment report by Deloitte Consulting captures the important strides the country has made to significantly address disparities in advancing maternal and new-born health at all levels.

These findings manifests Government’s commitment and determination to address inequalities as envisioned by one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, by ensuring that no one is left behind.

The cornerstone of the Government’s commitment is to strengthen the partnerships between GoK, development partners, and other stakeholders nationally, regionally and globally.

This manifested in March 2015, His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a high-level meeting in Nairobi which engaged religious leaders as key partners in fighting against social and cultural drivers that inhibit women’s empowerment, many of which contribute to their poor sexual and reproductive health.

That advocacy drive by the Government of Kenya and UNFPA has culminated in an innovative project that is now being implemented in six of the forty seven counties with the highest maternal and child deaths.

The program in Kenya’s underserved counties by public and private partners together with UN agencies is a good benchmark in identifying the sub-populations that are not obtaining health care, the reasons for those barriers, and the actions that can be taken to remove them.

The project recognizes that to achieve health equity, gender equality, and fulfil the right to health as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is essential to identify the underlying causes of health inequalities. This calls for a need to look inwards, rather than global indicators. It is only by identifying the disadvantaged or excluded groups, that evidence-based policies, programs and practices can be designed and inequalities tackled effectively.

The focus on 15 counties that bear 98.7% of all maternal deaths in the country was preceded by a survey undertaken by one of Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning -University of Nairobi, which revealed the multiple challenges faced by these communities. These challenges include various historical and cultural reasons that disadvantage the most vulnerable, invariably female, poor, rural and thus voiceless and marginalized.

In short, while national averages are important for monitoring overall progress, it is time to realize that these national indicators do not provide the complete picture. One example should suffice: in 2014, the national female genital mutilation prevalence rate in Kenya dropped to 21% from 27% in 2009. However, in the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- no one can be left behind, focus should remain on the communities where prevalence rate still stands as high as 98%.

The SDGs now emphasize the need for active focus on equity, gender and human rights, specifically Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries and the role of health services in securing national and global peace. There is general consensus that health can serve as a bridge for peace and can have collateral benefits, including nipping in the bud some of the drivers of violent extremism.

It is also apt because some of the counties with high maternal death burden are also prone to internal conflicts, feelings of exclusion and poverty that drive extremism.

Reproductive health complications represent a hideous feedback loop, as they are not only the result of poverty, but also contribute to poverty.

In addressing access to reproductive health matters and gender equality, there is no space for complacency. We are talking about sheer survival not just of the women but of the entire nation. Healthier women mean healthier children and that means thriving societies.

As the UNDP Administrator, Ms Helen Clark remarked, “Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies.” A good place to begin is empowering Kenya’s youth, especially girls. The multiplier effect of girls’ education on several aspects of development is now well documented. Education reduces high fertility rates, lowers infant and child mortality rates, lowers maternal mortality rates and increases labour force participation.

Empowering, educating and employing Kenya’s women and girls will launch our economy to new heights and ensure Kenya reaps a demographic dividend. His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stressed that “Progress for women is progress for all …….”

For development to be sustainable and resilient, it must be inclusive and equitable, given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must and not an option.


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Plan for Poorer Countries to Fund HIV Response Raises Concerns Mon, 11 Apr 2016 19:58:18 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Calls for low and middle income countries to contribute an additional 6.1 billion dollars to the global HIV response by 2020 could see some vulnerable groups left behind, said HIV activists meeting at the United Nations last week.

A report recently published by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls for low and middle income countries to increase their funding for the global HIV response by 6.1 billion by 2020, versus only an additional 2.8 billion requested from wealthy countries.

The proposed changes to funding could affect vulnerable groups, including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who now make up 74 percent of new HIV infections in the 15 to 24 age group according to UNAIDS.

Annah Sango, from Zimbabwe, a Youth Advisor with the Global Network for Young People Living with HIV told IPS that these figures partially reflect how hard it is for young women to negotiate safe sex, even within a marriage.

“It leaves young women and girls vulnerable to STIs, vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, vulnerable to HIV, and also vulnerable to gender based violence,” she said.

Some 2000 girls and young women are being infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa each week, Marama Pala Chair of the international community of women living with HIV global told journalists at the UN here last week.

A reduction in resources could see addressing the complex social and cultural causes of the rise in infections among young women in Sub-Saharan Africa become a lesser priority, said Pala.

Javier Hourcade Bellocq of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance who along with Pala co-chairs the civil society task force at the United Nations said that a reliance on domestic funding could see some vulnerable groups left out.

“The overarching question is would a government in Asia or Latin America be able to provide funding for a female sex worker organisation, for advocacy, for a watchdog (group)? — probably not,” said Bellocq.

However Bellocq said that domestic finances are an important part of a sustainable HIV response and that low and middle income countries have already been slowly increasing their investment.

“Often civil society organisations and activists have been perceived as putting pressure on international donors and wealthy and developed countries where in fact it’s not true, most of our work is putting stress on domestic funding,” he said.

Bellocq said that it was important not to presume that all governments with the same income classification had the same capacity to contribute to the HIV and AIDS response.

The classifications do “not reflect income inequalities and internal debt that many middle income countries currently face,” he said.

Jamila Headley, Managing Director of the Health Global Access Project, told IPS that UNAIDS analysis of the fiscal space used to justify the increased financing from low and middle income countries was based on inaccurate information.

For example, she said, “In Malawi the government has just had to cut several health care workers from the budget because they don’t have funds.”

Headley also said that the proposed changes “undercut our efforts to push governments in the West to support as much as they can.”

The Global HIV response has shown “unprecedented mobilization of solidarity across countries,” she said, “we’ve come so far and so to come to this place where we can actually see an end in sight and to then talk about scaling back that solidarity is hugely disappointing to us.”

In a statement provided to IPS, UNAIDS said that its approach is to encourage low and middle income countries to “increase country ownership by increasing domestic spending on HIV.”

“However, the international community ​​has a responsibility to ensure that ​HIV ​programs​ are able to reach the communities that are most vulnerable to HIV​ ​in countries that have the least ability to fully fund a comprehensive HIV response,” the statement said.

Meanwhile Headley said that the proposed changes in funding could affect groups requiring special attention including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The rising rates of incidence among women aged 14 to 25 in Sub-Saharan Africa is exactly why we need full funding to support targeted, high impact prevention,” she said.

Pala an indigenous woman from New Zealand living with HIV said that women can sometimes “get lost in the epidemic,” and that the response should be intersectional in nature. But she also said that activism by other more prominent groups affected by HIV has helped women, including herself.

“There is a very strong activism from the key populations and we needed that,” she said. “For myself living with HIV if that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have the medication and be alive today.”

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NGO Pledges $500 Million Towards Sustainable Development Goals Fri, 25 Mar 2016 17:10:50 +0000 Valentina Ieri On the right Bruce Wilkinson, President and CEO of CMMB - Healthier Lives Worldwide. Next to him (in the middle) stands Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the United Nations, at the CMMB conference on $500 million for the U.N. SDGs, event on March 21. Photo: CMMB

On the right Bruce Wilkinson, President and CEO of CMMB - Healthier Lives Worldwide. Next to him (in the middle) stands Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the United Nations, at the CMMB conference on $500 million for the U.N. SDGs, event on March 21. Photo: CMMB

By Valentina Ieri

CMMB -Healthier Lives Worldwide– a leading international nonprofit health non-governmental organisation (NGO) – has pledged 500 million dollars to help implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)– with a specific focus on maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

The commitment will be deployed through the NGO’s flagship initiatives CHAMPS– which is a maternal and child health program – and the Healing Help– which is a platform for the distribution of medications and health commodities in partnership with the pharmaceutical companies.

Bruce Wilinson, President and CEO of CMMB

Bruce Wilinson, President and CEO of CMMB

The announcement was made by CMMB’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bruce Wilkinson, at a press conference at the U.N. Headquarters on March 21. Speaking along with him were the Permanent Representatives of the Missions of Zambia, Kenya, and Haiti.

“CMMB is taking a bold step by providing $500 million over the next five years for general support of the UN’s SDGs and the Every Woman Every Child campaign, in particular. We can take this important step because we work in partnership with so many equally dedicated organisations,” said Wilkinson.

The NGO’s new commitment, which is in line with the updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health– launched in 2015 by Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in order to end all forms of preventable death for women, children and adolescents – builds on a previous commitment made in 2014.

Initially, explained Wilkinson, CMMB committed to establish by 2020, 20 CHAMPS programs, whose acronym stands for Children and Mothers Partnerships,to provide long-term health care support and training in five developing countries: Haiti, Zambia, Kenya, Peru, and South Sudan.

The target of 20 CHAMPS by 2020 was presented with an initial pledge of 22 million dollar cash, and 33 million dollar in Gifts-in Kind, mostly pharmaceutical products.

“We are ahead of schedule and have already committed 8 million dollars to our pledge of 22 million,” commented Wilkinson, who remarked that eight CHAMPS programs have been successfully implemented in those countries, and the ninth one will be implemented this summer.

“Champs brings together the clinical and community aspects”, Wilkinson told IPS, “linking households in a tangible way to sustained public and clinical interventions based on real need. We are also able to track and measure effective health delivery which in the long run changes peoples demand for health services as a basic right.”

“Over 1,200 professional medical volunteers have been deployed,” he pointed out, including “680,000 (people) have been directly assisted of which 200,000 mothers and children under the age of five. 3,843 community health workers and clinicians have been trained and 165 medical facilities have been supported (through) the CHAMPS programming.”

Praising the long relationship between CMMB and local partners in Zambia, Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the U.N. congratulated CMMB for its renewal commitment to the U.N. 2030 Agenda.

“CMMB has been working to reach [remote] areas in (Zambia) and have been providing the much needed services, along with the economic empowerment for women in order to ensure that women and their families can live healthy lives […] We are asking for others to join the partnerships that have already been created by CMMB.”

Paul Mikov, CMMB’s Vice President for Institutional Partnerships, said that despite the immense progress made in reducing global maternal and child mortality rates through the implementation of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, and the new 17 SDGs adopted in 2015, “hundreds of thousands of mothers still die every single year while giving life at birth, and almost six million children under 5years of age die every year from preventable causes.”

Figures from the World Health Organisation show that since the 1990s global maternal mortality has dropped by 43 percent. However, in 2015, 303 000 women were estimated to die due to childbirth complications, diseases, or infections. Currently, around 830 women die every day, 99 percent of whom live in developing countries.

For over a century, CMMB-Healthier Lives Worldwide has been fighting on the front lines for global health, equality, environmental protection, access to safe and clean water, and women’s empowerment, Wilkinson remarked, while also leading several health relief activities in the highest burden countries, where women and children in local communities lacked access to adequate health services.

According to the data provided by the NGO, over the last ten years, the organisation has provided over two billion dollars in medicines and health and medical supplies to local healthcare partners in 120 countries. In 2015, CMMB collaborated with more than 220 institutional partners worldwide.

The event on March 21 was an occasion to celebrate CMMB-Healthier Lives Worldwide long-standing partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, which in many ways has operated as the backbone for this joint venture of bringing needed resources and services in high burden countries worldwide.

“Our long standing relationships with the pharmaceutical industry will be optimized to meet the needs especially in the highest burden countries where women and children experience the highest morbidity and mortality rates globally,” said Wilkinson.

Between 2016 and 2020, through the Healing Help platform, CMMB will deliver the 500 million U.S. dollars worth of medicines and health commodities, marking a 30 percent increase in medical products to countries such as Nigeria, India, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Burundi, Zambia, South Sudan, Kenya, Haiti, Malawi, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, explained Wilkinson.

On the occasion of renewing its commitment to the 17 SDGs, CMMB also launched its new visual identity and logo “CMMB Healthier Lives Worldwide“. Lara Villar, CMMB’s Senior Vice President for Strategy and Organizational Measurements, said:

“Our new logo expresses our newer vision and strategy, the way we work in partnership and our commitment to improve the life of women and children. This is an important step for CMMB to be seen as modern and relevant. […] Our visual identity illustrates who we are. It is a symbol of our faith our core values and our mission to achieve Healthier Lives Worldwide.”

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Women at the Helm Sat, 12 Mar 2016 22:11:14 +0000 Abbas Nasir By Abbas Nasir
Mar 12 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

If a string of recent events have sparked a bit of optimism among the observers of the country`s politics and students of its rather tragic history it is indeed a welcome development.

When such columnists and writers, who had been forced by decades of depression due to an endless downward spiral into being no more than prophets of doom and gloom, begin to see and acknowledge signs of change it appears a safe bet to believe something positive is afoot.

Side by side with this optimism, another debate that has adorned the op-ed pages of major newspapers, at least in the English language, has focused on whether Pakistan can ever be a liberal society or will remain conservative. Frankly, I lack the intellectual prowess to take sides in this debate.

Let me share, nonetheless, what gives me hope about our country`s future; in fact, what has always filled me with hope about tomorrow: Pakistan`s women. Yes, its women, so many of whom toil unsung in the far reaches of the country more than equal in their contribution to the household income but still tragically unequal in status, in wages and in many other aspects.

Before the state recently applied the brakes and did an about-turn from the road to perdition it seemed committed to, for years and years the only ray of hope that I nurtured and cherished was that half of the country`s population would one day rise up and prevent what seemed like a determined attempt at collective suicide.

What gave me this optimism? Well let me tell you.

Before my third birthday I was struck by the polio virus. Lack of awareness of polio`s ravages meant there was no inoculation. Even some of the top pediatricians were ignorant of the disease and I was treated for several weeks for typhoid.

My mother was a small-framed woman with a steely resolve. Despite being devastated by what had happened to me (I was told by family and friends much later in life), she never betrayed any signs of her anguish.

Over the following years of my life she not only taught me to walk a second time but also drummed into me a never-say-die spirit. We lived in Rawalpindi and often headed to Murree for picnics with other families.

My mother would carry me on her hip to the highest point other children got to, to play. I am sure if she needed to she`d drag me up the hill too so I didn`t feel left behind. Thus, I grew up feeling pretty self assured and saw my disability as no more than a minor inconvenience.

From my mother the baton passed to some of the most incredible teachers one can have. All of whom were women. For me learning from them was not just about the `course` for the year. They taught me the meaning of respect, of equality and of decency. Each one determined that I had all I needed to succeed despite the obvious mobility challenge.

Oh yes, the law of averages did kick in and one or two of my women teachers left a lot to be desired like some of their male counterparts. But on the whole, whether in my circle of family and friends or in my professional life, the women who have influenced me with their professionalism and commitment would outnumber men.

One criticism that is the favourite of nit-picl.

I don`t agree. Just to mention three, where did Mukhtar Mai, Kainat Soomro and Malala Yousafzai all women of substance come from? They came from either the middle class or the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder and look what they have achieved with their grit.

It is true that I am restraining myself from naming more women as my word count limitation will not permit to but seriously look around you and acknowledge the excellence that women bring to each endeavour.

In my journalistic career, I have worked with two of the gutsiest editors in Pakistan and both happened to be women. The news magazines they edited were a tribute to their vision and their commitment to the truth.

The pluralistic society and sanity they advocated through their pages was done through difficult, turbulent times and yet we, the reporters, were free to seek out the truth and write everything we wanted to.

We were never confronted with a `no` for an answer.

Today too our women colleagues hold up the banner of objective journalism aloft. Dawn`s refocused op-ed pages have much to do with the newspaper`s first woman op-ed editor, Zubeida Mustafa, with whom I worked. Women on the editorial team continue to provide nuanced brilliance to date. The reporters `bylines tell their own story too. Elsewhere in the media, in parliament, in law, in medicine, science, architecture, in fact wherever you look a revolution is under way with a large number of urban women from all socioeconomic tiers excelling and leaving their long entrenched male peers, well, sitting.

All that society needs to do to reinforce the sense of optimism currently being expressed and to accelerate to the promise of a brighter tomorrow is to let the women take their rightful place at the helm; create an enabling environment where the women can do what they want to and see what happens.

It isn`t difficult to imagine what Pakistan will 1001< like given where our women have got to despite endless obstacles in their path whether in the name of culture, traditions or most ominously religion. Ability and potential, not gender bias, will determine our future.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Alcohol Harm a Gender Empowerment Issue Tue, 08 Mar 2016 17:57:38 +0000 Kristina Sperkova Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.]]>

Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.

By Kristina Sperkova
NEW YORK, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world – often against great odds and all too often remaining invisible.

But women and girls worldwide are change makers and leaders for a better world. Role models are many.

Kristina Sperkova

Kristina Sperkova

It’s this perspective and understanding that makes us both hopeful and concerned. We are hopeful because we’ve seen considerable progress and vast achievements in gender equality and women empowerment. We are concerned because we also face major challenges not only to the achievements made but also to the health and well being of women and girls in general.

Last September, world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The Agenda2030 is a remarkable achievement, holding tremendous potential for sustainable and transformative change.

But there, too, are massive obstacles. Alcohol harm is a crosscutting obstacle to achieving the SDGs, as it negatively impacts 12 out of 17 goals, including SDG5.

Alcohol harm is clearly a Women’s Rights and gender empowerment issue. The world faces three major challenges for achieving gender equality, in the form of three global epidemics: Non-communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, and Gender-based violence.

Each of these three global epidemics is disproportionately burdening women and girls, especially women in low- and middle-income countries and they have one common risk factor: alcohol use.

Alcohol is one of four major risk factors in the global epidemic that are non-communicable diseases. NCDs are the leading cause of death globally. A staggering 35 million people die every year from NCDs, of which 18 million are women. NCDs represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide, increasingly burdening women from developing countries in their most productive years

Secondly, alcohol is also a risk factor in the global epidemic of gender-based violence. Every third woman is subjected to violence at least once during her lifetime. In some parts of the world gender-based violence can be related to alcohol in up to 80% of the cases. And alcohol marketing plays a role in perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes of women; alcohol ads often depict women in de-humanized, sexualized and objectified ways. Alcohol marketing fuels gender-based violence and erodes women empowerment.

And thirdly, alcohol is a risk factor for HIV/AIDS because it increases the likelihood to engage in risky sexual behavior – like unprotected sex, frequent change of partners or violent sex. Alcohol weakens the immune system making it more susceptible for the HI-Virus and it makes adhesion to medication for people who are HIV-positive more difficult. In many aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, women are disproportionately burdened.

It is with this on mind that we urgently encourage and support the world’s governments to apply the tools of high-impact and cost-effective alcohol policy in our joint efforts for women empowerment.

Alcohol policy measures, such as the Three Best Buys of increasing the price, reducing the availability and banning advertising – as described by World Bank, World Health Organization and World Economic Forum (among others) – are crucial tools for harnessing the potential of the Agenda2030 in general and the Gender Equality Goals (SDG5) in particular – including 4 of the targets under SDG5.

The three best buys of alcohol policy can contribute to bring about transformative change for women and girls, in helping to end all forms of discrimination, to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, and to facilitate women’s full participation in public life.

We have the evidence. We have the political tools. We have societal momentum. Now we need political will and leadership.

What better day is there than International Women’s Day? What better moment in time, only a few days ahead of the 60th Commission on the Status of Women can there be – to stand up, together, for using all tools available for advancing gender equality.


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A Different Honour Tue, 01 Mar 2016 18:02:09 +0000 Bina Shah This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Bina Shah
Mar 1 2016 (IPS)

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy`s record second win at the Oscars for her short document ary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is proof that lightning can actually strike twice. Hardly four years ago, Chinoy was standing at the same stage in Los Angeles, accepting an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face, about Pakistani victims of acid attacks. Chinoy`s current Oscar winner examines a no less painful subject, honour killings in Pakistan.

The story centres around 18-year-old Saba, who fell in love with a man of her own choice; her father shot her in the head and threw her in a river to avenge the family`s `honour` Saba incredibly survived her ordeal and went to court against her family. Today, she stands as a powerful witness against these abhorrent crimes as one of the few to actually escape death at the hands of a family intent on avenging their slighted honour with a blood sacrifice.

The amount of global conversation about the movie and its subject is uncomfortable for many Pakistanis to bear. They don`t like being singled out as the country where women are killed for honour and perpetrators get away because of legal loopholes that permit a victim`s heirs to `forgive` the murderer. Yet if we can manage to bear our discomfort with the same grace and patience that Saba must bear the scars on her face, we might be able to enact a real change in Pakistani law, if not the attitudes behind the criminal act of honour killings.

Chinoy has stated in interviews that her real hope for this film is to see it put enough pressure on Pakistan`s government that it will enact an anti-honour killing law that has been languishing in the Senate since 2014.

This particular law, according to senator Sherry Rehman, herself an ardent champion of women`s rights, was passed in the National Assembly but is still in committee, meaning that it can`t yet be considered legal in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, women are still being killed for honour every day, in the name of tradition; 1,000 women a year, says Chinoy, are killed in Pakistan in honour crimes.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the Oscar buzz surrounding Chinoy`s film and hosted a special screening of the movie in late February, the week before the Oscars.

Afterwards, he promised to make real efforts to eradicate the loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape unpunished for this crime.

Given the amount of injustices that exist in Pakistan today, would that a film could be made about each one that might be nominated for an Oscar. Then perhaps our government might pay attention to all the problems with the laws that on paper address theseissues but in practice are so ineffectively implemented.

Chinoy`s film and its Oscar win may be the push the government needs to enact an allencompassing law against honour killings. It comes within days of the Punjab government enacting the Punjab Women`s Protection Bill 2015, a landmark ruling that comprehensively penalises particular crimes against women including domestic violence, emotional, economic and psychological abuse, cyber crime, stalking and abetting of offenders.

This law is different from previous iterations in that it also proposes mechanisms to implement the laws, including violence against women centres, toll-free helplines, and restraining orders that can be enforced by fitting perpetrators with GPS tracking devices to ensure they stay away from the women they are terrorising.

For the first time in our society, the government has spelled out the various ways inwhich women are not just physically but also emotionally and mentally abused. And it has placed itself firmly on the side of the victim ratherthanthe aggressor, a sea change in our heavily patriarchal society.

Don`t expect societal attitudes towards gender-based violence to change overnight. Assoon as the women`s protection bill was passed, the religious right-wing was out making statements in the newspapers and appearing on television to protest the destruction of the family and the weakening of men`s standing in society. But for the first time, their protests rang hollow.

With more Pakistanis growing aware of women`s right to live in peace and safety, what is seen as religiously sanctioned male supremacy can no longer act as a cloak under which all these crimes remain hidden forever, in complete opposition to Islam`s true stance of protecting women from them.

No doubt there will be people who dismiss Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy as a `traitor` or an `agent` bent on disgracing Pakistan with her important films. To them, she has besmirche d their honour by bringing worldwide attention to a major injustice in our society. But if it helps to do away with the rot in our system that allows women and girls to die in the name of `honour`, the Oscar spotlight would be welcome in our darkest corners.

The writer is an author.

Twitter: @binashah

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Of the Same Ilk Sat, 27 Feb 2016 20:26:03 +0000 Aasim Sajjad Akhtar This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Feb 27 2016 (IPS)

IT has been almost two weeks since the beginning of a protest movement of students, teachers and the wider democratic community in and around Delhi`s famed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that represents arguably the biggest challenge that Narendra Modi`s BJP government has faced since coming to power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we in this country have scarcely paid attention to the whole af fair, even though it tells us much about India, its politics, and, indeed, just how similar our two countries are.

The story begins with the head of the JNU student union publicly denouncing the secretive manner in which Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru a convicted `terrorist` was executed three years ago. Twenty-eight-year old Kanhaiya Kumar is doing a doctorate in African Studies at JNU, and is associated with the All-India Students Federation, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Needless to say, Kumar does not harbour any ideological sympathies for Guru, but he nevertheless is entitled, like all principled opponents of organised power, to ask questions about the state`s `counterterrorism` juggernaut.

History teaches us that it is precisely these types of principled questions that most threaten established structures of power because they expose the ideological foundations of domination. On cue, Kumar was arrested on sedition charges and sent to jail, with other student leaders put on a blacklist amidst a widespread propaganda drive denouncing Kumar and his associates as `enemies of India`.

The arrests and vilification campaign were met with outrage, and thousands of students mobilised at JNU as well as numerous other campuses across the country against the Modi regime. Indeed, students were already up in arms following the suicide of Hyderabad University PhD student Rohith Vemula a few weeks earlier in protest against the discrimination meted out to him by the university administration on account of his Dalit activism. Kumar`s arrest only confirmed that the BJP government is hell-bent on reinforcing India`s worst traditions of Brahmin supremacism and state authoritarianism.

And herein lies the rub. For all of the insistence ofstateideologues on bothsides of the border, India and Pakistan are far more similar than they are different. And here I am not referring to our shared cultural traits and dispositions but to the legacy of colonial rule that continues to shape how our states think and act.

The decision to accuse Kumar of fanning `anti-state` sentiments is hardly an anomaly.

The Indian state has not hesitated to lodge sedition charges against dissidents in the past, and its propensity to do so is unlikely to be diminished by the current episode.NationalistsinKashmir,AssamandNagaland, caste activists, leaders of ecological movements all have suffered the state`s wrath, their only crime being their willingness to speak up for their legitimate rights.

The Pakistani state is of the same ilk. It could even be argued thatit has outdone its Indian counterpart over the years inasmuch as anti-state charges are bandied about even more liberally in this country than next door.

Yet it matters little which state is better at criminalising dissent because both do it well enough to be considered virtually indistinguishable.

Of course there are also stark differences in our respective political contexts. The very fact that educated young people have carried on a mass protest against Rohith`s suicide and Kanhaiya`s arrest confirms the fruits of democracy students in Pakistani varsities have not even had the right to elect their own representatives for more than 30 years sinceZiaul Haq banned unions in 1984.

In this country the army remains a sacred cow which guards the `ideological frontiers` of the state a power that is unmatched by any institution in India.

Indeed, one could not countenance the creation of military courts through a con-stitutional amendment in Delhi as happened in Islamabad in January 2015.

So while we in Pakistan feel outrage at the nationalist jingoism currently on show in India, we are also a little bit envious at the democratic means available to those who function as the conscience of Indian society to resist state power. There is little doubt that democratic forces in India face a pushback from right-wing zealots today unlike anything they have ever faced before the fact that a party espousing `Hindutva` as its guiding ideology is running the government at the centre indicates just how far the religious right has come. But progressive traditions in India run deep, and it is these traditions that inspire radicals on this side of the border in our evolving struggle against the establishment and the forces of reaction.

In the final analysis, Indians and Pakistanis share the same future, just as we share the same past. If this future is to be a democratic, plural and egalitarian one, it will be in spite of rather than because of the states that we have inherited.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Dealing with Security Threats Thu, 25 Feb 2016 23:07:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By I.A. Rehman
Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

The Lahore Literary Festival has ended in a blaze of success. The uncertainty about its being held at all and the doubts about the people`s capacity to defy fear and much else made the event all the more enjoyable. But the issues regarding the ways of dealing with security threats that it gave rise to still need to be seriously addressed.

The Punjab government has a good record of guaranteeing security at religious and cultural events that have been held in the provincial capital since the beginning of November 2015. The three-day Thaap conference on history, art and culture was held on private premises without bothering the lawenforcement agencies. Then there were three big events at Alhamra: the Faiz Festival, the Khayal Festival, and finally, the Lahore Arts Council`s own literary extravaganza. Only a few days before the LLF was to begin a Faiz Aman Mela was held at the Open Air Theatre. Since Lahore has never been free of threats from extremists the administration could claim credit for extending security to all these functions.

One is at aloss to ñnd a reasonfor the panic the authorities created by going to the extent ofundermining a festival that not only the city of Lahore but the country as a whole had begun to feel proud of.

Assuming that the threat-makers had a special reason to target the LLF guests or the crowds how did the authorities calculate that security could be guaranteed at Avari and not at Alhamra and how did they fix the number of foreign guests they could protect? Any precise answers to these questions would imply that the authorities knew more of the extremists` plans than is ever possible.

While faced with such a situation the authorities are required to deliberate on two interrelated points: the significance of the event under threat and the cost of asking for its cancellation. The first question was answered by the crowds the LLFattracted. No elaborate thesis is needed to demonstrate the role literature, art and culture play in enabling any people to realise themselves, especially to retain their sanity in times of conflict and despair.

Thus, LLF should have been treated as an essential activity that needed to be protected and encouraged.

As regards the cost of disallowing a major undertaking such as LLF, the cost caused to the people, in addition to the increase in the expenditure borne by the organizers, can be judged from the consequences of the change of venue and curtailment of activities.

Many people felt that the change of venue from a cultural complex open to the public to a hotel meant for the rich made the festival less foll(sy an affair.

The compulsion to trim the festival programme from three days to two led to dropping some of the activities. It is to be regretted that activities related to Punjabi language and literature had to be sacrificed and that was a huge loss. That the literary treasure and tradition of Punjab should not figure prominently in a literature festival held in Lahore is simply unthinkable. The Punjab government should be brave enough to accept at least a part of the blame.

A more important matter is the need to evolve a rational theme for dealing with terrorist threats. It goes without saying that each threat should be taken seriously, whether the target is a public figure, a state establishment or a private institution. It is also clear that the government and the targeted citizens should cooperate with each other in developing as dependable a security cover as possible. A serious cause of concern to the public is the casualness with which the authorities sometimes pass on the entire responsibility for security to the party under threat.

The orders to banks and petrol pumps to pay for security plans devised by the administration, the way schools are being ordered to meet the securityneeds, or some people are being told to go abroad are only a few illustrations of this approach.

One apparent flaw in the fight against terrorism is the absence of the role of the community/neighbourhood in protecting itself. There were times when communities threatened with communal riots or armed gangs of criminals used to organise collective defences. Similar actions were reported in the recent past from some tribal areas. We no longer hear of such initiatives in cities or villages.

Are local communities unaware of the need or justification for fighting terrorism? The mosques and shrines have been the targets of terrorist attacks. Is it impossible to develop these mosques and shrines as the nuclei of resistance to extremism? If the lawenforcement personnel and the targets of terrorists do not have the cushion of community/neighbourhood support the danger to them is much greater than is generally reckoned. Here is one of the most unbearable consequences of not having a counterterrorism narrative the inability to mobilise the people at large to take up the fight against terrorism as their own rightful cause.

Above all, there has to be a limit up to which normal life can be allowed to be paralysed by extremists` threats. Suppose the authorities receive information about a possible attack on the civil secretarlat in Lahore or the parliament house in Islamabad.

Will these institutions be closed down? Let us not forget that each time a public function is cancelled because of threat to security, or a school is closed or a public figure is told to go into exile the terrorists are handed over a victory they do not deserve. There has to be a balance between the steps that citizens and public/private institutions must take by way of precaution and what the state must do to protect its citizens. surely a state that does not promise its citizens freedom from fear in fact denies them the right to life in its real sense.


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The Law of Forgiveness Wed, 24 Feb 2016 21:45:57 +0000 Zahid Hussain The issue is bigger than ‘honour’ killing; it is the law of forgiveness that protects the killers.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

The issue is bigger than ‘honour’ killing; it is the law of forgiveness that protects the killers.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Zahid Hussain
Feb 24 2016 (IPS)

More than 1,000 women are killed in the name of honourin this country every year, according to official figures. But the actual numbers are believed to be much higher. Saba Qaiser, 19, would have been one of them had she not miraculously survived drowning in a river after having been shot in the head. Unsurprisingly, those who tried to finish her off were none other than her own relatives her father and uncle as happens in most such cases of `honour`crime.

Sharmeen Obald Chinoy`s brilliant 40-minute documentary A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness is the story of that 19-year-old from Gujranwala. Nominated for an Academy Award, the short film is surely a powerful portrayal of the plight of a victim of honour crime. But it is not just the story of a brave girl who defied death and is now living happily with the man she loved and risked her life for. She is back to life with a scar left by the bullet that pierced her cheekbone, but is still haunted by theincident.

It is more about the law of forgiveness that protects the killers. Saba`s father and uncle are now free and with no remorse for what they had done.

Under the pressure of local elders and the clan she has forgiven her tormentors. Perhaps they would have killed Saba in the second attempt and even then would have gotten away with murder using the provision of the law that allows a family member to forgive the perpetrator.

By reaching her, Ms Chinoy may have saved the life of that girl from Gujranwala. But hundreds of other women 1(illed every year in this land of the pure are not that lucl

The documentary reveals the various forces that come into play in this 1(ind of situation. While the law of forgiveness marginalises the role of the state, it gives sway to the local elders who force a compromise. The odds are invariably stacked against the victim and the sympathies are with the perpetrators as happened in the case of Saba. The village elders who played the role of arbiter arranged the compromise were clearly on the side of the father whose honour, they argued, was violated by her action.

Poverty and circumstances too become a factor in limiting options for the victim. Saba would never have forgiven her tormentors had she not been afraid of being shunned by the community and the state being unable to provide her protection. She also faced the traumatic reality of her own father having tried to kill her, and then the family ostracising her. The offenders come out triumphant in the bargain while the onus lies on the victim.

Of course, there was no question of shame and remorse; instead the brutal act appears to have further empowered Saba`s father who felt that he had done something right that earned him immense respect in the community. He boasted that hisaction had improved the prospect of marriage for his other daughter.

Such grandstanding by a criminal is perhaps the most disturbing part of the documentary. One can hardly find any such example of the state being a silent spectator in the face of such defiance. One wonders if the murderers would have had the same response from the community had they been punished for the crime. Perhaps the narrative would have been very different if there was no legal provision of forgiveness.

The problem with `honour` killing as described by Ms Chinoy is that it`s considered to be in the domain of the home. A father kills his daughter or a brother kills his sister and nobody files a case as they feel it would bring shame to the family. This mindset is not just regressive, it actually provides impunity to the murderers.

For long, human rights groups have been fighting to get honour killing to be treated as a crime against the state to make the provision of forgiveness ineffective But it seems hard to convince the lawmakers. The biggest contribution of the documentary is that it has opened up a national discourse that crimes against women have nothing to do with honour.

Whether or not the documentary will fetch a second Oscar for Ms Chinoy, the film has already made a powerful impact even drawing the prime minister`s attention to the issue. One is, however, not sure if it is the Oscar nomination or the message in the film itself has prompted Sharif to recognise the killings in the name of honour as a serious problem.

One hopes that his interest goes beyond screening the film at the Prime Minister`s Office. There is an urgent need to amend the law to remove the provision of forgiveness that empowers people like Saba`s father.

The writer is an author and joumalist.

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Hopes and `Honour` Killings Wed, 24 Feb 2016 13:12:47 +0000 Rafia Zakaria This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan ]]> The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports an increase in honor killings in Pakistan - 923 women and 82 minor girls in 2014.Only 20 percent of cases are brought to justice. Credit: Adil Siddiqi/IPS

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports an increase in honor killings in Pakistan - 923 women and 82 minor girls in 2014.Only 20 percent of cases are brought to justice. Credit: Adil Siddiqi/IPS

By Rafia Zakaria
Feb 24 2016 (IPS)

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently watched A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obald Chinoy`s Oscar-nominated documentary about `honour` killings. In a statement following the screening, he told Ms Chinoy and his audience that there is no `honour` in murder.

In the days sinceithas been announced that the government will move to plug holes in laws that currently allow killers (often family members) to go unpunished. Ms Chinoy has expressed the hope that her film would help put an end to honour killings in Pakistan.

It would be wonderful if her wish came true. The reasons it will not are the ones that the government needs to address if it truly wishes to tackle the problem.

Before reasons, however, consider context. I pulled up two sets of statistics compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The first covers the period spanning Feb 1, 2004, to Feb 1, 2006. During this time, there were 988 incidents of honour killings in Pakistan. Nearly, but not exactly half, did not even have FIRs registered for the crime. Firearms were the weapon of choice for doing away with the victims, followed by blunt force injury with a heavy weapon.

Fast-forward a decade: another set of statistics I pulled from the HRCP database was from between February 2014 to February 2016. The number of honour killings in this period was 1,276, nearly 400 did not have FIRs registered, and most of the victims were killed by guns.

The decade in the middle has not been one without legislative initiatives or civil society campaigns to end honour killings. I chose the period immediately following 2004 because that marked the passage of a bill against honour crimes. As political machinations go, the bill that was actually passed was a diluted version of the one first introduced by senator Sherry Rehman. There was much clapping and clamour then too.

The whole thing repeated itself in March of last year with the passage through the Senate of the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014. Meanwhile, international human rights organisations have devoted budgets and campaigns to ending honour killings in Pakistan. As the numbers show in both cases, hon-our killings (to the extent they are even reported) have continued and even increased.

Here is why. First, legislative initiatives have focused on the legal dimensions of the issue, the latest a much needed amendment to the gisas and diyat laws that would prevent the pardoning of honour killers.Thisis a greatidea.

At the same time, like legislative initiatives of the past, it has no teeth at all against the root of the problem: that women (and men) are considered social capital in a family, marrying them a form of adding sociological assets, creating relationships that families, increasingly torn by migration and demographic change, require.

When a woman rebels against this mechanism, not only does the family lose the possibility of capital accrued from arranging her marriage, her decision jeopardises the futures of remaining brothers and sisters, their possibilities of making good matches that sustain them in a web of relationships where individual choice defeats collective security.

In a cultural and sociological system where the family and tribe are still the only and often unitary form of social insurance against catastrophe, the death of a breadwinner, illness and job losses, collective control over the individual is the glue that holds everything together.

The second reason for failure lies in the brokenmechanisms of international advocacy, particularly as they exist in countries like Pakistan, which have faced the brunt of international aggression. Simply put, since `saving brown women` became the reason to go to war, stories of hapless victims of honour killings in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria have served to fuel a moral reason as to why such imperial overtures are justified. Some brown women, those at risk of honour killings, are to be saved; others who happen to be near target zonesfordrones donot.

The hypocrisy of this is not lost on local populations but it manifests in a particularly grotesque way in the towns and villages of Pakistan that have borne direct hits from American aggression; maintaining honour, which translates roughly to controlling women, has become a nationalistic goal, a stand for local sovereignty.

Women are paying with their lives; simply telling their stories has not saved them and will not save them. This last point is important, for it represents a very troubling moral bifurcation in the aid and advocacy economy via which campaigns against honour killings are funded and the communities in which moral change must take place.

The campaigns are providing jobs and causes and in some cases, international acclaim for a few; but that will never bridge the vast chasm between topdown advocacy and urgently needed grass-roots change.

The words of the prime minister are heartening.

Like most women, I would rather have a leader willing and sincere in recognising the horror of honour crimes than one who capitulates as so many others have done.

A Pakistani woman honoured at the Oscars is also a good thing, an inspiring individual victory and a hopeful honouring, even if it is one that cannot stop future dis-honourings of less lucky Pakistani women. For that, a deeper effort is required, a local and grass-roots conversation directed at those for whom family, honour and survival are intertwined, the murderous killing of the rebel justified because it pretends to be saving all the rest.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy

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Sterilisation of HIV-Positive Women Thu, 18 Feb 2016 06:34:52 +0000 Wambi Michael 2 Gang-Raped and Nowhere to Turn Tue, 16 Feb 2016 16:00:42 +0000 Agnes Odhiambo I Just Sit and Wait to Die: Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-8 Post Election Sexual Violence". ]]> Fatma W. with her 7-year old son born from rape. Atieno was 17 when she was gang-raped at their home in Nairobi by three men who accused her family of hiding men from the “enemy” tribe. She stopped going to school after the rape. Fatma said her neighbors stigmatize her son because he was born from rape. Credit: © 2015 Samer Muscati / Human Rights Watch

Fatma W. with her 7-year old son born from rape. Atieno was 17 when she was gang-raped at their home in Nairobi by three men who accused her family of hiding men from the “enemy” tribe. She stopped going to school after the rape. Fatma said her neighbors stigmatize her son because he was born from rape. Credit: © 2015 Samer Muscati / Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 16 2016 (IPS)

Owuor P.’s 16-year-old sister Nekesa tried and tried to get an abortion after she was gang-raped and found herself pregnant during Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-8. “We are not sure how many raped her,” Owuor told me. “She told us that she saw three men rape her and then she lost consciousness. She was quiet most of the time after the rape.” In desperation after the birth of the child, she killed herself. The baby survived, and today Owuor is raising the child, who has a serious mental health condition, and is still grieving for his sister.

Nekesa was not able to have a safe abortion, even though she was the victim of a terrible crime. Kenyan law prohibits abortion except when the life of the woman is at risk and so Nekesa’s family, along with the hundreds of women and girls raped during the post-election violence, are forced to live with the painful consequences of unwanted pregnancies.

I interviewed 163 women and girls who suffered sexual violence during that post-election period, and found that hundreds are still suffering serious physical and mental health injuries, poverty and social exclusion. Our research also shows that the Kenyan government has not properly acknowledged this group of victims or provided them with justice or the health services they urgently need.

The violence that rocked Kenya over eight years ago killed 1,133 people and displaced another 600,000. Many people were left with lifelong disabilities from their injuries. There was widespread destruction and looting of homes and other property, and expulsion of people from their homes. The widespread sexual violence against women and girls—and to a lesser extent, men and boys—was less visible than other abuses, but was just as devastating.

Of the women and girls I interviewed, 37 became pregnant as a result of the rape. None of them were able to get a safe abortion. Some had illegal and unsafe abortions and eight years later, were still struggling with the health consequences. Others told me about their feelings of shame and guilt because of the stigma attached to abortion in Kenya.

I also spoke to women who had to give birth and who now live with ambiguous and conflicted feelings toward their children, who themselves often face stigma, rejection and verbal and physical abuse from their families. “I abused my child … I used to beat her very badly,” Adhiambo told me. Adhiambo was raped by a group of men and beaten unconscious. She told me that she has recently received counseling and her relationship with her daughter has begun to improve. Many other mothers of children born from these rapes also shared their mixed feelings of love and hate toward their children. I also met family members taking care of children whose mothers could not accept or raise them.

During the post-election violence in Kenya and in other countries where conflict-related sexual violence is common, humanitarian agencies and other groups work hard to help women get post-rape care under very difficult circumstances. But an essential element of comprehensive post-rape care, namely access to safe abortion for women who choose to end their pregnancies, often remains unattainable, leaving women and girls unable to make critical decisions about their health and their lives in the aftermath of sexual violence.

In January, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights opened a continental campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Africa – to focus attention on unsafe abortion, which significantly threatens women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. If governments are serious about the health needs of women and girls raped in conflict, they must include abortion in post-rape care and take steps to provide it to those who need it. The Kenyan government should review its restrictive laws on abortion to ensure that women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape can get safe abortions.

There may also be some fresh hope for the women I interviewed, and perhaps for their children. Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to establish a reparations fund for victims. This should be established quickly and transparently and women should be involved in deciding how this money is spent. Funding should urgently be earmarked to meet the urgent healthcare needs of survivors and the needs of their children.

Not all women who become pregnant as a result of rape will choose to terminate their pregnancies, but all of them deserve to make that choice for themselves and have access to health care and support.


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Family Planning in India is Still Deeply Sexist Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:11:24 +0000 Neeta Lal Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The tragic death of 12 women after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh went horribly wrong in 2014 made global headlines. The episode saw about 80 women “herded like cattle” into makeshift camps without being properly examined before the laparoscopic tubectomies that snuffed out their lives. In another incident in 2013, police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar arrested three men after they performed a botched sterilisation surgery without anaesthesia on 53 women over two hours in a field.

Deaths due to sterilisation are hardly new in India. According to records, over four million such operations were performed in 2013-14 resulting in a total of 1,434 deaths between 2003 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation according to health ministry data.

Health activists point out that the primary reason for this mess is an overt focus on female
sterilisation in the government’s family planning programme and a woeful lack of birth-control choices for women. Other forms of contraception are not available on an adequate basis because of the lack of health-care facilities. Injectable and Progestin-only pills are on offer only in private hospitals which severely inhibits their usage by poor women.

Worse, male sterilisation is still frowned upon socially. This places the onus of birth control on women with limited participation from men. According to latest research by the global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), female sterilisation accounts for 74.4 per cent of the modern contraceptive methods used in India.

As against this, male sterilisation is merely 2.3 per cent, while use of condoms is 11.4 per cent. The use of pills constitutes just 7.5 per cent of modern methods, whereas injectables and implants are almost absent. In the southern state of Karnataka, for instance, women account for 95 per cent of sterilisations conducted at family welfare centres.

Family planning experts attribute this sharp gender disparity to an entrenched patriarchal mindset and ingrained societal attitudes. This is the main reason, say activists, why despite vasectomy being a far less invasive and less complicated procedure as compared to tubectomy, more women are forced to undergo sterilisation. Doctors reckon that tubectomies are about 10 times more common in India.

“In male sterilisation, surgeons cut and seal the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This is far less painful than female sterilisation that involves cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which requires the entire abdomen of a woman to be cut open,” explains Dr. Pratibha Mittal, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bengaluru chapter says it receives requests from 70 to 80 women for tubectomy every month. “Rarely, if ever, does a man enquire about vasectomy,” stated a doctor.

According to health activists, rural women are under enormous pressure from husbands and in-laws to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections. Hence, they’re left with no option but to opt for surgery. The women are also offered all kinds of petty inducements to undergo sterilisation surgery highlighting the risks women face in reproductive health in a country battling high rates of poverty. Everything from washing machines to blenders to cash incentives are used to lure women to opt for sterilisation.

Health workers say sterilisation targets set by the government also push women into surgery. It is due to regressive societal attitudes that even the government’s marketing and advertising campaigns for family planning programme emphasise promotion of contraceptive pills that are used by women, instead of condoms used by men to tackle the issue of population control. “The government’s overemphasis on female sterilisation is following the easy way out thereby avoiding the difficult task of educating a vast population about other options. Teaching poorly educated women in remote communities how to use pills or contraceptives is more expensive than mass sterilisation campaigns,” says Neha Kakkar, a volunteer for non-profit Family Planning Association of India that promotes sexual health and family planning in India.

What is worrisome, say experts, is that the number of men seeking sterilisation has plummeted in the last five years. Statistics released by Delhi government show that in 2009-10 men accounted for 20 per cent of all sterilisations. It reduced to 14 per cent in 2010-11, 13 per cent in 2011-12, 8 per cent in 2012-13, 7 per cent in 2013-14 and
5 per cent in 2014-15.

Sterilisation camps were started in 1970 under the family planning programme in India with the help of the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. However, they acquired infamy during the 22-month-old Emergency in the mid-1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended democratic rule and state-funded organisations unleashed a draconian campaign to sterilise poor men through coercive means. Hundreds of men — some as young as 16 or 17, some even unmarried — were herded into trucks and taken to operating theatres in makeshift camps. Those who refused had to face police atrocities.

Health activists say such coercion never works. “There needs to be a concerted campaign to educate men about sterilisation. Most men believe that they become sexually weak after getting sterilised which isn’t true. Wives, under pressure, then take on the onus of family planning on themselves forgetting the fact that their husbands are equally responsible for this,” explains Dr. Mittal.

Experts emphasise that a paradigm shift in attitudes is what’s needed to change sterilisation trends in the country. More so as India is all set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030 with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. Worse, 11 per cent more male children are born every year as compared to
females, as against a benchmark of 5 per cent shows UN data deepening an already skewed sex ratio.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices. But there is little evidence that this has been implemented.

Be that as it may, there’s succour to be derived from the fact India’s population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 per cent in 1991-2000 to 17.64 per cent in 2001-11. According to government data, India’s total fertility rate has also plunged from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013.

With constant media pressure, besides sterilisation, the government is also trying to increase the basket of contraceptives and making them available under the national family planning programme. India has recently introduced injectable contraceptive as part of national family planning programme.

“Providing greater choice and improved access to modern contraceptives should become an inextricable part of India’s health and gender-equality programme,” advises Kakkar. “Public sensitisation campaigns about the benefits of family planning, and replacing coercive surgeries with access to a range of modern reproductive health choices, should form the bedrock of our health strategy.”


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Microcephaly Revives Battle for Legal Abortion in Brazil Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:16:47 +0000 Mario Osava “Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

“Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

The Zika virus epidemic and a rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns have revived the debate on legalising abortion in Brazil. However, the timing is difficult as conservative and religious groups are growing in strength, especially in parliament.

“We are issuing a call to society to hold a rational, generous debate towards a review of the law that criminalises abortion,” lawyer Silvia Pimentel told IPS.

Pimentel, one of the 23 independent experts who oversee compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defends the right to abortion in cases of “severe and irreversible birth defects”.

In Brazil, a 1940 law makes abortion illegal with two exceptions: when it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

A third exception, in cases of anencephalic fetuses -which have no brain – was legalised in 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling based on the fact that they cannot survive outside the womb.

“This is different – microcephaly is not like anencephaly, in terms of surviving outside the womb; for the anencephalic fetus, the uterus serves as an intensive care unit; many even die before they are born,” said Clair Castilhos, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Microcephalic children, who are born with abnormally small heads, often have some degree of mental retardation, but they can survive.

“In these cases, we should discuss a woman’s right to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy, once she and her partner have been informed that their child could be born with serious difficulties,” said Castilhos, a pharmacist and biochemist who specialises in public health.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to abortion in cases of microcephaly, as women’s rights activists are seeking, “it would be a fourth exception,” she said.

“Although it wouldn’t be what we’re working for, which is the right for all women to decide whether to continue with a pregnancy, in any circumstances, rather than have an abortion as a ‘permissible crime’ in some cases,” she said in an interview with IPS.

But the approval of this “fourth exception” is unlikely.

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception.

In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions.

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Diniz forms part of a group of legal experts, feminists and other activists who plan to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on abortion in the case of microcephaly, in a repeat of the process they followed in the case of anencephaly, which began in 2004 and finally led to a verdict in 2012.

On Feb. 5, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Latin American governments to boost access to “reproductive health services,” including emergency contraception and abortion, given the spread of Zika virus in several countries of the region.

Between October – when the outbreak of microcephaly was identified as possibly linked to the Zika virus – and Jan. 30, there were 404 proven cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Another 3,670 cases are still being studied.

There have also been 76 infant deaths due to small brain size or central nervous system problems since October, but only five cases were confirmed as Zika-related while 56 are still under investigation.

Seventeen children were born with brain malformations proven to be linked to a mother’s infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Zika virus, like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease, which makes it difficult to assess the actual number of cases.

The government does not even have estimates of the number of victims of the epidemic, and only recently gave instructions for mandatory reporting of the disease.

There were 1,649,008 cases of dengue registered by the Health Ministry in 2015, with 863 deaths, 82.5 percent more than in 2014. This virus is more widespread and more lethal, but it does not seem to have caused such alarm among Brazilians as Zika virus.

Microcephaly, which is only a threat in the case of pregnant women, has had a much bigger public impact.

Its link to Zika was established by Brazilian researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a causal relationship between the virus and microcephaly has not yet been fully established.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 1 it declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

In Brazil, only when unborn babies began to be affected was a decision reached to combat the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In late January, the government launched a campaign that mobilised 220,000 military troops and thousands of health ministry and other public employees, as well as the public at large.

Brazil will have “a generation of people who have been impaired” if the mosquito is not eliminated, said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who has been criticised for making contradictory statements about the epidemic.

But a leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, complained to IPS that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighing the Aedes aegypti mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere,” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

He said that in the renewed debate on the right to abortion, it would be important to have a bioethics council, such as the ones that operate in Europe and in a few countries of Latin America, where abortion remains illegal except in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City, or under extremely limited circumstances (fetal malformation, rape, risk to the mother’s life) in most other countries.

Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving – even gradually – in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible.

“Congress is no longer ‘national’, it is an inquisition tribunal, where religious beliefs prevail,” said Castilhos.

Proposals in parliament, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

In the past few decades, the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on complex issues such as biosafety and stem cell research, where experts in jointly evaluating biological and ethical questions would help overcome or mitigate controversies, said Garrafa, the founder of several Brazilian and Latin American bioethics institutions.

In the current political context, the Supreme Court represents the hope for progress on sexual and reproductive rights, Pimentel, Castilhos and Garrafa all told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the outbreak of microcephaly is traumatic, but it also represents an opportunity for debate on abortion and the need for universal access to sanitation, they added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Combating HIV among Teens Mon, 01 Feb 2016 07:39:10 +0000 Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo
NAIROBI, Kenya / HARARE, Zimbabwe, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Keziah Juma is coming to terms with her shattered life at the shanty she shares with her family in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera slum where friends and relatives are gathered for her son’s funeral arrangements. While attending an antenatal clinic, Juma who is only 16 years discovered that she had been infected with HIV. “I went into shock and stopped going to the clinic, that is why they could not save my baby and I have been bed-ridden since giving birth two months ago,” she told IPS.

Juma’s struggle to come to terms with her HIV status and to remain healthy mirrors that of many teens in this East African nation. Kenya is one of the six countries accounting for nearly half of the world’s young people aged 15 to 19 years living with HIV. Other than India, the rest are in Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Mozambique, according to a 2015 UNICEF report Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS.

Yet in the face of this glaring epidemic, Africa’s response has been discouraging with statistics leaving no doubt that the continent is losing the fight against HIV among its teens. Julius Mwangi, an HIV/AIDS activist in Nairobi told IPS that some countries such as Kenya seem to have chosen “to bury their heads in the sand in hopes that the problem will go away.”Despite government statistics indicating that the average age for the first sexual experience has increased from 14 to 16 years among Kenyan teens, this has done little for the country’s fight to combat HIV among its young people.

The Ministry of Health’s fast track plan to end HIV and AIDS shows that only an estimated 24 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 years know their HIV status. Still in this age group, only about half have ever tested for HIV. Mwangi attributes the country’s high HIV rates among its teens to lack of practical interventions to address the scourge. He referred to the controversy over the Reproductive Health Bill 2014 which provided a significant loophole for young people less than 18 years to access condoms and other family planning services, but was rejected.

Judith Sijeny, a nominated Member of the Senate who sponsored the Bill, says that the proposed piece of legislation was rejected in its original form on grounds that it was encouraging sexual immorality among young people. Sijeny said in addition to providing information on HIV prevention and treatment including advocating for sexual abstinence, the Bill was also “providing a solution by encouraging safe sex.” “Statistics are providing a very clear picture that teenagers, including those living with HIV, are engaging in sexual activities,” she said.

Government statistics show that one in every five youths aged 15 to 24 had sex before the age of 16 years. A revised version of the Bill, which will constitute Kenya’s primary health law for now, states clearly that condoms and family planning pills are not to be given to those under 18 years of age.

While other African nations like Kenya have chosen to be in denial, leaving their young populations vulnerable to early deaths due to HIV, others such as Zimbabwe have vowed to take the bull by its horns. Last year, the Zimbabwean government in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the Condomise Campaign where they distributed small-sized condoms to fit 15-year olds in a bid to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This is despite this country’s age of consent to sex pegged at the age of 16!

The Condomise Campaign may, however, have come too late for several Zimbabwean teenagers like 16-year old Yeukai Mhofu who is already living with HIV after she was raped by her late stepfather. Regrettably, Mhofu said she may already have infected her boyfriend.“I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend at school and I am afraid I might have infected him. Although I was aware of my HIV status after my rape ordeal by my late stepfather, I succumbed to pressure from my school lover after he kept pestering me for sex and I feared to disclose my status to him because I thought he would hate me,” Mhofu told IPS.

For many Zimbabwean teenagers like 15-year old Loveness Chiroto still in school, the government move to launch condoms for teenagers has left her relieved at the fresh prospect of young people like her to survive the AIDS storm. “Now with government and UNFPA taking a position that we should use condoms, I’m personally happy that as young people we have been given the alternative on how to soldier on amidst the HIV/AIDS scourge,” Chiroto told IPS.

But irked by the Condomise initiative gathering momentum, many adults have vehemently castigated the idea. “Our children need strict grooming in which they are strongly taught the hazards of engaging in premature sexual intercourse; condoms won’t help our young people because even grown-up people are contracting HIV with condoms in their pockets,” Mavis Mbiza, a Zimbabwean mother of two teenage girls
in High school, told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) legislator and parliamentary portfolio committee on health chairperson, Ruth Labode, is however at variance with many parents like Mbiza. “Is there a difference when an adult is having sex and when a teenager is having sex? If teens are sexually active, condom use for them may be a necessity, I agree because there is also need for such young persons to be protected from STIs as well,” Labode said.

The UNFPA senior technical advisor, Bidia Deperthes went on record saying this Southern African nation’s teenagers from 15 years of age needed to be catered for in the condom distribution as some of them had become sexually active.

Statistics show that 24.5 per cent of Zimbabwean women between the ages 15 to 19 are married and is proof of teenagers being sexually active, which justifies the distribution of condoms to Zimbabwe’s teenagers according to UNFPA. An official from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care speaking on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, agreed with UNFPA. “We are highly burdened with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) even amongst teens, so condoms are very important in reducing new infections of HIV and STIs,” the health official told IPS. In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, expanding the scope of several existing children’s rights and explicitly granting new ones.

The Act gave to children 12 years and older a host of rights relating to reproductive health, including access to condoms, this at a time SA’s persons aged 15–24 account for 34 per cent of all new HIV infections. In 2014, at Botswana’s Condomise Campaign launch in conjunction with UNFPA, the organisation’s representative there, Aisha Camara-Drammeh emphasised that condoms were equally crucial for the African nation’s teenagers. “This is an exciting and yet a very crucial moment for us as UNFPA and our stakeholders – including the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and indeed the young people themselves – to be witnessing the inauguration of this campaign in Botswana. Ensuring access to condoms is a prerequisite for the Sexual and Reproductive Health of young persons,” Drammeh had said then.

According to the UNFPA then, Botswana’s young people were faced with numerous challenges which included high-risk sexual behaviour leading to high teenage unwanted pregnancies, high incidences of HIV infections, low comprehensive knowledge on SRH and HIV and limited access to SRH services and commodities. With condoms use rife amongst Botswana’s young people, the country is witnessing declines on new HIV infections, with the 15–24 year olds’ HIV incidence declining by 25 per cent, according to UNFPA. Even further up in Malawi, in 2013, government there moved in to launch the first-ever national HIV/AIDS prevention drive through a Condomise Campaign seeking to promote and increase condom use among teenagers there.


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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women


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