Friday, January 31, 2014

Spain’s Alarming Abortion Debate

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s proposal to enact some of the toughest abortion restrictions in Europe has exposed his already unpopular government to a building political backlash and criticism from the European Parliament, while reinvigorating his Socialist opponents and opening divisions in his own conservative Popular Party.

On Sunday, demonstrators gathered in downtown Madrid to protest the government’s health care cuts and the abortion proposal, which was introduced in December and would allow the termination of a pregnancy only if it was the result of rape or if having the baby would significantly endanger the mother’s health. It would not allow abortions if the fetus was deformed.

“Those who give birth should be deciding,” said Pilar Gómez, an administrator of the Los Yébenes health care center in Madrid. “After all the advances that we had made, we’re now being taken right back to the days of Franco.”

The current abortion law, adopted under the previous Socialist administration, allows women to end a pregnancy within the first 14 weeks and beyond that period in cases of life-threatening problems related to the fetus.
The debate in Spain began about the same time that a law in Ireland, another Roman Catholic country, set out for the first time the conditions under which abortions would be allowed. The Irish law, which was prompted in part by the death of a woman who was refused an abortion, allows termination of a pregnancy in cases of a threat to the mother’s life. It leaves Malta as the only European Union country that has a complete ban on abortion.
On Wednesday, Elena Valenciano, the deputy leader of the Socialist Party, argued that Mr. Rajoy’s government, which up to now had been focused on Spain’s ailing economy, was also taking a “real step back in history” with a proposed law that she described as an affront to women.
She predicted that the law would turn on Mr. Rajoy by dividing his party rather than strengthening his electoral appeal among conservatives. Already, some senior members of his Popular Party have urged the prime minister to soften the legislation.
Still, Benigno Blanco, the president of the Spanish Family Forum, an association that has campaigned against abortion and represents about four million families, welcomed the legislation as “a very important step” that “should guarantee Spain becomes the first country in Western Europe to prioritize the right to life and to fight back against the social normalization of abortion.”
The abortion debate has transcended Spain’s borders. Protests were recently held outside Spain’s embassy in Paris, and France’s minister for women’s affairs, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said it was “terrible to see Spain about to take a step back on the right to decide over one’s own body.”
Last week, the European Parliament held a heated session over what Spain’s planned U-turn would mean for the rest of the Continent. In Portugal, news media have started speculating about whether the country’s abortion clinics could cope with an influx of women from neighboring Spain.
Even as left-leaning politicians and women’s associations have expressed dismay at the draft law, the government has insisted that it was merely following through on Mr. Rajoy’s campaign pledges from 2011, when the Popular Party swept into office after voters punished the Socialists for their economic mismanagement. Spain pulled out of its two-year recession in the third quarter of 2013, but still struggles with an unemployment rate of 26 percent and anemic domestic consumption.

Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party has a comfortable majority in Parliament. But the Socialists have urged the government to allow voting on the abortion law to take place by secret ballot, to help encourage dissenting conservative lawmakers to break ranks.
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014



We, the women of South Sudan are shocked and disappointed by the recent outbreak of armed conflict in South Sudan, and are also concerned by the wide spread violence that has led to a continuous loss of numerous lives and displacement of women, men, youth and children.    

South Sudan women met at the SPLM secretariat in Juba on the 20th December 2013 to deliberate on how they can quickly intervene and seek all possible ways to end the crisis. Thereafter the women of South Sudan met various leaders to urge for dialogue and peace. The women also held a national meeting for women from all walks of life on the 15th January in Juba to discuss all possible interventions for peace. Similarly South Sudanese women in Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda held meetings on the same on the 17th January 2014 and 19th January 2014 respectively. On the 24th January 2014 we converged in Addis Ababa under the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) conference at the margins of the Heads of State meeting, to share our experiences and bring the different voices of women of South Sudan together for peace. 

We are also concerned about the negative involvement of youth, both women and men, as combatants and agents of negative propaganda in the ongoing conflict; and demand that all parties to the conflict desist from involving the youth. 

We recognize the historic participation of South Sudanese women in the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005; and the critical role they played during the 2011 South Sudan referendum for independence. We, the women of South Sudan are committed to continuously calling for and defending the peace and all that has been achieved since the signing of the CPA. 

We acknowledge and appreciate the commitment of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the SPLM/A in opposition for signing the cessation of hostilities agreement on the 23 January 2014 in Addis Ababa. We believe that this is an important step towards attaining a lasting peace in South Sudan. We also acknowledge that this is only the beginning of a difficult part of the peace process and believe that the inclusion and full participation of women in the process of mediation and negotiation is a prerequisite for the success of this process and sustainable peace in South Sudan. 

Based on the above, we the women of South Sudan call on the AU and IGAD: 

-To strongly urge all parties to the conflict not to breach the cessation of hostilities agreement. 
-To commit to women's participation in the next phase of the political mediation and negotiation as stipulated in the UNSCR 1325 and provide all necessary support. 
-To urge all parties to the conflict and the UN to provide protection for women who advocate for peace, displaced women and particularly young women who are often targeted for abuse by the different conflicting parties 
-To urge all conflicting parties to open corridors for humanitarian assistance and also urge the humanitarian organizations to include special packages for women
We call on our sisters in the African continent to continue supporting our cause and all actors to respond to the plea of South Sudanese women. 

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Friday, January 17, 2014


According to the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, "reporting on sexual violence demands special care and increased ethical sensitivity. It requires specialised interviewing skills, understanding of the law, and basic awareness about the psychological impact of trauma.” On all levels and topics of reporting, a special awareness is required to offer ethical journalism that challenges stereotypes and begins to provide a more balanced and just worldview. However, in the case of reporting on violence against women, including sexual violence, it carries an extra responsibility; as anything short of breaking through the silence that often surrounds these criminal acts of rape, assault and murder supports a status quo that minimises and excuses the impact of violence, and endangers women everywhere.
Challenges to reporting on violence against women

Language: The inherent dangers in reporting on violence against women are many, and to follow any ethical guidelines requires an awareness of the impact of language, its underlying messages and a willingness to avoid journalistic shorthand in the ever-quickening turn-around speed of modern media. This is not an easy task, many of the stock words and phrases used support an imbalanced status quo and endanger change in societal thinking and treatment of survivors. These can be expressions that mislead (sexual violence should never be related to sex – it is a violent act and an abuse of power), that blame the survivor (“she got herself raped”), that avoid placing the responsibility for the attack on the attacker, or that suggest that attackers do not look like “normal” men. In the worst cases, in terms of sexual violence, the survivor is often judged through use of dramatic language (i.e. “cowering in fear”), which suggests that for women to be proper “victims”, they must express the trauma in a certain way. This goes against most beliefs on the impact of trauma, which acknowledge that each person reacts in their own, individual way. Therefore, it is essential not only to get the facts correct, but to be precise, to offer alternatives to popular myths, and not use euphemism or shorthand. Language use is discussed in the “guidelines” section below.

Context: The issue is not one of using religion, culture or geographic location as an excuse for any form of violence: all violence is inexcusable. Rather, the issue is to recognize the consequences of reporting in a particular way, and the inherent possible dangers posed to interviewees, to others providing support, as well as to the journalist herself. Survivors or witnesses have the right to respect and privacy, but foremost to that of safety. It is essential for a journalist to educate herself in order to safeguard the life and wellbeing of those she interviews and works with. Often violence against women is dismissed or the impact minimised, yet research reveals the severe lifelong effects on the physical and mental health of survivors. An awareness and sensitivity of the risks posed to the survivor by going public and others providing support should form the contextual framework for everything a journalist does. Local and international women’s organisations, non-governmental organisations and, journalist unions and organisations are all good places to obtain information on potential risks, hazards, and threats to survivors, as well as the cultural context.
Guidelines: Reporting on (sexual) violence against women

1.    Accurate language: Frame violence and sexual violence using accurate language. Rape is never sex nor is it a volatile ‘relationship’; it is a violent crime with judicial consequences. Sexual violence and violence against women has been defined not only as a human rights abuse but also as a crime against humanity, whether during war or peace.  Be aware of the legal framework of the crime and use the terminology to challenge myths that minimise violence.

2.    “Survivor” or “victim”?: Use of the word “victim” presumes knowledge of the impact of the survived trauma, and presupposes that the woman is, and was, powerless. The word itself removes the possibilities that a woman can resist, not accept that violence is normal and expected, seek help and survive. Use of the word “survivor” supports life after the attack, does not define her by that one event in her life, and helps to highlight the woman’s agency to take control, and make choices about her future.

3.    Privacy and respect issues: Many survivors may feel shame, or guilt, or be distressed by the retelling of events. Identify yourself clearly as a journalist and explain the content of the story, it is important to build trust. It is also important to inform interviewees that they have the right to refuse to answer a question and that they may bring someone to support them. If possible, the interviewer should be female, with some understanding of the impacts of trauma. For example, some survivors of sexual violence remember things in a disjointed way, or may not remember certain events if too severe for them to cope. If you have offered anonymity, respect it, and think about obscuring identifiable elements, such as job or location (see guideline 9 below).

4.    Safety concerns: In some cases, speaking to a journalist can further endanger a woman (see guideline 9). Recognize that you may be putting someone in further danger by approaching them. In some cases, to admit rape can lead to exile from the community, retaliation, or even death. Be aware and thoughtful about these risks when choosing the time and location of interviews. Local women’s organisations, non-governmental organisations working in the area, and local press organisations can provide information on the context and dangers posed by “going public”. Further, be aware that sexual violence can have wider impacts on family members, communities and witnesses.

5.    Do your research: Misinformation is perpetuated through poor research. For example, Western media often focuses on “stranger danger”, when in fact most sexual violence (outside of war) is often perpetrated by persons known to the survivor, or treating domestic violence as an isolated event. Challenge these myths by doing research to give the story the proper, factual base and context necessary in order to educate the audience about the reality.
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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

“Holiday Brides”

India - Saving Trans-Border Brides Abandoned in "Holiday Marriages" to Non-Resident Indian Men

London (Women’s Feature Service) – The phenomenon of “holiday brides”, mostly poor unsuspecting India women who are married off to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) only to be abandoned by their ‘grooms’ even before they can settle into their new lives, has been growing steadily. This concern, however, has been long recognised. In 2008, the India National Commission for Women (NCW) reiterated that the issue of women trapped in fraudulent marriages has assumed ‘alarming’ dimensions. The NCW has also brought out a book, ‘Abandoned Indian Women Trapped in NRI Marriages - The Way Out’, which suggested remedial measures.

The case of Kiranjeet Ahluwalia in the UK - dramatised as a film starring popular Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan - clearly demonstrates the kind of abuse that immigrant women in the country are
prone to. The UK recently proposed a legislation that would ban legal aid to people who were not citizens and lived in the country for more than a year. Such a move definitely spells bad news for scores of immigrant women who are vulnerable to abuse and abandonment.

But nothing much seems to have changed. Every year, different sources ranging from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and the NCW to the media report steadily increasing numbers. In fact, according to 2008 media reports, attributed to the MOIA, 20,000 abandoned wives are officially recorded as abandoned as a result of such marriages.

With their remarriage prospects being virtually non-existent and their families left bankrupt because of the high dowries they have had to pay defrauding ‘grooms’, these women are often forced to either live with their families or depend on relatives for their subsistence in the towns or villages of their birth.

The UK recently proposed a legislation that would ban legal aid to people who were not citizens and lived in the country for more than a year. Such a move definitely spells bad news for scores of immigrant women who are vulnerable to abuse and abandonment.

At first glance, such a state policy may not seem to have any relation to women in India, but a closer look will show that its ripples will indeed be felt, particularly in the small towns of the country. Indian legislators are aware of the well-established plight of abandoned wives, and the problems they face which include domestic abuse. Women of the diaspora also face similar situations, yet have no established support structures or legal remedies. Today, in its attempt to engage with the NRI population, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is considering a proposal to establish Overseas Indian Centres in USA, the Gulf countries and Malaysia, to start with, because these are the regions where there is a significant presence of Indians. Besides other activities, it is proposed that these Centres will extend “counselling facilities with the help of professional counsellors to those who face the problem of fake, fraudulent or failed marriages”.

But these are all post facto measures. More immediate and pertinent questions that need to be answered. How, for example, can women ensure that they do not fall prey to this form of abuse? And, if they do end up in such unfortunate situations, how will they be able to access measures of recourse? One of the ways in which the government is proposing to do this is to raise awareness on the issues involved for those seeking to marry persons living abroad. Through booklets and other means, such information will be made available in the vernacular for rural readers. Of course, it is anybody’s guess as to who would actually read these booklets. Perhaps it would be more useful if, along with the various immigration documents made available to departing brides, a simple pamphlet is provided detailing the problem and listing emergency numbers or addresses that can be accessed. This may prove handy should any of them find themselves abandoned under foreign jurisdictions.

Dynamic and multi-pronged approaches are important when it comes to issues that transcend international borders, and the system of checks and balances needs to be continually fine-tuned. Unfortunately, there are currently no internationally accepted checks for diasporic marriages. One of the arguments against too much regulation is that it would place unnecessary restrictions on marriages that are healthy and safe, as the majority are.

But while we certainly should not create procedural headaches for the law abiding, we also need to provide succour from within the country to those who travel out and end up in intractable personal situations. This is in the interests of ensuring the safety and security of Indian citizens who can realistically hope that the country of their birth would protect their interests. In an increasingly globalised world, the responsibility of the government to ensure adequate protection for its population, whatever the inherent challenges, are of immediate importance.

The recent passing of the compulsory registration of marriage bill in the Rajya Sabha is an effort to find a workable solution to this problem and it might prove a significant check, since it at least allows such cases to be tracked. The good thing about this Bill is that it makes registration compulsory, even for marriages across religions. Some civil society groups have expressed doubt as to whether it will indeed make a difference since conservative families or communities may choose not to disclose abandonment, if it were to happen. They also point out that there are no incentives or disincentives with regard to registration in this law. But despite its shortcoming, it could be seen as a step in the right direction.

India is no stranger to enacting laws that are sometimes more progressive than those that exist in more economically developed countries. For instance, the constitutional right of non-discrimination on the basis of sex has made it easier for Indian courts to legislate on issues such as equal pay. At the same time, there can be no disputing that a substantial number of Indian women today are faced with the reality that their basic rights are not safeguarded, even on paper. Trans-border brides in bad marriages belong to this category.
By Lavanya Regunathan Fischer and Devadatt Kamat

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Learning about and integrating the meaning of human rights in our lives for the future of humanity

Closing the Dignity gap!

Closing the gap of unfulfilled dignity: --The most important initiative/challenge for the 21st century is for all women and men, youth and children to learn, know and own human rights as a way of life so as to plan and carry out their lives guided by the holistic, comprehensive, interconnected and interrelated world view of human rights. In a way, human rights are a secular religion that gives strength and richness to all cultures and religions… to all human hopes and aspirations attempting to break through the vicious cycle of humiliation… away from POWER, FEAR and GREED. -- We must make human rights a counter-power to achieve [full] equality for all without any discrimination; to arrive at meaningful economic and social transformations, adopting positive creative choices; giving real power to human rights; learning to identify the difference between what are the symptoms and what are the causes of inequality.
Guided by the extraordinary vision and practical roadmap suggested by the human rights framework and applying it to our own ways of life, women --the world mentors and organizers of human rights cities-- can shine the light on the new journey we should all embark on. We are talking of fostering a new future, of re-imagining, re-casting and re-defining what ultimate sense [of] our lives really have. Indeed, the most important challenge for humanity in the 21st Century is learning about and integrating the message, promise and dream of human rights as a way of living and belonging into society, in dignity and in community with others. We must recognize the humanity of others as our own; we must recognize women as full human beings with undeniable human rights. We must redirect our ways to effectively move horizontally to reach new horizons, achieving new dreams, new hopes, using an altogether new language. The UDHR is indeed the most important promise for the 21st century; we must know, own and live by it to de-facto celebrate our dignity and genuine equality wherever and whoever we are. We must never again exchange our equality for survival and abide by the injustices some call ‘justice’… We must all belong in dignity, in community with others, women and men alike. Add this to whatever life course each of us chooses to abide by, to whatever historic memories guide our desires, to whatever culture gives us a sense of security and belonging. Human rights close all gaps of unfulfilled dignity. Human rights are about inclusion, they extricate exclusion.
All people learning about human rights as a relevant to their daily lives is the most important initiative for the multitudes in the 21 st century. For millions to recognize human rights as a way of life is the way to go. This calls for an intense and ongoing process of learning for moving from charity to dignity .Whoever we are, we must build trust and respect. Human rights learning must never stop… While learning human rights, people continuously learn how their own meaning lives affect the lives of every human being. To close all gaps of unfulfilled dignity, and yet be what we choose to be, we must reinvent our lives while remembering our past. We must add a new powerful link to our historic memory and raise human rights to the level of a veritable way of life.
Joining together to make this a reality is the most important initiative of the 21st century. 
No one should be left behind, as women --half of humanity and an acknowledged source of moral authority-- assume the day-to-day mentoring of others integrating the vision and mission of human rights as a world view and a guide to life. A covenant must be made, one that assures that the sanctity of life will never be desecrated or stepped on.
This step-by-step process of women mentoring communities must have women and men participating as equals in making the decisions that determine their future... guided by human rights as a way of life.

This is indeed the most important forward-looking initiative of the 21st century.

Shulamith Koenig 
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Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

Statistics January - December 2012

- The Forced Marriage Unit FMU gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1485 cases.
- Where the age was known, 13% involved victims below 15 years, 22% involved victims aged 16-17, 30% involved victims aged 18-21, 19% involved victims aged 22-25, 8% involved victims aged 26-30, 8% involved victims aged 31+. The oldest victim was 71 and the youngest was 2.
- 82% involved female victims and 18% involved male victims.
- The FMU handled cases involving 60 different countries, including Pakistan (47.1%), Bangladesh (11%), India (8%), Afghanistan (2.1%), Somalia (1.2%), Turkey (1.1%), Iraq (1%), Iran (0.9%), Nigeria (0.9%), Sri Lanka (0.9%), Egypt (0.6%), Saudi Arabia (0.6%), Yemen (0.6%), The Gambia (0.5%), Morocco (0.5%), and Ukraine (0.5%). The origin was unknown in 7.7% of cases.
- Within the UK the regional distribution was: East Anglia 2%, East Midlands 3%, London 21%, North East 1%, North West 8%, Northern Ireland 0.2%, Scotland 1%, South East 11%, South West 2%, West Midlands 16%, Wales 1%, Yorkshire and Humberside 7%. The region was unknown in 27% of cases.
- 114 cases involved victims with disabilities.
- 22 involved victims who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

This guide provides information for professionals protecting the victims of forced marriage. It also gives details of financial support for charities and awareness-raising publications. Information for people directly affected by forced marriage is also available.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is raising awareness about forced marriage across the public sector. We provide expert advice to professionals, especially those confronted by forced marriage for the first time:

  • we do a broad programme of public speaking and outreach work – email for more information
  • if a personal visit isn’t possible, we can send you copies of our publications to help you give presentations yourselves.
  • we can train your staff in how they can help victims of forced marriage
  • we have started an awareness-raising programme for registrars
  • we have produced multi-agency guidelines for the police, children and adult social care, health, housing and education professionals

UK - Forced Marriage Unit
Website includes comprehensive information and videos.
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Friday, January 3, 2014


 "Many States parties to the CEDAW Convention assert that they cannot fully implement CEDAW because it is in conflict with Shari'ah, or that laws or practices cannot be changed because they are divine or based on the Qur'an."

"Musawah submits that full implementation of CEDAW is possible, as the principles of equality, fairness, and justice within CEDAW and Islam are fully compatible, and reform of laws and practices for the benefit of society and the public interest (maslahah) has always been part of the Muslim legal tradition."

Approaches to CEDAW and Muslim Family Laws & Practices


A type of argument frequently used by many States parties attempts to take the responsibility for implementation of the CEDAW Convention away from the government, by pointing to the role of culture, customs, traditions, and the patriarchal society in discriminating against women. The States argue that in the face of these powerful local customs and traditions, which often are intertwined with religion, change is difficult and takes time. In many cases, the people are not ready or women themselves are preventing the change from occurring. Governments also cite situations in which the law permits a practice, which is often justified because of tradition or culture, but the practice is rare.......

One of the main arguments evoked by governments for the inequality that exists between in men and women in their country was that change took time......Several countries underscored the challenges and time required to change these stereotypical notions of equality......

Several delegations assured the CEDAW Committee that progress, though slow in coming, was nonetheless taking place.......

In Search of Common Ground
By MUSAWAH - An initiative of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

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