Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cameroon and Violence Against Women

Today for International Tuesday, we have an article from Cameroon by university student Njeke Joshua.

Cameroon and violence on women.

Women in Cameroon want their rights respected with some of the laws in the MAPUTO PROTOCOL respected as well. This year, on International Women's Day, some women marched around the town of Buea singing against violence (against) women. Cameroon signed the MAPUTO PROTOCOL on the 28th of May, 2009. This is an agreement among several African states determined to ensure that the rights of women are promoted, realized and protected in order to enable them fully enjoy all their human rights. All state signatories were to apply these agreements in their countries. Some of these laws are cited below:

  • A man and a woman are equal and do have the same rights. In order to be applied the state has to take women’s needs and interest into consideration in their planning and programming.
  • To eliminate discrimination against women, the State has to inform and educate the society so that all are aware of the discrimination which is present in our way of doing, our thinking, in our cultural practices, and traditions which make men superior to women; so that once educated, everyone will change his/her behavior in order to stop all practices which are discriminatory to women.
  • No woman has to marry before the age of 18 years, and she has to do it out of her free will. The woman has the right to choose with her husband; the place where they will stay; she can continue using her name after marriage, she can keep her nationality and give it to her children; she can dispose of her property as she pleases.
  • The woman, in like manner as the man, has responsibility over the family; she has to educate and protect the children.
  • In the aspects to pronounce separation, divorce, and annulment of marriage a woman can seek separation, divorce, or annulment of marriage. When separation, divorce or annulment of marriage is pronounced, the man and the woman have to share property and each person is supposed to have what normally belongs to him/her, and both have to take care of their children.
  • Widow’s rights should be respected. A widow should not be maltreated in the name of tradition. After the death of her husband, it is the widow who takes over the children. She can remarry if she likes and with whom she pleases.
  • The widow has to inherit her own part of the property left by her husband. Whether they signed “joint property” or “separate property” the woman has the right to continue living in the matrimonial home. And even if she remarries, she keeps this right if the house belongs to her.
  • The state has to protect poor women; women who are head of families, and women who are vulnerable. It has to provide them with level of life easily adapted to their physical, economic and financial needs. The state has to compensate victims whenever any of the rights and liberties cited by this protocol is violated.

Countries that have signed this MAPUTO PROTOCOL are not following these rights and liberties cited. Africans should take a step forward.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

UK Feminista

Yesterday, I attended the launch of UK Feminista at the Women's Library in central London. It was an amazing day! The White Ribbon Campaign had a stall there, along with such organisations as Eaves, Funny Women, OBJECT, and the Fawcett Society. Hannah Pool chaired the speakers - Kat Banyard and Ellie Cumbo began, as they created UK Feminista. The other speakers were Darinka Aleksic of Abortion Rights, Frances Carlisle of the Latin American Women's Rights Service, Anna van Heeswijk of OBJECT, Katie McGrainor of Birmingham Fems, Elizabeth Carola of Anti-Porn London, and Gail Cartmail of Unite the Union. It was an inspiring session!

UK Feminista strives to bring individual feminists together with each other and with already-established campaigns and organisations. It is an exciting venture, one that the White Ribbon Campaign is delighted to be a part of.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Saudi Rights Panel Take Up Child Bride Case

Today for International Tuesday we have an article from Saudi Arabia. This is fitting after last week's launch of the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory.

Saudi Arabia’s state human rights body has hired a lawyer to review the case of a girl whose mother sought her divorce from an 80-year-old man, a move activists hope is a first step against child marriage

Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society that applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, has no minimum legal age for marriage. Fathers are granted guardianship over their daughters, giving them control over who their daughters marry and when.

The girl — believed to be 12 years old — from Buraidah, a conservative town near the capital Riyadh, was married to her father’s elderly cousin late last year for bridal money of 85,000 riyals ($ 23,000), lawyer Sultan bin Zahim said.

Activists see the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage in the kingdom, where child marriage is common in poorer tribal areas.

The child’s mother had earlier filed for divorce on her daughter’s behalf but withdrew without giving a reason after a second court hearing in early February, Zahim told Reuters.

The state-affiliated rights body then took over the case, to investigate the mother’s reasons for withdrawal as well as the age of the child and her husband, which have been disputed, before they assess further action that they can take.

The lawyer had previously stated that the Human Rights Commission is filing for divorce on behalf of the child.

“(HRC) became involved in this case as a public rights issue that concerns the Saudi community ... This case is still valid even after the mother withdrew,” Zahim said.

This is the first time the commission has intervened in a case of child marriage, an issue that was previously seen as a “family affair” and outside the commission’s remit.

“This intervention is part of the commission’s authority in accordance with its rules, however it cannot propagate these measures until it confirms the facts in this case,” Zahim said.

Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, which considers those under 18 as children.

“This case is an investment in order to push for a law,” said Wajiha al-Huweider, a Saudi rights activist. “We need to affect public opinion and I believe that Saudi Arabia will issue a law preventing child marriages soon.”

Zuhair al-Harthi, a member of the advisory Shura Council, said a draft law on banning child marriages was being studied by a government committee. But activists fear it could take long.

“Such a law will take a long time to be passed as there are social, religious, and cultural aspects,” said Mufleh al-Qahtani, chairman of the National Society for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation. Harthi said a quicker way to address the issue could be for the government to ban notaries from performing marriages for girls under the age of 18 years, which would be an intervention on an administrative rather than legal level

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Launch of the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory

Yesterday evening, I attended the launch of the new HBV (Honour-Based Violence)/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory. The Knowledge Centre and Directory have been produced by the Henna Foundation, based in Wales.

The Chair of Henna, Ahmed Suleiman MBE gave the welcome. He specifically states that we need to engage with men, as any approach must be a holistic approach. The launch was hosted by Christine McCafferty, MP. She said that women are still affected by violence against women all over the wold, usually at the hands of men for dominance reasons. There is an imbalance of power between men ad women. Factors may shape the type of violence but it is not constrained to any one factor; VAW is universal which is why it's endemic. Domestic violence has historically been seen as a "private" issue, which is why the Council of Europe has placed the recognition of domestic violence as a human rights issues at the cornerstone of its approach. She finished by explaining that we need to place the needs and choices of the women affected at the centre of our approach, even if this may not be the same as what we want. McAfferty then introduced Alan Campbell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. He thanked all of us in attendance, the people who work on the ground since the government can't do it all alone. Having this knowledge centre, he explained, to connect the dots is extremely important - "We fully support it."

Then, Naz Shah, the daughter of Zoora Shah (who killed an abusive partner and spent 14 years in prison) spoke about the reality of Izzat ("honour") and its impact on families. Zoora Shah was from India and suffered a forced marriage. Naz was sent to Pakistan to marry when she was 15. Since Naz was a girl, her father wouldn't pick her up until she was 10 months old. Her dad ran off with the 16-year old neighbour, forcing Naz and her siblings to leave school because of Izzat. Zoora then entered into a relationship with another man who would abuse her for years. She eventually killed him by putting arsenic in his food. She didn't tell her story in court because of Izzat and the shame that sexual and physical abuse would bring on her family, especially her daughters. Then in the 1990s, the family went to the judges, who rejected the Izzat aspect. Then a man ran over a woman with a car and they finally recognised it - Zoora has now been out for 4 years. Izzat runs deep in the veins; it must be understood to properly deal with the issues that Asian families face. However, we can't see Izzat as something that leads to killing, as it also protects and keeps families together. There are negative and positive aspects to Izzat.

Next was Shahien Taj MBE, the executive director of Henna. She explained why this site (the knowledge centre and directory) has come abut. She was brought up with Izzat - it can be a very bad or good thing; you need to know how to balance that type of life. One focus of the site is service delivery - people don't know how to approach certain families. Asian women's groups have done a lot in this regard. The main part of the site is the directory - it shows what the government is doing, what organisations like Women's Aid are doing, as well as ethnic women's groups and local authorities. The links take you straight to the relevant page of those organisations, not the homepage. The knowledge centre is all practice based and looks at the interconnectedness between forced marriage and HBV. They are trying to get people to go to their local service, and if there is not one, to speak to the community about starting one in the area.

Finally, Elspeth Webb spoke about the ethical approach to resolving value conflicts in child protection and Nikki Hubbard (ACPO) talked about the police's approach to HBV and forced marriage. In October 2008, the police set out a strategy on these issues and it is the only one in the world. Webb explained how culture can be an excuse to justify practices, but child welfare should always be the bottom line. We can't allow relativism to come in and be an excuse. There have unfortunately been some cases where children have died, and professionals were terrified of being called racist by speaking out against the "cultural practices." Amina Lone, the vice chair of Henna, gave the closing remarks.

The White Ribbon Campaign fully supports the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory. It is a valuable resource for practitioners, police, and the government to understand such factors as Izzat when dealing with certain communities in order to better protect the women and children of those communities.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Behind Closed Doors

Yesterday, I attended a morning meeting sponsored by Pupil Parent Partnership on domestic violence in multi-cultural Britain. The meeting was chaired by Amelia Hill of The Guardian; panelists included Virendra Sharma (MP and Councillor for Ealing Southall), Samantha Darby (Domestic Violence, Interpersonal Violence: Policy & Deliverance Team at the Home Office), and Gill Jesson (Director of Part Time Services, Pupil Parent Partnership). The purpose of the meeting was to bring well-informed individuals, especially DV practitioners, together to discuss these difficult issues. We discussed the role of the police and the judicial system, how to work with perpetrators, how to break the cycle of violence, and how to reach out to all communities while understanding the specific needs of those communities and of individual women. This is not just about different ethnic communities, but also about reaching LGBT women, disabled women, and domestic workers (as they usually have no recourse to public funds).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Nicaragua's Abortion Ban Is Inhumane and Backward

Onto a more controversial topic today for International Tuesday. As promised, it is a story from Latin America, and an outrageous one at that. Whatever your views on abortion, the current laws in Nicaragua (as well as a (fortunately) few other countries) that outlaw abortion for ANY reason (even if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother) violate a fundamental human right. These laws are a form of violence against women as they are placing women's lives at risk and are in fact killing many women. Not only is it inhumane, it is also illogical - in many cases, if the woman dies while pregnant, the fetus dies as well. What good does that serve? How is denying cancer treatment to a pregnant woman beneficial to the fetus? And what does this say about how Nicaraguan society, and the other societies with these heinous laws, view women?

Nicaragua's Abortion Ban Is Inhumane and Backward
By Delia Lloyd
In a move that ought to raise eyebrows even among pro-life groups, the Nicaraguan government is denying cancer treatment to a woman because she is pregnant. This is only the latest outrage in a country that has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.
case concerns a 27-year-old woman known as Amalia (not her real name) who has cancer that is suspected to have spread to her brain, lungs and breasts. But Nicaraguan authorities have withheld life-saving treatment from her because it could harm the fetus and violate the country's total ban on abortion.

The decision has ignited furious protests from relatives and campaigners who say that Amalia -- who has a 10-year-old daughter and is 10 weeks pregnant -- will die unless treated.
Amnesty International has called on the Nicaraguan government to provide the urgent chemotherapy and radiotherapy that her doctors recommend. A government-run medical commission is expected to announce a decision on Monday.

Nicaragua has one of the most
draconian abortion laws in the world. It is one of the few countries to prohibit abortion under any circumstances. Girls and women who seek an abortion -- as well as health professionals who provide health services associated with abortion -- face jail.

Needless to say, these restrictions have taken their toll. According to
official figures, 33 girls and women died in pregnancy in 2009; the year before, 20 died. Amnesty International believes these figures are only a minimum, as the government itself has acknowledged that the number of maternal deaths is under-recorded.

Oh, and it gets worse. According to a
survey of media reports between 2005 and 2007, 1,247 girls were reported in newspapers to have been raped or to been the victims of incest in Nicaragua. Of these crimes, 198 were reported to have resulted in pregnancy. The overwhelming majority of the girls made pregnant as a result (172 of them) were between 10 and 14 years old.

Fun stuff.

Fortunately -- at least for those of us who are horrified by such statistics -- Nicaragua is an outlier. As I reported back in October, the trend has been toward an
easing of restrictions on abortions worldwide. Even in Ireland -- which has an abortion law that is only slightly less severe (abortion is permitted when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother) -- things may be changing. Ireland is currently awaiting a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on the case of three women who accuse the government of putting their health at risk by forcing them to travel abroad for terminations. This case may establish a new international precedent regarding abortion and human rights by enhancing protections for mothers.

But the Nicaraguan abortion ban isn't only a debacle on humanitarian grounds. It's an enormous setback for women's rights in this small country, once at the vanguard of women's liberation in Latin America. It's
widely understood that Daniel Ortega, the two-time president of Nicaragua who is currently in power, signed onto this abortion ban as a paean to the country's powerful Catholic Church, which launched an aggressive campaign against abortion back in 2006 (the law was enacted in 2007).

Some of you will remember Ortega from the heady days of 1979. Then, he spearheaded a socialist revolution in Nicaragua, one which subsequently unleashed a civil war that ripped the country apart socially, economically and politically over the course of the next decade. (Thank you,
Oliver North.)

Say what you will about the
Sandinista Revolution -- and there's plenty negative to say about it -- but one of its signature achievements was to significantly elevate the power and position of women in what had traditionally been a very socially conservative Latin American country. In Ortega's first term as president (1985-1990), 31 percent of the executive positions and 27 percent of leadership positions were occupied by women. Not incidentally, he also supported a limited form of abortion rights.

I lived in Central America in the late 1980s and traveled to Nicaragua while the Sandinistas were still in power. One of my close friends at the time was a senior official in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Like many other women I met there, she was incredibly proud that her country's government respected and promoted women's rights in a way not seen in that country -- or arguably on the continent -- before.

Sorry, but -- whatever you think about abortion -- this current law does not respect women's rights at the most fundamental level. Rather, it is a huge step backwards for women and girls in Nicaragua. It is also a huge betrayal of some of the more promising -- and one would hope, lasting -- legacies of early Sandinista rule.

Shame on you, Daniel Ortega.

Monday, 15 March 2010

No Recourse to Public Funds

Last Wednesday evening, our director, Chris Green, spoke at a panel event at Amnesty International. The other panelists were Heather Harvey, SVAW Campaign Manager for Amnesty International UK; Jo Clarke of Eaves; and Anthony Wills - Hammersmith & Fulham local government officer and Chief Executive of Standing Together Against Violence.

Here's what Amnesty International UK says about the issue of No Recourse to Public Funds:

As part of the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, AIUK has been lobbying for an exemption to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule for vulnerable women of insecure immigration status, such as those on a student, spousal or temporary visa. The current rule leaves women of insecure status in violent relationships with the choice of remaining with an abusive partner or risking destitution if they decide to leave by denying them access to public funding (housing, benefits, etc) because the rule could force shelters and refuges to turn away such women.

Following intensive lobbying, the Home Office has agreed to a three-month pilot scheme to grant women facing violence, and who have insecure immigration status, the ability to temporarily access a refuge and seek specialised support. While we welcome this, our long-term aim is to get a new ruling to grant women’s refuges the funds they need to offer protection from violence to all women suffering abuse, and to launch an integrated strategy to counter violence against women so as to prevent contradictory policies undermining women’s rights.
The event was attended by the WRC's intern, Selene Trivelli.

Heather Harvey began by saying that the first problem is due to rules, especially immigration rules, as it's very hard for immigrants (who are often illegal) to run away from violent situations. Difficulties are related to such things as economic and linguistic concerns. These women are especially vulnerable when in a violent situation as they have few options to escape.

Jo Clarke spoke about an Eaves project, the Sojourner Project, which supports women who have entered the UK on a spousal visa and are experiencing domestic abuse. It is a national project that provides affordable accommodation for women who need it. From November 25 until March 28, there is a phone line for this project, which has been a great success.

Chris Green spoke about mobilising men to wear a white ribbon, but that this is not enough. We need to do more regarding prevention, which is what the WRC focuses on. We need more materials, resources, and workshops delivered to young men.

Anthony Wills asserted that the government must support ALL women who are suffering domestic violence - "If you talk about domestic violence in terms of how much it will cost to the government, then they'll probably start to think about it."

* Notes provided by Selene Trivelli

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The White Ribbon Campaign UK Forms Partnership with UNIFEM

Today, the WRC UK officially began its partnership with UNIFEM UK, the United Nations Development Fund for Women. This is an exciting development for the WRC, as we partner with the only UN agency specifically dedicated to empowering women around the world. UNIFEM also believes that men and women should work together to end violence against women and work towards women's empowerment. And as Alice Fookes of UNIFEM said, "Unlike some humanitarian organisations, UNIFEM helps women OUT of poverty, not women IN poverty."

Our partnership officially began today with a joint educational workshop at Southfields Community College, the most multilingual school in Europe. I, along with the WRC's new intern, Seline Trivelli, assisted our Director, Chris Green, present the ethos and work of the WRC UK.

Students listening to Alice Fookes, of UNIFEM.

WRC UK Director, Chris Green, explaining our work.

Alice with our third group of students.

Chris Green and Selene Trivelli

The White Ribbon Campaign UK is very excited about our partnership with UNIFEM!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Celebrating International Women's Day at the House of Lords

Yesterday evening, I attended a panel event at the House of Lords, entitled "Achieving Equality in Parliament," sponsored by WAFE (Women worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality). Chaired by Baroness Harris of Richmond, the panelists were Peter Facey, Director of Unlock Democracy; Monique Auguste of Canadian University College; Kate Growcutt, former Chair of the Young Fabians; and Julie Smith, Deputy Director of the Centre of International Studies, Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University. Fittingly, the event took place on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day to highlight the inequality of women's representation in Parliament.

Peter Facey spoke on democratic reform and women, stating that some people think the struggle for equality is over, but it continues since Parliament is still unrepresentative of society. Parties, which are declining in membership, have a tendency to replace one middle-aged white man with another middle-aged white man. Parliament needs to support candidates, and female MPs more - for example, there is no creche in Westminster and no maternity leave scheme.

Monique Auguste gave a presentation on gender equality in Canadian politics. As a Canadian, I was particularly interested in this presentation. Women are 52% of the population, so it would seem that women's representation in Parliament should be close to that percentage. But this is obviously not the case; the target is even much lower than this - set at 30% at the Beijing World Conference on Women. Canada is still well below 25%, as is the UK. The exception is Quebec, which is at 28%. Monique set out two main representations to achieve the 30% target - increasing budgets at all levels of the process and the creation of an observatory for equality of representation.

Kate Growcutt spoke about political representation in the UK. She brought up the Fawcett Society's 4 Cs (reasons why women are underrepresented) - culture, childcare, cash, and confidence. She strongly asserted that reform of Parliament is essential, and pointed out, like the other panelists, that it would be problematic if only rich women are able to become candidates.

And finally, Julie Smith asked the question "Why are there so many middle-class white men in Parliament?" She began by stating that gender is not the only underrepresented aspect of Parliament, but also age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and disability. We need diversity of women, so not just rich women and not just women in their 20s who haven't yet had children and those in their 50s and 60s whose children are adults. She brought attention to an interesting phenomenon, the idea that when women are leaders in politics, they're considered to have male qualities (i.e. Margaret Thatcher) or to be playing men at their own game. Kate brought this up again during the Q & A, pointing out that women are accused of being "shrill" if they get passionate, which is why Thatcher trained her voice to be deeper. Julie also described how, around the world, female leaders are often either born into it (i.e. Queen Elizabeth II) or marry into it (i.e. their fathers or husbands are assassinated). So WHY do we favour people who look like those who came before? It is something that is difficult to overcome, but must be overcome.

France May Make Mental Violence a Crime

Today for International Tuesday, we're highlighting the issue of mental violence with an article from the New York Times about France's National Assembly approving a proposal to make psychological violence a crime. Last week, we said we would highlight a story from Latin America today, but this story from France is particularly important in that it highlights that violence against women is not only physical violence. So, next week we will bring you a story from Latin America.

France May Make Mental Violence a Crime

PARIS — France’s National Assembly approved Thursday night a proposal to add “psychological violence” to a law intended to help victims of physical violence and abuse, despite doubts that the law is specific enough to have much impact.

The proposed law says that to "act or repeatedly say things that could damage the victim's life conditions, affect his/her rights and his/her dignity or damage his/her physical or mental health'' is punishable by a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to 75,000 euros, or about $103,000. Carefully covering both genders, the law applies to behavior toward a wife, husband, partner or concubine.

Danielle Bousquet, a Socialist, and Guy Geoffroy, a member of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement, wrote the draft law, supported by 30 other legislators. It received backing last November from the government and Prime Minister François Fillon, who called it “very significant progress.”

The new law, Mr. Fillon said, “will allow people to take into account the most insidious situations, which don’t leave a mark to the naked eye but can mutilate the victim’s inner self.” He called the issue “a great national cause,” and the government has started a series of commercials on television to sensitize viewers to conjugal violence, especially against women.

Ms. Bousquet, 64, said that psychological violence could be gradual. “In the beginning, there are only slight offenses, a husband who is a little too insistent and domineering with his wife, but then the husband’s ascendancy becomes more prominent and each time the victim strikes back, the tone changes and physical violence can set in,” she said in an interview together with Mr. Geoffroy.

“Fear isn’t something you can easily simulate,” she said. “It’s not hard to see whether a woman is terrified or not.”

Mr. Geoffroy, 60, said that psychological violence was identifiable, through text messages, testimony and the use of slander. “We are very much convinced that the situation of a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should be better and more clearly recognized,” he said. “We want her to be recognized as a victim and protected.”

Despite widespread support for the law, some legal officials are skeptical. Christophe Vivet, the vice prosecutor of Grenoble and a member of the main union for magistrates, said, “The draft law turns a very vague behavior into an infraction, while in criminal law, behaviors are defined very precisely so that each citizen knows what is or is not allowed.”

The problem, he said in an interview, is that the law “creates a great uncertainty over the nature of a forbidden behavior and gives a large space to the arbitrary,” giving judges too much leeway. Criminal law, he said, “is not the solution for every human behavior, and creating a crime means also setting up a criminal procedure, arrests, and so on.”

In France, Mr. Vivet said, there is another such law, on “moral harassment,” which is “very difficult to implement and hard to establish, because we need elements of proof.”

The law “is paved with good intentions, but we are extremely doubtful about it,” he said. “It relies on the central idea that a woman who files a complaint tells the truth, so it relies on a presumption of guilt, while French law is based on a presumption of innocence.”

Asked on French radio if psychological violence would be hard to prove, Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, argued that “it wouldn’t be hard to prove, because there are, often, many proofs — I think about text messages on cellphones, letters, insults, testimonies. I think about psychological despair.” On a special telephone hot line for female victims, she said, 84 percent of the calls involved psychological abuse.

Ms. Bousquet and Mr. Geoffroy cite an increase in violence against women, saying that a woman dies every 2.2 days in France because of domestic violence. Domestic violence, they said, affects 10 percent of women ages 18 to 60, and about 1.5 million women are victims of violence from their partners.

The law would allow a woman to get a temporary protection order to evict a violent partner or husband, or find another place to live. Another element, imported from Spain and inserted into the law last week by the Justice Ministry, foresees an electronic bracelet with a GPS unit worn by the violent partners, so their movements can be tracked by the police.

The French Senate is examining a similar law, with the intention of reaching a single text, which is expected to receive final passage this summer.

Maïa de la Baume contributed reporting.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Million Women Rise!!

Happy International Women's Day!! This is the only day set aside exclusively for women, ALL women. And for those of you who stayed up all night to watch the Oscars (or watched snippets of it this morning like I did) you'll know that it's a big day for women in Hollywood today, as Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director. Yay Kathryn!!

But this post will focus on the Million Women Rise March that took place on Saturday, March 6. Hundreds of women from across the UK converged at Marble Arch to begin a march against male violence against women. The White Ribbon Campaign obviously strongly supports the march. Million Women Rise consequently invited us to hand out white ribbons to interested men we passed along the route. Here are some photos of the march:

And we finally reached Trafalgar Square, where a post-march rally took place. 

Founder Sabrina Qureshi announced, "We will end violence against women in our lifetime!!"

Other speakers included Vivienne Hayes, the Director of Women's Resource Centre; Women and the Environment; Kat Elliot, a trade unionist and feminist from Unison; Care International; and women from northern Uganda and the DRC. It was a truly international rally, fitting for International Women's Day.

There will be events taking place today in London and across the UK, and the world, so I hope you all find something special to do today. I will be at the House of Lords for an event on equal representation in Parliament put on by WAFE (Women worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality). 

Happy International Women's Day!!

Who Makes the News?

Here's an interesting press release about women in the news. Not exactly related to violence against women, but still very relevant to gender equality:

Preliminary report of the 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project

Only 24% of persons seen, heard, or read about in the news are female.

This is one of the key findings of the 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP). The preliminary report is being released on 2 March 2010 at a panel discussion and debate on the occasion of the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

10 November 2009 was an ordinary day at work for newsroom staff around the world. It was, however, a special day for volunteer groups in 130 countries across the world who were poring over their national newspapers, listening intently to radio newscasts and closely watching local television. Pencils and coding grids in hand, their objective was to observe, analyze and record their findings on selected indicators of gender in the news for the Global Media Monitoring Project – the world’s largest research and action initiative on gender in the news media. The project’s overarching purpose is to bring about fair and balanced gender representation in and through the news media. 

The results contained in the report are preliminary, based on a sample of 42 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands and Europe. The findings encompass 6,902 news items and 14,044 news subjects, including people interviewed in the news.

Edouard Adzotsa, General Secretary of the Central Africa Union of Journalists and GMMP Coordinator in Congo Brazzaville, observed during the monitoring day that, “News media seems to serve male interests, attention to women is extremely negligible even though women outnumber men nationally, women are the lifeblood of communities particularly in informal settlements and in the rural areas.”

Among the key findings are:

24% of the people interviewed, heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news are female; only 16% of all stories focus specifically on women. 

Women have achieved near parity as givers of popular opinion in news stories. But less than one out of every five experts interviewed is female, and men predominate strongly as eyewitnesses and providers of personal experience in news stories.

Almost one half (48%) of all news stories reinforce gender stereotypes, while 8% of news stories challenge gender stereotypes. Women in the news are identified by their familial relationships (wife, mother, daughter) five times more often than men.

Overall, news stories by female reporters are much fewer than news stories by male reporters. News stories by female reporters have considerably more female news subjects than stories by male reporters and challenge gender stereotypes almost twice as often as stories by male reporters.

The study reveals overall that women remain grossly underrepresented in news coverage in contrast to men, resulting in news that depicts a world in which women are largely absent.  The research also shows a paucity of women’s views and opinions compared to male perspectives in mainstream news reports. 

Abebech Wolde with the Ethiopian Media Women’s Association and GMMP Coordinator for Ethiopia said, “We hope that what we are going to say about the representation of gender in the media will be taken seriously by media managers.’’

Comparison with results of the three previous editions of the GMMP carried out every five years since 1995 shows signs of change towards gender balanced and gender responsive news.  Female news subjects have increased from 17% to 24% in the last 15 years. Popular opinion in the news is now nearly at parity, compared to 2005 when at 66%, popular opinion was largely provided by men.

Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, has stated in the IFJ publication Getting the Balance Right: Gender Equality in Journalism that “Fair gender portrayal is a professional and ethical aspiration, similar to respect for accuracy, fairness and honesty.”

The Global Media Monitoring Project is coordinated by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), an international NGO with offices in Canada and the United Kingdom which promotes communication for social change, in collaboration with data analyst Media Monitoring Africa, South Africa.  Gender Links, also based in South Africa, provided advice on refining the monitoring tools and methodology. Volunteers taking part in the monitoring day include gender and media activists, grassroots communication groups, university researchers and students of communication, media professionals, journalists associations, alternative media networks and faith-based groups. The project is supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

The preliminary report is available in English at www.whomakesthenews.org

Executive Summaries are available in English, French and Spanish. Final global, regional and national reports will be published in September 2010.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Repealing of the Human Rights Act? A Political Discussion

All three main political parties - the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Labour - have proposed changes to the Human Rights Act should they be (re-)elected. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is legitimately concerned about these proposals and consequently sponsored a Human Rights Debate to examine the issues.

On Monday night, I, along with WRC Director Chris Green, attended the Human Rights Discussion at the King's Fund in Cavendish Square. Chaired by the BBC's Martha Kearney (left), the event was a Q&A type discussion between the audience and three MPs - Dominic Grieve, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice (Conservative); David Howarth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice (Liberal Democrat); and Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice (and therefore Labour). 

Dominic Grieve MP (left), David Howarth MP (right), Rt Hon Jack Straw MP (bottom)

The event began with an opening statement by Trevor Phillips, Chair of the EHRC, who set out the EHRC perspective on the proposed changes to the Human Rights Act and the creation of a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in its place. He said, "We can't...take for granted that our human rights architecture is here and is here permanently and that it will stand here forever." Phillips went on to explain the importance of human rights in the UK, stating that schools that teach the principles of human rights have seen their rates of bullying drop. In addition, the UK cannot legitimately speak to or condemn the practices of such countries as Iran and Zimbabwe "if we are lukewarm about human rights ourselves." This is why the EHRC's response to the Green Paper on constitutional reform is called "Human Rights Act PLUS" - the EHRC is concerned that proposals to repeal the Act could result in a watered-down version of the Act and so are advocating for changes that only seek to add to what is currently in the Act.

Each MP was allowed 5 minutes to outline his party's proposal regarding the Human Rights Act. Dominic Grieve said that the Conservatives "regard adherence to the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) as an absolute benchmark of our status as a civilised nation." His party wants to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights, a document that will incorporate the principles of the ECHR. He said that polls have shown that the British public do not support the Human Rights Act, because they think it is meant to protect the rights of people who don't deserve them. This is why the Conservatives want to replace the Act, and hope to include some "new" rights such as trial by jury as well as clarification on any non-absolute rights. However, as the Q&A went on (with a clear audience leaning against the Conservative party), it became clear that Grieve's position was likely a bit more liberal than the Conservatives' official position regarding the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

David Howarth outlined the Liberal Democrats' position, beginning by stating that he "can't understand what he (Grieve) was taking about." Howarth explained that he can't see how we can fiddle around with UK statutes and that it is much better to accept that the Human Rights Act is here to stay. Howarth stated that it is an "inherently bad thing" to mess with it and that there is pressure to undermine the Human Rights Act, largely from politicians and the media (who have an incentive to undermine certain provisions regarding privacy rights). Howarth strongly asserted: "Human rights are basic; they are the rights that every state owes to every human, and we should leave that alone." He went on to say that extra rights can be written into the constitution (i.e. entrenched), but that this is separate from HUMAN rights. In the Q&A, Howarth stressed that David Cameron's statement that a burglar "leaves his human rights at the door" is particularly worrying because he said HUMAN rights. What does that mean?, he wondered. He went on to explain that there is a difference between balancing and conditionality and that the idea that bad people don't have them or have to earn them (the idea of "responsibility") is dangerous. HUMAN rights are universal and not contingent on our actions.

Jack Straw was last, outlining Labour's position. He began by saying that he was proud to be in attendance as a representative of the Labour Party, since this is the party that established the EHRC. He stressed that Labour is 100% committed to the Human Rights Act and that nothing they do will detract from the Act. He continued to praise the Human Rights Act, saying that after it came into force in 2000, there has been the longest sustained fall in crime since WWII. This is because of the higher standards of public officials, leading to fewer miscarriages of justice. Straw stated that it is "nonsense" that only those who are law abiding have rights; everyone has rights (here he agrees with Howarth; on other issues, he agreed more with Grieve). It was consequently a bit confusing when he went on to say that Labour wants a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities as an act of public education, to highlight the responsibilities we owe to each other. But I thought we weren't supposed to "earn" rights?

In the end, it remained unclear how much was empty rhetoric and how much was the true sentiments of any of the parties. Perhaps this was from a blurring of the line between HUMAN rights and other rights. Unfortunately, a question from Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, about the proposed changes' effects on women's human rights met with an insufficient response. Straw asserted that "we've done a lot," though not everything and Howarth said that there are various aspects where the UK has fallen short in the past. All of the answers regarding women's rights were vague and evasive, making it appear as though none of the MPs had a solid understanding of the issues facing women or other distinct groups; this was also evident from the answers to questions on child rights and minority rights.

If you're interested in hearing everything that was said during the debate, you can watch the video.

* All photos from the EHRC website.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Malaysia Canes Women for Adultery

After realising that we've been focusing on Africa a bit too much on International Tuesdays, today we have an article on Malaysia, reporting on the caning of women for such acts as adultery and drinking beer.

Malaysia canes women for adultery
The caning case is expected to reskindle a debate over rising 'Islamisation' in the multi-racial country [EPA]

Three women have been caned under Islamic law for committing adultery, a Malaysian minister has said.

This was the country's first ever case involving flogging of women.

Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, the Malaysian home affairs minister, said on Wednesday the sentences were carried out on February 9 after a sharia court found them guilty of extra-marital sex.

"It was carried out perfectly," Hishamuddin said in a statement. "Even though the caning did not injure them [the women], they said it caused pain within them."

Two of the women were whipped six times while the third received four strokes of the rotan (cane).

He said one woman was released from prison on Sunday, another will be freed in the next few days while the third will go free in June.


The women, and four men, were caned following a decision in the religious courts in December, Hishamuddin said.

His comments are being seen as a signal that the authorities could be preparing to cane another Muslim woman, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who was arrested last year for drinking beer and sentenced to six strokes of the cane.

Kartika's sentence came under review following widespread criticism [AFP]
Kartika's case, which was to have been the first time a woman was caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, is under review following widespread publicity and international criticism.

The case, when first reported, raised concerns that the nation's secular status is under threat, eroding the rights of some 40-45 per cent of the country's ethnic minorities.

Hishammuddin said Kartika's case had flagged concerns about how women should be flogged and that the recent canings demonstrated that the prisons department can carry out punishments in accordance with Islamic law.

Under the sharia, the women have to be whipped in a seated position by a female prison guard and be fully clothed.

"I hope this will not be misunderstood so much that it defiles the purity of Islam," Hishammuddin said, according to state media.

"The punishment is to teach and give a chance to those who have fallen off the path to return and build a better life in future."

New questions

The caning, however, has raised new questions about whether a state religious court can sentence women to be caned when federal law precludes women from such a punishment, while men below 50 can be punished by caning.

Malaysia has a dual-track legal system with Islamic criminal and family laws, which are applicable only to Muslims, running alongside civil laws.

"It's not as if this is the Middle East... it's not a good signal that they [the government] are sending out. The fact is that any form of whipping is barbaric"

Ragunath Kesavan, Malaysian Bar president

News of the women's caning sparked public outrage, with lawyers and rights groups on Thursday blaming the government for allowing it.

Ragunath Kesavan, president of the Malaysian Bar, said it was worrying that the punishment had gone ahead even as the caning issue was being hotly debated by Muslim scholars, religious groups and human rights activists.

"The impression was that Kartika's case would be the first so I've got no idea what has happened," he said.

"It's not as if this is the Middle East... it's not a good signal that they're [the government] sending out."

"We are against any form of corporal punishment, for men or women," Kesavan said. "The fact is that any form of whipping is barbaric."

The case is expected to fuel a debate over rising "Islamisation" in Malaysia, where religious courts have been clamping down on moral offences, as well as a ban on Muslims consuming alcohol that had been rarely enforced.

Caning 'epidemic'

London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Malaysia to end a caning "epidemic", saying the women's case was "just the tip of the iceberg".

Donna Guest, the group's deputy Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement that Malaysian authorities caned more than 35,000 mostly foreigners since 2002.

"The government needs to abolish this cruel and degrading punishment, no matter what the offense," she said.

Sisters in Islam, a local group of Muslim women activists, said the caning "constitutes further discrimination against Muslim women in Malaysia".

Next week we'll be highlighting an issue from Latin America.