Saturday, July 31, 2010

Women Amongst Also-Rans in Presidential Elections

By Saliou Samb
Celou Dalein Diallo gained a significant advantage over Alpha Condé, his main rival for the Guinean presidency, when a third candidate said he would back Diallo in a second round of voting in August. But what has become of women candidates for high political office in this West African country?

Saran Daraba Kaba, the first and only woman candidate for president, finished a distant 22nd of the 24 candidates who took part in the first round of voting on Jun 27, garnering only 0.11 percent of the vote.

"Compared to the results achieved by the major players in the election... Saran Daraba's tally seems trivial when you consider that women make up over 52 percent of the Guinean population," says Abdoul Gadiri Diallo told IPS, a member of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation.

Women play an active role in Guinea's political life, at least at the grassroots level. Thousands of women were among those who responded to a call to rally against former military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in September 2009.

The Sep. 28 rally, organised by a coalition of political parties, trade unions and civil society groups to protest Camara's proposed candidacy in presidential elections, was brutally suppressed; rights organisations and the U.N. put the death toll at 157.

There were damning reports of the gang rape of women in broad daylight during the crackdown have emerged; soldiers are reported to have violated their victims with guns, sticks and boots, and the International Criminal Court has made preliminary inquiries into the atrocities.

More recently, women made up the bulk of the 3,000 demonstrators who despite a ban on public demonstrations, on Jul. 5 marched in protest against ballot-stuffing alleged to have taken place during the first round of the presidential elections.

"Saran Daraba came out of nowhere in this latest chapter of the struggle for power. She's certainly competent in certain respects, but was not an acclaimed leader during the recent struggles for democracy and does not represent a vision, a program or a commitment to a better life in Guinea," says Néné Oumou Baldé, a feminist activist who runs a website devoted to women's issues.

"Misogyny was a minor factor in her case, although in our country men do hold all power, all wealth and as a rule have no tolerance for strong, independent women. But being a woman is not enough to get elected," she told IPS.

Despite her poor showing, Saran Daraba defended her candidacy against the criticism: "With 20 years of service in various public and private administrations and now in nongovernmental organisations, I don't have to prove that I helped improve democracy in my country," she said.

"We mustn't forget that this election was dominated by money and ethnic issues. But I did not embezzle when I was in government nor am I supported by a foreign lobby like others. My message was well understood and well appreciated, and that's what's most important," she told IPS.

But women's willingness to participate in public life has found little reward in seeking political office. Women are woefully underrepresented in Guinea's government institutions.

There are only five women among the 34 members of the current transitional government and of these, only one the trade unionist Mariama Penda Diallo, holds a ministerial position - responsible for the Ministry of Public Service, Administrative Reform, Labor and Employment.

Another woman trade unionist, Rabiatou Serah Diallo, is president of the National Transition Council which acts as an interim parliament.

Campaigners for the two candidates that topped the first round - Cellou Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and Alpha Condé of the Rally of the People of Guinea (RPG) - are quick to argue that their parties reserve a privileged space for Guinean women and that their party's platforms address the main issues confronting women. They both say it is impossible to improve the situation in Guinea without the contribution of women.

"In our party, women are represented and we aim for parity. For now, our goal is that at least 30 percent of positions (decision-making and within institutions) are held by women," said Kadiatou Diallo, president of the UFDG's women's wing.

Martine Condé, communications director for Condé's party, told IPS: "The RPG's strength lies in women and youth. There are at least 30 percent of women in the political command. In each of the party's decision-making bodies, you will find 15 women out of 45 members.

Moustapha Naité, deputy director of communications at the RPG says his party also prioritises women, "Women are the heart of RPG's social vision. We will promote them wherever possible to achieve, as soon as possible, gender parity that some countries are campaigning for. Regarding health care, he added: "We are committed to providing free prenatal care for all."   UFDG's Ibrahima Diallo told IPS: "We are working to achieve the target of 30 per cent of leadership positions filled by women first within the party, but also in the administration if we win this election." Then he said, "we will ensure their development and advancement... by organizing them, and giving them access to credit by several different means."

*An earlier version of this article appeared on the IPS French service on Jul. 14. 


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

U.N. Declares Water and Sanitation a Basic Human Right

By Thalif Deen
When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) back in December 1948, 58 member states voted for a historic document covering political, economic, social and cultural rights.

On Wednesday, nearly 62 years later, a widely-expanded 192- member General Assembly adopted another memorable resolution: this time recognising water and sanitation as a basic human right.

The resolution proved politically divisive, with 122 countries voting for it and 41 abstaining, but with no negative votes.

Still, it fell short of a North-South divide: a rich-versus- poor split, as originally expected.

The United States abstained, as did some of the European and industrialised countries, including Britain, Australia, Austria, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

But several developing nations, mostly from Africa, also abstained on the vote, siding with rich industrial countries. These included Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Zambia, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Ambassador Pablo Solon of Bolivia, representing a country that spearheaded the resolution, said human rights were not born as fully developed concepts, but are built on reality and experience.

The human rights to education and work, included in the UDHR, evolved over time with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

"The same will occur with the human right to water and sanitation," he predicted in a statement to the General Assembly Wednesday.

Speaking on behalf of the United States, John Sammis told delegates his country had hoped to negotiate and ultimately join consensus on a text that would uphold and support the international process on water and sanitation currently underway in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"Instead, we have here a resolution that falls far short of enjoying the unanimous support of member states and may even undermine the work underway in Geneva," he cautioned.

"This resolution described the right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law; as there is no 'right to water and sanitation' in an international legal sense as described by this resolution," he said.

In a statement released after the vote, Maude Barlow, board chair of Food and Water Watch, and Wenonah Hauter, the group's executive director, said: "Our network of allies have been fighting for over 10 years towards achieving a legally binding recognition of the human right to water at the United Nations."

While the resolution is non-binding, it is a crucial first step to providing clean water and sanitation to all, the statement added.

Barlow and Hauter described the final vote "as an amazing and surprising victory for water justice".

According to the United Nations, nearly two billion people live in water-stressed areas of the world and three billion have no running water within a kilometre of their homes.

Sahana Singh, editor of Asian Water, a leading monthly magazine on water and wastewater, told IPS: "I think the concept of water as a human right is enshrined within the right to life itself."

"We all know that there is no life without water. No more time should be wasted on drafting new laws and resolutions," Singh said.

In developing countries, where implementation of laws is already such a big problem, it makes little sense to push for more laws which will only be relegated to dusty files, said Singh, who has closely followed the water sector in the Asian region for the past 10 years.

An engineer turned editor, Singh pointed out that unless clearly specified upfront, the right to water could be taken to mean that water should be free or nearly free.

In fact, many argue that it is the improper pricing of water which has led to the whole problem of this life-giving liquid being under-valued, wasted and polluted.

"It has led to a situation where millions of litres of water are lost daily due to leakages from pipe networks. Would such a situation be allowed to exist with oil pipelines?" she asked.

The point to note is that the governmental authorities of Singapore, Manila, Phnom Penh and others, which understand the benefits of providing water and sanitation to all their citizens, are working hard to do so even without water being declared a human right.

On the other hand, the irresponsible governments which have done little for existing rights, such as the right to equality or the right against exploitation, are certainly not going to implement any more new rights, she warned.

"What we need to focus on is how to make the mostly public water utilities of the world function in an effective and transparent manner," Singh said.

The utilities need proper management, financial autonomy, training and support from peer groups, she argued. And they need to be allowed to charge appropriate tariffs in order to recover their costs and plow the money back into improving their services.

They need to have their performance benchmarked against other well-performing utilities so that they know where they need to improve. All this cannot happen just by declaring water as a human right, Singh declared.

Anil Naidoo, of the Canada-based Blue Planet Project, which was at the forefront of the campaign, told IPS Wednesday's resolution had the overwhelming support of a strong majority of countries, despite a handful of powerful opponents.

"It must now be followed up with a renewed push for water justice. We are calling for actions on the ground in communities around the world to ensure that the rights to water and sanitation are implemented," Naidoo said.

Governments, aid agencies and the United Nations must take their responsibilities seriously, he declared. 


Familiar Pledges on Child and Maternal Health in Africa

By Wambi Michael

KAMPALA, Jul 28, 2010 (IPS) - During the three-day summit of African Union heads of state, roughly 37,000 children and 2,000 women died across Africa, mostly from preventable causes, says a civil society coalition for child and maternal health. The coalition welcomed African leaders' pledge to make more resources available.

The 15th summit of the African Union ended with a commitment to pay greater attention to maternal, newborn and child health. Leaders also repeated calls for the arrest warrant against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to be stayed and committed more troops to the AU mission in Somalia.

African leaders said Africa will not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goal on infant and maternal health if more resources are not made available. They again committed to allocating their own resources by fulfilling promises made in the 2001 Abuja Declaration to spend 15 percent of national budgets on health, and by exploring public private partnerships.

The AU appealed to donors who will meet in an October 2010 meeting of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to extend the fund's support to child and maternal health.

The additional money is to be spent on strengthening public health systems with a focus on primary health care, family planning, improving infrastructure and training of more community health workers. It was also agreed to end out-of-pocket payments including user fees for pregnant women and children under five years.

AU on peace and securitySomalia was discussed, of course. The African Union resolved to send an additional 2,000 peace-keeping troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is a vital support to that country's Transitional Federal Government against the Islamist al-Shabaab rebels who control parts of the capital and much of the southern part of the country. AMISOM's mandate however remains defensive, and was not extended to permit the force to attack al-Shabaab or other rebel groups.

The summit also adopted an amendment to an earlier resolution asking African Union Members states not to cooperate with International Criminal Court on the arrests and surrender of Sudanese President Omar El Bashir, who is accused by the ICC of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The new resolution asks the U.N. Security Council to stay the arrest warrant for a year in the interests of Sudan's peace process and wider regional security.

Ben Kioko, legal advisor at the African Union told IPS that the A-U position is not to defend Bashir, but said the continental body is opposed to what he called selective administration of justice by ICC.

"Fifty-three members states of Africa appealed to U.N. to defer the proceeding against Bashir for one year in conformity with article 16 of the Rome statute," he said.

"We don’t think that one can choose justice and ignore peace. It (was) not done in South Africa for the apartheid regime leaders. Look what is happening in Sri Lanka, now in Georgia... are those leaders being tried by ICC? They are not."
Bience Gawanas, the African Union Commissioner for Social Development, told journalists at the close of the summit that the leaders have taken a bold step in solidarity with women and children of Africa.

"It was historic... because we have been asking about political will and leadership and there is no doubt that the African Union heads of states and governments have shown the political will to promote maternal and child health on the continent."

Civil society groups at the summit were initially concerned that the conflict in Somalia - which extended its deadly reach to the Ugandan capital with twin bombings just a week before the start of the AU meetings - would overshadow the formal theme of the summit.

But Chikezie Anyanwu, Africa advocacy coordinator for the charity Save the Children, told IPS that she was happy with outcome.

"They have highlighted that there is a health sector crisis with regards to personnel. They have committed themselves to ensure that health workers are a priority for them in the next five years," she said. "We are happy with the commitments so far, (but) we want more action."

Civil society points out that in nine years after the Abuja commitment, the World Health Organisation finds only three African governments met the target of 15 percent spending on health in 2010: Rwanda, Tanzania and Liberia. Over the past decade, Botswana, Niger, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Malawi have also met the target at various times.

Pointing to the example of Malawi, Anyanwu said poverty was not an excuse for lack of progress. "The irony of the lack-of-resources excuse is that Malawi, a very poor country, has dramatically cut child deaths in recent years, exactly because they did make that goal a priority."

As African leaders depart Kampala, the head of Oxfam's AU Liaison Office in Addis Ababa cautioned that pledges are one thing, action another.

"While this declaration is a positive step, most of it has been promised before but has never been delivered. Only ten percent of AU decisions are effectively implemented. There is a need to immediately put in place comprehensive tracking and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the decisions are fully implemented at national level. African people are tired of rhetoric - now they need to see real change in their daily lives." 

Defining New Role for Traditional Birth Attendants

By Mohamed Fofanah
Posseh Sesay will never be able to bear children again following a tragic birthing experience at the hands of her village traditional birth attendant (TBA).

Sesay had little choice but to go to the local TBA, Ya Marie, who lives just half a kilometre away from her home. The closest Peripheral Health Unit to her village, Morsondo, is about 20 kilometres away and the nearest hospital is 70 kilometres from the village.

Sesay recounted her traumatic labour with the TBA: "I pushed and pushed but the baby refused to come out.

"Ya Marie said I was not pushing enough so she took a wooden spoon used for cooking and shoved it into my throat, I wanted to vomit. She said that would help me to push harder, she repeated this several times but nothing happened.

"She then shoved her big toe into my anus, still nothing happened. Then she concluded I was very lazy and sat on my chest. She was pressing me down saying this would help push the baby out. The pain was unbearable, I just wanted to die and end it all. I think I fainted."

She was finally taken to the hospital in nearby Moyamba where she delivered a stillborn by caesarean section. "They also had to take out my womb because the doctor said it was no good, the doctors said I was lucky I came out with my life."

Stories like Sesay’s are re-emerging with the resurgence of home births attended by TBAs, who are now excluded from the health system under Sierra Leone’s ambitious free healthcare initiative.

Previously, TBAs worked in the country’s hospitals and clinics, received some clinical medical training and were paid out of fees charged to patients. According to the Health Ministry, the system where TBAs worked in a hospital setting helped reduce maternal deaths as more women were presenting at hospitals and receiving professional help.

The new free healthcare plan for mothers and children has eliminated the user fees that supported TBAs, so they have gone back to practicing alone at home.

The return to unsafe delivery procedures by some TBAs has cost many women their lives. This has contributed to an increase in Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate, already ranked among the highest in the world by the United Nations.

Dr Samuel Kargbo, the director for reproductive health care who oversees the implementation of the free health care policy, admitted that the issue of TBAs was a snag in the health care policy.

"We cannot put the welfare of TBAs before the national call for free health care. We knew they relied on the user fees and that as soon as this was tampered with they would return to where we have done everything to take them away from - delivering babies at their houses. But the free health care has to start," Kargbo said.

Kargbo told IPS there is no way the system will continue to accommodate TBAs. "Government will finally discourage the services of TBAs," he stressed.

But many women continue to seek out their services for various reasons, which include ready access, a caring service and low fees, including payment in kind or over time. For Sesay, Ya Marie was nearest to her home. Still, other women prefer the services of a TBA to that provided in a hospital or clinic setting.

"I can easily relate with them. The grannies are experienced women and they show you care and concern. I am just comfortable with them," said Salamatu Turay whose three children were successfully delivered by TBAs.

"We are of great help to women. Our role is unique because we are everywhere were government cannot be. Yet they are always condemning us. Many pregnant women also die in the big hospitals," said Ya Alimamy Sawaneh who delivers babies at her home in Kroo Bay, a slum community in Freetown.

"What they are not seeing and talking about are the many women we help to deliver their babies. They just talk about the ones that were unfortunate to die in our hands," Sawaneh lamented.

Recognising the important services provided by TBAs, some civil society groups are suggesting that they should be trained and allowed to practice.

But Kargbo disagrees. "We have done much training for TBAs and our evaluation reports revealed that those trainings had not contributed to the reduction of maternal mortality in the country.

"They could help in deliveries as much as cats and dogs need help to deliver their young ones. But when there is obstructed labour or other serious issues, the TBAs are useless and they deprive many women of their lives, which would have been saved if they were at a hospital."

However, plans are underway to bring these "Grannies" as they are referred to locally, back to the hospital. Kargbo revealed the availability of a 13 million dollar five-year grant from World Bank which will, among which other projects, be used to support stipend for TBAs who refer their cases to hospitals.

"We want to redefine their roles and strengthen our referral systems, we want to use them as sensitization agents to educate women on vaccines; exclusive breast feeding.

"We could give them malaria diagnostic and treatment kits to help in suburbs where clinics are not present. We want them to help in ensuring that the bed nets we are giving out for free are being used by the mothers and children." Kargbo explained. 


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drumming Up Youths’ Support in Anti-trafficking Campaign

By Stanislaus Jude Chan

SINGAPORE, Jul 27, 2010 (IPS) - A small group of students gathered, drawn like butterflies to the sweet sound of soft rock and pop music. Home to one of the most vibrant student communities in Singapore, Ngee Ann Polytechnic is no stranger to loud music and louder fashion sense. What was unusual for the crowd, though, was the concert’s mission – to drum up youths’ support against human trafficking.

After all, the trafficking of people, including for sex, is still a concept alien to many in affluent Singapore, where young people learn quickly to be more apathetic and less passionate – especially, but not exclusively – about human rights.

"I didn’t know that Singapore also has this sex trafficking going on. It’s quite a shock to me that in our country, even this type of things exist," says 19-year-old Ng Chun Yan, at United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Singapore’s ‘Sound Out’ event on Jul. 23. "It’s an important issue to look at," she says.

"Human trafficking is now the third largest international crime in the world…. It’s not something that is really more of a left-of-centre, sort of out there issue that isn’t a big deal. It’s an enormous issue," says UNIFEM Singapore volunteer Katrina Dick.

The event, comprising a talk and a concert by homegrown musicians, was part of the U.N. organisation’s public awareness programme to put a stop to trafficking of women and children in Asia, including to Singapore.

UNIFEM Singapore also launched a website, inviting young people to leave a note to support the cause, as well as contribute or listen to music tracks, and spread the message through Facebook, a popular social networking site with some 500 million users worldwide.

"We actually dedicated a show on Radio Heatwave (a campus radio station) to talk about ‘Sound Out’ as well as UNIFEM," says 20-year-old Germaine D’Rozario, a student-radio presenter who pledged her support on the website. "I knew it was about sex trafficking, but I really didn’t know the statistics, that there are 1.2 million kids in Asia being trafficked each year."

"Singapore is a destination for girls from foreign and less developed countries to be trafficked for sex exploitation. Although we are lucky enough not to have the same thing happening to Singaporean girls, that does not mean that we are not able to play a part to help these victims," says Fifi Handayani, a 19-year-old student.

"From this event, I’ve learnt a lot more about the sex trafficking issues. And as a woman, I feel that the issue is close to my heart," adds Handayani, an account director at m:idea – the first media conglomerate in Singapore managed by tertiary students – which was commissioned by UNIFEM Singapore to coordinate and manage the concert.

Already, more than 2,300 people have visited the anti- trafficking website and declared their support. But some say the campaign’s effectiveness remains to be seen.

"It’s a step in the right direction, but will anything change here, even if one million Singaporeans sign up on the site to say we want to put a stop to this?" says one 18- year-old student, who declined to be named.

He does raise a valid point. The Singapore government, in 2005, turned a deaf ear to some 30,000 citizens who petitioned against the legalising of casinos here, an issue which sparked unprecedented public debate.

Even with the potential of news spreading virally through social media, it is unlikely that the campaign against sex trafficking will attract the same attention, much less put any real pressure on the government to clamp down on the issue.

"I think in Singapore, most of the people think that since it’s not happening to them, and it’s not a very open situation, then they hardly care about it," says Gaby Aw, a 17-year-old student volunteer at ‘Sound Out’.

Like many here, D’Rozario is "not too sure" about the human trafficking situation in Singapore, or that it even exists. "I think we’re quite safe (from such occurrences) here, but we may never know," she says.

"Everyone knows about Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where sexual exploitation and trafficking is a big, big problem, but not many people know that Singapore is also affected," says Dick.

Maps depicting sex trafficking activity in the region resemble trade routes, and show the flow of women and children from poorer, developing regions of countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, to richer city centres within the country – or across borders to well-off neighbours like Singapore.

However, the Singapore government in June protested a U.S. government report ranking the republic alongside countries such as Afghanistan on a human-trafficking watch list, dismissing it as a "political ritual" rather than an objective study.

The Philippine embassy in Singapore reported some 212 cases of human trafficking here involving Filipino women in 2007. Nearly 30 percent of the women had admitted to having engaged in prostitution or to have been coerced into sexual acts.

Filipino consul Neal Imperial called it just the "tip of the iceberg" as it reflected only women who turned to the embassy for help.

Exact statistics of sex trafficking activity, though, are not easy to derive. Even within various U.N. agencies, Dick says, the figures are different.

"We try not to get too caught up with the numbers because basically if this is happening to one person in Singapore, if this is happening in a flat next door to you, would it be ok to do nothing?" she asks.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Millennium Goal on Maternal Health in Sight

Uruguay is on the point of reaching the Millennium Development Goal for reducing the maternal mortality ratio, but it is still behind in other aspects of maternal health, like providing integrated sexual and reproductive health care, fighting syphilis and checking on mothers and babies during the postpartum period.

These targets are still far off and "there is no exemption just because maternal mortality is low," said Lilián Abracinskas, head of the non-governmental organisation Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU, Women and Health in Uruguay). 

She told IPS that public campaigns to promote mother-and-child health policies are also needed.

This country has been successful in lowering maternal mortality and is on track to meet the fifth of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but it still needs to make progress in some aspects of health services for women of reproductive age. 

The MDGs, adopted in 2000 by the United Nations member states, set out goals for reducing extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equity and empowerment of women, universal primary education, maternal and child health, combating major diseases, working for environmental sustainability and achieving a global partnership for development. 

Uruguay's maternal mortality rate -- deaths related to pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum period and abortions -- is the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by Cuba and Chile. However, experts consulted by IPS agree that in spite of this success, vigilance must be maintained, and they are concerned because most of the deaths that occur are avoidable. 

One line of action that has had noteworthy success is the effort to eliminate deaths due to abortions carried out in unsafe conditions, in this small South American country where abortion is still illegal. 

Most maternal deaths nowadays are caused by haemorrhages, puerperal infections and severe eclampsia, and the risk of these is reduced if mothers-to-be receive adequate prenatal care. 

The fifth MDG aims at improving maternal health, by reducing the 1990 maternal mortality rate by three-quarters by 2015, and Uruguay is close to achieving it. 

According to the 2009 Country Report on MDGs for Uruguay, drawn up by the National Council on Social Policies (CNPS), virtually all births are attended by qualified personnel, and 90 percent of pregnant women receive antenatal care from the first or second trimester of pregnancy. 

The maternal mortality ratio in Uruguay fell from an average of 2.3 per 10,000 live births in the 1990s, equivalent to 13 deaths a year, to 1.5 per 10,000 live births in 2008, or seven deaths a year, similar to the rates found in the United States and some European countries. 

Experts point out, however, that in 2009 the number of maternal deaths rose to 16, half of them caused by influenza A/H1N1. 

The good news about the overall fall in this indicator is complemented by the marked reduction in infant mortality, which dropped from 13 per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 9.6 per 1,000 live births in 2009. Health Minister Daniel Olesker announced the target of achieving an infant mortality rate of 6.9 per 1,000 live births by the end of the government's term of office in 2015. 

Combating unsafe abortions 

In 2001 it was shown that abortions carried out in unsafe conditions were responsible for 28 percent of maternal mortality, and for 47 percent of maternal deaths at the state Pereira Rossell hospital in Montevideo, the country's main maternity and children's hospital, which attends most of the women suffering from complications caused by back-alley abortions. 

A group of health professionals decided on a strategy called "Iniciativas sanitarias contra el aborto provocado en condiciones de riesgo" (Sanitary Initiatives Against Unsafe Abortion) in 2002, which helped to improve the situation. 

It is "a model for damage control and risk reduction for unsafe abortions," the head of the programme, Dr. Leonel Briozzo, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine of the state University of the Republic and head of the Strategic Planning department at the Health Ministry, told IPS. 

A multi-disciplinary team carries out medical examinations of women who want to have an abortion, before and after the abortion procedure, and provides information and counselling for the women with the aim of minimising harm to their health. 

Obstetrician Ana Labandera, the administrator of the Sanitary Initiatives programme, told IPS that the approach represents "a change in the doctor-patient relationship, replacing the traditional paternalism of health professionals who tell women what to do, with care based on the women's rights." 

The programme is carried out in the Pereira Rossell hospital, where the poor come for free medical attention, and in 2004 it was established as a standard for health care at the national level. 

In 2005 this model began to be implemented in other areas of Montevideo and also in the departments (provinces) of San José and Canelones, in the south of the country, and Florida, in the centre. Seventy percent of women in this country of 3.3 million people reside in these provinces. 

According to official statistics, there have been no deaths due to abortion complications in the country in the last two years. 

A law on the right to sexual and reproductive health was passed by Congress in 2008. But its first article, which would have legalised first trimester abortion, was vetoed by then president Tabaré Vázquez of the leftwing Broad Front. 

In Briozzo's view, "abortion is always a health risk, but when it is illegal it causes illness and death." 

"However much we have managed to reduce the death rate from abortion, it remains a problem because of the stigma associated with it. Abortion must be decriminalised," he said. 

Abracinskas said, "Clearly there has to be a change in the law on abortion." 

At present MYSU is carrying out a campaign for Legal Abortion 2010, with the aim of reversing the veto imposed by Vázquez in the new Congress, installed in February. Current President José Mujica, also of the Broad Front, has said that if the legislature approves a law decriminalising abortion, he will not veto it. 

"It is not the same thing to train personnel for a damage prevention strategy as to train a team to assist with an abortion," Abracinskas said. "It would be marvellous if there were more synergy between parliamentary political decisions and those of the executive branch, in terms of making progress in sexual and reproductive health." 

The coordinator of the Health Ministry's department of sexual and reproductive health, Leticia Rieppi, told IPS that in addition to the Sanitary Initiatives programme, a number of actions have been taken in recent years that have resulted in improvements to maternal health. 

For instance, antenatal care has been a priority area since 2008, with extra funds for health centres that meet quality and quantity targets for prenatal services; and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has financed the purchase of contraceptives, for distribution through primary care services. 

Rieppi praised women's organisations and groups for spreading the word about check-ups in pregnancy, but in her view the health system still needs to increase the proportion of women coming in for regular pre- and post-natal health checks. 

Soon, sexual and reproductive health services will be offered at all public and private hospitals in the country. Contraceptives are about to be made available at health centres by prescription, at a cost of around 30 pesos (1.50 dollars), much cheaper than the price of a pack of birth control pills at chemist's shops, around 200 pesos (10 dollars). 

source: ips news

Free' Maternal Health Care Too Costly For Most

As African Union heads of state consider child and maternal health at the 2010 summit in Kampala, Uganda, the perennial question of user fees has reared its head in Zimbabwe. Fees for services are opening a growing gap between policy and implementation in maternal health care in the Southern African country.

Under government policy, care for pregnant women, new mothers and infants receive free care. But the country’s rapid economic decline in the past decade has compelled health institutions to raise their own revenue to meet costs. 

Women complain they are being denied health access because of failure to meet maternity and other hospital costs. New mother Thandeka Mbewe says she has been through it all, and is having second thoughts about having another child. 

The 25-year-old Mbewe didn't have the money for either hospital booking fees or even to pay for an ambulance to ferry her to clinic. A month after giving birth, she still has not managed to pull together the funds necessary to pay the hospital bills. 

"It’s been tough having this baby," a distraught Mbewe said. 

Fees too high for many 

Expecting mothers are required to pay a 50 U.S. dollar booking fee at clinics and government hospitals, but this is equivalent to about a third of a low-ranking civil servant's monthly salary, an amount many here cannot afford. 

In some cases, new mothers are told by officials that they cannot leave the hospital until they have settled their bills; women have responded by smuggling their babies out of the hospital - one mother in Gweru hid her newborn under a heavy jacket and slipped out of the ward. 

Elsewhere, mothers who fail to pay their fees are denied the necessary documentats needed to get birth certificates for their newborns. 

"Our children cannot become full citizens of this country until we pay. It’s all so unfair," Mbewe complained, expressing what has become a major talking point here. 

Mothers like Mbewe say until they find the money to pay the outstanding fees, they can't get care for their newborn babies. 

"Nurses at the clinic have refused to attend to the child for the mandatory two-week check up," Mbewe told IPS. 

Development goals threatened 

According to a 2009 assessment of progress towards Millennium Development Goals on child and maternal health by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, between 1999 and 2006, infant mortality rate declined from 65 deaths per 1000 live births to 60, but this still falls short of the country’s desired target of 22 per 1000 live births. 

Healthcare workers warn that progress will be slowed by the insistence on full payment by defaulting mothers before necessary care is given to their children. 

"I am now even afraid to go to the clinic when I get the money as the nurses will ask why I have been keeping the child when it is them in the first place who refused him treatment," Mbewe said. 

Amid growing concerns about the poor antenatal and post-natal health provision, midwives have lobbied government to scrap maternity fees entirely. 

"Many mothers are blaming us nurses for denying them the right to health for their infants," said Ntandokayise Ndebele, a midwife working at a council clinic in one of the city’s high density suburbs. "But we get our directives from the council to make them pay. In the past, many have disappeared after being treated." 

Turning to dangerous alternatives 

The cost of public health services has spurred the proliferation of dealers in traditional medicine. 

"When mothers fail to access formal health care, they will seek out older women who claim to have knowledge of herbs that can treat infants. But this does not always work as it exposes infants to unnecessary life threatening conditions," said Hilda Noko, a senior nurse working with the Bulawayo City Council. 

The herbal market is highly visible at the city’s Renkini Bus Terminus and in the oldest township, Makokoba. 

Here, men and women who claim to be certified herbalists, sell herbs they claim can treat a variety of infant illnesses or simply "strengthen" the infant. 

Deep cuts in social spending imposed by structural adjustment programmes in the late 1990s badly affected Zimbabwe's public health system while failing to restore the health of the economy, though the country is far from alone in demanding fees for service at government clinics. 

With some support from international donors, African governments including Sierra Leone - which in 2010 introduced free health care for pregnant women, new mothers and children under five - are exploring ways of eliminating charges at the point of service. 

source: IPS news

save the date for Ipas Africa regional conference in Ghana November 8-11 RESPONSE REQUESTED!

Dear colleague,
(en français ci-dessous)
Ipas, in collaboration with the African Network on Medical Abortion, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (better known as FEMNET), the Ghana Ministry of Health, the International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Regional Office, Marie Stopes International and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, is pleased to invite you to a conference, Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa, to be held in Accra, Ghana from November 8-11, 2010 at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The conference will focus on unsafe abortion as a critical issue for reproductive health and rights in Africa and for achieving the Millennium Development Goal 5 to reduce maternal mortality. The conference agenda will include:#
  • Regional and national progress in addressing unsafe abortion as provided in global and regional governmental commitments, including through prevention of unwanted pregnancy, expanded access to safe abortion services, and policy reform.
  • Lessons from research and experience that can improve service access and quality for safe abortion, postabortion care, and related reproductive health care.
  • Discussion of an agenda for action for the African region and ways to improve collaboration among governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders .
Please RSVP by replying to this email within two weeks and let us know if you will be able to attend. Financial sponsorship opportunities will be available to support airfare, hotel and travel expenses. If you are unable to attend and wish to nominate someone in your place, please respond with the name and contact details of that person and include a brief statement of why you feel they would be appropriate for this event. A formal invitation letter will be sent shortly once we have received all RSVPs.
More information is available on the conference website. Please and check back regularly for updates.
We look forward to seeing you in November for an exciting and productive event!
Ambassador Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah, MB.ChB, FWACP. FRCOG
Ipas Vice President for Africa

Dr. Koma S. Jehu-Appiah, MD, MPH
Ipas Country Director, Ghana

Sweden - Trafficking, Prostitution, & the Sex Industry

The Swedish Approach to Trafficking, Prostitution and the Sex Industry
Trafficking, Prostitution and the Sex Industry: The Nordic Legal Model
By Janice Raymond* - 21 July 2010
There is no doubt that the Nordic countries lead the world on most indicators of 
gender equality. Gender equality experts and advocates have long pointed out 
that in economics, politics and social services, the Nordic countries top the 
charts. A less noticed equality indicator is that the Nordic countries outpace 
others in legal action to stem the sex trade by addressing its unnoticed 
perpetrators -- the mainly male purchasers of women and children in 
In 1999, with the approval of over 70% of its surveyed population, Sweden passed 
groundbreaking legislation that criminalized the buyer of sexual services. Part 
of a larger Violence Against Women bill, the legislation was based on the 
foundation that the system of prostitution is a violation of gender equality. 
Sweden's legislation officially recognizes that it is unacceptable for men to 
purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether masked as sexual pleasure or 
"sex work." Equally important, its law acknowledges that a country cannot 
resolve its human trafficking problem without addressing the demand for 
prostitution. The law does not target the persons in prostitution.
This month, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the law's first 
ten years and how it has actually worked in practice. Compared to the report's 
understated and cautious tone, the findings are strikingly positive: street 
prostitution has been cut in half; there is no evidence that the reduction in 
street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether 
indoors or on the Internet; the bill provides increased services for women to 
exit prostitution; fewer men state that they purchase sexual services; and the 
ban has had a chilling effect on traffickers who find Sweden an unattractive 
market to sell women and children for sex. Following initial criticism of the 
law, police now confirm it works well and has had a deterrent effect on other 
organizers and promoters of prostitution. Sweden appears to be the only country 
in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking has not increased.
The Swedish results should be contrasted to neighboring countries such as 
Denmark where there are no legal prohibitions against the purchase of persons in 
prostitution. Denmark has a smaller population than Sweden (roughly 5 ? million 
to Sweden's 9 million), yet the scale of street prostitution in Denmark is three 
times higher than in Sweden.
In casting the comparison further, we should note the dismal results of the 
legalization model of prostitution from countries in Europe that have normalized 
pimping, brothels and other aspects of prostitution and the sex industry. In 
2002, Germany decriminalized procuring for purposes of prostitution, widened the 
legal basis for establishing brothels and other prostitution businesses, lifted 
the prohibition against promoting prostitution and theoretically gave women the 
right to contracts and benefits in prostitution establishments. Five years 
later, a federal government evaluation of the law found that the German 
Prostitution Act, as it is called, has failed to improve conditions for women in 
the prostitution industry nor helped women to leave. It has also failed "to 
reduce crime in the world of prostitution." As a result, the report stated that 
"prostitution should not be considered to be a reasonable means for securing 
one's living." The federal government is drafting a criminal provision to punish 
the clients of those forced into prostitution or who are victims of trafficking 
-- the Swedish model lite with all its caloric value removed.
The results are equally bad in the Netherlands where prostitution and the sex 
industry have been legalized since 2000. Two official reports in 2007 and 2008 
have soured official optimism about the Dutch legalization model. The 
government-commissioned Daalder Report found that the majority of women in the 
window brothels are still subject to pimp control and that their emotional 
well-being is lower than in 2001 "on all measured aspects." The Dutch National 
Police Report puts it more strongly: "The idea that a clean, normal business 
sector has emerged is an illusion..." Like the Germans, the Dutch are now 
proposing an amendment that would penalize the buyers who purchase unlicensed 
persons in prostitution -- another version of the Swedish model lite. Still, an 
indication that penalizing the buyer is gaining ground.
The failure of the legalization model in Europe helped the Swedish model to 
become the Nordic model in 2009 when Norway outlawed the purchase of women and 
children for sexual activities. One year after the Norwegian law came into 
force, a Bergen municipality survey estimated that the number of women in street 
prostitution had decreased by 20 percent with indoor prostitution also down by 
16 percent. Bergen police report that advertisements for sexual activities have 
dropped 60 percent. Also, the police have effectively monitored telephone 
numbers of buyers, who respond to such advertisements, in order to identify and 
charge them. An added value is that monitoring reveals a wider network of 
criminal groups involved in trafficking for prostitution and their links to 
others involved in child prostitution, pornography and drug trafficking. In 
Oslo, the police also report that there are many fewer buyers on the street.
The same year as Norway, Iceland passed a law criminalizing the purchase of a 
sexual service. Earlier in 2004, Finland approved a more anemic version of the 
Nordic model. This left Denmark as the outlier with no legislation targeting the 
demand for prostitution.
The success of the Nordic model is not so much in penalizing the men (the 
penalties are modest) as in removing the invisibility of men who are outed when 
they get caught. This, in turn, makes it less appealing for pimps and 
traffickers to set up shop in countries where the customer base fears the loss 
of its anonymity and is declining.
Legalization of prostitution is a failed policy in practice. The prostitution 
policy tide is turning from legalization of prostitution to targeting the demand 
for prostitution without penalizing the victims. Countries who want to be 
effective in the fight against trafficking and not havens of sexual exploitation 
are beginning to understand that they cannot sanction pimps as legitimate sexual 
entrepreneurs and must take legal action against the buyers.
*Janice Raymond is Professor Emerita of Women's Studies at the University of 
Massachusetts, Amherst and a member of the Board of Directors of the Coalition 
Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). Janice G. Raymond. Ph.D Professor Emerita 
University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA)
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) PO Box 9338, N. Amherst, MA 01059 
USA Fax: 413-367-9262 E- mail:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Uganda Ratifies the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women

Press Statement
Thursday July 22, 2010

Uganda Ratifies the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women

Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition joins Women First (the Ugandan Women’s Rights Coalition to welcome and congratulate the Republic of Uganda for depositing its instrument of ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa at the opening of the 17th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union, at Munyonyo, Uganda, 22 July 2010.  Uganda becomes the 28th member state of the African Union and the third East African Community Member to ratify the Protocol on the Rights of Women after Rwanda and Tanzania.

This would not have been possible without the close partnership between the government of Uganda, Ugandan Women’s Civil Society Organisations and the Uganda APRM National Governing Council. We commend all their efforts to ensure ratification of this Protocol and applaud the collaboration between the three line ministries in charge of the ratification: Gender, Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

SOAWR calls on the government of Uganda to continue the partnership with the Ugandan Women’s Rights Coalition to popularize the Protocol and put into place a process and mechanisms that will guarantee that the Protocol is translated into laws, policies and services that will promote and protect the rights of women in Uganda.

We also urge the government to dedicate adequate human and financial resources that are required for the rights provided therein to be realized and enjoyed by women.

Given the leadership that the government and the people of Uganda have demonstrated in upholding women’s rights, including being the first country to appoint a female vice president and adopting the affirmative action policy to boost women’s participation in politics and decision-making at all levels, we are confident that the Protocol will be implemented to become a force for freedom for all women in Uganda.

Finally, we express our gratitude to all SOAWR members across Africa who have supported the Ugandan Women’s Rights Coalition in their advocacy efforts towards the ratification of the Protocol by Uganda.

Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe, Akina Mama wa Afrika/SOAWR; Tel. +256772 463 154 / +256-752 463 154
Faiza Jama Mohamed, Equality Now/SOAWR; Tel. +254 722 805 539
Mary Wandia, Oxfam GB / SOAWR, Tel. +256 757 413 917
Norah Matovu-Winyi, FEMNET / SOAWR Tel; +256 772 825 829 / +254 729 571 544

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Women Don’t Need to Accept Polygamy - Activists

In her 30s, Muza has been married for years but has managed to remain financially independent. In fact, she was even able to help build the home she has with her husband, using the money she earned as a teacher.

But Muza failed to realise early enough that because the house was in her husband’s name, she would not have legal claim to their conjugal home if their marriage did not work out – or if he took another wife. 

Because she had nowhere else to go and refuses to give up what is also hers, Muza ended up sharing the house she had paid for and took pains to decorate with, with her husband’s second wife. 

As in other Gulf states, Muslim men in Bahrain are allowed to practise polygamy. Shariah law allows men to have a maximum of four wives, although Shiites are allowed more than that, through temporary marriages or ‘mutta’. 

But polygamy is not really popular or fully accepted among women here. According to a 2006 study done by Somaya Al Jowder of the National Sexually Transmitted Diseases Programme, only four percent of the country’s estimated 500,000 men have more than one wife. 

Still, women’s rights advocates say far too many men in Bahrain abuse the law, to the detriment of women, whether it is in matters of law, rights or equality. 

For instance, rights activist Afaf Al Jamri says, "(Women) are being harassed by their husbands (with polygamy), as many men force and threaten their women to be obedient to them or (they will) remarry." 

"Such fearful lives are unbearable," continues Al Jamri, who happens to be the daughter of a very conservative Shiite scholar. She says that many men seem to have a "wrong interpretation (of) Islamic regulations" on marriages. 

Polygamy, she says, "isn’t unconditional", although it "could be practised in certain cases", such as when the wife has a serious ailment. Al Jamri says those who can take more than one wife are men who are well off and "who will treat wives equally". 

Unfortunately, say rights advocates, that seems to be more an exception than the rule. Twenty-nine-year-old Hanan, for example, is now stuck in a marriage in which her husband is absent and where their daughter is being supported by Hanan’s own brother. 

"I didn’t think he would (take another wife) after we spent years dating," says Hanan, who like Muza declines to give her full name. "Although I was in total shock, I accepted. But the worse thing happened when he stopped supporting our daughter and left the task to my brother." 

She says she endured the situation for a year before filing for divorce, but has since had to withdraw the case. 

According to the distraught Hanan, who remains married to her husband even though she now lives separately from him, the judge warned her that her husband would gain full custody of their daughter and would challenge her allegations of maltreatment by "highlighting (the fact) that having four wives is an Islamic rights for men." 

In this male-dominated society, Hanan gets little sympathy even from Islamic lecturer Fatima Bosandel, who says the judge is right. Bosandel says that while any woman may find it hard to share her husband with someone else, men here have an "unquestionable" right to have more than one wife. 

"Women should be aware that no judge will grant them divorce only because their husbands got other wives," she says. If they want to end their marriage, she adds, "they should give evidence of maltreatment." 

Bosandel blames the negative connotation of polygamy on Arabic-language television dramas. "I’m aware of many cases in which wives of one man are sharing good relations," she says. "One of many examples I came across is of a man who married a widow with children, as he cannot have children of his own." 

Now, she says, the man is "living happily with his two wives in one flat and both wives are raising the children". 

Huffs Bosandel: "Single women in their mid or late thirties should accept married men instead of leading lonely and empty lives." 

But lawmaker Jassim Al Saidi, who has three wives himself, is among those who are against promoting polygamy. Like Al Jamri, he says the practice should be limited to those who are financially and physically fit to have more than one wife. 

"I married my first wife when I was 19, the second one when I was 29, and the last in my late thirties," recounts the 50-something legislator. " (I)…managed because of my financial capabilities to keep them in separate homes. Such a lavish life is hard for majority of ordinary Bahrainis." 

Some women activists, however, say they there is a way to prevent women from having to put up with marriages that have gone ‘multiple’ without their consent. 

Shahzlan Khamees of the Bahrain Women’s Union says she has drafted a new kind of prenuptial agreement that "could include proper conditions that would not only ban men from remarrying, but also all demands by women and men to avoid marital problems." 

"Many husbands forced women to leave their jobs, have many children, or don’t help their families financially," she adds. "So conditions that could protect the rights of women after marriage could be included. Sometimes, women can state a condition that enables them to get divorce whenever they wish or have custody of their children." 

The international rights group Freedom House says that while Bahrain ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002, it had "reservations on articles concerning family law, equality, freedom of movement, and residence."

source:ips news

Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.