Friday, October 29, 2010

Uncertainty Over Women's Place in Police Force

Women continue to join the Zimbabwe Republic Police, despite mixed reactions to their presence in law enforcement and allegations of abuse by fellow officers.

Retired Detective Inspector Pedzisai Shumba expresses a widely-held view about the roles women can play in policing.

"They handle the paper work at road blocks as men do the searches and are often used to trap high-profile as well as dangerous criminals," he says.

"Women also investigate rape better than men, and sufferers of such trauma feel better talking to female than to male officers," he explains.

Selby Hwacha, a renowned human rights lawyer, says police work is not only physical but also involves intellectual duties. "I would not have any problem with my daughter joining the force if she chooses it as a career."

He says women in the police force are particularly important at this time in Zimbabwe – "a traumatised nation" – because they are better placed to deal with cases of domestic-based violence, rape and other social ills.

It's a job

According to Zimbabwe Republic Police National Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, the ZRP does not "categorise its officers along gender lines." They are trained together, carry out duties together and are promoted on merit.

Female officers occupy a number of senior positions in the ZRP, heading districts and provinces; while two of the five deputy commissioners at national headquarters are women, Bvudzijena says.

The force, 30,000 strong in 2005, plans to increase its membership to 50,000, but with no deliberate efforts to recruit a specific number of women.

Police sources told TerraViva that roughly 25 percent of police officers are female. Each year, scores of young women join the numbers of school leavers scrambling for jobs in the ZRP.

"I wanted to be a teacher, but my parents couldn’t afford the fees. A former schoolmate persuaded me to join her in the police, saying the course was free and short," recalls 23-year old Constable Ernet Mudzori.

According to Bvudzijena, male and female recruits alike join the force today out of desperation, not out of passion like in the past.

"They just want something to occupy themselves with [in the current economic hardships]."

Mudzori says she has come to like the job after training. She was also lucky to have been posted to the administration section of the Police Protection Unit, providing security to state officials like judges, governors and ministers.

Allegations of abuse

All not ‘rosy’ for most female officers: most emerge from their training with memories they would rather keep to themselves.

Retired inspector Shumba: "Some of these children are first abused before given jobs... Last year at Morris [Police Training Depot] two instructors were fired for that."

Shumba claims recruitment rules have been "grossly compromised, mainly by politicians."

"They first take turns at the desperate girls before passing them on to senior police officers, who also exploit them until training is over...

"In the field there are more violations and the women end up used to it," alleges Shumba. "I wouldn’t encourage my daughter to join... I know what is happening because I have been there."

Police spokesman Bvudzijena denies Shumba’s allegations of ill-treatment of female officers during recruitment, training and at stations.

Regarding the claim that two instructors were dismissed for abuses in 2009, he said, "Those will remain allegations. There are no such incidents…"

As long as there is no political interference in the police, says Retired Assistant Inspector Mugove Chipashu, women remain an integral part of the system.

He says that in the police as in any workforce involving thousands of employees, there will always be bad elements that need to be "dealt with decisively."

Zimbabwe last year launched the ZRP Women’s Network to improve cooperation, coordination, sharing of best practices, expertise, skills, challenges and solutions on gender issues in the police force. 

GAMCOTRAP trains community facilitators

The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) on 26 October 2010 held one-day training for its community-based facilitators.
The daylong session was meant to equip participants on how to use monitoring tools to collect information at community level regarding Female Genital Mutilation.
The session, held at Gamcotrap's new head office in the Kanifing Industrial Area, was attended by facilitators working with various women's rights NGOs.
The training also aimed at creating a favourable environment for the Committee's work at the community level to enhance its objective of eradicating female genital mutilation in The Gambia.
The training attracted security officers, key stakeholders, community-based facilitators, community leaders, religious leaders, teachers and school authorities.
The training was also meant to create opportunity for participants to share field experiences as community-based facilitators.
In a power point presentation Ms Amie Bojang-Sissoho, programme coordinator of Gamcotrap, said: "A base-line study is needed as an entry point in order to understand the initial situation and to assess the process that has been made by the end of the project."
Mrs Bojang-Sissoho added that the training would also help Save the Children (SCS) to understand "the particular situation for each partner".
A base-line study that was provided by UNIFEM would be a key part of the project, she said.
"A base-line study shall be carried out before the project starts, or shortly after it has started, as well as at the end of the project," Mrs Bojang-Sissoho said, adding that the same study will be done again by the end of 2012.
She revealed that the base-line study aims at collecting data related to the objectives of the project. "It consists both of general data linked to different areas of the project, as well as predefined indicators," she noted.
She also told participants: "The data fields which you find in document 'Base-line Study Template' are mandatory. Each partner is encouraged to add other fields which are relevant in order to give a good picture of its specific context/situation."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Motherhood Is A Choice, Say Activists

For years, Kanako Nashimura longed to have a child, but was diagnosed as having a blocked fallopian tube. Encouraged by her husband and in-laws, she tried various fertility treatments, but not one of them worked.

Now 55, Nashimura has since divorced her husband and is living alone. She recounts, "The treatment was hard on me physically, but the mental agony of facing disappointment after disappointment as I was told by doctors over the years that I was not pregnant was far worse." 

But she adds, "My sadness has eased somewhat now as a realise today that Japanese women are under huge pressure socially to become mothers. That is not the way it should be." 

It’s a view shared by activists at Friends of Finrrage, a network of women that was first in Japan to put forward the notion that infertility is part and parcel of discussions on women’s reproductive rights. 

But as Japan’s ageing population continues to worry policymakers, the discussion regarding infertility in this country is getting more and more narrowed down to being about all about treatments to help women who are unable to bear children. 

Left out in such discussions are questions such as the willingness of a woman to have a child in the first place, and her readiness to take such a responsibility. 

Says Keio University professor and Finrrage member Satoko Nagaoki: "In reality our movement, which focused on infertility not only as needing treatment but also as a right of choice for women, has grown weaker these past few years. We are up against a growing campaign to increase birth rates from a national and medical standpoint." 

As it is, she says, Finrrage’s membership has dwindled from its original 1,000 when the network was launched in 1991 to the current 200. 

With a birth rate of 1.2 children per woman, Japan in 2009 had a mere 13 percent of its 127 million people aged 14 years and below. By contrast, those 65 years old and above made up about 22.7 percent of the population. This has put more pressure on Japanese women to have children – and for those who are infertile to seek treatment. 

In 2005, the Ministry of Health and Welfare even began extending subsidies to support fertility treatment that covers in-vitro fertilisation. The programme attracted 17,000 women during its first year. By 2009, that figure had shot up to almost 90,000 women. 

Indeed, reproductive rights activists also link the weak support for the use of the contraceptive pill in Japan to government policies that they say view women as "baby machines" rather than individuals who may have dreams other than being mothers -- and who should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not they want to have children. 

The pill, which is often seen as a symbol of "feminist progress", was introduced in Japan only in 1999, or decades later than other countries. 

To this day, it is available here in gynaecology clinics, and at steep prices at that. Its use is not covered by health insurance, and pills can cost women as much 1,000 dollars a year, excluding fees for tests women need to undergo before they can get a prescription. 

Only three percent of women between the ages of 16 and 49 use the pill in Japan, compared to 43 percent among women in the same age range in France. 

Not surprisingly, the condom has become the most popular contraceptive in this country, a development that reproductive rights activists say only reinforce old-fashioned gender roles where women have to depend on men for family planning. 

Recently, though, the notion that women are happiest when they have children has been reinforced by the high-profile media coverage of one of Japan’s most prominent female legislators. 

Seiko Noda, who has been active in Japanese politics since she was 26, has announced that she has finally conceived at age 49, through reproductive technology, using the donated eggs of a 20-something woman from the United States. 

Years before, she had written a book about her failed attempts to have a child with her then partner by undergoing numerous fertility treatments. Now with a new partner, Noda told the Japanese media this month, "It’s a mystery (to carry a child). The universe is here (in my belly)."

Interestingly, Noda has never been formally married, in protest of Japanese laws that stipulate that husband and wife choose one surname – either his or hers – not but do not allow each to keep his or her own after marriage. That had partly sealed her public image as a woman who is able to defy norms in a macho society. 

The fact that Noda began to try having a child only at age 40 also struck a chord among Japanese career women who are marrying later and planning pregnancies when they are in their 30s or 40s. 

But Finrrage’s Nagaoki laments that Noda’s story has contributed to the concept of infertility as a treatment issue, eclipsing the more important aspect of women’s reproductive rights. 

Kunio Kitamura, director at the Japan Family Planning Clinic, himself predicts that the "need" for infertility treatment would only grow in this country. Like Finrrage’s members, though, he stresses the importance of having better reproductive education that incorporates the rights aspect for women.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rape Is Not Adultery

Women in the Sudanese region of Darfur have been raped with impunity since the start of the conflict there in 2003. Now a campaign to reform the rape law is gaining momentum in the country, promoted by Alliance 149, a national coalition born in late 2009.

Under Article 149 - the portion of the Sudanese Criminal Code of 1991 which pertains to rape - the crime is defined as "zina", intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to one another, without consent.

The legislation states that a woman needs four male witnesses to prove that this act was "without consent". If she reports a rape and cannot obtain such evidence, she will be charged with adultery and punished with 100 lashes, if unmarried, or with death by stoning, if married.

"The reformed law will be a success to all Sudanese women as adultery and rape will be separated and the criminal will receive a long sentence," said Amro Kamal, a lawyer volunteering for the Sudan Human Rights Monitor and an Alliance 149 board member.

The Sudanese Criminal Code "is supposedly based on shariah laws, but the fact that Article 149 doesn’t distinguish between zina and rape is problematic and un-Islamic," he said.

The western region of Darfur deserves a different approach. The ongoing conflict between non-Arab rebels, the Sudanese military and Arab Janjaweed militias has resulted in 300,000 civilian deaths and more than two million people internally displaced.

The Alliance suggests the adoption of international humanitarian laws to better suit the needs of victims of sexual violence in Darfur.

Women living there continue to face the risk of rape and forced displacement daily. Many have left their homes and live in government-established camps - some remain in these camps for years.

"It is not easy for a woman who has been raped in our community, especially when a baby is born from the rape. The community will not accept this baby," said Mahbouba Abdur Rahman Ali, of the Women Empowerment Organisation

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a 21-year conflict between the Arab Muslim north and the Christian black south in 2005 requires legal reform to comply with international human rights standards, according to the Alliance.

"Sudan is not a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)," a source from the Family and Child Unit told TerraViva. "This makes it difficult to reform current laws related to women because there is nobody responsible for women’s affairs."

Alliance 149 is slowly gaining the attention of legislators. When it launched its campaign, in January, it attracted officials from the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the police forces, parliamentarians and representatives from political parties.

"It was great to see women’s groups and representatives from the government and the judiciary working together for such a great cause," said Fahima Hashim, an Alliance board member and director of Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre. 

Female Factor Key to Human Rights

Gender training for peacekeeping operations "is not something you do for two weeks before you go for deployment," says Florence Butegwa, UNIFEM representative to the African Union (AU) and U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

The growing international recognition of the value of female peacekeepers has spurred efforts by the AU, with support from UNIFEM, to increase the number of women in its peacekeeping operations.

Nigeria is leading the way in terms of African women’s presence in the deployment of peacekeeping forces, and is hoping to increase numbers in line with the global effort launched just over a year ago to raise the proportion of women in United Nations Police (UNPOL) peacekeeping operations to 20 percent by 2014.

This would be just over double the current 8.7 percent - 1,218 UNPOL women deployed around the world - according to the U.N.

Other African countries are following suit. Rwanda will be deploying 130 women under the joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur later this year.

Excerpts of Butegwa's interview with TerraViva follow.

Q: What specific efforts are being made to ensure the recruitment of more female peacekeeping officers? 

A: This is part of the ongoing conversation at the African Union and with the member countries, because the recruitment is the responsibility of the member country. In countries like Rwanda we are partnering with the Ministry of Defence and the police forces to ensure that the country increases its own recruitment and focus on women in the armed forces.

The idea is to ensure that there is not only an increase in the numbers of women in Rwanda’s armed forces but also, when they contribute to U.N. or AU operations, those women who are very well trained will be deployed and that they will be of a level of seniority to make a difference.

Q: How have member states responded? 

A: It varies from country to country. In Liberia, the effort was to have well-educated armed forces that understand human rights. Many women could not qualify, partly because of the general level of education of women in the country.

The government was able, with the support of the peace-keeping mission and U.N. organisations, to come up with a special curriculum for accelerated qualification for women and young men.

Q: The AU Commission is developing a gender-training manual for peacekeeping operations. How will the manual be used and by whom? 

A: UNIFEM is supporting the Gender Directorate in this regard and the manual will be available for use both by the AU institutions and, most importantly, the troop-contributing countries. The idea is that gender should be integrated in the curriculum for training armed forces.

It’s not something you do for two weeks before they go for deployment. For effectiveness it must be part of the culture of training.

Q: What effect have women in peacekeeping missions had on peace and security in conflict zones? 

A: It depends. For instance, I worked in Liberia [where] the whole idea is that women survivors - particularly of gender- based violence - feel more comfortable opening up to some of these women peacekeepers.

But dealing with and responding to gender-based violence as well as knowing how to understand the gender relations in a conflict area should be the responsibility of absolutely everyone.

Q: How is the opening of the application process to women likely to affect the nature of training which is perhaps viewed as having a very ‘masculine’ ethos? 

A: I don’t know, because this is the beginning of a process. So far, in some countries they see a change, but obviously I think the underlying values of the command structure being masculine in nature also has to be interrogated. There has to be some conversation because it’s not just about passing on information and if the structures do not allow a soldier to respond accordingly...

The training obviously should not just be for rank and file [soldiers], because if the senior commanders are not able to integrate gender sensitivity in their command structure, then you don’t have an impact.

Q: Won’t women in peacekeeping forces themselves be vulnerable in any way to gender-based violence? 

A: Without institutionalized gender sensitivity there is always a risk of that, but we have countries that have had soldiers who are women. For example, in the U.S. there are occasional cases of sexual harassment and abuse.

The important thing is that it is clear policy that this is unacceptable and that there is a mechanism for redressing that. So we hope that African governments take [it] seriously and the same kind of models are put in place. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

GAMCOMTRAP officials granted bail

     Africa » Gambia
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Top officials of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), Dr Isatou Touray Executive Director and Amie Bojang Sissoho program co-ordinator, were yesterday granted bail in the sum of D1.5 million each to be provided by sureties with landed property within the Greater Banjul Area.
This development at the Banjul Magistrates' Court followed another bail application made by defence counsel led by Amie Bensouda yesterday.
The case attracted a large crowd, including members of civil society organizations.
It would be recalled that Dr Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang Sissoho were first arraigned before the court on Monday 12th October charged with theft, a charge they denied. They were subsequently remanded first at police headquarters, then at the remand wing of the Mile 2 state central prison.
During Wednesday's court sitting, Amie Bensouda told the court that the police had confirmed to the court that their investigation into the case had been completed.
Since 12th October 2010, she said, the court had ordered the police to expedite their investigation, and that the police prosecutor, Superintendent Joof, confirmed to the court that the investigation was completed.
Counsel added that it would not be proper to further remand the accused persons after the police had confirmed to the court that the investigation was completed.
"If the police think that the accused persons should be further remanded in custody, pending the outcome of the case, it would not be fair to the accused persons, whose rights have already been violated," she stated.
"The police have completed their investigations since May 2010 by recovering 23 documents from GAMCOMTRAP office, and yet still they are opposing bail to the accused persons without any grounds," counsel told the court.
She said that any further indulgence without granting bail to the accused persons would be tamtamout to the violation of their rights, and cited section 24 of the CPC, urging the court to grant the accused persons bail.
The prosecuting officer, Superintendent Joof, had earlier told the court that the prosecution was maintaining their earlier objection to bail for the accused persons.
Superintendent Joof told the court that, though the investigation into the matter was completed, the prosecution still fears that the accused persons can interfere with the case.
He added that the prosecution wanted to proceed with the case, but witnesses were not in court. He, therefore, urged the court to remand the accused persons in custody.
Principal Magistrate Emmanuel Nkea in his ruling stated that the court had gone through the previous ruling it delivered on 12th October 2010. He said the reason why the court did not grant them bail during their first appearance was due to the fear that they might tamper with the investigation.
"Since the police prosecutor has confirmed to the court that the investigation was completed, it will be unwise to further remand the accused persons in custody," Magistrate Nkea told the court, before granting bail to the accused persons.
The case was adjourned to 3rd November 2010 for hearing.
According to prosecutors, the two women's rights activists, Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang-Sissoho, sometime in the year 2009, in Banjul and diverse places in the Gambia, jointly stole the sum of 30,000 Euros being money provided by the YALOCAMBA SOLIDARIDAD of Spain to GAMCOTRAP, which is a local non-governmental organisation actively campaigning against the practice of female genital mutilation in the Gambia.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

India's Female Peacekeepers Inspire Liberian Girls

By Tamasin Ford and Sonnie Morris*

MONROVIA, Oct 24, 2010 (IPS) - It is break time at the Victory Chapel School in Congo Town. Children dressed in their royal blue uniforms with bright yellow and white trim fight to get under the shade of the only mango tree in the yard. It is the start of the dry season and the scorching sun will soon be almost unbearable to stand in.

This small school, on the outskirts of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, is much like any other in the city until you see what stands beside it. More than a hundred female peacekeepers patrol the grounds of a big white fenced compound, the first all-female unit of UN police in history.

The women are an arresting sight: dressed in their blue army combat uniform, black boots, the signature United Nations blue cap and each carrying an AK-47. But the school children are so used to their presence they barely give them a second glance.

"It surprised me at the beginning because it is my first time to see different people come around me," says Wokie Sarchie, a fifth grade student at the school.

The Indian peacekeepers arrived in Liberia in 2007. Their main role is guarding the president’s office on Capitol Hill on the other side of the city. When they are not protecting the president, they are often here helping the teachers at the school.

According to Jickson Sargeor, the principal of Victory Chapel School, the Indian peacekeeping contingent provides the children with medication, lessons on using computers and Indian dance and self defense. In addition, the principal believes the Indian women have brought a much more important message to the children.

"It has made the girls to believe that they are not just people to sit at home, they are people to get out there," he says.

Sandra Weah, an eighth grade student, toyed with the idea of following her peacekeeper role models into the security field, but her new love for dancing and music made her change her mind. "For me I wanted to be an army woman but then when I saw my friends doing music, I decided to leave the army to go and be a musician."

The female contingent of peacekeepers came to Liberia in response to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Liberia is the first African country to complete a National Action Plan to implement the resolution.

Fourteen years of civil war in the West African state saw some of the worst atrocities women and children have ever experienced on the African continent. More than 60 percent of women say they were raped, according to the U.N. Mission in Liberia, UNMIL.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, took office in Liberia in 2005, increasing the number of women in the country’s security services was one of her top priorities.

The numbers speak for themselves. Five years ago, one in 20 police personnel was a woman. Now, nearly one in five is female. According to UNMIL, applications from women to join the police force tripled the year after the female Indian peacekeepers arrived.

There is still some way to go with the armed forces, where women make up less than one in ten. But Carole Doucet, the U.N. Gender Advisor in Liberia believes this is still an achievement.

"It is still an improvement from the one in one hundred figures from 2005," she says.

There are still many challenges facing the full implementation of Resolution 1325 in Liberia, especially in the rural areas. Poverty, access to education and the lack of economic power put women in a difficult position. A recent article in one of the capital’s newspapers found children as young as ten were having sex with men for as little as three U.S. cents.

But in Congo Town, at the Victory Chapel School, there is a feeling that the next generation of Liberians are growing up with the view that women can do anything and everything men can do.

Schoolteacher Gloria Adjer, a young women herself, believes the peacekeepers are giving women the strength and inspiration to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men.

"The Indian people have come and taught us that we women too are necessary to do the work they are doing," she says. "We believed that not only men do these [kinds of] work but women too are capable of doing it."

"It makes the boys to feel that women are also part of society. It also makes boys think women can do what men do," says Principal Sargeor.

*Sonnie Morrie is a Fellow of New Narratives, a project supporting female journalists in Liberia 

source:IPS News

Thursday, October 21, 2010

War Is Hell, Especially for Women

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 20, 2010 (IPS) - As the United Nations commemorates the 10th anniversary of a landmark Security Council resolution (1325) on the protection of women in war zones, a new study details the successes and failures of a long-drawn-out effort to battle gender-based violence and provide women a key role in male-dominated peacekeeping and peace-building operations.

"Women rarely wage war, but they too often suffer the worst of its consequences," says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which released Wednesday its 108-page annual 'State of World Population' on the impact of conflicts on women worldwide.

In many of today's conflicts, women are disempowered by rape or the threat of it, and by the HIV infection, trauma and disabilities that often result from it, she said.

Obaid said that experience shows that gender-based violence does not occur in a vacuum.

"It is usually a symptom of a larger problem, one of failed institutions, of dangerously skewed gender relations and entrenched equalities," she said.

War and disaster, she argued, do not cause gender-based violence, "but they often exacerbate it or allow it to strike with greater frequency."

The UNFPA says its study is based, for the first time, on reports from the field from countries and territories that have experienced, or are experiencing, conflicts or disasters. These include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia, Uganda, Timor-Leste, Haiti and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Among the many success stories since the adoption of the 1325 resolution in October 2000 are the national action plans by member states to protect and empower women in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The Philippines wrote its own 1325 action plan; in Colombia, the UNFPA created a task force to mainstream gender issues and sensitise the armed forces and police to issues of gender-based violence.

In Nepal, the U.N. agency is supporting the development of a national action plan to implement 1325, while in Rwanda it is supporting the national police force to effectively address gender-based violence.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, responding to a request from the Security Council, appointed in early 2010 Margot Wallstrom of Sweden as the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Last March the United Nations also established an expert group, co-chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, to coordinate U.N. support for the implementation of resolution 1325.

Since hundreds of peacekeepers have been accused of rape and sexual violence in several countries, including Sudan, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations has declared "zero tolerance" on such crimes.

Still, the chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, said last year: "From Congo, to Bosnia, to Darfur, peacekeepers have been unable to prevent the use of rape as a weapon of war and even genocide."

In several peacekeeping missions sexual violence has become so pervasive that the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) keeps track of such crimes - on a quarterly basis.

During the third quarter of 2010, there were 19 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, of which five concerned minors.

The DPKO said Tuesday that during the first three quarters of 2010, 64 allegations were reported, compared to 81 allegations during the first nine months of 2009: a decrease of 21 percent.

To counteract the incidence of sexual violence, the United Nations has also gradually increased the number of women peacekeepers.

"The proportion of women on the military and police side (in peacekeeping operations) has grown steadily since resolution 1325 was passed," says the UNFPA report.

At the end of 2006, there were 1,034 women in the uniformed ranks. By December 2007, the number had increased to 1,360. And a year later, there were 1,794.

Still, says DPKO, there's "only a fraction" of women in uniform compared to a total of more than 86,000 peacekeeping troops, 2,200 military observers, 13,200 police and 5,830 international civilians.

Bangladesh and India, the two top contributors to peacekeeping operations, also had the largest contingents of women, including all-female Indian police contingents assigned to Liberia and an all-female Bangladeshi unit assigned to Haiti.

Pakistan and Nigeria are expected to follow suit with all- women units.

Barbara Crossette, the lead author of the UNFPA report and a former U.N. bureau chief for the New York Times, told IPS that national governments are wary of any kind of tribunal or treaty or other formal mechanism to include women in peace negotiations.

"There is nothing that can be done about this. It is up to the governments of member states to take these recommendations seriously," Crossette said.

However, she pointed out, some countries have made gains - South Africa, for example, has the largest percentage of women in their contingents. Nigeria has the highest number of women in peacekeeping/police.

The fear for many years, especially since peacekeeping started to grow, is that the United Nations actually had to beg for peacekeepers.

"As a result, they had to take what they got, but it's unfair certainly to say that all peacekeepers have been somehow involved/guilty of something," Crossette added.

She said it's also true to say that there have been some spectacularly effective peacekeeping contingents.

"I was in Cambodia in the early 1990s where Bangladesh had a battalion there that was wonderful. The locals still think of them with great affection, they had a commander - it's the commander often - who said anyone who misbehaves here, off you go," she recalled.

"Then the second question is, if they send them home, will they go on trial? Almost 100 percent no."

*With additional reporting by Kanya d'Almeida. 

For Women, Dry Statistics Can Be Power

While women have made strides forward in areas like job market participation over the last two decades, in 2009 only 14 women in the world held the position of head of state or government, and of the 500 largest corporations, just 13 had a female CEO.

Those are just a few of the revelations in "The World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics", a compilation of the latest data on the status of women in countries around the globe, released Wednesday in conjunction with the first ever World Statistics Day.

The report illustrates the direct contribution of hard data to social progress, painting a complex picture of the successes and shortcomings on the path to gender equality through statistics and analysis.

"This report is released today, on the occasion of the first ever World Statistics Day, as it demonstrates how official statistics provide policy-makers with useful and impartial data," said Paul Cheung, director of the U.N. Statistics Division (UNSD), which has produced the report every five years since 1995.

The report focuses on eight key areas: population and families, health, education, work, power and decision- making, violence against women, environment, and poverty.

There are approximately 57 million more men than women in the world, with some countries, especially in Europe, experiencing an obvious "lack" of men while others have fewer women, for example, China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In the majority of countries, there is little difference in the proportion of underweight girls and boys, suggesting that there is no difference in nutritional status between the sexes.

However, the gender digital divide is widespread. In general, it is more pronounced among less developed countries with low Internet penetration, although it is also evident in several developed countries with high Internet penetration, education statistics show.

Concerning work issues, women aged 25 to 54 now have higher labour force participation rates in most regions as compared to 1990, but on average women are still rarely employed in jobs with status, power and authority or in traditionally male blue-collar occupations.

The report's chapter on poverty reveals that married women are often left out of decision-making on how their own earnings are spent. Limited access to financial resources increases women's economic dependency on men, making them more vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks.

Contributing to women's poverty is the denial of inheritance and land ownership rights based on traditional cultural norms and practices.

The report's chapter on violence against women shows that female genital mutilation is decreasing slightly, although it continues to be widely performed. The decline seems to be faster among women with higher education.

Education also plays a fundamental role concerning attitudes towards domestic violence in Africa. Many less or uneducated African women find it appropriate for a wife to be beaten by her husband for specific reasons like arguing with him, refusing to have sex, burning food and venturing outside without telling him, it says.

In the introduction, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes that the report "finds that progress in ensuring the equal status of women and men has been made in many areas, including school enrolment, health and economic participation. At the same time, it makes clear that much more needs to be done."

In fact, while the report shows progress in the availability of gender statistics, it also underlines the lack of regular, consistent and reliable statistical measures on the status of women.

Data from nearly all countries are available on the UNSD website, although those countries where more targeted intervention is needed might not be on the list, Francois Coutu, a public information officer with UNSD, told IPS.

Another problem is that even when statistics are available, it is not possible to compare them and data are also lacking in details, leaving out essential information, said the chief editor of the report, Srdjan Mrkic.

Statistics are available for nearly all countries in the world, but often only general information is provided, stressed Mrkic. Statistics, including characteristics such as age, marital status, education, ethnicity and religion, which are fundamental details to properly understand and develop policies to rectify violence against women, are available in "The World's Women 2010" for approximately 50 countries.

The U.N Statistical Commission, established in 1947, has elaborated international methodological standards and guidelines in many statistics areas while making data more available across countries and regions than ever before.

Still, "increasing the capacity to produce reliable statistics, especially about gender equality, remains a challenge in many countries," stressed Mrkic, with lack of funds disadvantaging developing countries. 

source:ips news

Monday, October 18, 2010

Women Sterilised Against Their Will Seek Justice, Again

Poor, rural, Quechua-speaking women in the Peruvian province of Anta who were victims of a forced sterilisation programme between 1996 and 2000 have filed a new lawsuit in their continuing struggle for justice.

In May 2009, Jaime Schwartz, the public prosecutor investigating the case against four former health ministers of the Alberto Fujimori administration (1990-2000), decided to shelve the investigation. He said the case involved alleged crimes against the victims' life, body and health, and manslaughter, and that the statute of limitations had expired.

But the plaintiffs in the case had brought accusations of genocide and torture, which as crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation. The attorney-general's office upheld Schwartz's decision, overruling the complaint lodged against it by the victims and the human rights organisations providing them with legal advice.

Now the Women's Association of Forced Sterilisation Victims of Anta, a mountainous province in the southern department of Cuzco, has decided to combat impunity with a new strategy: it is presenting a new lawsuit against those responsible for family planning policy in the last four years of the Fujimori regime.

The Association's approximately 100 members are rural women whose testimonies have revealed the hidden side of the National Programme for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, imposed by coercion and deceit under the guise of an anti-poverty plan.

Sabina Huillca, 41, told IPS: "I remember perfectly the day they sterilised me against my will, because what they did to me made me suffer ever since. It was August 24, 1996," she said, trying to keep her voice calm.

She is one of the witnesses who will testify before the justice authorities against those who devised and implemented the programme.

"After giving birth to my fourth daughter, I went to the Izcuchaca health centre to see the doctor. He told me not to have any more children and to have voluntary surgical contraception (VSC)," she said.

"I told him 'No'. 'You're silly', he said, 'you will have more children and you won't be able to raise them'." While she lay resting on a bed, a nurse gave her an injection. "I didn't know, and no one told me, that it was an anaesthetic," she said.

"When I woke up, my hands and feet were tied to the bed with bandages. I was immobilised. I could see them finishing off some stitches. 'What have you done to me!'" I shouted.

"'We're nearly done,' the doctor said, and I started to cry. 'I don't want this, I don't want this!' I shouted in despair. But the damage was already done," said Huillca, who was 28 years old at the time.

"Nada personal" (Nothing Personal), a 1998 report by human rights lawyer and activist Giulia Tamayo, commissioned by the Peruvian section of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women's Rights (CLADEM), describes the coercive nature of the VSC programme.

The study documented for the first time the systematic use of sterilisation practices that particularly targeted poor, indigenous, rural women.

As a result of the publication, Tamayo received threats from the government. She had to leave the country and went to live in Spain, but has now returned to Peru to advise the Anta Women's Association on the new lawsuit.

The Peruvian state has admitted that 300,000 sterilisations were performed under the VSC programme. The ombudsman's office has collected direct testimony from 2,074 women who were sterilised without their consent between 1996 and 2000.

"The power structures that protected the authors of criminal acts are still in place, guaranteeing their impunity up to the present day. This means that the rights of women who suffered from mass forced sterilisation continue to be violated," Tamayo told IPS.

In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.

The state acknowledged its responsibility, recognised the abuses committed under the family planning programme, undertook to investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the campaign, and promised to pay reparations to Mestanza's family.

But the attorney-general's office dragged its feet on the promised investigation, which made little progress before it was shelved by the public prosecutor in 2009. Meanwhile Alejandro Aguinaga, one of the accused, a former health minister and personal physician to Fujimori, was elected to Congress in 2006 and is now vice president of the legislature.

Fujimori is in prison for 25 years, convicted of several charges of corruption and human rights violations.

The state's failure to carry out this part of the friendly agreement "is prolonging the pain of thousands of victims, because the accused are carrying on as respectable members of society when they really should be called to account in the courts," said Tamayo, who is also a researcher for the Spanish chapter of the global rights watchdog Amnesty International.

"This time, those responsible for the forced sterilisation plan will be sued individually for crimes against humanity and torture," she said.

Each of the accused will also be charged "for war crimes, because the coerced sterilisation was carried out in the context of the 1980-2000 armed conflict (between the military and leftwing guerrillas), when the armed forces were used to threaten and terrorise" the civilian population, Tamayo said.

Specifying international crimes (which include crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and war crimes) will allow "other countries to prosecute the accused, if the Peruvian state continues to protect them," she said.

"The IACHR has already indicated that forced sterilisation is a matter of international law," the rights activist said.

Tamayo said the lawsuit will be brought by the victims in Anta, because in that province "sterilisation was implemented door to door, the health authorities were given 'quotas' of sterilised women that they were required to meet, and all the victims belonged to the same indigenous ethnic group."

This shows that "those who designed the programme defined its targets with abominable precision," Tamayo said.

One of the first to take up the fight for justice in the case of coerced sterilisations was the now famous Quechua-speaking lawmaker Hilaria Supa, a native of Anta, one of whose daughters is a victim of the VSC programme.

"Since the operation, to this day, I have suffered because of what was done to me by force," said Huillca, who lives in the rural village of Huayllaccocha, where several other cases of forced sterilisation have been documented.

"They damaged me as a woman. After that I was not able to pick up my small children, or work in the fields, which our livelihood depends on. I can't even cook, because I get terrible pains," she said, describing little-known consequences borne by the victims.

"I have difficulty walking; my life is full of suffering. Furthermore, in the community I am treated as second-rate, because in the village a woman who does not work is very much looked down on," she continued, no longer able to hide her sadness.

"The worst of it all is that one of the doctors who damaged me for life is still working in the Izcuchaca health centre," she said. "Every time I see him I feel furious, because nothing has happened to him."

Unfulfilled Promise of Free Maternal Health Care for Mothers

 Marie Musa, 37, is devastated. After the mother of four gave premature birth, her baby boy died a few hours later – because the hospital did not have enough incubators to rescue the infant.

Musa, a fishmonger who lives in the slum community of Susan’s Bay, east of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, complains bitterly about the severe lack of resources at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, Freetown’s main public health facility: "Nobody could do anything to help my baby".

Aminata Sesay, one of the hospital’s nursing sisters, explains the staff did everything they in their power, but without an incubator, there was nothing they could do save the infant. "It needed to be placed inside an incubator, and there was none available," she says, shrugging her shoulders.

The hospital has only three incubators, and all of them were already occupied on that day. The facility needs at least ten incubators to meet the demand, the nurse reckons.

Princess Christian Maternity Hospital's resources are under continuous pressure. It's 140 beds are always full, and women are routinely discharged early in order to make space for new admissions.

Resource shortage

In August, the same month that Musa’s baby died in hospital, James Bamie Davies, commissioner of the customs and excise department of Sierra Leone’s National Revenue Authority (NRA), announced in a government gazette an auction of medical appliances, including eight incubators.

According to the commissioner, the incubators were a private donation to the health ministry by a Sierra Leonean emigrant who works as a nursing manager at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States. But after their arrival, the health ministry had failed to clear them from the quay.

NRA public information officer John Baimba Sesay told IPS the incubators were put up for auction in accordance with the Customs Act, which states that if goods are not cleared by customs within 30 days, they have to be auctioned.

Only the public outcry that followed the announcement of the auction in the gazette, did the Ministry of Health and Sanitation spring into action and recover the goods.

Dr Samuel Kargbo, director of the reproductive and child health programme of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, admits that the unavailability of equipment and infrastructure as well as the extensive bureaucracy within his department has hampered health care provision throughout the country.

It has also partially counter-acted the benefits of the free public health care services for children under the age of five as well as pregnant and lactating women, which government launched on 27 April in an attempt to reduce high child mortality rates in the country.

High child mortality

One in five children die before they reach the age of five in Sierra Leone, and one in eight women die during childbirth, according to the 2008 United Nations Human Development Index.

In the five months since the introduction of the new services, public health facilities have experienced critical challenges in implementing the new policy, as they lack skilled health personnel, particularly gynaecologists and nurses, notes Kargbo, adding that many hospitals throughout the country don’t have running water, electricity and generators.

According the national Ministry of Health, Sierra Leone, which as a population of 5.7 million, has only eight obstetrician-gynaecologists employed in the public health system and about the same number working in the private health sector.

There have also been serious allegations by civil society organisations that some patients are asked to pay for those services, even though they are free of charge.

Aminata Sesay told IPS that, to improve their salaries, some health workers try to extort money from women in labour who don’t have a choice but to pay if they want to be assisted.

Nurses' salaries have been increased substantially by government after a countrywide strike action in May – from $35 a month to $130 a month – but health workers say this is still not enough for them to survive and to justify the long hours they are expected to work.

The cost for a bag of rice is about $30 and, considering the high cost of living and to settle utility bills, I think we need $500 a month," Sesay complains.

First successes

Despite his vocal criticism of the public health system, Kargbo highlights the fact that Sierra Leone is still trying to recover from its twelve-year civil war, which only ended in 2003. "It is a gradual process, and we have started to see a few successes in the five months after the free health care started," he notes.

"We have noted an increase in the utilisation of health facilities by over 80 percent, whilst it was at 30 percent before the free health care policy was introduced," Kargbo further explains, saying that only ten percent of women used to give birth in a hospital setting.

He promised the health department will focus on the swift implementation of the new health policy throughout the country and monitor quality of care: "We have instituted a mechanism to address complaints, and we have a monitoring team to see that the implementation of the health care policy moves smoothly."

Data collected in the countries’ twelve districts in the past five months show an overall drop in maternal and infant mortality rates, according to Abass Kamara, public relations officer at the Ministry of Health. Port Loko district in northern Sierra Leone, for example, counted only one maternal death per month since the introduction of the free health services, compared to an average of eight maternal deaths per month before, he says.

Karmara is optimistic that these are first signs for a continuous improvement of maternal and child mortality rates in Sierra Leone: "Things are beginning to look up."

Mayalie Bangura, 34, a teacher who lost her first child during childbirth, is one of the mothers who recently benefited from the new policy, when she was pregnant with her second baby. "After my water broke, my neighbours rushed me to the Satellite Clinic in Freetown. The nurses helped me during labour, gave me blood transfusion and other medicines," she recalls.

Says Bangura: "After a week, I was strong again and discharged with my healthy baby boy. I could not believe that I did not have to spend a single dime. Before, it would have cost me over 800,000 Leone [$200]." 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Woman President Makes a Mark

When Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva was selected to be President of Kyrgyzstan, she became the first woman head of state in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian region.

And she also took on a mission. Her mission is to pave the way for parliamentary democracy in a country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Union.

Her first task was to stabilise the situation arising out of the ethnic clashes in the southern city of Osh, which is her hometown. Her next job will be to conduct free and fair parliamentary elections, and then clear the way for her people to elect a new president.

"Electing a woman as the head of state shows our thinking is changing and that our nation is ready for real democracy," said  poet and journalist Olzhobay Shakir .

On Apr. 7 this year Roza Otunbayeva was selected to head a Russian- supported Kyrgyz interim government, following widespread rioting in capital Bishkek and the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

"She was a compromise candidate, the only one with a clean image," political scientist Alexander Knyazev told IPS. Political analyst Turat Akimov agrees. "All the men were seen as being corrupt and dictatorial. They were forced to choose the only woman among them."

Hope for a peaceful transition to democracy might seem misplaced given that Otunbayeva first tasted political power on a wave of political unrest. In 2005, she had been one of the key leaders of the 'Tulip Revolution' which led to the overthrow of former president Askar Akayev.

Otunbayeva says she learnt a great deal about calming violence when she went as part of a UN peace mission to Georgia. From 2002 to 2004, she had been involved in bringing harmony between hostile groups following the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

In a struggle that had then extended for a decade, casualties had been high and tensions extreme.

"We organised meetings of women from both ethnic groups who had lost their sons in the fighting. These were difficult negotiations, but in the name of peace and life they agreed to sit and talk to each other," says Otunbayeva.

"We also arranged talks between former soldiers who had fought against each other. As a result, people gained the courage to go ahead and carry on a dialogue. I have seen conflict from up close," she told the local newspaper Lemon.

Five years later, as president, she had to deal with ethnic clashes in her own backyard. In May-June this year the southern towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad were rocked by violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

Otunbayeva was forced to declare a state of emergency on Jun. 12 in an attempt to control the situation. The clashes killed up to 2,000 people, and rendered some 400,000 homeless.

She had sought help from Russia, but even after calling the Kremlin leaders five times, no assistance was forthcoming. Russia only sent a few troops to guard its own military installations.

But she managed to stabilise the situation and held a national referendum Jun. 27. Given the unsettled conditions, the voter turnout was an impressive 65 percent. The electorate almost unanimously supported the new draft Constitution, and confirmed Roza Otunbayeva as interim president.

She is not eligible to run for president now, and her term will end Dec. 31 next year.

"The right decision will be for her to create conditions for peaceful polling," political analyst Bermet Bukasheva told IPS. "A leader should not use administrative powers to remain in office. She should oversee the transition to democracy as a neutral figure."

To achieve this, Otunbayeva would have to ensure that the two ethnic groups live peaceably. She will also have to provide the homeless with shelter through the long winter.

She had promised in her inaugural speech Jul. 4 that she would "cooperate constructively with all political forces, and support pluralism, freedom of speech and human rights." She has reiterated this aim many times since. But it might be a difficult promise to keep in a country where thousands of families have lost their homes and loved ones.

There was too little time to do all this before the parliamentary elections Oct. 10. Besides, some of the political leaders are Otunbayeva's associates, and it is hard to imagine her as an unbiased facilitator.

But Otunbayeva is a consummate diplomat. She honed her skills when she headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs three times, and also as ambassador to the U.S. and to the UK, as well as being chairperson of the former Soviet commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not All Women in Local Government Making a Difference

Florence Shagwa, a female councillor at the Gaborone City Council, considers her three-year business qualification worthless.

Shagwa, who holds a Business and Accounting Certificate that she attained at the University of Botswana part-time over three years, was employed by banks as a training manager before taking up her current post.

But looking around at the other female councillors she works with, Shagwa knows that she is better educated than most. "For those who might claim to be a bit educated they had gone as far as senior school only, while for some it is a big deal to write," Shagwa said speaking of her fellow female councillors.

And while she does not necessarily think it is a piece of paper that women councillors need to make an impact, she said that one of the hindering factors that women face in local government are their own education levels.

"For (these women), even (working) in a formalised environment and meeting or rubbing shoulders with people who matter is a problem. They always shy away when meeting such people," she said.

According to the country’s Independent Electoral Commission no qualifications are needed for one to run for a post in local government except to campaign for votes. However, participants are vetted for criminal records.

"I do not have a problem with other women except with their attitudes. As an individual I do make an effort to be well informed. But I cannot say the same about most of the women in council," she said.

Shagwa said most of the female councillors incorrectly think that they should not be seen to take the lead. "As women we do not believe in ourselves because of the culture that we grew up with. We believe that we are not supposed to take the initiative and leave that to our male counterparts," she said adding roles in local government are not defined to attract educated people.

Shagwa, who also sits on numerous committees in the council including the Finance committee where projects and budgets are approved, said that many people did not feel becoming a local councillor was worth their while.

"Well-educated people think that campaigning to join local government would be like wasting their time. But it is just about serving the people," she said explaining that she has been effective in representing and serving the people in her community at the council level by advocating for their basic needs.

While one might think that female councillors would be better placed to empower other women in their communities, Shagwa said that it is not the case.

"In Gaborone I have not seen any women councillor working to empower other women except to prove that they are better than those women in their societies," she said. She strongly feels that generally women at local government are not serving their people but their own interests.

But for Mayor Caroline Lesang, things in her area run a bit differently. The mayor of Lobatse Town Council just 80 kilometres south of Gaborone, believes that with six women out of a total of 13 councillors in her local government, gender sensitivity in their deliberations is the norm of the day.

Lesang, who is also the national Vice President of the Botswana Association of Local Authorities that works to promote local governance, said that all programs in their council deliberations have to include women.

But she added that the current system made it difficult for women to make an impact on local legislation initiatives and the budget. "We can do the budgets but when it gets to central government for approval it would be reduced in such a way that one could never achieve all the things that they budgeted for," she said.

Lesang explained that the current system does not empower women. She said women lack resources to campaign during elections. She said that generally women do not vote for other women even though they are the majority of voters and the ones at the forefront of the campaigns.

"This is the reason that many women cannot make it to council. If they do, it has to be double the work done by when it was a man campaigning for the seat," she said.

And Ephraim Mabengano, a male councillor agrees. He said that there are no structures or committees that empower women councillors to have an impact in the running of local government. He said it is encumbered on the women who are there already to propose that committees be formed to empower themselves.

"You will find that they are not well informed, they do not make much contribution in council deliberations as they do not have much time to read to inform themselves after work," Mabengano said.

Though some disagree. Political analyst at the University of Botswana, Zibani Maundeni, said women participation in politics at the local level is surely a key driver for women’s empowerment.

Maundeni believes that there is no discrimination as women are treated as their male counterparts.

"From my experience after visiting different councils around the country I have not heard a female mayor or women in leading posts in different committees complaining that they are not being given support as when the post was being held by a male candidate – be it in making decisions on projects or the budget," Maundeni said. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Liberian Women Find Their Voice

"Voice for the voiceless" is the slogan adorning the walls of Liberia’s first and Africa’s second radio station for women.
Situated down a bumpy, dirt track on the edge of the capital, Monrovia, the Liberia Women Democracy Radio (LWDR), claims it wants to advance women and promote change. In a country trying to rebuild itself after 14 years of civil war in which women bore the brunt of the violence, they remain the most vulnerable group in society.

"Before the radio station, we couldn’t get our voices heard. The big people wouldn’t take our problems seriously," says Deborah Reeves, a mother of four in Monrovia. "Now they hear them over and over."
The 30 year old lives on Pagos Island, a stretch of land surrounded by swamps completely cut off from the rest of the city. On an island without electricity, public schools, a police station and not one health centre, the four thousand inhabitants struggle to even make a living.
"I’ve seen things on this island that aren’t right in a civilised world," exclaims Reeves as she shelters in the community church with around forty other women.
"We’re a forgotten community, just fending for ourselves.No one sees us. It’s like we’re not even here."
Reeves has brought people from the community together to talk about how they, as women, can use the radio station to tell their stories in an attempt to get authorities to act. As they sit in the stifling heat, some with their babies strapped to their backs, others with a small child at their knees, slowly, one by one, they get the courage to stand up to tell their story.
One speaker, more a teenager than a woman, describes how she started walking to the nearest clinic when she felt her first contraction. It was dark, she was on her own and she had a two to three hour trek ahead of her. She ended up giving birth on the way.

As she stands in front of the women, with passion and sadness in her eyes, she explains how she tried to get the baby to take its first breath.She had no idea how to do it, so she lay there on the road as the baby died in her arms.

"I didn’t want to talk today," she says. "But this is just disgracing women."

This story is just one of thousands.

"In the rural areas, women are not heard," says Lady Mai Hunter, as she looks over her microphone in the production studio at LWDR. These are the hard to reach groups the station wants to broadcast to. Funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and facilitated by the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), LWDR broadcasts to eight of Liberia’s fifteen counties. Their aim is to increase their transmitter power and reach out to women all over the country.

At 22 years old and already a young mother herself, Hunter knows all too well the struggles women in Liberia still face. "We have a female President and outside of Liberia people think that everything is okay for women here, but it’s not. Sexual exploitation, rape and wife battering are all big problems here."

In 2006, Liberia voted in Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. While this in itself is a great inspiration for women all over the country, female voices are still rare in high level discussions on peace and security. For President Sirleaf, LWDR is a way to get those often forgotten voices aired.

"I’m extremely pleased and I understand we’re the second women’s radio station on the continent and that again pleases us in that we’ve broken ground in this regard," says Sirleaf she.

However, the president is aware of the challenges Liberian women face. "We still have some serious problems in Liberia; serious problems regarding rape, regarding the retention of girls in school. I hope through this station they will be able to focus on these problems."

Rape is the number one reported crime in Liberia and children are often the victims. A recent survey of rape survivors in Monrovia found three out of eight were under the age of twelve, while one in ten was under five. But issues like rape, teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation and prostitution are rarely, if ever, talked about on other stations across the country.

The media, run almost exclusively by men, seldom touch on these subjects, preferring to pontificate about politics and policy making. With the next elections in October 2011, LWDR is calling for women to start playing a crucial role in shaping their country’s future.

And so far, the Liberia Women Democracy Radio station is providing a glimmer of hope for women like Deborah Reeves. "LWDR is an eye opener for us. To be frank, women face such terrible conditions in this country and their voices are never heard. Now, if I’m hurt, I can use the radio to tell my story and reach authorities who can help us."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Native Women Raped by Soldiers Find Justice at Regional Court

By Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Oct 5, 2010 (IPS) - "I dream of returning to my community and for everything to be normal again, although that won't be easy," Valentina Rosendo, one of two indigenous women who found justice at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, told IPS.

"I want the government to admit that it made a mistake with two indigenous women," she added, after the Court condemned Mexico for failing to protect her rights and those of Inés Fernández, who were raped by soldiers eight years ago.

In February 2002, 17-year-old Rosendo was washing clothes in a river near her home in the village of Barranca Bejuco, in the southern state of Guerrero, when she was accosted by a group of soldiers, two of whom raped her.

A month later, three soldiers raped Inés Fernández in her house in the nearby village of Barranca Tecuani.

In both cases, the Court found the state guilty of failing to guarantee the two Me'phaa Indian women's rights to personal integrity, dignity, legal protection and a fair trial, to a life free of violence, and to not be tortured. Inter-American Court rulings are binding and cannot be appealed.

"They are two very similar sentences," Alejandra Nuño, the Centre for Justice and International Law's (CEJIL) director for Central America and Mexico, told IPS after the two rulings were reported Monday. "They refer to the presence of the soldiers, discrimination, and violence against women. And rape is classified as torture, in a case that has no precedents in Mexico."

When she failed to obtain justice in Mexico, Rosendo brought her case in November 2003 before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), with the support of CEJIL and the Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre, from Guerrero. Fernández did the same the following June.

The IACHR referred the cases to the Court in May and August 2009.

The San José, Costa Rica-based Court and the Washington-based IACHR are the Organisation of American States (OAS) human rights bodies.

"The state cannot continue to deny these incidents, when the serious harm caused in these indigenous communities is abundantly clear," Abel Barrera, executive director of Tlachinollan, told IPS. "Inés can't live in peace, and Valentina can't return to her community."

Abuses by the military and police are a permanent feature of life in rural areas in Guerrero, and reporting them to the Mexican justice system has had little to no effect, according to human rights organisations that have documented the cases. The authorities say the security forces are deployed in Guerrero to fight drug trafficking and small guerrilla groups.

The Court, presided over by Peruvian Judge Diego García-Sayán, ruled that the state violated three inter-American conventions: the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, the 1987 Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, and the 1998 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women.

In its sentences, handed down on Aug. 30 and 31, the Court called for a thorough civilian investigation into the crimes against the two women, and ordered the Mexican state to make a public apology to them in both Spanish and the Me'phaa language, publish the sentences in the official government gazette, and open a centre that would provide multidisciplinaryhealth services for women in the area where the abuses took place.

It also calls for reforms of Mexico's military justice code, with dates back to 1933, so that members of the armed forces are tried in civilian courts for crimes committed in the course of duty.

The Court ordered the state to pay some 87,000 dollars in damages and compensation to Fernández, her husband Prisciliano Sierra and their children, and 75,000 dollars to Rosendo and her daughter Yenis Bernardino.

It must also pay 48,000 dollars to Tlachinollan and CEJIL to cover legal costs.

"It was not easy to seek justice. I left my town, and my husband left me. The government called me a liar," Rosendo, in a beige blouse and blue jeans, said with tears in her eyes.

Rosendo had to learn Spanish after she was raped, and she now lives in an unrevealed location somewhere in Mexico where she works at a grocery store and has returned to school to complete her secondary education.

Her nine-year-old daughter is in third grade. "She is desperate, and asks why we move all the time and she has to make new friends. She's not growing up with a normal childhood," said Rosendo, who goes to therapy every Sunday.

Both Rosendo and Fernández have been harassed and received death threats over the years, and have been stigmatised by neighbours, as rape victims.

This is not the first time the Inter-American Court has ordered the Mexican state to reform the military justice code -- which has become one of the flashpoint issues for the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Conservative President Felipe Calderón announced that he would introduce a bill in Congress to that effect. But the Supreme Court has failed to pronounce itself on the steps to be taken in order to comply with the Inter-American Court rulings.

"We are going to keep a close watch on how Mexico lives up to the sentence, which is binding," Nuño said.

On Oct. 1, the government said it would live up to the two sentences, but did not specify how or when. It has between six and 12 months to fulfil the various provisions.

The Inter-American Court also handed down two rulings against the Mexican state in November 2009.

The first involved the 2001 murders of three young women in Ciudad Juárez on the U.S. border, whose bodies were found on a piece of waste ground known as the Campo Algodonero (Cotton Field). The second found the Mexican state guilty in the forced disappearance of schoolteacher Rosendo Radilla, a community activist who was abducted in 1974 by soldiers in the state of Guerrero.

In both cases, human rights groups have complained how long the government is taking to comply with the sentences.

For that reason, a number of non-governmental organisations want to establish a committee to follow up on compliance with the rulings.

This year, the Court is to issue a decision on the case of environmental activists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, peasant farmers who were arrested and tortured by Mexican soldiers in Guerrero in 1999 and sentenced in 2000 to six and 10 years in prison, respectively, on trumped-up charges of illegal weapons possession and growing marijuana.

Although they were released in November 2001 by then President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) after a major international outcry, they were not pardoned, nor did they receive damages for the abuses and torture they suffered.

The militarisation of Guerrero "is aimed at keeping indigenous people from organising," said Barrera, winner of this year's Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, rewarded by the Washington-based RFK Centre for Justice and Human Rights.

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.