Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gender-Based Violence: 'Zimbabwe Police Officers Forget Themselves'

By Ignatius Banda

Tasha Ncube* has no kind words for the police. Early last month, the 31-year-old mother of two was beaten several times by her husband over what she says were small arguments. This was the first time in a marriage that has gone for years without any such occurrence.

"I began suspecting he must be seeing someone as I have heard such stories before about men with ‘small houses’ suddenly being moody," Ncube said. Small house is a local euphemism for a lover.

"When I confronted him he went mad and he beat me up. I reported him to the police."

But Ncube did not get the response she expected. "They said I should go back home and ask relatives to mediate as they were getting many reports from women who withdrew charges after the husband apologised. I was so angry I did not know what to say..."

Like many other women, she returned home to continue life with her abusive husband.

Officers 'interpreting' law

Ncube’s case is typical example of what gender activists say is a glaring gap between the enforcement and interpretation of legal provisions that seek to protect women from gender-based violence.

Gender activists and the gender ministry made groundbreaking strides over several years to push GBV legislation through Parliament. The Domestic Violence Act was finally passed by Parliament in 2007 amidst much celebration.

But Irene Zwelibanzi, an activist who has spent several nights in police cells after Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) organised demonstrations in the streets of Bulawayo says police attitudes towards women are yet to change.

"Some male police officers forget that when they are at work they are professionals but they still behave like uneducated men in the street and demean women who seek their protection," Zwelibanzi complained.

"This is not helping the fight we are waging for our rights as we are also now fighting to change the attitudes of the police themselves," she said.

Police: 'We do take it seriously'

The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintains that it has done much to sensitise members of the force on dealing with domestic violence cases and how to handle reports, especially from battered women.

The Domestic Violence Act stipulates that domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years. This is the reason some police officers give for not taking all reports seriously, claiming that some wives do not want to see their husbands locked up for that long.

"Sometimes we get wives reporting their husbands for beating them up, but after locking him up, the wife comes only a few minutes later to say she has forgiven him and wants to withdraw the charges," said an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It’s not that we do no take these reports seriously, but sometimes it helps that these disputes do not reach the police station if marriages are to be saved," the officer reasoned.

"I think it is generally about gender relations -- how sensitive men are to women’s experiences of domestic violence, particularly women they don’t know," says Amanda Atwood of kubatana.net, a forum for Zimbabwe online activists and bloggers.

"How comfortable are women generally discussing issues of domestic violence with strangers, particularly men?" Atwood reflected.

Meanwhile, according to research conducted this year by the Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network, domestic violence accounted for more than 60 percent of murder cases in Harare’s High Court, providing insight into the gravity of the situation.

Raising profile of GBV

There has been a push to give the issue prominence in the constitution making process with advocacy based on evidence of the high cost of GBV to the nation. In particular, medical costs, justice, transport, school fees, loss of working hours, treatment of sexually-transmitted infections, HIV and loss of household income have been cited.

Efforts to address GBV at community level are generally dismissed as ineffective by women like Ncube who say the non-involvement of law enforcement officers means such initiatives are ignored by men.

As part of a Gender Based Violence Strategy and Implementation Plan, the Gender Ministry, together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has been conducting training of community-based counsellors.

Rejoice Timire, executive director of the Disabled Women Support Organisation, says women living with disability have not been spared either. Timire called for the needs of this oft forgotten group of women to be addressed during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

"There is high unemployment and economic dependency and this has left the women with disability more vulnerable to abuse," Timire told IPS.

Ncube is still hurting from the double abuse she suffered – at the hands of her husband and the police who refused to act. "I obviously feel bad about having reported my husband. Not because I reported him but because the police refuse to do anything about it," she said.

*Names have been changed. 

source: ips news

Friday, November 26, 2010

Plans underway for Pacific UNiTE Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls

The Asia Pacific UNiTE Campaign Strategy was launched in Bangkok on 25 November - the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women - as part of the global Secretary-General's UNiTE Campaign aimed to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

In order to ensure the UNiTE Campaign is designed to respond to the context and priorities of violence against women and girls in the Pacific, the three United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs) serving the Pacific region (Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea) are working together to develop a Pacific UNiTE Campaign (2011-2015) that will further develop the existing Asia Pacific UNiTE Campaign Strategy, by tailoring it specifically to the Pacific context.

UN Agencies in the Pacific are contracting two violence against women and communications specialists to develop and design a Pacific UNiTE Campaign Strategy and Communication Plan to End Violence Against Women and Girls.

The specialists will conduct extensive consultations with governments, civil society, faith-based organizations, the private sector, media and with United Nations (UN) agencies to develop strategies for key development partners and stakeholders to communicate and coordinate effectively to eliminate violence against women and girls in the Pacific and to discuss recommendations for an effective, large-scale, multi-media campaign.

The Pacific UNiTE Communication Action Plan to end violence against women and girls will partner with key regional, national and local level organizations to develop common key messages around ending violence against women and girls in the region. The Pacific UNiTE Campaign will enhance and strengthen important work implemented by well established violence against women organizations in the Pacific to eliminate violence against women and girls.

The UNiTE Campaign will support all regional efforts to adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilization; and address sexual violence in conflict. It is a UN system wide effort to partner strategically to accelerate efforts to end violence against women and girls in our region.


by Fatou C Malang

2010 marks the twentieth year of the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign”. The campaign began in 1991 and originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University.The main idea of the campaign is to draw attention at a local, national and global level to the different forms of violence that women face. It aims to show the link between violence against women and human rights highlighting that such violence is a human rights violation; Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day against Violence against Women, and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a human rights violation.  

The international theme for the 2010 16 Days Campaign is Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women. Militarism defined “as an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests.” It was not only examined in the context of war zones but also at the home level and areas where military- linked forms of violence may be hidden from the public eye. It is a psychology that often has grave consequences for the true safety and security of women and of society as a whole.

There is a need to address militaristic beliefs in all of our societies. Rape is used as a tactic of war to drive fear and to humiliate women and their communities. But sexual violence is just one form of violence that women and girls suffer throughout the continuum of violence before, during and after conflict has ostensibly ended. Militarism neither ends nor begins in warzones, nor does it confine itself to the public sphere.

Women do not often wage war, but they often suffer the worst of its consequences. 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. As women become a vulnerable sector for violence, they became easy targets of inflictions. Recalling the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 157 Guineans on the 28th of September 2009 where Hundreds of women and girls were subjected to brutal, barbaric acts of sexual violence. In the last ten years in Congo, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, most of them gang raped. Abduction, rape and sexual slavery of girls and women have been among the most abhorrent and distressing features of the nine-year internal armed conflict in Sierra 


The rape statistics for South Africa have gone up instead of down over the past years. Women in the Sudanese region of Darfur have been raped since the start of the conflict there in 2003 .There is a code of silence surrounding rape in Senegambia, with many cases going unreported. The Gambia has witnessed a series of rapes against women and children of late. "The Kolda region of senegal had 211 cases in 2008, of which half were rapes of pupils by teachers and resulting in pregnancies. A 19-year old Ghanaian girl was raped in the full glare of the public at Kumasi-Asafo. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes to mention but a few.

Violence against women is widespread in every corner of the globe: from the bedroom to the battlefield. Women and girls suffer many forms of violence, including genital mutilation, rape, beatings by their partners, families or killings in the name of honor. 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. It is one of the most pervasive of human rights violations, denying women and girls’ equality, security, dignity, self-worth, and their right to enjoy fundamental freedoms. It is shocking that in women’s lifetime, up to 76 per cent are subject to physical and/or sexual violence within intimate relationships.

Discrimination in law, social practice and attitude, impunity and apathy are the underlying causes of violence against women and girls. In many countries, laws, policies and practices discriminate against women and girls, denying them equality with men, politically, economically and socially. Social roles reinforce the power of men over women’s lives and bodies, while traditions and customs subjugate women and leave them vulnerable to violence.

Domestic violence, being the most prevalent yet relatively hidden and ignored form of violence against women and girls is a global problem. Marital rape is domestic violence and is not justifiable on the basis of consent. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence affects millions of women in Africa.  In a 2005 study on women’s health and domestic violence, the WHO found that 50 percent of women in Tanzania and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners. In South Africa, reports Amnesty International, about one woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend every six hours. In Zimbabwe, six out of  10 murder cases tried in the Harare High Court in 1998 were related to domestic violence. In Kenya, the attorney 

general’s office reported in 2003 that domestic violence accounted for 47 per cent of all homicides.

In conclusion, peacekeeping forces in conflict zones should put special emphasis on protecting women around areas where they are most vulnerable to rape and other sexual violence. I firmly believe that we all have a role to play in alleviating violence against women in our different communities by mobilizing and sensitizing our people on the different forms of violence’s against women and ways of eliminating them with the support of our governments.

Fatou C. Malang- Fatou is a Gambian gender activist and an emerging voice on issues of women’s rights  and equality in Africa. She is the founder of the “Stop Violence Against Women Blog”. Fatou was recognized as a 2009 MILEAD Fellows- as an outstanding young African women leader.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Press Release: Armed Forces Jubilee:Women Still Far Off the Mark

The celebration of  the golden jubilee of the founding of the Cameroon army on November29, 2010 in Bamenda coincides with the 10th  Anniversary of the United Nations Security Council's  landmark Resolution 1325, which aimed to put an end to sexual violence against women and girls in armed conflict and to encourage greater participation by female military officers in high decision  making levels and in peace  building initiatives. It is  also a happy coincidence that President Paul Biya who is the  commander  in-chief of Armed Forces chosed  November 29, which is the International Women Human Rights  Defenders Day, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of  independence of the Cameroon army with theme: Defence  Forces at the Service of Nation buildingA Common Future, which is a leading  national men's organization working with men to end  violence and all forms of discrimination against women in  Cameroon urges President Biya to take an appointment with  history on this day by making bold, new, and more specific  commitments on U.N.R 1325 which demands that member governments increase the participation of women in decisions  about peace and security. Progress in this domain in  Cameroon has unfortunately been anecdotal in the past  decade. Cameroon also missed out an opportunity last October  26, 2010 at the U.N Security Council Ministerial Open Debate  to join the 80 countries in making new commitments to its  international engagements. As Cameroon military celebrates their  50th Anniversary in Bamenda this November 29, 2010, A Common  Future Organization hails them for the brilliant  achievements in the past decade in the defence of our  territorial integrity, especially, in efforts at overcoming  the Bakassi crisis peacefully. We equally congratulate the  Cameroon police and the military that successfully took part  in international peace missions in Cambodia, Kosovo, the  Congo and others. Regrettably we note that women were not a  missions, nor have Northwest authorities associated the  women's Affairs Delegation in preparation for this important anniversary, which is against R1325. We also  regret that rape as a weapon of humiliation continues to be  used by some misguided young Cameroon soldiers on women and  girls. Cameroon media have in the last few months reported  on the conduct of the Rapid Intervention Force, BIR, in  Misaje Sub  Division, Donga Mantung, in the North West Region. This is  part of the men, masculinities and violence culture A Common  Future organisation is fighting.  We are joining like-minded organisations across the globe,   16 Days of Activism theme: Militarism and the Intersections  of violence Against Women to respond energetically to the  many reports in Cameroon of husbands who have battered their  wives to death and particularly of a police officer who this  year shut his magistrate wife to death on mere suspicion of  adultery, A Common Future is organising on the sidelines of  the military jubilee in Bamenda, a Brides March and a men  on women's shoes walkathon to protest against  domestic violence. This, unfortunately, is not limited to  husbands. The Divisional Officer for Fura Awa reported early  last year that a man there beat his sister to death on  suspicion that he visited a boyfriend.  As an act of global solidarity to challenge militarism and  demand an end to all forms of violence against Women, A  Common Future is organising a Bamenda Human Rights Film Festival form December 02- 16, 2010 with 16 selected Films  and documentaries on violence against Women in Cameroon.  Through this, we are urging Cameroon government, which is  Central Africa's military and diplomatic Superpower to  lead the region in the protection of women. This can be done  by putting women in senior level positions, and setting up a  department for inclusive security in our Ministry of  Defence.  A Common Future believes that although women have been at  the fore front of fighting violence against them, it is the  primary responsibility of men to end violence against women  by being part of the solution not part of the problem. We  challenge men to reconsider their long held beliefs about  women in an effort to create a more just society.
 Gwain Colbert 
 A Common Future

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sharing article on 16 Days in South Africa

The allegations of the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl on the Jules High
School campus in Jeppestown rocked the nation.

It wasn't just that she was drugged; that the heinous, brutal attack was
recorded on a cellphone; that the recording of the vicious act was
circulated and  if we believe some early reports that some educators
laughed when they saw the video that was so devastating.

It wasn't the chilling comments from the school pupils, some of whom told
our reporters that watching the incident was like watching soccer and that
the victim looked like she was enjoying herself  that makes it so shocking.

It wasn't even the reports of police not initially arresting the boys
suspected of being involved because they needed to take their exams; nor was
it their later release, reportedly because of a lack of evidence, that makes
the incident entirely deplorable. And it wasn't the fact that the latest
reports seem to be an attempt to discredit the victim by saying she was
drunk, not drugged. No.

The saddest part of the entire case is the fact that our outrage probably
won't last another week. We've known about this problem in our schools for
years. Baby rape is rampant, corrective rape of lesbians is accepted
practice in some areas, and gang rape all too prevalent. There is a war
against women and children in our country and the weapon is rape.

The truth is we leave it to civil society to deal with. We wait for Sonke
Gender Justice to condemn leaders such as Julius Malema, who was only
backing President Jacob Zuma's account of his rape accuser when he made his she enjoyed herself comment.

Then we shake our collective heads in disbelief when those comments come out
of the mouths of babes.

We hope women like Lisa Vetten, the director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy
Centre, will continue to shout on our behalf, that Gender Links will keep
holding 16 Days of Activism each year in its too often unheard effort to
tell the world about violence against women. We, the media, tell the story
of the victim and unravel the horrific details.

And the next hour, day, week, we, too, move on. Until the next woman or
child or baby is attacked.

We can't leave this up to civil society any longer. We need to shift our
national mentality. We need awareness in every crevice of our nation. We
need to have the SABC broadcast public service announcements, with leaders
like Malema telling the nation that real men don't rape women and don't
even utter comments that undermine women's rights in this way.

We need every type of media to tell the stories of our daughters, our
nieces, our grandmothers, our mothers, our wives, our girlfriends, our
sisters and our aunts, so that every man, woman and child clearly
understands that rape affects us all.

Will this be the one case, because of the shock factor, that won't allow us
to avert our eyes, that will force us to admit how bad it really is We
doubt it. And that might be the saddest part of it all.


A Brand New Constitution, But Can Women Enjoy Land Rights?

By Suleiman Mbatiah

Mary Kimani wishes her husband were still alive. Holding her one-year-old son in one hand and a hoe in the other, she recounts with bitterness how she and her children lost their livelihood to her husband’s family.

"The road accident that took my husband changed my life completely. That was the end of me and my children," Kimani told IPS. She was married for seven years and, together with her late husband, worked hard to own land, a house and a vehicle.

But only a few months after she buried her husband, her in-laws ejected her and her two children from the homestead. Today, even as she is haunted by the past, she works hard to keep hope glowing, working as a casual labourer on neighbourhood farms.

"I must move on. I have to feed my children, educate them and help them make a descent living," she told IPS.

Kimani’s in-laws sold the house and land before giving the vehicle to a close relative. She had no right to the property. In Kenya, many women lose their rights to property after divorceor the death of a spouse. According to human rights experts, women’s socially sanctioned dependence on men leaves them vulnerable to "cultural traditions" that do not recognise women’s ownership of land and other property.

Men most often are willing to enforce such so-called customs, says Njoki Njehu, executive director of Daughters of Mumbi Global Resource Centre. The organisation is an independent, non-ethnic network bringing together people of diverse origins as well as "honouring women's roles in anchoring family and community".

"But it is not only men; some women who were themselves denied rights because of retrogressive practices uphold such practices to deny other women their rights," Njehu told IPS. She explains that if a mother did not get land she will not champion her daughter or daughter-in-law's cause in this regard.

Kimani appreciates that Kenya’s new constitution, promulgated in Aug 2010, represents gains for the women of Kenya. Section 40 of the Kenyan constitution promises the right to own property to "every person", while section 60 ensures "equitable access to land" and "security of land rights" but without mentioning women or acknowledging their historical landlessness.

Njehu recalls the 2005 referendum: "Politicians mobilised communities to oppose the draft constitution as it would allow women to inherit land."

Kimani is worried that men won’t enforce the constitution as it stands. "Customs and practices still hold women back. We are discriminated against in several areas that include land and property rights. The society positions men as the sole property owners," Kimani points out.

The customary laws of some ethnic groups demand that land and other property that a woman acquires before or during the marriage belongs to her husband, who can sell it without her consent. "The key role of a woman is to take care of the property. Should your husband die, others stream in for inheritance. You can’t escape," says 32-year old Grace Akinyi*.

Akinyi raises the issue of "wife inheritance" where widows are forced to marry again. It is still being practised, especially in western Kenya. According to her, should a woman decline to be inherited and she succeeds, she is often under constant pressure to sell the property at discounted prices.

She has been a victim of this practice. "A woman who owns land is still defined through her ties to men. Women are not recognised as owners in title deeds," laments Akinyi.

According to international nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Human Rights Watch, customary laws in sub-Saharan Africa have greater influence than civil law when it comes to women’s property rights. And, acccording to a report entitled "The National Land Policy: Critical Gender Issues and Policy Statement", only five percent of women in Kenya own land.

Hubbie Hussein, director of Womankind Kenya, women must be empowered as part of the effort to eradicate poverty as they produce 80 percent of food crops in sub-Saharan Africa but have no claim to land. Womankind Kenya is a local NGO based in North-Eastern Province, Kenya, with its head office in Garissa.

The predominantly Muslim zone has all manner of religious and cultural rules to limit women’s property ownership. Most residents are of Somali origin. "We often train women on what Islam provides for them with respect to property rights. Men have used religion as a tool to deprive women of their rights," Hubbie told IPS in a telephonic interview.

Womankind Kenya uses religious texts, the constitution as well as international charters advocating for women’s rights to educate women on the ground. She adds that cases of discrimination against women are common but that affected women do not take any steps out of fear of being stigmatised.

"Girls never get an equal share of their parents’ property. It is a worrying trend here. Whenever a case arises, a council of men will sit to settle it and in the end rule in men’s favour," Hubbie said.

Gender and human rights advocates believe that if women enjoyed equal property rights they could change the social landscape for the better.

*Name changed to avoid persecution

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brazil's President-Elect Brings Gender to Government

In a move seen as a sign that gender will be important in her government, Brazil's president-elect Dilma Rousseff is preparing a Cabinet that is one-third women.

Rousseff, who on Jan. 1 will become the first woman president of this Latin American powerhouse, announced to the team making the transition from the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration that she plans to boost the female presence in government ministries.

The president-elect served as a government minister herself and has been among Lula's leading collaborators in his eight years in the presidency. Both belong to the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT).

"It would be a very important gesture that the first-ever woman president concerns herself with women's matters," Teresa Sacchet, of the public policy research centre at the University of São Paulo, told IPS.

"I have hopes that the government will make a leap in regards to gender, that it will show more concern about gender inequality and others, like social inequality," she added.

Of Lula's 24 ministers, just three are women, although his two terms in office are seen as having advanced laws and policies that promote gender equality.

However, women were the stars of the October elections, and not just because they make up 51.7 percent of the electorate. In the first round of presidential voting, on Oct. 3, two women candidates came in first and third place: Rousseff with 47 percent of the votes, and Marina Silva, of the Green Party, with nearly 20 percent.

That is why Sacchet, who holds a doctorate in political science from Britain's University of Essex, believes that if one-third of Rousseff's ministers are women, "it would have great symbolic importance" because, among other things, it will encourage more women to participate in politics.

"The move by Dilma (as everyone in Brazil refers to their president-elect) to put women in the ministries is very important because Brazil is lagging behind in terms of women's participation in politics and in the arenas of power," stated Beatriz Galli, of IPAS Brazil, an organisation that promotes women's reproductive health and rights, as well as women's participation in power -- both in the public and private sectors.

"Gender equality has to begin with women's participation at the highest ranks of government," the IPAS consultant told IPS.

The trouble, according to the local news media, is that the transition team is having a hard time finding women to fill one-third of the Cabinet posts.

Many of the women contacted for the ministry positions are lawmakers and the parties of the governing coalition don't want them to give up their seats because it would weaken their presence in the bicameral Congress.

But the true roots of the problem begin with the political parties themselves. Brazil's electoral law requires a gender quota of 30 percent among the candidates the parties put up for election, but that portion is a long way from being met -- though some advances have been made in the last 15 years.

In 1994, before the implementation of the quota, Sacchet recalls that women represented 6.4 percent of the candidates for deputy posts in the national Congress, and 7.3 percent for the state chambers. In October, the figures were 12.9 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively.

That is a greater gender gap than is found in the other two Latin American countries that currently have women presidents.

In Costa Rica, women hold 38.6 percent of the congressional seats, and in Argentina, 38.5 percent, which ranks them 11 and 12 in the world for women's parliamentary representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Brazil is ranked 106, out of 136 countries.

The party leaders say they face difficulties in meeting the quota, which in the case of Brazil is practically voluntary. Among the challenges they cite is the lack of women who are active in politics.

But Sacchet has researched the matter and has come up with other explanations. She believes the low numbers are due to institutional and political obstacles that make it difficult for women to participate on equal footing with men -- and not gender bias among the electorate.

First of all, says the researcher, the party structure itself makes access for women difficult. Some parties argued, for example, that the times their meetings are scheduled tend to preclude women's participation.

Secondly, the women candidates usually don't have political support of the "party machine," or its financial backing. Sacchet's study indicates that women's electoral campaigns spend 40 percent less than men's, and "in Brazil there is a close correlation between electoral spending and the chance for victory."

"Because women have fewer financial options, it's more difficult for them to get re-elected. If they aren't given real opportunities to participate in equal conditions with the men, it will be difficult for women to get elected and to proportionally increase the elected posts held by women," she said.

The political scientist believes a change in Brazil's electoral system could provide solutions with a gender perspective.

Brazil currently has a system of proportional representation with open lists of candidates, which Sacchet says has several inherent problems. "It favours the individualisation of the campaigns and exacerbates financial expenditures amongst candidates," who end up competing with members of their own parties, she said.

She pointed out that women have a better chance in Argentina, where the system is based on a closed list. Furthermore, if Argentina's political parties fail to comply with gender quotas on their lists, they face sanctions.

The problem in Brazil can be illustrated by comparing the results from October's election and the election four years ago, according to Sacchet.

In 2006, 13 percent of the legislative candidates were women, and in 2010 the portion rose to 22 percent. But that was not reflected in the results. "Despite having nearly twice as many women candidates than in 2006, in this new legislature we lost a woman," she said.

The outgoing Brazilian Congress has 45 women deputies, and the new one will have 44. 

source: IPSnews

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Congolese Women Refuse Poverty

 To see how women's associations in the Democratic Republic of Congo are helping their members improve their livelihoods, just follow the hubbub you can hear from Justine Kakesa's office: the Kikwit 2 market is bursting with merchandise made by women.

Women are making increasingly effective use of local materials and appropriate technology to produce goods for the local market - bread, soaps, varnishes and more.

"Thanks to the sale of products that we make in our group, I'm able to pay my children's school fees, to buy clothes, pay the rent and take care of other needs," said Justine Kakesa, president of the Young Congolese Women's Group (known by its French acronym, DJFC), an NGO based in Kikwit.

Samosas, for example, triangular pastry pockets with a beef and onion filling, are one of the products that earns money for the association, Kakesa told IPS. "We make them three times a week. Each time we make a basin-full... that amount of samosas sells for at least 60 dollars, so that's 180 dollars for the three batches."

Kakesa said the DJFC has 238 members in Kikwit, and more in other districts in the southwestern DRC province of Bandundu. Over the past three years, women's associations like DJFC have been developing a repertoire of products and techniques to earn money to look after their families.   "Through a variety techniques, methods and procedures, they''ve been able to transform or make products out of local materials," said Jean Bosco Kasinga, a development technician in Kikwit.

According to a 2009 report from the United Nations Development Programme, the majority of people in the DRC live on less than a dollar a day. The women of Bandundu are taking up the challenge of poverty within the limited means at their disposal.

Every morning, from 5 to 9 am, a special market is organised in front of the community hall in the Kazamba neighbourhood of the city, where women - and men - display all sorts of goods. The locally-made products, whether soap or biscuits, compare favourably in both price and quality with imported goods.

"Before making our products, we go through a series of trainings. Without that, the products would not be of good quality," said Célestine Lembagusala, the president of the Network of Active Women in Kikwit, which includes more than 30 women's groups.

"These women have to be encouraged. I often buy their products, and the prices are good. This is how the country can develop itself," Sylvain Mwashi, a Kazamba resident told IPS, leaving the morning market with fresh bread and locally-produced margarine.

"Once I get my share of the profits, I try to deposit part of it in a savings cooperative where I opened an account last year. Then when i'm in need, I can withdraw money," said Jeanne Mpilinkwomo, from the Bandundu Women's Group. Other women belong to informal savings group.

"I can only congratulate the women for the effort they put in... They are development actors," said Brigitte Mukwa, head of service for gender, family and children in Kikwit. 

Sexual Crimes Go Unpunished

- Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s war but there have been few government efforts to assist them, especially with psychosocial and counseling services.

Anna Grace Nakasi, recently chosen to contest next February’s local council elections for Tubur subcounty, in Soroti district in North Eastern Uganda, contracted HIV when she was raped during the war.

Nakasi was gang raped on three different occasions -- first in 1987, then 1988 and 1990 -- by soldiers who formed a heavy military presence in her village.

"The first time was in 1987 when I met nine soldiers on patrol who gang raped me until I lost consciousness. I later woke up in a hospital bed," she told IPS. "I could tell they were government soldiers."

Nakasi contracted HIV and developed a fistula. She was rejected by her husband and family and lived alone in a forest for many years.

She overcame her trauma with the support of different aid groups that have also supported her in campaigning for women’s economic empowerment and fighting stigma.

She runs paralegal activities, often following up cases of sexual violence in the area and encouraging women to face their offenders. She has a large support base for her candidature for council due to her work with people living with HIV and AIDS.

"I have so far managed to follow-up a case and have a man jailed for rape," she says.

Little support for victims of war-time rape

But Nakasi’s story of her rise from victim of sexual gender based violence to survivor and leader is a unique one.

The two-decades long war in northern Uganda between government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) resulted in the internal displacement of about 1.5 million people and the death of thousands. Women in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps suffered sexual violence from government soldiers and civilians. Although there are no official figures on the numbers of women affected, reports show this was wide spread. The rebels are well known for child kidnapping for use as child soldiers and the abduction of girls as sex slaves.

The war affected the north and north-eastern parts of Uganda until 2007 when the LRA rebels were pushed out to DRC after failed peace talks with the government mediated by the government of South Sudan.

A recent government post conflict recovery programme launched last year lacks a component on addressing the effects on victims of sexual violence in the war.

Further, recommendations calling for reparations for victims of sexual violence made by a commission of inquiry into violations of human rights in Uganda, covering the period from independence in 1962 through the second Obote Regime (1980 – 1985), have never been implemented.

Inadequate penalties

And according to a Uganda United Nations Security Council (UNSCR) Resolution 1325 monitoring report released on Nov. 9 by the Kampala-based Center for Women in Governance (CEWIGO), many cases of sexual violence in Uganda go unprosecuted. UNSCR 1325, which last month marked its 10th anniversary, acknowledged, for the first time, sexual gender based violence in conflict as a war crime and a crime against humanity.

The report, aimed at tracking Uganda’s progress on the implementation of the resolution, found that many cases are not reported. Rape is the least reported sexual offense in Uganda and the Ugandan law still does not recognise marital rape.

Of those cases that are reported, about half are prosecuted and very few carry penalties at the end of the day.

In 2009, Uganda registered and investigated 619 rape cases. Of those, 37 percent (228) were prosecuted and only five percent were penalised. More than seven thousand cases of the rape of children were reported and only 467 of these cases resulted in a penalty. Five hundred and fifty women reported indecent assault and only 79 were penalised.

An injustice to victims of sexual violence

Maude Mugisha from CEWIGO says most families cannot afford to take victims for medical examination or to transport the police to the crime scene. As a result, they opt to negotiate with the perpetrator. Criminal justice in Uganda requires any person who has been a victim of sexual violence to have a medical test, which is pertinent to the success or failure of a case.

However, only authorized police surgeons can carry out the examination. Not only are the police surgeons insufficient but victims must also pay between US$15 and US$25 to be examined.

"This is the greatest injustice that the survivors of sexual violence are subjected to in Uganda," says Judy Kamanyi, a consultant in gender and development issues.

Rebecca Kadaga, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament concurs. "It cannot only be a police surgeon that can examine a victim if we are to deliver justice. The examination services should be even carried out by midwives so that women stop paying so much money to access justice."

Kamanyi says government should put in place shelters for women whose lives are in danger and also come up with an emergency plan for abused women and children that caters for their safety.

Access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence is also limited by the fact that sexual offenses are only tried at high court level and these are found in only in five regions of the country. Victims travel long distances to access the courts only to find there is no police surgeon present for the hearing. As a result, sexual offenses cases can take years to be heard.

According to CEWIGO, these gaps in delivery of justice to women victims of sexual violence show that Uganda is far from implementing regional and international instruments meant to safeguard women’s lives, especially in the case of war time rapes.

Miria Matembe, a founder member of CEWIGO says women must continue to pressure governments, especially in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, to implement resolution 1325.

"This resolution remains extremely important for us ... We are a continent still infested with conflict with high levels of gender based violence," she says.

The LRA rebels remain active in DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan where they continue with abductions. 


Malawi's Women Pushing for a Place at the Table

 No sooner had Mariness Luhanga announced her intention to contest local elections in Mzimba district in northern Malawi, than she was summoned to appear before a village court on allegations of insulting men.

"I knew that some people in the village were not amused by my campaigns and had started to circulate stories that I was disrespectful to male candidates, that I was calling them names ," Luhanga, who wants to stand as a People Development Movement (PDM) candidate in Chapitamuno village told IPS.


Campaigning for the local elections had taken her from door to door, village to village through the district, as well as taking advantage of gatherings at her local church or traditional festivals to present herself as a candidate.

Luhanga believes she stirred up the hornets' nest when she described previous councillors - all men - as "brutes" and lacking in common sense for failing to bring tangible development to the area.

Narrow gender roles only part of problem"It is not a question of culture or traditions that is putting women off the local polls race: it's illiteracy," said Northern Region Women's Forum chair Lillian Dindi Kumwenda. "Most of the women who aspire for political office have never completed formal education. How do you expect them to articulate issues to prospective voters and convince them?"

In a constitutency like Mzimba district, many of the leading candidates will be relatively well-educated: retired teachers, police officers and other civil servants, now returned to live in the village as farmers.

Women candidates for office in Malawi also generally lack financial resources to produce the posters, t-shirts and printed kitenges that are the mainstay of campaigns here. They typically lose at the primary stage.
"I am quite emotional," she said. "I think I might have provoked their anger by saying that, but it’s the type of life we lead that has led me to contest the elections. Just imagine we don’t even have a borehole in this ward."

Luhanga started receiving anonymous SMSs warning her to withdraw from the contest. She saved one that frightened her most: "Don’t risk your life by contesting against men. You must have respect. Going ahead is at your own risk."

She suspects the messages came from supporters of some of the 10 male contenders for a council seat. Across the country, women who stand for office face hostility, despite the country's stated commitment to increasing female representation in decision-making posts.

Gender parity

The percentage of women in Malawi's parliament rose from 15 to 22 percent in the May 2009 elections, but Pan African Civic Education Network Executive Director Steve Duwa says there's more work to be done.

"It’s an attitude problem, regarding women as inferior to men," Duwa said. "On paper, the political situation is friendly, but in practice very few women are given the potential to pursue their dreams."

Duwa said this may have an impact on the government’s effort to achieve 50:50 representation of women in political and decision-making bodies in line with the Southern African Development Community's Gender Protocol.

Luhanga agrees with Duwa that it is not enough for Malawi to ratify or sign protocols without implementing them.

"Government and NGOs need to work hard to change people’s mindset on the status of women in Malawi because male politicians are violators of legislation that calls for women empowerment."

But Eric Ning’ang’a, Principal Secretary in the ministry of Gender and Child Welfare disagrees and says the government has now taken charge of the 50:50 campaign where previously NGOs were its champions.

"Government [has a] bigger machinery capable of influencing people and we intend to take the 50:50 campaigns seriously by training women in public speaking and building their capacity."

Pressing on

Luhanga faces a rough road. The mother of five, who relies heavily on remittances from her husband for income. Like many other men in the village, he made the long trek to South Africa in search of work eight years ago.

The first hurdle was the hearing in the village court. Since colonial times, courts - known as Phala in the local language, Tumbuka - have been convened to resolve important issues in rural areas.

The courts are presided over by the local chief, assisted by elders as the jury. The case against her turned on Luhanga failing to wear a kitenge, the wrap usually worn by a married or older woman - particularly where Luhanga has addressed a public gathering wearing a skirt that exposed part of her calves - this is considered an insult to custom and indicative of someone with loose morals, according to her accusers. In addition, she was accused of saying abusive things against men.

"In the village where most of us are born and bred, women are enjoined to respect men because men are regarded as breadwinners," says the litigant - and one of her rivals in the election - Dokiso Chizeve. Chizeve claims that although the Ngoni culture values the role they play in society, women's authority is largely limited to fellow women.

If found guilty, she could expect to be fined - chickens, goats, a quantity of maize, beans or groundnuts - and her campaign would likely suffer.

Luhanga counts off the arguments she made on her right hand.

"One, the fact that I wear or don’t wear a kitenge depends on the situation and that I should not be judged from that. Two, when I called people brutes, I did not mention names. And lastly I asked the court to find the people who had sent the anonymous SMSs to me and try them as well for disturbing my peace and freedom."

Her arguments found favour with Village Head Zefa Zimba.

"We found the evidence lacking and we therefore dismissed the case," he told IPS. "But we also reminded Luhanga of the status of women in our Ngoni culture vis-à-vis roles, mandate and authority."

Duly reminded, Luhanga is pressing on.

"I don’t have much in terms of finances," she said as her ox cart sets off along a country road to her next meeting, an all-female gathering, "but what I have I am grateful for."

And if she proves as determined and forceful in office as she has been so far in her campaign, the entire district may have reason to be grateful for her.

source: ipsnews

Rape Victims Fight a Mostly Losing Battle

It takes little to bring out the scars that many women who were raped in Bosnia still carry. Rumours, later shown to be unfounded, that Angelina Jolie would star in a film to be shot in Sarajevo on the war-time love between a Serb man and a Bosniak Muslim girl he raped, had women's groups lodging strong protests.

The false reports spotlighted the fate of thousands of Bosniak Muslim women believed to have been raped by Serbs mostly in eastern Bosnia in the 1992- 95 war. Many were repeatedly violated for months. Several were killed.

Many children they gave birth to were adopted or sent to orphanages. Hundreds of women terminated pregnancies, even late ones, in hospitals or health care centres after fleeing eastern Bosnia, according to aid organisations such as Women Victims of War and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). Serbs deny that rapes occurred by their forces in eastern Bosnia.

The women say they still live with the trauma, and are fighting for a place in a society where they are stigmatised. Many have been rejected by their families. Almost all of them are still in therapy, and under medication.

"No one can ever film what we saw and went through," Bakira Hasecic (54), head of the association Women Victims of War (WAW) . "The whole thing about the movie has revived our pain and suffering." The association has a database with thousands of names of victims and even violators. The database includes records of girls and women between 12 and 80 years old when they were raped in 1992.

Hasecic, in her 50s, was a victim of repeated rape in eastern Bosnia. Visegrad where she lived was ethnically cleansed of its Bosniak population of 250,000. Only some Serb villages are now inhabited. Few Bosniaks have returned.

Under the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, eastern Bosnia went to the Republic of Srpska, the Serb entity in the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The other entity is the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Hasecic made it her mission to find war crimes perpetrators and bring them to justice. She has helped women who agreed to testify before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and before courts in Sarajevo.

"But that is horrifying as well, because victims have to retell their stories in detail, answer the most gruesome questions by judges, even meet family members of the accused in the courts' halls, going again through unimaginable humiliation," Hasecic says.

Enisa Salcinovic (58) says her children were the force that carried her through life after she was raped for months in the eastern town Foca in 1992, in front of her parents, children and in-laws.

Salcinovic heads the Association of Concentration Camps Torture Survivors (ACCTS) in Sarajevo. Bosniak Muslims were herded into camps by Serbs, tortured, killed or evicted to territories under Muslim control during the war. Men were also raped in those camps, but none want to speak about it.

"Rape is something people do not want to speak about in our primitive environment," Salcinovic says. "It is shameful, but the truth has to be told. In my opinion, rape ruins you both physically and mentally, and the feeling is shared by all the victims.

"My therapy is constant work, but as a woman I don't exist any more, I'm an empty shell. I have fear from men even when they pass me by in the tram," she says. Salcinovic has had several operations for conditions such as bile abnormalities and cancer.

A number of Bosnian Serbs have been convicted by the ICTY or by local courts for crimes against humanity, rape, and for the forced prostitution of Bosniak women. But many have got away with their crimes.

Bakira Hasecic says justice needs to be done in every case "in order that such things never ever happen again." Hasecic is not afraid to travel to eastern Bosnia with other victims and help them find men who raped them or killed their families.

Psychiatrist Dubravka Salcic, who has treated rape victims for 15 years now, says it is better to call them "survivors", as this gives them hope.

"But there is no final healing. With these women, it's not only rape. There is a succession of traumas among them - all of them have lost at least one family member, many a dozen - husbands, brothers, parents or children, their homes or property. It's hard to build a positive coping strategy among them," she said.

The women say reconciliation is a far-fetched goal the survivors can hardly think about as long as many perpetrators walk free.

The state provides 260 euros to each registered victim. It also partially covers medication and treatment. But even in material terms this is not enough.

Atrocities in Bosnia prompted the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 adopted 10 years ago. The resolution was the first to address the impact of war on women, and called on all parties to take special measures to protect women and girls from sexual violence and rape in conflicts.

source: ipsnews

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cost Major Obstacle to Reducing Maternal Mortality

Elizabeth Kaboré says she has paid for each of her visits to the clinic, despite a government promise that prenatal check-ups in health centres would be free.

"Far from being free, at each consultation, I've had to pay 600 CFA francs (around $1.20) to see the midwives," says Kaboré, several months pregnant. "For an injection, I pay 100 FCFA and the mid-wife explained to me that this money was for the guards at the facility."   Human rights organisation Amnesty International points to financial obstacles as one of the leading obstacles preventing the reduction of high rates of maternal mortality in Burkina Faso. 

"In our society, it's men who decide; women never have the power. Women are deprived of a number of their rights, and we are demanding that they be respected," said Gaétan Moutou, a researcher for Amnesty International. 

According to figures from the Ministry of Health, 307 women die for every 100,000 live births, around 2,000 deaths each year. 

According to Moutou, financial obstacles are the principal hurdle to women's access to care. He has seen firsthand the effect of subsidies for maternal care in various regions of the country, leadingto many more women presenting themselves at health centres for check-ups.   In 2006, the government adopted a subsidy, envisioning covering 80 percent of the cost of giving birth - and making it completely free for the poorest women, according to the ministry. 

The government does what it can within its means, says Dr Souleymane Sanou, the director-general of health in Burkina. "If donor partners can help us, that would be welcome." 

But according to Amnesty, the existence of the policy is not well known, and people are often exploited by unscrupulous health workers. Amnesty also feels that the lack of clear criteria to determine who the beneficiaries should be, and the share of the cost (20 percent must be paid by women seeking care) remains an important obstacle. 

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, which finances reproductive health issues, recognises that there is a problem, but believes solutions. 

"It's true that financial obstacles exist, and putting effective measures in place is difficult," says Olga Sankara, programme manager at the UNFPA office in Ouagadougou. 

The UNFPA has supported a communication campaign by the Ministry of Health to better inform people so that they are not exploited, Sankara told IPS.   Amnesty International has also called on the Burkinabé government to extend and improve access of women to family planning. 

The health ministry confirms that the prevalence rate for contraceptives is growing, but remains low. Just over 14 percent of women in Burkina Faso have access. 

According the the national programme for health development, the objective is to raise the rate of contraceptive use from six percent in 1998 to 19 percent in 2015. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nicaragua on Obstacle Course to Women's Equality

Nicaragua has made some progress promoting gender equity and the empowerment of women, but it will have to step up efforts and overcome a number of hurdles if it is to eliminate inequalities between the sexes at all levels by 2015.

This view was expressed by U.N. experts, Nicaraguan authorities and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at a two-day seminar on Nicaragua: Women, Work and Leadership, which ended Thursday in Managua.

The 2015 deadline was set by the world's leaders in 2000 for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The seminar dealt with the third MDG, on promoting gender equality and empowering women.

The eight MDGs are to halve the proportion of poor and hungry people in the world, from 1990 levels, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, promote gender equity, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.

María Rosa Renzi, head of the MDGs unit in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office and the local representative of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said Nicaragua has a good chance of eliminating gender inequality at all educational levels by 2015.

According to 2005-2009 figures from several sources, quoted by Renzi, more girls and women have entered the educational system in Nicaragua, and a solid framework of laws has been approved to support and guarantee women's rights.

Preschool, primary, secondary and university education enrolment rates in Nicaragua are now higher for women and girls than for men and boys.

"Enrolment in primary, secondary and university education has grown significantly in the last 10 years," Renzi said. Between 1997 and 2008, secondary education coverage rose from 29.9 percent to 48.1 percent of girls, and from 24.8 percent to 42.9 percent of boys.

The Nicaraguan constitution states that education is a basic universal human right that is both free and obligatory.

"Education is the key to development. That is why equity requires that women as well as men should have more and better education. If either sex falls behind on education it is a cause for concern," Renzi said.

Despite progress in formal school enrolment, gender equity in other spheres continues to face hurdles, according to the U.N. expert.

One problem is the quality of educational content: what is taught in classrooms reproduces gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination against women and their subordination in society, she said.

Women are also still exposed to gender-specific violence, Renzi said.

"At work, women receive unequal pay compared with men's wages. The proportion of women in political positions and government decision-making posts is low. The same is true in professional associations, trade unions and other areas," the expert said.

Furthermore, the labour market continues to perpetuate a gender-based division of labour, and women tend to be relegated to lower skilled jobs.

According to UNDP statistics, the rate of violence against women remains high, and they have little recourse to justice in these cases.

For example, the Institute of Legal Medicine reported 11,313 cases of domestic violence in 2009, compared to 10,189 in 2006. Over 70 percent of the victims were women.

Only one-quarter of the incidents were referred to the office of the public prosecutor for investigation and possible prosecution.

Isabel Green, head of the Nicaraguan Women's Institute (INIM), said these problems are a legacy of previous governments and neoliberal policies "that fostered models which excluded women in all spheres of Nicaraguan society."

Green attended the opening session of the seminar, which was organised by the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS) in partnership with the UNDP, with the support of Puntos de Encuentro, an NGO. It was sponsored by The Netherlands through the MDG3 Fund.

The Nicaraguan official stressed that the left-wing government of President Daniel Ortega has generated "a culture of change and equality, through public policies and social programmes directed at improving women's quality of life."

According to Green, social programmes like Zero Hunger and the Bono Productivo Alimentario, a food production voucher scheme, have benefited over 50,000 poor women.

More than 35,000 women micro-entrepreneurs have benefited from funding and loans thanks to the Zero Usury programme, which according to Green demonstrates the government's commitment to the empowerment and independence of Nicaraguan women, and to the fight against poverty.

In September the government announced that the extreme poverty rate had fallen to 9.7 percent, from 17 percent in 2005.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with 47 percent of its 5.7 million people surviving on less than two dollars a day. More than one million women, out of the nearly three million in the country, suffer extreme poverty, according to the Nicaraguan Institute of Information for Development.

In the view of Pablo Mandeville, the permanent UNDP representative and resident coordinator of U.N. agencies in Nicaragua, the MDGs, to a greater or lesser extent, "are achievable, but this will require additional efforts by all sectors."

"Without gender equity in a society, comprehensive development is not possible," he said, while calling for united efforts on the part of public institutions, civil society organisations, the media and journalists.

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.