Friday, 22 August 2014

Female Troubles: Women's Rights as Human Rights

Why does the world seem to have so much trouble recognizing women's rights as human rights? It's not as if any can claim that women are an imported or foreign idea or something that doesn't occur in a particular culture. It's not as if any individual can claim to not know any women. Why do women's rights get so little attention? Why doesn't solving the problem get more energy from individuals, institutions, governments, and international bodies? How can anyone fail to recognize that the advancement and protection of women's full equality is a requisite to any future for human rights? No country nor international body has done enough to realize equality. With just over half of humankind being female, we can not wait any longer.
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations (UN) formally declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The whole text applies to all of humanity, but it sees women's rights meriting attention enough to include particular references to them in the preamble and again in four of the Articles (2, 7, 16, and 25). With formal declaration almost 70 years past and having been promoted around the world as a foundational document for human rights, you'd expect tremendous progress to have been made for women's equality following global recognition. Unfortunately, nowhere near enough work has been done, and today women remain devalued, dismissed, and sometimes destroyed both domestically in the United States and internationally around the globe.
Women have their voices dismissed, their experiences devalued, and their lives are often on a continuum between distressed and destroyed as a result. It seems that the self-esteem and confidence of young girls, never equal to boys even when young, is decimated at and after adolescence. Perhaps when the body changes in the journey to adulthood, perhaps then girls get a larger view of how the world will generally treat them. After seeing how the world generally discriminates against and mistreats women, it is only understandable that they have their inner foundations shaken. What is to follow is often not a mere crisis of confidence, but a series of affronts against them for the simple fact that they are female in the world. Discrimination against women is faced by our mothers, sisters, daughters, partners, friends, and co-workers and is so pervasive to often go unnoticed in all but extreme cases. If we seek a world with human rights for all, it is a must to remove the barriers to those rights for women.
Domestically in the United States, women and girls experience discrimination and harm in a variety of spheres. Economically, women are subject to unequal pay, with women earning seventy seven cents to the male dollar. With court rulings allowingemployers to use their religion to dictate provision of reproductive healthcare and the failure of most companies and organizations to promote and support women with parity to men, the workplace makes it difficult for women to balance job demands with family demands. Reproductive rights at-large are under renewed assault, with abortion becoming less available geographically and states passing laws to restrict access as far as they can, in spite of the likely effects not being fewer abortions but of more negative health outcomes for women and their children. In the meantime, school districts around the country very often deny girls the ability to receive sex education about their own bodies while in school, with predictable results of decisions made without information. Partner violence remains very high for American women, with a substantial number experiencing physical and emotional abuse in relationships, often young and without sufficient knowledge nor resources to help them get safe.
With rape and sexual assault in the military itself, the number of female soldiers that report being assaulted by fellow soldiers is high and reporting is increasing. The military failed to respond sufficiently to reported incidents until publicity became too big. The military dishonored the well-being of its own women soldiers and it is shameful to have military women having to worry not only of the risks of combat but of assault by other American soldiers. Not only do we continue to see alarming levels of harassment, battery, assault, and rape committed against American women, but we fail to even reach political consensus on facing it. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed to provide tools to prevent and prosecute violence against women while offering support to survivors. When the Act needed reauthorization in 2013, the House of Representatives in particular gave significant resistance saw significant resistance. Apparently, the human rights of women is not enough of a concern to be able to even quickly pass a bill assisting victims of violence. Is that the country you want to have?
Internationally, the attitudes towards women ranges from problematic to grim. In countries around the world, women are denied the ability to vote, they are denied equal standing in court, they find reporting rapes to result in their own prosecution, they are subject to taboos and prohibitions in workplaces and education, they are vulnerable to widow-burning and honor-killings and forced marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM). They face being targeted by the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflicts. They are trafficked into forms of slavery as sexual commodities and as unpaid factory workers and in a thousand other ways, women are not given full equality nor access to the full rights of the UDHR. The United States could support equality efforts and make a serious effort to end this discrimination. Does it? The UNConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW) has seen most of the world sign and/or ratify and acceede. Of the two nonmember observer states, the Holy See has not acceded to CEDAW while Palestine has. Additionally, Taiwan, without such UN status and thus not able to formally ratify/accede, has passed domestic legislation mandating enforcement of CEDAW as domestic law. Seven member states have failed to ratify or accede to the Treaty: Iran, Palau, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United States. Look at that list and ask yourself if there is enough being done by the United States to support women's equality internationally.
What can you do? Use your voice and wallet to enlist both political pressure and financial support for people and organizations working to make things better for women and girls around the world. Contact your representatives and senators in Congress (see here for information on how to go about doing this) and ask them to include specific support for women's equality with a stronger agenda to achieve it domestically and ask them to count women's rights in other countries as a strong national interest of the United States in international fora. If you wish to make a donation, we'd ask that you consider a donation to the Center for Victims of Torture(CVT), which is run by an old colleague of mine, Curt Goering. The work they're doing is sensitive and necessary and currently involves victims and survivors of the civil war in Syria, including women, who are largely underserved in efforts to help them recover as they best can. Your voice does matter and together we can be listened to, so tell Congress. CVT does excellent work, so donate if you can. But the most basic and imperative support, and one that you should repeat constantly, is to constantly ask yourself what can be done to better support full equality for women and have this conversation in offices and grocery stores and homes nationwide. We deserve to live in a world where the UDHR is more than a dream, but one of full equality, where our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, co-workers, partners and the whole of humankind enjoys full equality. It's overdue that we get started in doing more. Let's start now.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Brazilian Women Forced to Take Virginity Tests Before Applying to Become Teachers

Brazilian women are being forced to undergo virginity tests when seeking jobs in the education sector, it has been reported.
In the state of Sao Paulo, women aspiring to a career as teachers are required to undergo a series of invasive gynaecological examinations to prove they are not sexually active.
A pap smear to confirm they are free of cancers is a compulsory requirement and until recently, the education department also required women to have a colposcopy, used to detect disease.
Their applications would progress on presentation of a doctor's certificate confirming that they are virgins.
The health inspections are intended to ensure, beyondtechnical ability, the physical and mental ability of candidates to keep their jobs for an average of 25 years.
- Education Dept, Sao Paulo
The issue came to light after a news site interviewed a 27-year-old woman , who said she was ashamed to ask a doctor for a note declaring she was still a virgin, to escape the other tests.
It's claimed that the purpose of the tests is to ensure that candidates for long-term teaching positions are in good health and would not take extended or frequent absences to attend to health matters.
"The health inspections are intended to ensure, beyond technical ability, the physical and mental ability of candidates to keep their jobs for an average of 25 years," a statement from the department said.
The department also requires other health exams, such as mammograms for women and prostate tests for men older than 40.
The public management department for Sao Paulo said that all tests ordered follow the standards and recommendation of the country's Health Ministry for public servants as well as state law.
The tests are not specific to the education department, with other states and federal agencies having similar requirements as part of the application process.
It violates women's rights. It's very intimate information that she has the right to keep. It's absurd tocontinue with these demands.
- Ana Paula de Oliveria Castro
Women's rights campaign groups have denounced the practice as a gross violation of women's privacy and their human dignity.
Ana Paula de Oliveria Castro, a vocal champion for women's rights in Sao Paulo, said: "It violates women's rights. It's very intimate information that she has the right to keep. It's absurd to continue with these demands."
Brazil's national Special Secretariat for Women's Rights said it was against any requirements that compromise the privacy of women.
"The woman has the right to choose whether to take an exam that will not affect her professional life," a statement said.
"Such policies violate constitutional protections of human dignity and the principle of equality and right to private life."
The bar association of Sao Paulo said the practice was unconstitutional. The group 'Catholics for the Right to Choose,' also complained about the requirement, saying in a statement: "We are living in the Middle Ages!"
Last year, a similar incident sparked anger in the state of Bahia, in north-eastern Brazil, when female candidates for police jobs were asked to take the tests or prove their hymens were not torn.
The government has demanded that such tests be eliminated.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Facebook Takes A Stand With Free Access To Women’s Rights Info In Africa

No one should be denied understanding of their human rights just because they can’t afford a mobile data plan. Now women in Zambia won’t be, as Facebook and’s new appgives them free Internet connection for accessing women’s rights resources like MAMA  (Mobile Alliance For Maternal Action), WRAPP (Women’s Rights App), and Facts For Life by UNICEF.
Facebook worked with Zambian carrier Airtel and local governments to identify the need for these resources and bake them into But as the app gets rolled out in more countries around the globe, Facebook could cause tension with governing regimes that have historically oppressed women. And that’s a fight worth fighting..
“’Women’s access to technology – and their ability to use it to shape and drive change in their communities – is critical to gender equality” says Global Fund for Women’s President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro. “This technology will give voice to millions of people, including women, in Zambia, Africa and the whole world, and empower them to share ideas, drive innovation, and build more inclusive and democratic societies.”

The app launched this week in Zambia, its first country, as a standalone Android app, a tab in the Facebook for Android app, and as a mobile website available on the feature phones most Zambians carry. It gives free access to a limited set of Internet services including Facebook, Wikipedia, and Google Search, as well as local info on weather, jobs, government, and human rights. Airtel subsidizes this free access because the app proves the value of the Internet to people, some of whom may buy data plans through it to reach the rest of the web.

MAMA provides critical health information to new and expectant mothers. Facts For Lifeoffers tactical tips for handling pregnancy, childbirth, childhood illnesses, and childcare. AndWRAPP lets Zambian women learn about what their rights are, what legislation protects those rights, and what to do if their rights are violated. For example, a woman could find out that she has equal rights to education, as protected by the Education Act of 2011 [Cap 1, Section 22], and can contact The National Legal Aid Clinic For Women if that right is violated.
The former US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer says that “Through, women in Zambia will have greater access to vital information and needed services to improve their lives and the lives of their children.”
The Zambian government has been supportive of the project, but could face friction in other parts of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, or the Middle East where gender discrimination is more institutionalized. Facebook has endured censorship in the past by governments that oppose social media and some types of content due to “moral concerns”, including Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia as well as China. Some have lifted their bans, but purposefully giving free access to information that could encourage women and other disadvantaged groups to call for more freedom could potentially invoke governmental ire.
These situations could draw a fine line for Facebook to walk, where it doesn’t want to get its social network banned, leaving users in the lurch, but wants to empower people through the Internet. Hopefully Facebook will do everything it can to make sure these human rights resources are available in the places they’re needed most. Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, says “This technology will empower countless women to make a positive impact on their societies and the world.”
Mark Zuckerberg pushed to start because he says “I believe connectivity is a human right.” Empowerment through information can cause temporary destabilization and hardship, as we saw with the Arab Spring. But while these may be the growing pains of humanitarian progress, access to knowledge should help us emerge as a more just species.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

News for Today

Contributed by Karol Arámbula:

'The real reason why women cheat' (Live Science):

'In Iraq, captured Yazidi women fear the Islamic State will force them to wed' (The Washington Post):

'Up to 3,000 women and girls kidnapped by Islamic State jihadis in Iraq in just a fortnight - and hundreds of women who refuse to convert have been shot dead' (The Daily Mail):

'ISIS militants massacre 300 Yazidi men, kidnap 1000 women and children' (The Australian):

'What women think about sex vs. the reality' (The Huffington Post):

Hong Kong's women's rights body appears to have lost its way

When the UN General Assembly adopted the international treaty on discrimination against women in 1979, it was hailed as the bill of rights for women aimed at ending all acts of prejudice by persons, organisations or enterprise.
In Hong Kong, a Women's Commission was set up in 2001 to advise the authorities on how to go about it. More than a decade later, rather than being known for its achievements, it finds itself in the headlines for not doing anything.
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang says the people running the commission have now been reduced to attending cocktail parties and receptions. Sounds like one of those dream jobs that exist in Hong Kong for people with the right connections.
The commission chairwoman, Stella Lau Kun Lai-kuen, has refuted such charges against it. The people involved are working quietly at the grass-roots level, she says, and along with other like-minded organisations achieving progress in areas such as after-school child care to help working mothers.
Some NGOs working on women's issues are also critical and someone associated with the commission was quoted as saying that, as with other government advisory bodies here, no one wants to rock the boat.
But whatever the bickering, it is doubtful how effective the commission is when it comes to making the concerned authorities act on events that would clearly fall within the scope of gender discrimination. One suspects not a lot. Otherwise local television channels such as TVB would think twice before airing programmes like Nowhere Girls, which follows the tale of seven women who are described as "have nots" because they lack money or looks.
The government is not turning a deaf ear to all their appeals, however. They were sympathetic to note the commission's lack of resources and raised their funding by 5 per cent last year. It is going to be raised by a healthy 17 per cent this financial year to almost HK$30 million.
While one can but feel grateful to the authorities for their benevolence, one hopes they might also create a permanent post to steer the commission, instead of burdening people to take it as a voluntary duty.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Struggle for Women’s Rights continue – Cosatu

“Cosatu is particularly worried about the escalating violence and crime against women and children, including the abduction and shooting of children in the recent past, all of which undermine the strides forward made by women since 1956,” it said in a statement.
The trade union federation said the march by thousands of women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 against pass books was a turning point in history.
Cosatu called on unions to help fight violence and crime and to give support to families affected.
“We also call on law enforcement authorities to make sure that they spare no effort but ensure that violent criminals are put behind bars and justice is served without any bribery or loss of dockets and evidence.”
On this day in 1956 around 20,000 women participated in a national march to protest against pass law legislation, which required non-white South Africans to carry a document on them to prove that they were allowed to enter “white areas”.
Women of all races and ages from all corners of the country marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) and led by Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Lilian Ngoyi.
South Africans should not rest until the full emancipation of women is achieved, the SA Democratic Teachers Union said on Saturday.
“We should not rest on our laurels as more needs to be done to fulfill women emancipation,” the organisation said in a statement.
“Women in less developed countries are going through difficult social and economic struggles because of perceptions that they are inferior.”
The union said women and girls should be encouraged to take education seriously.
“We urge our people to support education efforts as the tool to liberate humanity from myths and ignorance.”
“We call upon our members as nation builders and professionals to do more in educating the young about revolutionary patriotism in defense of human rights.”
On this day in 1956 around 20,000 women participated in a national march to protest against pass law legislation, which required non-white South Africans to carry a document on them to prove that they were allowed to enter “white areas”.
Women of all races and ages from all corners of the country marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) and led by Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Lilian Ngoyi.


Bhagwant Mann Raises Women’s Rights Issues During Parliament Session

NEW DELHI, INDIA (August 12, 2014)—Dressed in his iconic kesri dastar mimicking the style of Shaheed Sardar Bhagat Singh, the Sangrur MP raised several issues relating to the rights of women.
Mann stated that female infanticide is a growing concern in Punjab and has affected its population in many ways.  He also spoke about the majority of women schools having inadequate resources and facilities, including lack of toilets and drinking facilities.
Bhagwant Mann shared quotes from Guru Nanak Dev Ji in which the first Sikh Guru speaks about high status of and respect for women.  He said that due to a lack of proper transportation to school and other problems, families were choosing not to send their daughters to schools.  He also talked about the dowry system that is prevalent in Punjab and India.
Talking about a recent brutal assault on Punjabi teachers by Punjab police, he asked why policemen were allowed to cane-charge women.
Bhagwant Mann has raised several issues of importance to Punjabis, as well as Sikhs, in the Parliament.  He says the kesri dastar represents free spirit of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and he considers that, along with his white kurta, as his parliament uniform.