Tag Archives: women

Protecting the Rights of Afghan Women is AlterNet’s Top Take Action Campaign This Week

The Afghan parliament is expected to soon approve revisions to its marriage law that will do very little in the way of improving women’s rights. Despite recent demands that the country radically rework its policies on issues such as polygamy and a woman’s right to work, Afghanistan’s government is signaling a continued adherence to regressive traditions.

In a recent letter to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, activists said, “slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content,” have rendered the revisions ineffectual.

Additionally, Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker involved in the legislation, told the Associated Press on July 14 that the law’s revisions do little more than uphold structural inequalities in the country. She said many Afghan women “are illiterate, and they don’t have financial security and no one will give her money … shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back.”

What is perhaps most unfortunate among the “revisions” is the Afghan government’s failure to erase a law that calls on women to engage in sex with their husbands at least every four days. Although the proposed revisions do eliminate a time frame for sexual requirements, they still allow a man to withhold financial support for his wife if she refuses to “submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment,” Human Rights Watch has reported.

Women’s rights issues in the country don’t stop there; violence continues at an alarming rate. “The situation of women is becoming more disastrous,” ex-parliamentarian and women’s-rights advocate Malalai Joya told IPS news on July 17. “The killing of women is like killing a bird today in Afghanistan.”

Elaborating on her claim is this excerpt from a recent U.N. report:

Violence against women is widespread and deeply rooted as well as acute. The violence that scars the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women and girls is rooted in Afghan culture, customs, attitudes and practices.

Afghan women have limited freedom to escape the norms and traditions that dictate a subservient status for females. Women in Afghanistan are also subjected to the violence inherent in armed conflict that has intensified in recent years and is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on Afghan civilians.

Violence, in its acute form, makes it presence felt in widespread lawlessness and criminality. All these forms of violence are closely linked to a deeply entrenched culture of impunity that is, in part, an outcome of decades of conflict and indifference to a justice agenda that would also allow for a transition from, and draw a line under, a long history of egregious human-rights violations.

Helping Afghanistan’s courageous women means accumulating international voices to condemn their mistreatment. You can be part of the solution here.

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Raise awareness about women’s participation in politics

The speakers at a seminar stressed upon measures to raise awareness on women’s participation in political arena and affirmative actions to ensure women’s exercise of right to vote and contest in the elections. Aurat Foundation organised a seminar on “Challenges and Obstacles in Women Right to vote” here on Friday at a local hotel. PPP MNA Ms Yasmeen Rehman, PPP MPA Sajida Mir, PML-Q representative Ms Mehnaz Rafi, regional coordinator Aurat Foundation Mumtaz Mughal, provincial election commissioner Punjab Qamar-uz-Zaman, DGM Nadra Colonel Muhammad Nawaz and President High Court Bar Association Justice Nasira Javaid Iqbal addressed the seminar. Ms Yasmeen said that PPP was working for women betterment especially in rural and tribal areas. She said that feudalism in Punjab and Jirga system in NWFP were main hurdles for women’s active role in politics. She said that women wanted to vote or participate in political activities but their male family members did not allow them to come out of their respective homes. She said that media should play its due role to change the prevailing thinking of society regarding women standing. Sajida Mir said women are living in male dominant society where permission of male is necessary especially in rural areas to come out even for casting a vote. She observed that the condition of women in urban is somewhat better as during current election campaign, female workers were more active as compared to male workers but unfortunately still women are being deprived of their right to participate in country’s politics. Ms Mehnaz Rafi said that women consist of more than half population in Pakistan but they were not interested in casting their votes due to lack of awareness. She said that it was the duty of government to take measures to encourage them to cast their right of vote.

She stressed that all the political parties should give 33 per cent representation to women in their parties. She said that registration of those parties should be cancelled who discourage females to caste their vote in elections.  Qamar-uz-Zaman said that Pakistan Election Commission had completed computerise record of all voters in Pakistan. He said that it was not their duty to make laws and they are bound to follow only rules. He said that if  people were facing difficulties in registration then it was duty of parliamentarians to change those laws. He said that PEC had provided door-to-door service for registration but unfortunately most of the people were not interested in attaining this service. He also informed that immoveable property or permanent residence was required for the registration.Muhammad Nawaz said that 543 centres of Nadra were working to make easy accessibility of CNIC. Friday was allocated specially for women’s registration whereas they could also applied for new CNIC during the whole week, he added. He said that female staff was also deployed to facilitate women.  He said that any body could get his new CNIC without any cost as all kinds of fees had been waived off.

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/25-Jul-2009/Raise-awareness-about-womens-participation-in-politics/1

PKR’s plan for women

IN early June 2009, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) announced it would be amending its constitution to include, among others, a 30% quota for women leaders at all levels. PKR’s move likely made it the first party from either the Pakatan Rakyat or the Barisan Nasional to make a concrete commitment towards including more women in politics.

Women’s rights advocates agree that PKR’s new quota for women in leadership positions is a step in the right direction. The party has clearly absorbed many points women’s advocacy groups have been making for years about gender equality.

But how effective will PKR’s gender quota be, and how exactly will it be put into place?

Women of substance

Wanita PKR deputy chief Rodziah Ismail stresses one point repeatedly: the women who fill her party’s new quota must be able to make a substantial contribution, not just fill seats.

“If we pick you as a candidate, it’s not because you are beautiful, or you are nice to others. You must go on this line: you are capable, you are giving the best performance, people are seeing you as a leader. If not, sorry,” she tells The Nut Graph in an interview at her office in Shah Alam.

zuraida But both Rodziah and Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin have expressed concerns about a lack of qualified women to fill top positions. Indeed, if women are traditionally kept out of leadership positions, what will ensure that qualified women actually make it to top posts in a party or organisation?

PKR is addressing the lack of qualified female candidates by implementing training programmes, which would focus on skill and confidence building, Rodziah said. The most promising participants in these programmes could be fast-tracked into leadership positions. Most of the efforts to implement the quota are currently concentrated on developing and implementing such programmes, she said.

A strategy focused on fast-track training programmes is also in line with recommendations from women’s groups, says Dr Cecilia Ng, an academic and women’s rights activist, in a phone interview.

ngNg, who is visiting professor at the Women’s Development Research Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia, notes that training programmes like these are essential to ensure that women are qualified to do substantial work. “You have to do a lot more groundwork, and identify potential leaders, identify the younger leaders, [and] together go through trainings [and] empowerment programmes,” she said.

What does it mean?

Skills training aside, PKR’s constitutional amendment could be defined in any number of ways. But Rodziah explained that the 30% quota would be incorporated at every level.

For example, in a branch with 15 seats, five should be held by women. If five of those 15 seats are decision-making positions, at least one should be held by a woman, Rodziah says. The same principle would apply at the federal level.

Still, 30% of women in leadership positions does not necessarily translate into 30% of women as elected representatives.

Rodziah said the party would meet in July 2009 to plot a two-year plan for increasing the number of female candidates in the next elections. However, she did not indicate what that plan would consist of, just as she was short on detailing the party’s training programmes or what the party’s deadline was to achieve its 30% quota.

“We have our strategy but I can’t expose it,” she says.

Racial barriers

Rodziah also expressed barriers to women’s participation in Malaysian politics in racial terms, revealing that gender discrimination is just one of many issues female politicians have to deal with.

When asked what the biggest barriers are to Malaysian women’s participation in politics, she divided them along racial lines. “Chinese women are good in giving ideas, projecting themselves. But some Malay women are a bit slow in that.”rodziah

In other words, despite the fact that PKR is multiracial, party members still face racial prejudice from their peers about how they will perform.

Political parties can’t achieve equality among their members by considering gender alone, Ng notes. They also have to tackle discrimination based on age and race.

“The 30% quota has to represent the different ethnic groups, different age groups, and geographical locations,” she argues.

Preventing ghettos

These issues aside, Simranjit Kaur Gill, who lobbies for more women in positions of power with the Women’s Candidacy Initiative, says applying the quota could address the problem of women being ghettoised in certain positions.

“Society considers women as only being relevant to consider women’s issues, like family and healthcare,” she said. “And if you look at the political system in Malaysia, with the exception of (Tan Sri) Rafidah Aziz, the usual cabinet positions given to women relate to social welfare, national unity, sports, youth, women, family and community.”simranjit

This limitation on the acceptable roles that women can play in public office is yet another barrier for Malaysian women in politics, Simranjit adds. “We are ready for the ministries of defence, finance and, yes — even to be prime minister.”

But it remains unclear if PKR’s women’s wing is on the same page as women’s rights advocates.

“[Women] can’t only be championing women’s issues,” Rodziah says, for example. “Women’s issues should be on par with other issues.”

In other words, women should not be emphasising women’s issues more than other issues. But that argument presupposes that women’s issues are already given the same level of importance as others, and that male politicians would address and promote women’s concerns in the absence of female counterparts.

The lack of clarity aside on the issues involved in gender equality, PKR should be commended. While other politicians and political parties have merely announced objectives for increasing female representation, PKR has enshrined a women’s quota in their constitution, setting a benchmark for others to follow.

Equally important, it means other political parties and civil society can hold them accountable if they fail to achieve what they promise they would do.

Source: http://thenutgraph.com/article-4447.html

In Exile, An Iranian “Lion” Keeps Fighting

haghighatjoo

The “Lion Woman” of Iran sits outside her 10th floor office atop the main library of the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus, chaffing with frustration as she talks of the turbulence shaking her homeland.

She knows this story all too well: The upwelling of resistance, the retaliatory fist of state power, the fading sense of hope.

“This government is acting like wild animal”, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo says.

After four years of exile, she has lost none of her quiet ferocity or blunt determination. A visiting scholar at UMass, she has led an appeal to the United Nations secretary general to appoint a special envoy to investigate abuses against activists in Iran, and is pushing for the United States to do more as well.

But while she has come to enjoy some of the peaceful pleasures of life here—like curling up with her 6-year old daughter to watch cartoons—she longs to be back in the boiling center of things.

Haghihatjoo was one of the youngest members of the Iranian Parliament when she took on the power structure the underpins the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. After a clerical crackdown on reformers, 124 members agreed to resign. And when they considered who among them should be first to speak, all eyes turned to her.

Then as now, determined women like her played a key role in demanding democracy in Iran. And what she said seems remarkably prescient today: “By conducting sham elections, the power-drunk opponents of the popular vote have turned their backs on all the achievements of the revolution. They seek to erase republicanism and freedom from the political face of the country forever”.

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Afghanistan Tones Down Contentious Marriage Law

KABUL – Afghanistan’s government has revised a law that stirred an international outcry because it essentially legalized marital rape, officials said Thursday. The new version no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework.

The changes, which parliament is expected to approve, likely reflect a calculation by President Hamid Karzai that his reputation as a reformer is more important than support from conservative Shiites who favored the original bill.

Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the revisions show that Karzai has followed through on a pledge made in April to expunge the offensive parts of the marriage law, which applies only to minority Shiite Muslims.

Women’s rights activists welcomed the new draft, but many said the government had not done enough and that little will change in day-to-day life.

“We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced every day, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and vocal women’s rights advocate.

Karzai signed the original law in March but quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned the legislation. Critics saw it as a return to Taliban-style oppression of women by a government that was supposed to be promoting democracy and human rights. President Barack Obama labeled the original version “abhorrent.”

Even within this conservative Muslim society, a host of academics and politicians signed a petition condemning the law, and women took to the streets of Kabul in protest.

Karzai said that he had not read the law before signing it and that his Cabinet advisers had signed off on a version that did not include articles requiring a woman to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house. But those articles ended up in the draft he signed, as was a provision ordering wives to offer sex with their spouses at least every four days unless they were ill.

After the firestorm of criticism, Karzai ordered a Justice Ministry review, which took three months.

Two of the most controversial articles have been drastically changed, according to documents supplied by the ministry. An article that previously required a wife to submit to regular sex now requires her only to perform whatever household chores the couple agreed to when they married. The revised version makes no attempt to regulate sexual relations between husband and wife.

A section that required a wife to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house has also been deleted. In its place, an article states that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”

Shiites comprise 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan‘s 30 million people; the majority are Sunni Muslim. Nonetheless, the measure caused an uproar because it harkened back to Taliban-era rules. The Taliban, Sunnis who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said the amendments would “ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations.”

“The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard to the rights of women,” Siddique said.

Although many Afghans criticized the law, their voices were often overwhelmed by conservative Shiites who said the legislation protected their right to live according to their interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. At a protest in April, supporters of the law shouted insults and threw rocks at women who opposed it.

Before Karzai came out strongly against the law, his critics said he might be using the legislation to court Shiites in the Aug. 20 presidential election. Approval of the changes before the vote would put Karzai on the side of the reformers.

Even so, Roshan Sirran, who heads a group that informs women of their rights under Islamic and international law, said the new version still relies too much on agreements entered into at the time of marriage. Such contracts aren’t a traditional part of an engagement or marriage in Afghanistan, she said.

“This is not implementable in our society. There will be no agreement on any conditions at the time of the marriage between husband and wife,” Sirran said. Others said men have too much freedom to marry second wives without consulting their first wives. Islam allows men up to four wives.

Parliament is in recess and will not convene again for nearly two weeks. Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman, said Afghanistan’s influential clerics council and civil society leaders will also have to sign off on the revised law.

Even with the changes, some activists said not much will change in women’s lives.

“Still there are forced marriages and child marriages and the lack of access to property, and the lack of access to divorce,” Barakzai said. “Still a girl, because she’s a girl, can’t go to school, in very rich families even.”

Source:

Political Parties Frustrating Women

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wants women representation in political parties increased.

According to the UN, political parties are frustrating women in accessing powerful positions and resources.

It warned that democracy would not take root if the parties continued oppressing women.

This was at the opening of the UNDP-funded three-day workshop to campaign for increased women participation in political parties. It was organised by the Forum for Women in Development.

Representing the UNDP resident representative, his deputy, Sam Ibanda, said: “There is an urgent need to ensure that women become visible in the party structure to enable their voices be heard.”

The workshop was attended by women from UPC, FDC, CP, DP, NRM and JEEMA parties.

The UN said although the Government had made a significant achievement in establishing democratic governance since 1986, more women needed to be involved.

“Uganda can now boast of 32% representation of women in Parliament, but this is still a small proportion of the elected leaders,” the organisation noted.

The UN said multiparty politics had provided an alternative space for women to engage in politics, but added that few were represented on the national party structures.

The women complained that they are used as a campaigning chip by their parties to garner support from the population and relegated thereafter.

They said political party manifestos are filled with grand ideas about women issues, yet none of them are fulfiled.

MP Nabillah Nagayi (Kampala Woman) said political parties were using the “Women’s Leagues” just to appear politically correct.

Rebecca Atengo (Woman Lira) said parties use women to manipulate other women.

“We want justice and fairness. We are either being manipulated or being used to manipulate other women to support things they don’t understand,” Atengo lamented.

Source: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/687446

Mexico’s Women Make Gains in Politics

TORREÓN, Mexico — In addition to completely reordering Mexico’s political landscape, the mid-term legislative elections on July 5 marked a step forward for gender equality in the country. The opposition Institutional Party of the Revolution (PRI), previously the third-largest party, scored a huge victory. The PRI took a near-majority in the lower house of Congress, which had been dominated by the National Action Party (PAN), won five of six gubernatorial races, and a number of state and local contests around the nation.

The two leading vote-getters — the ideologically amorphous PRI and the center-right PAN — are both expected to tab women as the leaders of their respective caucuses in the Chamber of Deputies. With the benefit of such a platform, both the PAN’s Josefina Vázquez and the PRI’s Beatriz Paredes will not only be able to put oft-ignored women’s issues closer to the forefront of the national agenda. They are now plausible presidential contenders for 2012.

More broadly, despite not winning the right to vote until 1953, Mexican women have made significant gains, and now vote in higher proportions than their male counterparts. In 2002, parties were required to field women for at least 30 percent of their congressional candidates, with the quota upped to 40 percent ahead of this election cycle. However, the law is widely flouted by parties willing to pay the requisite fines after the election, meaning that in many regions, barely a quarter of the candidates are women.

Beyond Congress, women have also played a gradually more significant role in the executive branch of the federal government. The trend culminated in the cabinet of President Felipe Calderón, who has placed women at the head of key secretariats like education (Vázquez), energy (Georgina Kessel), and foreign relations (Patricia Espinosa).

This is part of a broader trend toward gender equality that makes the old stereotype of macho Mexico seem increasingly dated. As Sara Sefchovich wrote in a recent profile of First Lady Margarita Zavala, “We have come a long way since the era in which a president shut his wife up in public when she wanted to express an opinion on some issue, telling her: ‘Don’t butt in, you know nothing about this.'”

Today, the acceptance of women as equal players has become so ingrained that even the conservative wife of a conservative president is considered a prominent feminist. As Sefchovich points out in the same article, “Margarita has fought for the rights of women, not only for the opening of political spaces but also for . . . ending the violence, for salary equality, against discrimination, [for] education, and [for] health.”

Nonetheless, gender-based discrepancies remain striking in other political realms. Most obviously, no woman has ever run as a major-party candidate for president. Beyond that, only six women have ever served as governor. In the six states that elected governors on July 5, only two of 18 major-party candidates were women, and neither came close to winning. Rounding out the unbalanced executive picture, female mayors run only 4 percent of Mexico’s municipalities.

Worse still, there has been little political cost in cases where male politicians demonstrate gross disrespect for women. While campaigning for mayor of Tijuana in 2004, for instance, Jorge Hank Rhon declared that women were his favorite animal. But the remark didn’t end his career. He ended up winning that race, and came within a whisker of the governorship of Baja California Norte in 2007.

More mundane examples of gender inequality persist in daily life as well. For starters, women are routinely paid less for the same work as men. Dr. María del Carmen Contreras, a physician in the northern city of Torreón, recently told World Politics Review about being offered a job for half the salary of the doctor she was to replace a few years ago, despite having a comparable resume. For “dignity’s sake,” she turned the job down.

Months later, in an odd twist of fate, Contreras learned that the doctor who was eventually hired to fill the job she’d been offered — a man — was paid the same, higher salary of the outgoing doctor. “I asked to speak with the man who made me the offer,” Contreras told WPR, “and he told me . . . that because I am a woman, I didn’t have the economic responsibility of a household.” The different salaries supposedly reflected the different financial needs of a man and a woman.

Contreras’ example is not isolated, nor is discrimination in the workplace limited to salary inequality. Because Mexico mandates a paid maternity leave of several months, many businesses have unwritten rules prohibiting the hiring of young, married women. Women are also regularly screened for “good presentation” in job interviews, a euphemism meaning that candidates’ attractiveness will likely be a factor in any hiring decision.

Despite the obvious injustices, as well as the obvious benefits of addressing them, women’s issues other than abortion rarely receive much attention at the national level. Contreras said that she remembers hearing about gender inequality in the workplace a great deal during the Vicente Fox administration, but very little under Calderón, and not at all during the present campaign.

A Chamber of Deputies with Paredes and Vázquez at its head should help reverse that state of affairs. But Mexico remains behind its South American neighbors with regard to political equality between the sexes. The regular election of female executives would be another big step in the right direction.

Source: http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=4030