We first thought about starting this piece with the story ofSaleha Begum, a survivor of Bangladesh's 1971 war in which, some reports say, as many as 400,000 women were raped. Begum had been tied to a banana tree and repeatedly gang raped and burned with cigarettes for months until she was shot and left for dead in a pile of women. She didn't die, though, and was able to return home, ravaged and five months pregnant. When she got home she was branded a "slut."
We also thought of starting with the story of Ester Abeja, a woman in Uganda who was forcibly held as a "bush wife" by the Lord's Resistance Army. Repeated rape with objects destroyed her insides. Her captors also made her kill her 1-year-old daughter by smashing the baby's head into a tree.
We ran through a dozen other stories of women like Begum and Abeja, and finally realized that it would be too difficult to find the right one -- the tale that would express exactly how and in what wayssexualized violence is being used as a weapon of war to devastate women and tear apart communities around the world, conflict by conflict, from Libya to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Every year, ten million girls are forcibly married before the age of eighteen, many as young as twelve or thirteen years old. That is something like 25,000 girls a day. These young girls suffer sexual abuse and domestic violence and are frequently forced to become mothers at a very early age, putting them at a much higher risk of maternal injury and death. The epidemic of child marriage has mostly received little attention and continues unabated year after year. An organization called The Elders, a group of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007, seeks to change that, launching an ambitious Global Partnership to End Child Marriage called Girls Not Brides that aims to stop the harmful practice in one generation.
This week, a delegation from The Elders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, will visit India with a focus on girls' development and the impact of child marriage. The primary objective of the Elders' visit is to learn about the causes of child marriage in India, discuss the harmful impact of child marriage on human rights and development, and to encourage local efforts to end the practice. The Elders will meet political and business leaders, UN and NGO representatives, members of the media, and communities affected by child marriage. Because of its large population, India is home to an estimated one third of the world's child brides. The Elders will visit New Delhi and Patna and will also attend a regional meeting hosted by Girls Not Brides.
I asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson about the implications and factors contributing to child marriage and their hopes and goals for the Girls Not Brides Partnership.
The National Action Plan On Women, Peace and Security (NAP) issued by President Obama shortly before the end of last year has the potential of being a significant step forward in addressing the impact of military conflict on women and the necessity of women’s participation in conflict resolution. In response to a UN resolution, it provides a plan for the U.S. government to implement, “a gender responsive approach to its diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments” by mandating:
Women’s participation in peace negotiations.
Increased efforts to protect “women and children from harm, exploitation, discrimination, and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, and to hold perpetrators accountable in conflict-affected environments.”
Increased efforts to promote women’s roles in conflict prevention.
Post-conflict aid and recovery efforts that address the specific needs of women and children.
The order provides a blueprint for strengthened support and implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) and other resolutions concerning the effect of conflict on women and their role in peacemaking and recovery.
If climate change policies are going to be effective, women have to be at the negotiating table. Established in 2009 by WEDO, the Global Gender Climate Alliance (GGCA), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with the support of the Government of Finland, the Women Delegates Fund (WDF) supports the participation and leadership of women at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.
After a period of substantial decline, the global abortion rate has stalled, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO). Between 1995 and 2003, the overall number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15–44 years) dropped from 35 to 29; according to the new study, the global abortion rate in 2008 was virtually unchanged, at 28 per 1,000. This plateau coincides with a slowdown, documented by the United Nations, in contraceptive uptake, which has been especially marked in developing countries. The researchers also found that nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and almost all unsafe abortions occur in the developing world. The study, Induced Abortion: Incidence and Trends Worldwide from 1995 to 2008, by Gilda Sedgh et al., was published online today by The Lancet.
In the developing world, the abortion rate was 29 per 1,000 in both 2003 and 2008, after falling from 34 per 1,000 between 1995 and 2003. The situation was somewhat different in the developed world, excluding Eastern Europe, where the abortion rate was much lower, at 17 per 1,000 in 2008, having declined slightly from a rate of 20 in 1995.
“The declining abortion trend we had seen globally has stalled, and we are also seeing a growing proportion of abortions occurring in developing countries, where the procedure is often clandestine and unsafe. This is cause for concern,” says Gilda Sedgh , lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute. “This plateau coincides with a slowdown in contraceptive uptake. Without greater investment in quality family planning services, we can expect this trend to persist.”
As UN Women celebrated its first birthday, its executive director Michelle Bachelet stressed that political upheveal and shrinking budgets are no excuse to push back the hard-won gains made by the women's movement globally.
"My top priority for 2012 will be to make a renewed push for women's economic empowerment and political participation," Bachelet said at UN Women's one-year anniversary press conference Thursday.
Formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting women and girls' needs worldwide. Created by the U.N. General Assembly in July 2010, it became operational on Jan. 1, 2011.
Its six priorities are advancing women's political participation and leadership; improving women's economic empowerment; ending violence against women and girls; expanding the role of women in peace talks, peace building, and recovery; making budgets and plans benefit women and men equally; and increasing coordination and accountability across the U.N. system for gender equality.
There is an increasing recognition that the ownership of, access to and control over assets constitute a critical element in the determination of the well-being of households and individuals. Owing largely to data constraints, however, there has been a tendency for studies on assets and well-being/poverty to use the household as the unit of analysis. Such an approach tends to ignore the importance of intra-household disparities in asset ownership and well-being. Moreover, the dearth of individual-level data on asset ownership makes it extremely difficult to analyze gender disparities in asset ownership, wealth and well-being. As rightly noted by Grown et al. (2005), this lack of data seriously hampers efforts to track the progress of countries toward the Millennium Development Goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The United Nations launched a new web portal focusing on helping girls and women access job opportunities, training and career advice in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
The website – girlsinict.org – is designed to inspire and help young women between the ages of 11 and 25 prepare for and pursue careers in technology by providing them with useful resources such as links to scholarships, internships, ICT contests and awards, tech camps and online networks where they can interact with other women working in an industry that is largely male-dominated.
This report is the culmination of a two-day experts meeting, “The Right to Food, Gender Equality and Economic Policy,” which took place on September 16-17, 2011 at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL). The meeting was organized as a means to contribute to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food’s work on gender equality, including a final report for the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013. To this end, CWGL brought together economists, researchers and advocates, working from a feminist perspective on various aspects of the food system, to offer analysis and recommendations.
Hillary Clinton is well known for her statement that "women's rights are human rights." So it would seem that the last place she would expect resistance to her foreign policy agenda would be from women's rights organizations.
Heading into what she insists will be her last year as Secretary of State, Clinton has improved the lives of women around the world, made gender a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, and spread the message that developing countries should promote gender equality to unleash economic growth.
In working to "increase women's economic opportunities," however, Clinton runs the risk of undermining her women's rights agenda. Unfortunately, all too often "economic opportunity" translates to "working in a sweatshop" or in some cases, others forms of exploitation.
Although rights' advocates have welcomed the attention that Clinton has brought to gender equality, many have objected to her "focus on promoting women as vehicles of economic growth, rather than rights holders." A statement issued by a group of such dissenters at a recent Forum on Aid Effectiveness in South Korea -- which included the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), the Association for Women's Rights in Development, and the African Women's Development and Communication Network -- read:
We are not able to endorse... [Clinton's plan because it] does not sufficiently promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and substantive equality... Women's rights will not be fully enjoyed by women... simply by facilitating entrepreneurship of women.