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Millions of women worldwide continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality in their homes, the workplace and public life, according to a United Nations report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, that calls on governments to take urgent action to ensure real equality between the sexes.
Millions of women worldwide continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality in their homes, the workplace and public life, according to a new United Nations report that calls on governments to take urgent action to ensure real equality between the sexes.
“Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice” is the first major report by UN Women, the agency launched earlier this year to spearhead the world body’s efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The flagship report states that the past century has seen a “transformation” in women’s legal rights, with countries in every region expanding the scope of women’s legal entitlements. “Nevertheless for most of the world’s women, the laws that exist on paper do not translate to equality and justice,” it adds.
It also points out that while 139 countries and territories now guarantee gender equality in their constitutions, women continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality in their home and working lives.
UN Women calls on governments to take a number of steps to end the injustices that keep women poorer and less powerful than men in every country in the world.
These include repealing laws that discriminate against women; employing more female police, judges, legislators and activists on the “frontline of justice delivery;” and investing in “one-stop shops” where women can access justice, legal and health services in one place.
Among the findings of the report is that while domestic violence is now outlawed in 125 countries, 603 million women worldwide live in countries where it is not considered a crime. Also, women are still paid up to 30 per cent less than men in some countries, and some 600 million women are employed in vulnerable jobs that lack the protection of labour laws.
The report also finds inadequate enforcement of existing laws across the board. Many women, says UN Women, shrink away from reporting crimes due to social stigma and weak justice systems.
The prohibitive costs and practical difficulties of seeking justice, from travel to a distant court to paying for expensive legal advice, leads to high drop-out rates in cases where women seek redress, especially on gender-based violence, the agency notes.
“By changing laws and giving women practical support to see justice done, we can change society and ensure women and men enjoy real equality in the future,” concludes the report
The Talk About it survey questioned over 1500 Australian women enrolled in college on their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, their perceptions of safety, the availability of information and services and their experiences of how well incidences were dealt with once reported.
From the report summary:
The survey was developed in response to a need for national data on the issue following on from a series of incidents at residential halls and colleges in NSW and the ACT. Initial findings showed that 1 in 10 of the respondents had experiences sexual assault while at university and that more than 60% of women felt unsafe whilst on campus at night. These are on top of the national figures of 1 in 3 experiencing some form of physical violence during their adult life and 1 in 5 experiencing sexual violence.
The “Safe Universities Blueprint” forms part of the survey’s final report. It is a framework for tackling the issues outlined in the results of the survey. The recommendations were adapted from Australian best-practice, international initiatives and from suggestions from the youth, women’s and tertiary education sectors. In this way, NUS has been able to develop a consensus document that recognizes the various needs and experiences of everyone involved. The recommendations are aimed at both universities and students. This two-tiered approach acknowledges the roles and responsibilities of both groups in tackling such a pervasive and wide-spread issue.
A Chicago Tribune survey of six schools in Illinois and Indiana found that police investigated 171 reported sex crimes since fall 2005, with 12 resulting in arrests and four in convictions. Only one of the convictions stemmed from a student-on-student attack, the most common type of assault.
From the article:
The rate of arrests and convictions is far below the average for rapes reported nationally.
The trend leaves untold number of college women feeling betrayed and vulnerable, believing that their allegations are not taken seriously. The Tribune's findings also raise fresh questions about the way college administrators and law enforcement officials handle the allegations, even as the Obama administration calls attention to the issue with a series of initiatives and investigations aimed at better protecting students from sex crimes.
A TrustLaw expert poll identifies Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia as the world's most dangerous countries in which to be female in 2011. The poll by TrustLaw Women, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s recently launched women’s rights news and information service, asked 213 gender experts from five continents a number of key questions to help establish the “most dangerous countries for women”. Poll respondents included aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists. All were chosen for their expertise in gender issues.
Afghanistan emerged as the most dangerous country for women overall and worst in three of the six risk categories: health, non-sexual violence and lack of access to economic resources.
Respondents cited sky-high maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a near total lack of economic rights. Afghan women have a one in 11 chance of dying in childbirth, according to UNICEF.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), still reeling from a 1998-2003 war and accompanying humanitarian disaster that killed 5.4 million people, came second mainly due to staggering levels of sexual violence in the lawless east.
More than 400,000 women are raped in the country each year, according to a recent study by U.S. researchers. The United Nations has called Congo the rape capital of the world.
"Statistics from DRC are very revealing on this: ongoing war, use of rape as a weapon, recruitment of females as soldiers who are also used as sex slaves," said Clementina Cantoni, a Pakistan-based aid worker with ECHO, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department.
"The fact that the government is corrupt and that female rights are very low on the agenda means that there is little or no recourse to justice."
Rights activists say militia groups and soldiers target all ages, including girls as young as three and elderly women. They are gang-raped, raped with bayonets and have guns shot into their vaginas.
Pakistan ranked third largely on the basis of cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women. These include acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse.
"Pakistan has some of the highest rates of dowry murder, so-called honour killings and early marriage," said Divya Bajpai, reproductive health advisor at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
Some 1,000 women and girls die in honour killings annually, according to Pakistan's Human Rights Commission.
India ranked fourth primarily due to female foeticide, infanticide and human trafficking.
In 2009, India's then-Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta estimated that 100 million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in trafficking in India that year.
"The practice is common but lucrative so it goes untouched by government and police," said Cristi Hegranes, founder of the Global Press institute, which trains women in developing countries to be journalists.
India's Central Bureau of Investigation estimated that in 2009 about 90 percent of trafficking took place within the country and that there were some 3 million prostitutes, of which about 40 percent were children.
In addition to sex slavery, other forms of trafficking include forced labour and forced marriage, according to a U.S. State Department report on trafficking in 2010. The report also found slow progress in criminal prosecutions of traffickers.
Up to 50 million girls are thought to be "missing" over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide, the U.N. Population Fund says.
Some experts said the world's largest democracy was relatively forthcoming about describing its problems, possibly casting it in a darker light than if other countries were equally transparent about trafficking.
Somalia ranked fifth due to a catalogue of dangers including high maternal mortality, rape and female genital mutilation, along with limited access to education, healthcare and economic
"I'm completely surprised because I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth," Somali women's minister Maryan Qasim told TrustLaw.
"The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant. When a woman becomes pregnant her life is 50-50 because there is no antenatal care at all. There are no hospitals, no healthcare, no nothing.
"Add to that the rape cases that happen on a daily basis, the female genital mutilation that is being done to every single girl in Somalia. Add to that the famine and the drought. Add to that the fighting (which means) you can die any minute, any day."
Poll respondents included aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists.
Over the past four months, the Committee to Protject Journalists interviewed more than four dozen journalists who have were subjected to varying degrees of sexual violence—from rape by multiple attackers to aggressive groping—either in retaliation for their work or during the course of their reporting. Most of the individuals interviewed have not previously disclosed their experiences beyond speaking with friends or family. Journalists from all over the world said they largely kept assaults to themselves because of broad cultural stigmas and a lack of faith that authorities would act upon their complaints. But time and again, journalists also said that professional considerations played an important role; many were reluctant to disclose an assault to their editors for fear they would be perceived as vulnerable and be denied future assignments.
From the article:
Over the past four months, CPJ has interviewed more than four dozen journalists who have undergone varying degrees of sexual violence—from rape by multiple attackers to aggressive groping—either in retaliation for their work or during the course of their reporting. They include 27 local journalists, from top editors to beat reporters, working in regions from the Middle East to South Asia, Africa to the Americas. Five described being brutally raped, while others reported various levels of sexual assault, aggressive physical harassment, and threats of sexual violence. A similar range of experience was reported by 25 international journalists; two reported being raped, five others described serious sexual violation—ranging from violent, sexual touching, to penetration by hands—and 22 said they had been groped multiple times. Most of the reported attacks occurred within the past five years, although a small number of cases date back as far as two decades.
Many of the assaults fall into three general types: targeted sexual violation of specific journalists, often in reprisal for their work; mob-related sexual violence against journalists covering public events; and sexual abuse of journalists in detention or captivity. Although women constitute the large majority of victims overall, male journalists have also been victimized, most often while in captivity or detention.
Most of the individuals interviewed by CPJ have not previously disclosed their experiences beyond speaking with friends or family. Journalists from all over the world said they largely kept assaults to themselves because of broad cultural stigmas and a lack of faith that authorities would act upon their complaints. But time and again, journalists also said that professional considerations played an important role; many were reluctant to disclose an assault to their editors for fear they would be perceived as vulnerable and be denied future assignments.
As a result, little documentation exists on the topic of sexual aggression against journalists. While CPJ and other international groups have reported individual instances of sexual assault over the years, the kind of methodological research that charts other anti-press attacks, such as murders and imprisonments, has yet to be conducted.
The U. S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed relevant laws, VA policies, and sexual assault incident documentation from January 2007 through July 2010 provided by VA officials and the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG). GAO found that many of the nearly 300 sexual assault incidents reported to the VA police were not reported to VA leadership officials and the VA OIG. The report also includes several executive-level recommendations to improve VA's reporting and monitoring of allegations of sexual assault.
Changes in patient demographics present unique challenges for VA in providing safe environments for all veterans treated in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. GAO was asked to examine whether or not sexual assault incidents are fully reported and what factors may contribute to any observed underreporting, how facility staff determine sexual assault-related risks veterans may pose in residential and inpatient mental health settings, and precautions facilities take to prevent sexual assaults and other safety incidents. GAO reviewed relevant laws, VA policies, and sexual assault incident documentation from January 2007 through July 2010 provided by VA officials and the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG). In addition, GAO visited and reviewed portions of selected veterans' medical records at five judgmentally selected VA medical facilities chosen to ensure the residential and inpatient mental health units at the facilities varied in size and complexity. Finally, GAO spoke with the four Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) that oversee these VA medical facilities.
GAO found that many of the nearly 300 sexual assault incidents reported to the VA police were not reported to VA leadership officials and the VA OIG. Specifically, for the four VISNs GAO spoke with, VISN and VA Central Office officials did not receive reports of most sexual assault incidents reported to the VA police. Also, nearly two-thirds of sexual assault incidents involving rape allegations originating in VA facilities were not reported to the VA OIG, as required by VA regulation. In addition, GAO identified several factors that may contribute to the underreporting of sexual assault incidents including unclear guidance and deficiencies in VA's oversight. VA does not have risk assessment tools designed to examine sexual assaultrelated risks veterans may pose. Instead, VA staff at the residential programs and inpatient mental health units GAO visited said they examine information about veterans' legal histories along with other personal information as part of a multidisciplinary assessment process. VA clinicians reported that they obtain legal history information directly from veterans, but these self-reported data are not always complete or accurate. In reviewing selected veterans' medical records, GAO found that complete legal history information was not always documented. In addition, VA has not provided clear guidance on how such legal history information should be collected or documented. VA facilities GAO visited used a variety of precautions intended to prevent sexual assaults and other safety incidents; however, GAO found some of these measures were deficient, compromising facilities' efforts to prevent sexual assaults and other safety incidents. For example, facilities often used patientoriented precautions, such as placing electronic flags on high-risk veterans' medical records or increasing staff observation of veterans who posed risks to others. These VA facilities also used physical security precautions--such as closed-circuit surveillance cameras to actively monitor units, locks and alarms to secure key areas, and police assistance when incidents occurred. These physical precautions were intended to prevent a broad range of safety incidents, including sexual assaults, through monitoring patients and activities, securing residential programs and inpatient mental health units, and educating staff about security issues and ways to deal with them. However, GAO found significant weaknesses in the implementation of these physical security precautions at these VA facilities, including poor monitoring of surveillance cameras, alarm system malfunctions, and the failure of alarms to alert both VA police and clinical staff when triggered. Inadequate system installation and testing procedures contributed to these weaknesses. Further, facility officials at most of the locations GAO visited said the VA police were understaffed. Such weaknesses could lead to delayed response times to incidents and seriously erode efforts to prevent or mitigate sexual assaults and other safety incidents. GAO recommends that VA improve both the reporting and monitoring of sexual assault incidents and the tools used to identify risks and address vulnerabilities at VA facilities. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations and provided an action plan to address them.
According to a report by the Women's Justice Taskforce in the UK, effective community sentences that command the confidence of the courts, rather than incarceration, should cut women’s offending, reduce the women’s prison population and save the public purse.
Over the past 15 years the women’s prison population has risen from 1,800 to over 4,000 today – an increase of 114%. Most women serve short sentences for non-violent crime and for those serving sentences of less than 12 months, almost two thirds are re-convicted within a year of release. The average cost of a women’s prison place is £56,415 a year. By contrast, an intensive community order costs in the region of £10,000 - £15,000.
The Taskforce was established in 2010 by the Prison Reform Trust, supported by the Bromley Trust, to take a fresh look at an old problem this time focussing on the economics, structure and accountability of women’s justice. Chaired by Fiona Cannon OBE, Diversity and Inclusion Director at Lloyds Banking Group, its membership includes senior representatives from the Magistrates’ Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, probation, prisons, women’s centres, politics, the media and former offenders. The report, Reforming Women’s Justice, includes an economic analysis by Dr James Robertson, former chief economist at the National Audit Office.
The report makes clear that the current economic climate and the government’s proposed overhaul of the justice system provide a timely opportunity to look again at how women’s justice is delivered. The government's programme to reduce unnecessary imprisonment should be accelerated, and the money saved from the women’s prison estate reinvested to support effective services for female offenders in the community. Many of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside of the justice system in health, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental health needs. This demands a coordinated cross-departmental approach. The report calls for greater ministerial accountability and a cross-government strategy for women’s justice with accountability built into relevant roles within government departments and local authorities.
The Taskforce says lessons can be learnt from reform of the youth justice system where, in contrast to women, there has been a measurable reduction in the numbers of children in prison, the numbers of young people entering the justice system for the first time, and in youth offending. It suggests that proposals in the Ministry of Justice’s green paper, Breaking the Cycle, to devolve youth custody budgets to local authorities should be extended to women’s custodial provision.
Dr Robertson’s economic analysis draws on evidence that investing in appropriate alternatives to custody for women could reduce intergenerational offending and is more cost effective than prison in the long term. Women released from custody having served a sentence of less than 12 months are more likely to reoffend than those who received a community order; in 2008 the difference in proven reoffending rates was 8.3%. An estimated 17,700 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment and only 5% of them remain in their own home whilst their mother is in custody. According to Dr Robertson, research studies to date support the likelihood of “an overall net advantage for society from community based intervention for women offenders, compared to custodial sentences.”
However, while women’s prisons are funded centrally through the National Offender Management Service, women’s centres rely on a wide range of funding sources to enable them to supervise court orders and deliver services for vulnerable women in their area. The Taskforce heard evidence from the manager of one centre that was reliant on 37 different funding streams, with a mixture of statutory and non-statutory sources, all with different methods of evaluation and reporting arrangements.
On 11 May 2011 the Ministry of Justice announced a one off joint funding package of £3.2m between the National Offender Management Service and the Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition to keep women centres open for 2011/12. The report states: “Whilst this is undoubtably positive news, the current situation of regular funding crises and last minute rescues is counterproductive and should be resolved ... What is currently unclear is the criteria by which projects will be assessed, and the levels of funding that will be available.”
The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences visited the United States of America from 24 January to 7 February 2011. In the report, she examines the situation of violence against women in the country, including such issues as violence in custodial settings, domestic violence, violence against women in the military and violence against women who face multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination, particularly native American, immigrant and African-American women.
From the Summary:
The Special Rapporteur highlights the positive legislative and policy initiatives undertaken by the Government to reduce the prevalence of violence against women, including the enactment and subsequent reauthorizations of the Violence against Women Act, and the establishment of dedicated offices on violence against women at the highest level of the Executive. The Violence against Women Act has steadily expanded funding to address domestic violence and, with each reauthorization, has included historically underserved groups.
Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur did observe a lack of legally binding federal provisions providing substantive protection against or prevention of acts of violence against women. This lack of substantive protective legislation, combined with inadequate implementation of some laws, policies and programmes, has resulted in the continued prevalence of violence against women and the discriminatory treatment of victims, with a particularly detrimental impact on poor, minority and immigrant women. In the light of the above findings, the Special Rapporteur offers specific recommendations that focus on providing remedies for women victims of violence, investigating and prosecuting violence against women in the military, improving the conditions of women in detention and tackling the multiple forms of discrimination faced by certain groups of women that make them more vulnerable to violence.
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dr. Seham Sergewa had been working with children traumatized by the fighting in Libya but, after being approached by mothers who reported that they had been raped, added a question about rape to the survey she was distributing to Libyans living in refugee camps. 259 women said they had been raped by militiamen loyal to Muammar Qaddafi.
From the article:
Dr. Sergewa's questionnaire was distributed to 70,000 families and drew 59,000 responses.
"We found 10,000 people with PTSD, 4,000 children suffering psychological problems and 259 raped women," she said, adding that she believes the number of rape victims is many times higher but that woman are afraid to report the attacks.
The women said they had been raped by Qaddafi's militias in numerous cities and towns: Benghazi, Tobruk, Brega, Bayda and Ajdabiya (where the initial three mothers hail from) and Saloum in the east; and Misrata in the west.
Some just said they had been raped. Some did not sign their names; some just used their initials. But some felt compelled to share the horrific details of their ordeals on the back of the questionnaire.
In March 2011, Amnesty International reported that the Egyptian military had subjected female protesters to "virginity tests." The women told Amnesty that they had been handcuffed and beaten, stripped searched and photographed by male soldiers, then restrained by female soldiers while a man in a white coat performed a virginity check. The military initially denied the accusations, but an anonymous senior general has confirmed to CNN that the virginity tests did in fact happen, saying that these women "were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters."
From the article:
The general went on to insist that the tests were necessary because "we didn't want (the women) to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove they weren't virgins in the first place."
What are virginity tests? They are a controversial but relatively common practice in Egypt -- so much so that hymenoplasty (hymen restoration) is often sought by Egyptian brides to protect their reputation on their wedding night. But their use as an intimidation factor by security forces seems to be a new twist.
And based on the outrage across Egypt over this abuse, it seems that the military's attempt to intimidate and smear the women protesters has backfired. Human rights groups are demanding a full investigation and several demonstrations are planned in coming days in support of the women.
Egyptian security forces have a long and troubling history of abusing and torturing citizens for political ends. They have engaged in widespread intimidation tactics since the upsurge in political violence and Islamic militancy in the early 1990s, including the detention of women, children, and the elderly. In the last two decades, the practice of arrest and detention without trial has expanded to anyone considered a threat to the military or the former regime of Hosni Mubarak, especially those advocating political reform.
Women suffer special mistreatment. For example, Esraa Abdel Fattah -- better known as the "Facebook Girl" who in 2008 mobilized thousands of young people to march for political change -- was arrested for her leadership role in those protests. Egypt's security forces tried to destroy her reputation by accusing her of being a prostitute, but her Facebook compatriots saw through that ploy and several young men even proposed marriage to her while she was detained.