The number of women in Congress reached a new record with the April 8 election of Jackie Speier, a Democrat from Hillsborough, Calif., to fill a vacancy. Eighty-seven women now serve in Congress: 16 in the Senate and 71 in the House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Of these, 20–or 23 percent–are women of color.
In her first speech in front of Congress, Speier was booed by members on the other side of the aisle for calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Speier first ran for Congress in 1979.
Five new women have filled state legislative seats this year, also creating a record for female representation at the state level, according to the Rutgers center. Since 1971 the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled. Women are 33.7 percent of those bodies, holding 1,746 of 7,382 total seats in the 50 states. Women of color represent 4.8 percent of state legislators overall.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Kay Goldsworthy was named Australia’s first Anglican bishop on April 11, the Australian Associated Press reported. The new assistant bishop of Perth was selected unanimously to the post and will be consecrated on May 22.
- Guatemala, where over 2,700 cases of femicide have been documented since 2003, passed a law against the crime on April 9, Agence France Presse reported. Offenders will receive sentences of 25 to 50 years.
- A trend is developing among Indian corporations to give female employees up to 25 percent bonuses as incentive to refer new female recruits, Sify Business News reported April 8. Women are sought to bring new perspectives to the workplace. Since 2004, the percentage of working women at one large information technology company, CSC, has risen to 21 percent from 13 percent.
- Amidst violence in Kenya’s post-election crisis, sexual assault victims are calling for the right to have an abortion, Nairobi’s The Nation reported April 9. The country documented an estimated 1,200 cases of sexual violence since December. Kenyan law does not allow abortion in cases of gender violence. In Africa, 16 of 62 countries allow abortion in cases of rape, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
- Moshev Katsav, the former president of Israel who resigned amid a scandal over sexual harassment and rape allegations, will now face a trial after withdrawing from a controversial plea agreement he made with prosecutors on April 8, the Guysen News reported. The plea bargain had sparked protests from women’s rights activists because it permitted Katsav to avoid a rape charge filed by a former employee.
- France is considering a law to fine and jail operators of "pro-Ana" Web sites that promote anorexia, the Scotsman reported April 10. The legislative push follows anorexic model Isabelle Caro’s pose for a fashion ad that revealed her skeletal frame. Between 30,000 and 40,000 French women are affected by the illness.
- Female boxers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are battling for taxi fare and powdered milk. After a long struggle to enter the predominately male sport, Congolese women are now boxing in the conflict-torn nation, the China Post reported April 7. The amateur boxers hope to make a profession out of the sport.
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Women in New Orleans continue to face economic and health disparities following Hurricane Katrina, according to an April 11 report from the Washington-based Institute of Women’s Policy Research released during the 2008 Economic Justice Summit held in Atlanta.
"The women of New Orleans have been abandoned, not only in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but still today, over two years later, by the dearth of adequate policy response to their lingering severe needs," said report author Avis Jones-DeWeever of the National Council of Negro Women.
Jones-DeWeever interviewed women who ranged in age from 19 to 66 and who were from different ethnic backgrounds, including former volunteers, contributors, activists, organizers and public officials in the New Orleans area. The report covers issues such as fair and affordable housing, sexual assault on women and girls and failure to restore adequate health services.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- An appeal from 31 Chilean legislators to overturn the government’s free distribution of emergency contraception to women 14 and over was granted by Chile’s Constitutional Court, the Santiago Times reported April 7. Contending that the pill amounts to abortion, the legislators sought to reverse a health policy instituted by President Michelle Bachelet.
- Five years have passed without reprieve or redress for the victims of Darfur’s rampant sexual violence, Human Rights Watch noted in an April 7 report. Large-scale sexual attacks remain frequent even though the Sudanese government declared "zero-tolerance" for sexual violence. In February 2008, at least 10 women and girls were raped when government forces and allied militia carried out a massive air and ground attack on the villages of Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj in West Darfur, according to local residents.
- One-third of Swazi women suffer sexual abuse as a child and a quarter have experienced physical violence, according to an April 9 UNICEF study. Swaziland has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates–33 percent of people aged 15 to 49 have the virus–and life expectancy has dropped by half since the 1990s. The study estimated that 200,000 children, or one-fifth of the population, will be orphans by 2010.
- Two female employees of Iraq contractor Kellog, Brown and Root, Mary Beth Kineston and Diane Leamon, testified before Congress that they were raped by co-workers, ABC News reported April 9. Kineston has filed a civil suit against the firm, which has faced 26 other accusations of abuse by female employees.
- Blanca Ovelar, the first woman to run for president in Paraguay’s April 20 election, is facing resistance from some women’s rights groups, the Inter Press Service reported April 10. Ovelar is from the Colorado Party, which has ruled for 61 years and is perceived as corrupt by opponents. Activist Angelica Cano told the IPS, "When a political project has run out of male representatives that can sustain it, it calls in a woman to legitimize a model that is already obsolete." Others called Ovelar’s candidacy ground-breaking.
- An April 2-7 Lifetime poll indicates that 43 percent of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s female supporters believe she is being unfairly treated by the media because she is a woman. Among women overall, 33 percent believe she receives negative treatment and 30 percent say she receives positive treatment because of her gender. For the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, 53 percent of female respondents said they have decided whom to vote for: 34 percent chose Clinton, 29 percent Sen. Barack Obama and 20 percent Sen. John McCain.
- The appointment of Spanish sociologist Ines Alberdi to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women prompted a backlash from women’s rights advocates who wanted a leader chosen from the developing world, the Associated Press reported April 8. Spain is the agency’s largest funder, leading to allegations that the appointment was political.
Shanelle Matthews is a Women’s eNews editorial intern and a recent graduate of the Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. Dominique Soguel is Arabic editor of Women’s eNews.
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