Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones, appealed to the Security Council Oct. 15 to enact sanctions against the rebel leaders who were reportedly responsible for the mass gang rapes of up to 500 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo this summer. Wallstrom also said government troops may be responsible for "rapes, killings and lootings" in the same remote regions, though not for these specific incidents.
"The possibility that the same communities that were brutalized by FDLR and Mai-Mai elements (the rebel groups) in July and August are now also suffering at the hands of (government) troops is unimaginable and unacceptable," she said, calling on the Democratic Republic of Congo's government to investigate the attacks.
In an interview with Women's eNews following her briefing to the Security Council, Wallstrom kept the focus on the perpetrators and away from herself and her own office, which has been criticized for its slow response to the attacks. Wallstrom was in Italy receiving an award when she heard of the attacks, at "about the same time as everybody else," the weekend of Aug. 21-22.
"If I wasn't among the last, at least I was not among the first to know about it, and I think this is because we are a new office and we learn from these things, as well, where we should place ourselves," she said.
Wallstrom added that her office's lag in the communication line does not reflect a lack of respect for gender-focused U.N. agencies and offices. "I think it reflected a weakness in the way our peacekeepers interpreted early warning signals and that they did not see what was happening. We have learned to assume rape when there is looting and pillaging to that scale moving forward," she said.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- The United States broke into the Global Gender Ranking's top 20 this year for the first time, up from No. 31 last year, the Christian Science Monitor reported Oct. 12. The report cites the country's strong record in education equality, particularly literacy and enrollment numbers, as well as a No. 6 ranking worldwide in economic opportunity. Political empowerment is a weakness and the lack of female representation in Congress and state government hinders policy that allows women more opportunity in the work force, an author of the report says.
- New legislation proposed in the New York City Council aims to force crisis pregnancy clinics to stop misleading advertising, reported Time Magazine Oct. 14. The advertisements, which read "Free Abortion Alternatives, Free Confidential Options Counseling," would need to explicitly state that their offices do not offer abortions, contraceptives or any type of abortion referral. Council members say these clinics deceive women into thinking they are politically neutral medical centers when they are actually anti-abortion counseling services. These centers also tend to offer misleading or incorrect information, according to the article.
- A federal judge on Oct. 12 ordered the United States military to stop enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving, the New York Times reported Oct. 13. Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court for the Central District of California issued an injunction banning enforcement of the law and ordered the military to immediately "suspend and discontinue" any investigations or proceedings to dismiss service members based on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Judge Phillips wrote that the 17-year-old policy "infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members and prospective service members" and violates their rights of due process and freedom of speech. While the decision is likely to be appealed by the government, the new ruling represents a significant milestone for gay rights in the United States, the article reported.
- The world's three richest self-made women are from China and 11 out of 20 global female billionaires are Chinese, according to the Hurun List of Self-Made Women Billionaires, the Financial Times reported Oct. 13. The article attributed this to the communist society that made women and men equal in the workplace, China's economic growth and child care that is available through grandparents and child care centers.
- A coalition of global investors, managing over $73 billion in assets, called on companies across the world Oct. 13 to increase representation of qualified women on boards of directors and in senior management, according to a press statement. The call from Pax World, Calvert and Walden Asset Management comes in response to a survey of 4,200 global companies that found only 9.4 percent of directors on corporate boards were women. The investors in the new coalition have asked 54 selected companies from across the business spectrum for greater clarity about gender balance within their organizations.
- Nearly three-fourths of American voters (71 percent) believe insurers should be required to fully cover the birth control pill and other forms of prescription contraception under the new health care reform law, Planned Parenthood Action Fund said Oct. 12, citing a new study it commissioned.
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska is pushing for a new federal discussion of the notion of fetal pain following the passage of abortion restrictions in Nebraska, reported the Associated Press Oct. 14. The Nebraska law that took effect Oct. 15 bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the idea of fetal pain. It's a departure from the standard of viability, or when the fetus could survive outside the womb, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks. Doctors are currently at odds about when during development a fetus can feel pain and critics say the legislation is based on false science, according to the article.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- A study by the University of British Columbia indicates women are waiting longer to have children based on exaggerations by the media about advances in fertility science, reported the Toronto Sun Oct. 13. Around 45 percent of the women surveyed said they expect to give birth between age 36 and 41 and 13.2 percent think they will have children at 42 or older. Misleading Web sites, uninformed doctors and high-profile middle-aged moms like Celine Dion make women think they can delay childbirth. However, technology-aided birth is extremely expensive and not very reliable for anyone over 34, the article reported. The chances of getting pregnant, even with treatment, are less than 1 percent for women over 46.
- Citigroup was accused in a lawsuit of using companywide layoffs during the recent financial turmoil to purge its workforce of female employees to save the jobs of less-qualified men, reported the Associated Press Oct. 13. The lawsuit said the company practiced "pervasive discrimination and retaliation" against female employees during the November 2008 layoffs and that women are paid less than men and often lose out on promotions, raises and good assignments. Citigroup denies the accusations.
- A report found a persistent gender wage gap and increasing poverty levels among women and girls in the nation's capital region, according to a press statement released Oct. 13. The report was produced by the Washington Area Women's Foundation, in conjunction with the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Urban Institute. It indicated that levels of poverty increased in the region to 177,964 poor women and girls in 2009, from 160,000 in the previous year. The Washington region also lags behind the nation in terms of closing the gender wage gap. From 2000 to 2008, the wage gap in the area decreased by 2.7 percent, but the national wage gap decreased by 4.5 percent. In the Washington region, women earn 20 percent--or $12,400--less than comparable men per year. White men in the region bring home 45 percent more than African American women working full time.
- Under pressure from Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, the U.N. Security Council agreed in May to allow a phased withdrawal of the U.N.'s biggest peacekeeping force, which triggered a $73 million cut that is expected to hinder the pursuit and capture of perpetrators of the mass rape incident in late August, The Christian Science Monitor reported Oct. 10.
- The American Cancer Society recommends women over the age of 40 should have annual mammograms, reported HealthDay News Oct. 15. Though there has been confusion about the effectiveness of mammograms, a recent Swedish study reports that women in their 40s who get regular mammograms could reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by as much as 29 percent.
- Linda McMahon, the Connecticut Republican candidate for Senator, is losing favor with female voters. According to a recent poll, her opponent, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, has a nearly 2-to-1 advantage among female voters, reported the New York Times Oct.13. Many female voters are put off by McMahon's relentless negativity in her campaign, her wall-to-wall advertising paid for with her own millions and her role in the wrestling industry, with its cartoonish and demeaning depictions of women, the article reported. McMahon is attempting to reach women by softening her image and describing herself as a "mother, grandmother and wife."
- In this year's midterms, the gender gap is alive and well in crucial Senate races, Judy Woodruff wrote Oct. 14 in the PBS Newshour. Citing a CNN/Opinion Research poll she pointed to Wisconsin, where men divide 56 percent to 41 percent in favor of Republican Ron Johnson over Democrat Russ Feingold and women are evenly split between the third term Democratic incumbent and his GOP challenger, 48 percent to 48 percent. In Washington state, Sen. Patty Murray is leading the women's vote by 2-to-1, 62 percent to 31 percent, while men prefer Republican Dino Rossi, 55 percent to 40 percent. The poll also shows that women don't always prefer the female candidate. In Delaware, where the GOP Senate nominee is the colorful tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell, women prefer her male opponent, Democrat Chris Coons, by a 27 point margin: 61 percent to 34 percent. O'Donnell is also trailing among male voters, 42 percent to 53 percent - but not by as large a margin as among women. One other poll recently that showed a lift for a Democratic woman candidate was in California, where incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer was leading her Republican female challenger, Carly Fiorina, by almost 20 points. The poll, done in late September, also for CNN and Opinion Research, showed men favoring Fiorina by three points -- 48 to 45.
- Bosnian authorities revoked permission for Angelina Jolie to shoot part of her directorial debut film in Bosnia after complaints from a women's war victims group, reported the Agence France-Presse Oct. 13. The Bosnia press reported the movie would be a love story between a Muslin victim and her rapist, a Serb, during the 1992-1993 Bosnian war. Women's war victims groups were outraged at the "misleading history." Estimates are that thousands of women were raped during the Bosnian war with no record of a love story between a victim and her rapist, the article reported.
- The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Oct. 13 that the victim of an alleged sexual assault may not have to remove her niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim woman that covers most of the face, while testifying as long as the fairness of a trial is not compromised, CBC News reported Oct. 13. In the 3-to-0 ruling, the court upheld an earlier decision by the Superior Court. A lower court had previously ordered the 32-year-old Muslim woman to remove the traditional veil during her testimony at the preliminary inquiry. However, the Appeal Court stopped short of saying the woman can give evidence in front of a jury with most of her face shielded by the niqab. Rather, it said she should be given an opportunity to explain the connection between her religious beliefs and the wearing of the niqab and demonstrate the sincerity of those beliefs through a more thorough preliminary hearing.
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