Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriages this week and is the first state to do so with a legislature's vote. The other three states that allow same-sex marriages--Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts--have done so through court rulings. On the same day that Vermont cast the vote, April 7, the District of Columbia also took a step towards marriage equality. A preliminary vote by the D.C. city council recognizes same-sex marriages that are performed in other states. The council is expected to take a final vote on the legislation next month.
These steps are adding momentum to the movement. The Washington Post reported that the issue of same-sex marriage is also advancing in New Hampshire, where it has passed the state House and is waiting action by the Senate, as well as in Maine and New Jersey, where debates on same-sex marriage legislation are occurring.
Women's groups such as the National Council of Jewish Women have applauded these moves. In an April 7 press release they said: "Today's votes in Vermont and D.C., as well as the Iowa Supreme Court decision last week, strengthen families and help our nation realize its promise of liberty and justice for all. We will continue to pursue full marriage equality at the state and federal levels."
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The Colombian army has admitted its first class of women soldiers, Agence France Presse reported. Sixty-two women will be able to rise through all ranks to general and have the opportunity to command troops. Mexico, Chile, Peru and Bolivia are the only four other countries in Latin America to admit women in the army and allow them to reach the rank of general.
South Sudan is availing itself of five "moto-ambulances" to combat maternal mortality as part of a pilot U.N. program, the South African Independent Online reported. South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality in the world. The vehicle--a motorbike with a sidecar strapped to the side--will help transport pregnant women to hospitals. Transportation in the case of medical emergencies is unaffordable for the 90 percent of the population, who live on less than a dollar a day. Only one in ten births is assisted, according to the U.N.
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One year after their election to power, the Maoist Government of Nepal has failed to protect women human rights activists from violent attacks, Amnesty International said on April 10. Despite election promises made by the government to protect women, female activists campaigning for human rights have been targets of intimidation, beatings, sexual attacks and murder, the organization said. The report added that no significant effort has been made to bring the perpetrators to justice. Many of these activists have also become social outcasts for raising the issues of domestic and sexual violence.
The organization focuses on two Nepali women's rights activists, both murdered since the new government came to power. The most recent case was that of Uma Singh, a journalist and member of the Women's Human Rights Defender Network. She was attacked on January 11 by a group of men armed with sharp weapons and died on her way to the hospital. Last June, Laxmi Bohara was severely beaten and then reportedly murdered by her husband and mother-in-law, who did not support her work defending human rights.
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A new study has found that 49 percent of 15- to 17-year-old female teens in Kingston, Jamaica, who were interviewed to identify risk factors for teen pregnancy, reported having experienced sexual coercion or violence. One-third of these teens said that they had been persuaded or forced to participate in their first sexual experience. The authors of the study, which was published in the March issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, said that these numbers reflect the widespread prevalence of gender-based violence in Jamaica.
The Awakening Foundation, a women's rights group based in Taipei, Taiwan, has called on the government to help reform funeral and ancestral worship practices that discriminate against women, reported the Taipei Times. Some of these discriminatory practices include the tradition that the names of male descendants be written before those of female descendants of a deceased person on their obituary. Also, according to tradition, married women are not allowed to visit the tombs of their biological family members and can't be worshiped by their biological family.
Female genital mutilation is growing as a practice in the European Union, with 180,000 girls at risk, according to a European Parliament report on the prevention of the practice. Half a million women living in the European Union have already undergone the procedure, the Irish Medical Times reported. Irish parliamentarians are considering a ban on the practice.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered a review of a new law criticized for sanctioning marital rape, Al Jazeera reported. News of the law, which Karzai signed last month, spilled out in the international press and drew sharp criticism from western leaders, including President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, this week. The legislation was proposed by Afghanistan's Shia minority to regulate family life. It requires women to sexually fulfill their husbands and obtain permission to work or visit a doctor.
Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered a police committee to investigate the flogging of a 17-year-old female teen, the BBC reported. A video has been circulating of the public flogging, which took place in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley, showing apparent Taliban members holding the female teen down and hitting her with a strap. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government signed a peace deal with the Taliban in this region, part of which allowed Sharia, or Islamic law, if the Taliban agreed to lay down their arms.