Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley included women in an important Holy Thursday ritual this week, returning to a tradition followed by his predecessor.

The ritual requires the archbishop to wash the feet of 12 people in imitation of Jesus’ washing of the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper and has been a part of Holy Thursday liturgies since the 13th century. The archbishop had reportedly refused to wash women’s feet last year.

Bernard Cardinal Law, O’Malley’s predecessor, had included women in the foot-washing ritual, reports the Boston Globe. The current archbishop’s decision to wash only men’s feet last year came days after a Holy Week homily in which O’Malley named feminism as a social issue that makes it difficult for the church to reach baby boomers, reports the Boston Herald.

Other reasons to Cheer this week:

— Chile, a socially conservative country that has been depicted as having a poor record on women’s rights, would elect a female president if the elections were to take place now, according to recent opinion polls, reports The Associated Press. Presidential pre-candidates Michelle Bachelet and Soledad Alvear are the top contenders to become the country’s next president in elections slated for December 12, according to the polls. Bachelet, a pediatrician and Chile’s former defense minister, is from Chile’s leading Socialist party. Alvear, a lawyer who served as the country’s first head of women’s affairs, is from the Christian Democrat Party. Chile will be holding primary elections on July 31 to select presidential candidate for December elections.

— New Jersey became the fifth state on Monday to pass a bill requiring that hospitals offer rape victims emergency contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. Under the new law, hospitals must tell sexual-assault victims about emergency contraception, the standard treatment to prevent pregnancy after rape, and must give patients the pills if they request them. Emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, can prevent pregnancy if taken in two doses 12 hours apart within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Other states that have adopted legislation similar to New Jersey’s “Compassionate Care for Survivors of Sexual Assault” include New York, Washington, California and New Mexico.

— Ten Indian women have begun their ascent up Mount Everest after their team, the Indian Army, kicked off its first women’s expedition last week up the mountain that separates Nepal from Tibet, reports the Indo-Asian News Service. The first Indian women’s expedition took place over a decade ago. The Indian Army team includes women from various parts of the country, from West Bengal to Gujarat, as well as from remote villages. In preparation for their climb, the women have participated in other high-altitude glacier marches, including a successful climb last October of Mt. Abi Gamin in the Garhwal Himalayas.

— The U.N. has so far taken action against 17 employees accused of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One U.N. employee was fired and six others were suspended without pay this week, the BBC reported Friday. One other member of the peacekeeping mission resigned to avoid facing disciplinary action. U.N. peacekeepers have been accused of using food and money to pay for sex with young girls. Allegations started emerging in early 2004 and in February of this year, the U.N. announced that its troops in Congo had been ordered not to have sexual relations with Congolese.


The U.S. Education Department issued a further clarification of the regulations interpreting Title IX, the statute barring sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal financing, according to news reports on Monday.

Under the new clarification, issued late last Friday afternoon, colleges can demonstrate that they are satisfying the demand for women’s sports by taking an online survey showing that female students have no unmet sports interests. The Education Department told news organizations that if only a few people respond to the survey it may be interpreted as a lack of interest.

Women’s advocacy groups are saying that the clarifications are a way for schools to escape their responsibility under Title IX to provide equal athletic opportunities for women and men.

“This is simply an underhanded way to weaken Title IX and make it easy for schools that aren’t interested in providing equal opportunity for women to skirt the law,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, president of the National Women’s Law Center, in the statement issued on Monday.

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Myles Brand also criticized the survey, saying it doesn’t adequately reflect the interest in women’s athletics and could harm their growth.

Other reasons to Jeer this week:

— A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has found that female pundits on television are rare, according to a press release by the organization this week. The study examined six months of NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday,” and tracked the gender and race of the pundits who were invited to discuss topics with the host. “The Chris Matthews Show” demonstrated the best gender balance with 51 male pundits and 49 female pundits. “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday” had the lowest numbers with 22 percent and 25 percent of its pundits being women, while “Meet the Press” had 39 percent women. The women who did appear on the programs were overwhelmingly white. The complete study, which includes analysis of newspapers and news magazines, will appear in the May 2005 issue of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s magazine Extra!

— Researchers have confirmed that women who had undergone a hysterectomy had a 26 percent higher risk of a cardiovascular event–such as coronary death, heart attack or stroke–compared to women who had not undergone hysterectomy. The study of nearly 90,000 women was reported in this week’s issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association. Hysterectomy is the most common surgical procedure for U.S. women, reports the American Heart Association, and an estimated one-third of U.S. women will undergo the procedure by age 65.

— Ugandan rebels attacked a group of women last Friday collecting firewood in a remote village near the Sudanese border, hacking off their lips, ears and breasts, according a government official, Reuters reports this week. Fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army have stepped up attacks on civilians and troops after peace talks stalled late last year. Walter Ochola, council chair for the northern district of Gulu, told Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, on Monday that situation has worsened in the past three weeks.