Women in developing countries will have easier access to future microbicides that will offer some protection against the AIDS virus. Two pharmaceutical firms–Merck and Co., Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb–have agreed to donate the rights to develop, manufacture and distribute vaginal gels and creams that include experimental compounds to help prevent HIV infection. The nonprofit International Partnership for Microbicides will be permitted to develop the products without paying royalties. In a study, 4 in 6 monkeys who were treated with the compounds before exposure to HIV escaped infection, according to the journal Nature.

The move is one that follows years of pleas from the developing world to reduce the costs of AIDS drugs. “The search for an effective microbicide is crucial to providing women with more options to protect themselves against HIV infection,” said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Other News to Cheer This Week:

  • More than 1,800 delegates from 120 countries gathered in Bangkok Oct. 27-30 for an international forum to review the current state of women’s rights. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development gathering was the largest in the past decade and focused on the decline in funding for women’s groups worldwide, according to the association. In a new research project, the association noted the 51 percent drop in funding to women’s groups over the past five years. For example, the United States provided $69 billion in development aid in 2003, but only 0.6 percent of the aid includes gender equity as a primary objective.

    In response, the association has launched an initiative to increase the level of funding to women’s organizations around the globe. The threat of religious fundamentalism to women’s rights was also noted at the forum, and the newly-signed Iraqi constitution was criticized by many delegates. Participants included feminist activists, development practitioners, human rights defenders and government representatives.

  • The city council of Chandler, Ariz., unanimously adopted an ordinance Oct. 29 that protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in public “anywhere a mother and child are allowed,” according to the Associated Press. The ordinance came after an Arizona woman was removed from a public pool and threatened with a ticket for nursing in public this summer. Breastfeeding is currently prohibited under state indecent exposure laws that the legislature is under pressure from activists to revise.
  • Florida A and M University in Tallahassee will reinstate its women’s swimming and diving team to avoid a Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit, the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice announced Wednesday. In August 2005, the university cut the team to save money, but the trial lawyers say the school’s football team receives more money than all other sports teams combined, excluding basketball. Although 58 percent of the school’s undergraduate population is female, the trial lawyers say they have fewer opportunities than men to participate in athletics.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday that it had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two immigrant waitresses at a Fairview, N.J., Chinese restaurant who say they were exploited by their employers. The Chinese waitresses claimed they were subjected to physical abuse and sexual harassment by co-workers and were paid as little as 50 cents an hour for their work as well as having to hand over their tips to management.


Federal funding for child support enforcement programs is on Congress’ chopping block, after the House Ways and Means Committee slashed $5 billion for the programs Oct. 26. The cuts are included in a reconciliation package that will be part of next year’s federal budget and will result in a 40 percent reduction over the next five years, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, based in Washington, D.C.

California, which receives the largest share of enforcement funds, stands to lose over $1 billion in funding while South Dakota would lose $8 million. The cuts would reduce state governments’ ability to collect child support for low- and middle-income families. The committee also recommended that states begin charging custodial parents an annual $25 fee for collection services amounting to over $500.

Last year, the backlog of child support payments reached $95 billion.

The bill also includes provisions to reauthorize Temporary Aid to Needy Families that would increase families’ work requirements and provide $500 million in new child care funding over the next five years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that child care funding will need to increase by $4.8 billion to keep pace with inflation.

Other News to Jeer This Week:

  • Controversy over a new vaccine that offers virtually 100 percent protection against the majority of cervical cancers has created a rift between health advocates and social conservatives, the Washington Post reported on Monday. Health advocates want the vaccine to become a standard immunization that teenagers, especially girls, would receive just before puberty. The virus is sexually transmitted and advocates say thousands of malignancies could be prevented. Social conservatives say that immunizing teens against the disease could encourage sexual activity and have begun to lobby regulators who must approve its use. Cervical cancer kills over 3,700 women a year in the United States.
  • Five U.S. Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, were detained in the Philippines on Thursday after they were accused of raping a 22-year-old woman at a former U.S. naval base northwest of Manila, USA Today reported. The woman told Philippine authorities that she met the men in a disco and then was assaulted in their rental van, said Jose Calimlim, an administrator of the facility. The marines, who were participating in counter-terrorism activities with the Philippine military, are currently in the custody of the U.S. embassy. Six marines were charged in the complaint, but only five were identified. They are forbidden to leave the Philippines while the case is pending.

Karen James is a Women’s eNews intern and master’s candidate at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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