The United Kingdom has pledged $5.3 million over two years to support groups offering safe abortions and family planning in the developing world, Reuters reported Feb. 6.

The pledge by the U.K. Department for International Development was prompted by an International Planned Parenthood Foundation report released the same day which estimated that 19 million women and girls will risk an unsafe abortion this year and up to 70,000 will die.

Since a 2001 “global gag rule” enforced by the Bush administration that withdrew funds from any organization that counsels on abortion–except to advise against it–or provides abortions, dozens of health clinics in Peru, Kenya and other parts of the developing world had to close down, says the London-based foundation, which applauded the U.K. commitment.

“We know from experience that the absence of sexual and reproductive health services results in an increase in unintended pregnancies and, inevitably, a greater number of unsafe abortions,” Gareth Thomas, a minister from the Department for International Development, told the Guardian newspaper. “I would urge other donors to follow our lead.”

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Hundreds of Pakistani girls living in relief camps after the Oct. 8 South Asia earthquake are now attending school for the first time, learning math, science, Urdu and English, the Christian Science Monitor reported Feb. 8. The need to work and the lack of female teachers prevented them from attending school in the past, resulting in a female literacy rate under 2 percent in Pakistan’s quake-hit North West Frontier Province. Displaced from their homes, the girls are now able to attend school in the refugee camps.

  • A Polish woman who was not allowed to have an abortion even though doctors warned her that giving birth could damage her eyesight has accused Poland of failing to protect her rights, Reuters reported Feb. 7. After giving birth, Alicja Tysiac’s eyesight deteriorated to the extent that she is now considered disabled. She has asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, to consider her complaint against Poland’s strict abortion law, which only allows exceptions for rape, health of the woman and birth defects. The court cannot make Poland change its law but it can rule that Tysiac’s rights were violated.

  • Australia’s upper house voted Feb. 9 to remove the authority of the health minister to regulate the abortion-inducing drug RU-486, and transfer that authority to a government body of doctors and scientists that regulates all other pharmaceuticals, Reuters reported. Australia’s health minister, Tony Abbott, who is anti-choice, has prohibited the import and sale of RU-486, effectively banning Australian companies and doctors from importing and prescribing it. Senators voted 45 to 28 to pass the bill but it must still be passed by Australia’s lower house before it can become law.


Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has scrapped plans to propose a bill to give women the right to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne, Reuters reported Feb. 10, after it was announced on Tuesday that one of Japan’s royal princesses was pregnant, reviving hopes for a male heir. “(The bill) shouldn’t become a subject of political strife,” Koizumi told reporters on Friday. Koizumi had promised to introduce the bill to parliament to allow for a Japanese empress since no boys have been born into Japan’s imperial family since 1965.

Current succession law allows only males descended from emperors through the paternal line to become emperor. The majority of Japanese favor letting women inherit the throne, according to Nikkei polls. But the news that Princess Kiko, wife of the emperor’s second son, was pregnant with her third child spurred calls from opponents of the bill to wait and see if the baby–due in September or October–is male.

Four-year-old Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako, is a popular figure in Japan. The now-scuttled law was proposed to allow her to become the first empress of Japan since the 18th century.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Three out of four characters in General Audience (G-rated) movies are male and fewer than one out of three speaking characters are female, affecting the gender attitudes of young children under age 11, a Feb. 9 report from the See Jane program founded by actress Geena Davis indicates. After analyzing the 101 top-grossing G-rated films released from 1990 through 2004, researchers at the University of Southern California found “a pronounced imbalance in the representation of male and female characters” in these movies.

  • The number of sexual harassment complaints in the U.S. increased by 29 percent from 1992 to 13,000 in 2003, with an increasing number being filed by women of color, according to The Opportunity Agenda, a New York-based advocacy group. The number of women in federal and state prisons and local jails has also increased 800 percent since 1980. The statistics are drawn from the group’s Feb. 7 report, “State of Opportunity in America,” that measures a wide range of opportunity indicators from housing to health care to incarceration.

  • Older women with a higher risk of osteoporosis are less likely to be given bone density tests, reported a study published online Feb. 8 by the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Nearly 23 percent of the 44,000 women included in the study had a bone density test done. However, the chances of their having a test declined steadily and significantly as their age increased.

  • More than 150 Kurdish women in Iran have committed suicide over the last nine months, most of them by self-immolation, the Tehran-based Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan announced Feb. 8. Most of the women suffered various forms of domestic violence, discrimination and social injustice. The advocacy group told Radio Free Europe that many women see burning themselves as an outcry against the “patriarchal system” in Iran.

In Memoriam

Willie Grace Campbell, a leading social activist who launched voter education projects in American inner cities in the 1960s and promoted women’s rights in the developing world, died at age 90 of heart failure at her home in Los Angeles on Feb. 6, the Los Angeles Times reported. Nancy Rubin, former head of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission who worked with Campbell on many projects, called her “an absolute visionary who understood over 30 years ago that women’s equality was not an issue of political correctness but an issue of social justice, enabling the full realization of human potential.”

Anju Mary Paul is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews. She has an M.A. in journalism from New York University.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].