Among the 39 countries that held parliamentary elections in 2005, the ratio of women elected to public office increased in 28 of them, the Geneva-based nonprofit Inter-Parliamentary Union announced Feb. 27. By the end of 2005, 16.3 percent of upper and lower house members were women, sustaining the progress made since 1995 when the proportion of women in parliament was only 11.3 percent.

Many African nations now have a third of their parliaments comprised of women. The Rwandan Parliament is 49 percent female–the highest in the world–thanks to a quota system which requires gender parity. Other African parliaments that are at least one-third women include Mozambique (34 percent), South Africa (32.8 percent), Burundi (30.5 percent) and Tanzania (30.4 percent).

Margaret Mensah-Williams, deputy speaker of the Namibian Senate, told the Voice of America that with the increased presence of women in parliaments, legislation on education and inheritance now take women’s concerns into consideration. However, many female parliamentarians still encounter harassment from their male colleagues.

“A speaker from Lesotho said female MPs now feel they can’t speak,” Mensah-Williams said, “because men heckle . . . and use interjections like ‘Shut up, you are a woman,’ ‘Keep quiet.’ Things like that which intimidates some women.”

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • The U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first woman Feb. 28 when Effa Manley, the former co-owner of the New Jersey-based Newark Eagles was selected along with 16 other people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues, The Associated Press reported. Manley, who died in 1981 at age 84, advanced the civil rights cause by organizing events such as an Anti-Lynching Day at ballparks.
  • A reusable, lightweight birthing suit could save the lives of women at risk of dying from blood loss during childbirth, according to a University of California study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the BBC reported Feb. 28. The suit is designed to help women in developing countries who often have to give birth at home. The suit, which resembles the lower half of a wetsuit, forces blood from the legs to a pregnant woman’s heart, brain and other vital organs and keeps her alive until she reaches a hospital. Hemorrhaging causes a third of the 500,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 to lift a nationwide injunction protecting women’s health clinics from violent protests and demonstrations by anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action Network, the Washington Post reported Feb. 28. The court held that the Hobbs Act, a federal anti-racketeering law that makes it a crime to use robbery, extortion or violence to obstruct commerce, was not the correct basis for issuing the injunction.

A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that there was a nationwide pattern of illegal activity and protest against women’s health clinics and abortion providers that qualified as “physical violence” under the Hobbs Act. But in the decision that combined two earlier cases, the Supreme Court held that abortion providers were already protected from illegal violence under the federal 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

“I initiated this case almost 20 years ago as the president of the National Organization for Women to stop the reign of terror perpetrated by anti-abortion extremists at clinics across the country,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., said in a press release. “I only hope that the loss of the injunction does not embolden anti-abortion extremists to escalate domestic terrorism towards women’s reproductive health clinics.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Anti-choice state lawmakers are taking a cue from their colleagues in South Dakota who approved a ban on abortion Feb. 24, allowing an exception only to save the life of the woman. The bill was designed to test the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and the tactic is now being followed in similar bills around the nation. Legislation is being introduced in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina and Kentucky, ABC News reported March 3. The bills vary in the details, with some including exceptions for rape and incest, and not all bills are expected to be approved as law. The abortion ban thrust has also created a tactical split in the anti-choice movement.
  • Only two U.S. states have laws expressly prohibiting the shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor, according to an Amnesty International report released March 1. Amnesty studied existing legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia concerning sexual misconduct by prison custodial staff and the treatment of women in custody who are pregnant or parents. The report’s findings paint a grim picture of the lack of legislation protecting female prisoners from sexual abuse by male staff and the routine use of restraints on pregnant prisoners in transport and during medical care.
  • Only 1 in 20 pregnant women in Pakistan has access to emergency obstetric care, according to gynecologists speaking on Feb. 23 at a seminar in Karachi organized by the U.N. Population Fund, Pakistan’s Daily Times reported. Pakistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 500 pregnant women dying for every 100,000 live births. Many of these deaths occur in rural areas, where access to prompt health care is rare.
  • Europe’s family-friendly laws are discouraging many women from developing their careers, according to a Newsweek article published Feb. 27. The article cites a 2005 report published by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization that says women make up less than a third of high-level decision makers–including legislators, senior government officials and business managers–in Europe. The report argues that Europe’s long maternity leaves, tax policies that discourage a second income for families, and subsidies for stay-at-home mothers, are hampering mothers from returning to the work force as full-time workers and developing their careers.

–Jennifer Thurston contributed to this story.

Anju Mary Paul is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. Jennifer Thurston is associate editor at Women’s eNews.

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

Baseball Hall of Fame: Effa Manley http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/manley_effa.htm

Amnesty International: Abuse of Women in Custody http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/custody/abuseincustody.html

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