Supporters of Portia Simpson-Miller cheered her campaign anthem, “It’s Woman Time Now,” while the 51-year-old government minister of local government and sport was sworn in as Jamaica’s first female prime minister on March 30. She is the second female head of government in the Caribbean, following Eugenia Charles, who was prime minister of Dominica in the 1980s, the Jamaican Information Service, a government Web site, reported.
Simpson-Miller has inspired what local observers are calling an astonishing degree of national unity. In some of Kingston’s inner-city areas, where gunfire between supporters of Simpson-Miller’s People’s National Party and backers of the rival Jamaican Labour Party, who often live on opposite sides of the road from one another, was once commonplace, Simpson-Miller is popular among supporters of both parties.
Dr. Glenda Simms, formerly of Jamaica’s Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a campaigner for Simpson-Miller, told the BBC-Caribbean that Simpson-Miller’s appointment signifies “the beginning of a transformation in Jamaican society, and I am convinced that this augers well for all peoples of the world, especially the third world.”
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Jill Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, was freed after being kidnapped for three months on March 30, the Monitor reported. Despite her distraught appearance in videos that surfaced during her captivity, she said that she had been well treated by her captors. The group that released Carroll said it freed her because the U.S. government had agreed to some of its demands to release all female Iraqi prisoners. Five prisoners were released in January, but the United States maintains that the release had nothing to do with Carroll and three women remain in custody.
- In a rape case which has garnered widespread public protest in South Africa, the Johannesburg High Court on March 29 turned down an application by former deputy president Jacob Zuma to have his case discharged on the grounds of poor evidence. The decision surprised Zuma, who, minutes prior to the announcement, had been joking with his supporters on the stand, the South African Press Association reported. The trial has sparked demonstrations from supporters of both Zuma and his accuser.
- The Pakistani Air Force inducted four women as fighter pilots for the first time in that nation’s history on March 30. Three years ago the air force decided to allow women to train as fighter pilots, reported the BBC. These fighter pilots are the first females with a “combat job” in the Pakistani Armed Forces.
- Chartering a private jet, 140 well-heeled New Orleans women–housewives, mothers, former debutantes and businesswomen–flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress to visit their hurricane-scarred city, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported March 28. After the hand-delivered invitations the women brought during their visit were rebuffed, they announced a new partnership with a number of national women’s groups. The strategy in joining forces is to make it more difficult for lawmakers to say no to a visit when the invitation comes from their own constituents. So far, the women’s group has been able to increase visits from congressional representatives by 10 percent in the Senate and 7 percent in the House since January.
For more information:
Zarate’s Political Collections–
Women Prime Ministers
World Health Organization–
Maternal mortality in 2000:
Estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA:
“South Africa Rape Trial Dashes Hope for Change”:
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In a March 23 op-ed in The New York Times headlined “To All The Girls I’ve Rejected,” a female admissions officer at Ohio’s Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, described what she considered a complex and troubling practice: with girls outpacing boys academically and female college applicants outnumbering males, college admissions officers are rejecting qualified–and even overqualified–female applicants in favor of males with lesser qualifications.
Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they receive more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men. Admissions officers, many of whom work for colleges with female enrollments of over 60 percent, speak of a “tipping point” in which a young woman’s qualifications lose ground to the valued notion of “gender balance,” described as the admissions officer’s elephant in the room.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- Only 10 percent of the world’s abortions happen in Africa, but the continent accounts for almost half of the world’s deaths from unsafe abortions, according to World Health Organization statistics; of those abortions, 1 in 12 women die. Only three African countries–Cape Verde, South Africa and Tunisia–have no legal restrictions on abortion and 90 percent of African women that have abortions do so illegally. They use methods such as inserting sharp objects into the uterus, flushing the vagina with caustic liquids or throwing themselves from high places, the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Networks reported March 24.
- New Zealand’s top family court judge said the country is suffering a serious social breakdown shown by a high rate of domestic violence, The Age, an Australian newspaper, reported March 28. Half of that nation’s murders happened within families last year and 11,000 incidents of domestic violence–one every eight minutes–occurred over a recent two-month period, the judge said. In the United States, the rate of spousal homicide as a percentage of total homicides is between 11 and 12 percent, 40 percent lower than New Zealand’s rate.
- In a bill which seems likely to pass into law, the Georgia House voted this week to make it a felony to kill a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported March 28. Under current state law, a person can be prosecuted for murder only when the fetus could be viable outside the uterus.
Elizabeth Dwoskin is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews. She is a freelance writer and radio producer based in New York.
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