The end of the 2006 midterm elections resulted in a record increase in the number of women voted into the U.S. Congress. In the Senate, a record total of 16 women, 11 Democrats and five Republicans, will serve. Victories by 50 Democratic women in the House helped Democrats gain control and placed Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in line to become the first female Speaker of the House. Five House races involving women are still unsettled.

In gubernatorial races, five of the eight women who ran won their races, and a total of nine women will serve as governors in 2007, a level reached only once before.

Voters in South Dakota rejected a ballot measure by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent that would have banned abortions at all stages of pregnancy, including cases of rape and incest, and offered no exception for a woman’s health.

In Oregon and California, voters defeated measures that would have required doctors to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor. Voters defeated California’s Proposition 85 by 54 percent to 46 percent, and Oregon’s Measure 43 was rejected with a 55 percent vote. Thirty-five states already have laws requiring parental involvement in an underage woman’s abortion decision.

Arizona became the first state to reject a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage with voters refusing to outlaw gay marriage by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent, reported Stateline.org. However, seven more states on Election Day joined the 20 states that already had decided to pass constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

“It was a good year for women because it was a year of change and women represent change,” Democratic pollster Celina Lake told U.S. News and World Report Nov. 8. “It was a year of people feeling we’ve got to have people come together and get something done and voters believe that women will do that more.”

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • A United Nations panel endorsed a landmark proposal that would create a new and powerful women’s agency at the international body, the Toronto Star reported Nov. 10. According to Stephen Lewis, the U.N. special envoy on AIDS-HIV, the agency would deliver programs and services to billions of women throughout the world that would remove the worst poverty and oppression and help save lives in the midst of the AIDS pandemic. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to ask the U.N. General Assembly to adopt the proposal before his term ends Dec. 31. “This is the most dramatic step forward in decades, for women and for the U.N.,” said Lewis.
  • A judge in Zimbabwe dropped charges against 180 women from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise who had been charged for taking part in anti-government protests and faced two years in prison if convicted. The women were arrested at an August public protest over currency reforms that called for a change of government rather than a change of banknotes. “We are making an impact,” activist Jenni Williams told the BBC News on Nov. 7. “We are getting Zimbabweans to hold their government to account.”
  • Dr. Margaret Chan of China was elected to the post of director-general of the World Health Organization, the agency announced Nov. 9. During her nine-year stint as WHO’s director of health, Chan dealt with the first human outbreak of avian influenza in 1997 and severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong in 2003.
  • Anna Bersagel, a cross country and track and field student-athlete who graduated from Wake Forest University, received the 2006 NCAA Woman of the Year Award on Nov. 1. Bersagel is the first woman from Wake Forest to receive the award, which is given to a female student-athlete who has demonstrated both academic and athletic excellence in addition to community service and leadership.

For more information:

Women’s eNews Spotlight on 2006 Midterm Election Races:

“Women Fight State Brutality in Streets of Zimbabwe”:

Human Rights Watch, “Occupied Palestinian Territories: Authorities Must Address Violence against Women and Girls”:


A Nov. 7 report by New York-based Human Rights Watch argues that a lack of services and facilities to protect women–along with discriminatory laws and traditional practices–is contributing to increasing violence against Palestinian women from family members and partners. The report documents dozens of cases of gender-based violence including abuse, rape, incest and murders in the West Bank and Gaza.

The rights group said that although awareness of violence against women is increasing, the Palestinian Authority has not sufficiently responded. Even though the Palestinian government has been weakened by ongoing conflict with Israel, Human Rights Watch said that provided “no excuse” for the “virtual impunity” provided to perpetrators. The report noted a lack of police expertise and will to address gender-based violence as well as a lack of policies in place to remedy the situation.

“When confronted with cases of violence against women and girls, the Palestinian criminal justice system is more interested in avoiding public scandal than in seeing justice done,” said report co-author and researcher Lucy Mair. “A woman’s basic right to life and bodily integrity is seen as a secondary concern at best.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • A Pakistani senior judge has ordered female lawyers not to wear veils in courtrooms, the Times of India reported Nov. 4. “We (the judges) cannot identify veiled woman lawyers and suspect that veiled lawyers appear to seek adjournment of proceedings in other lawyers’ cases,” said the chief justice, Tariq Pervaiz Khan, who added that he could barely hear the pleas made by female lawyer Raees Anjum from behind her veil.
  • Fewer than half of women diagnosed with uterine fibroid tumors are informed by their gynecologists of less invasive alternatives to hysterectomy, such as uterine artery embolization, a procedure that has a lower rate of complications and requires less recovery time than hysterectomy, according to a survey released by the National Women’s Health Resource Center in red Bank, N.J., on Nov. 8.

In Memoriam:

Ellen Willis, a noted journalist, feminist and cultural critic who was also a vital figure in the women’s movement of the late 1960s, died in Queens, N.Y., on Nov. 9. She was the first pop music critic of the New Yorker and wrote regularly about music for Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and other publications. She was also known for her political essays. Willis was founder of Redstockings, a highly influential radical feminist group begun in 1969. In the 1980s, she helped found No More Nice Girls, a street theater and protest group that focused on abortion rights.

Irene Lew is the editorial intern at Women’s eNews

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