A study released by the Tanzania Ministry of Health reported that female genital mutilation is on the decline, according to the United Nations’ IRIN news agency Dec. 4. A health survey showed that the prevalence of female genital mutilation had declined from 18 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 2005 in the East African nation. Local organizations attributed the decline to continued awareness campaigns against the practice.

Last month, in a conference on female genital mutilation in Cairo, Muslim academics and scholars urged the Egyptian religious establishment to end the practice, Gulf News reported Nov. 23. A Muslim cleric told the conference that the main sources of Islamic Sharia, the Quran and the Sunnah, did not have any firm evidence that circumcision was obligatory for women.

“This practice must be stopped especially if doctors confirmed to us that it does no good to the woman’s health,” said Yousuf Al Qaradawi, an Egyptian scholar and journalist. In Egypt, female genital mutilation was practiced on 97 percent of girls 10 years ago, but total now has dropped to 50.3 percent, with 75 percent of those procedures performed by doctors.

Up to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation, which is practiced extensively in Africa and in some parts of the Middle East, according to UNICEF, and the international community is making some strides to condemn the cultural practice.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • The GOP leaders fell far short of the two-thirds majority they needed under a procedural rule to pass the last anti-choice bill before Democrats take control next month. The bill would have required doctors to inform a woman up to 20 weeks into her pregnancy that an abortion would cause pain to the fetus. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, cheered the 250-162 vote against the bill. She added: “I can’t say goodbye to this Congress soon enough.”
  • Top female ministers in Central America gathered in Costa Rica to address the trafficking of women in the region, a major step in drawing attention to an issue rarely discussed, reported Swiss-based International Organization for Migration on Dec. 8. The two-day event brought together members of the Central American Council of Women Ministries, counter-trafficking experts and the Central American network of nongovernmental organizations combating violence against women.
  • India’s top court ruled that divorced women who remarry will no longer automatically lose custody of their children, the Associated Press reported Nov. 23. The ruling overturned a lower court decision that upheld the practice based on Hindu family law, which favored the father as the natural guardian of children.

For more information:

2005 Arab Human Development Report:




A Philippines trial court on Dec. 4 found U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith guilty of raping a 23-year-old Filipino woman at a navy base last year, but acquitted the other three marines who were cheering him on, reported the Houston Chronicle.

Although Smith was sentenced to 40 years in the Makati City Jail by Judge Benjamin Pozon, the United States has demanded interim custody of Smith, citing an agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines that allows U.S. troops accused of crimes in the country to remain in U.S. custody until the end of legal proceedings. Smith plans to appeal his conviction. The woman’s lawyer has threatened to call for street protests if Smith is returned to U.S. custody, the Philippine Star reported Dec. 9.

Over the past year, the case has become a lightning rod for the issues of women’s rights and national sovereignty in the Philippines. In addition to the 40-year sentence, Smith was ordered to pay the victim $2,000 in damages. He had argued that the sex was consensual.

“This is not just a case about one woman,” said Annalisa Enrile, chair of U.S.-Philippine women’s group GABRIELA Network. “This case is about the Visiting Forces Agreement and how it has reintroduced the U.S. military back to Philippine soil and all the issues that go along with that such as rampant violence against women.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • A United Nations report says that Arab women are still being denied equal opportunities, holding back economic and social development across the Arab world, the BBC reported Dec. 6. According to the 2005 Arab Human Development Report, maternal mortality rates in the Arab League’s poorest countries are still alarmingly high and, in all but four Arab countries, fewer than 80 percent of girls go to secondary school. Arab women also make up an average of only about 10 percent of members of Parliament, which is the lowest regional proportion in the world.
  • A group called the Just Swords of Islam issued a warning to Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip that they must wear the hijab or face being targeted by the group’s members, the Jerusalem Post reported Dec. 2. Addressing mainly female university students who do not wear the Islamic head covering, the group claimed responsibility for recent attacks against men and women in Internet cafes using rocket-propelled grenades.
  • Saudi women can sell, but not drive cars, the AP reported Dec. 3. Saleswomen are permitted to help potential buyers choose a car and answer questions about automotive features. But neither they nor female buyers are permitted to take the car for a test run because women are still banned from driving in Saudi Arabia.
  • Millions of working fathers and mothers are less productive at work due to concerns about what their children are doing in the after-school hours, contributing to worker stress that costs businesses between $50 billion and $300 billion, according to a study released Dec. 4 by Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization with offices in the U.S., Canada and Switzerland.

In Memoriam:

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the first woman to represent the United States as ambassador to the United Nations, died Dec. 7 at age 80 at her home in Bethesda, Md. A Democrat who switched parties, Kirkpatrick was appointed to her post by Ronald Reagan and became a chief defender of his policies. She also considered a run for the presidency in 1988, the same year that Rep. Patricia Schroeder made her presidential bid on the Democratic ticket.

“I think that it was time to have a woman in the race,” Kirkpatrick told the New York Times in 1987, shortly after deciding she would not run. “It would be a good thing to have a woman candidate who held her own and conducted herself with skill and dignity. It would be a good thing for society, not just for women.”

–Allison Stevens contributed to this report.
Irene Lew is the editorial intern at Women’s eNews.

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