A report from Physicians for Human Rights suggests that improving women’s rights could be the key to addressing the AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa, Reuters reported May 25. The Massachusetts group, which investigates human rights abuses, studied 2,000 women in Botswana and Swaziland and identified inequality and gender discrimination as major problems in the region, where women are often forced into risky sex by men or by economic circumstance.

“The impact of women’s lack of power cannot be underestimated,” said study co-author Karen Leiter.

Women represent 75 percent of all HIV-infected Africans between the ages of 15 and 25; in Swaziland, 33 percent of adults are infected and in Botswana 24 percent of adults have the virus.

In Washington, D.C., President Bush announced a five-year renewal of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief with a $30 billion funding package to fight the epidemic. The effort is targeted toward 15 developing countries and Bush’s proposal would double current funding levels for the initiative, which he launched in his 2003 State of the Union speech.

The funding increase–with one-third earmarked for education programs that emphasize abstinence–would provide lifesaving treatments to 2.5 million people, according to a May 30 Washington Post article. The program’s original five-year, $15 billion-dollar commitment expires in September 2008. About 40 million people are known to be suffering from AIDS around the world; with more than half of those residing in Africa.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Hudie Joyce Walker left a California prison May 29 after 16 years in prison, the Los Angles Times reported May 30. Walker was freed after an appellate court allowed cases to be reopened if inmates can prove that expert testimony, such as evidence of intimate partner abuse, could have altered the outcome of their criminal trials. Walker was convicted of killing her husband in 1991. As many as 60 other cases could be affected by the court ruling.
  • Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia announced that one-third of government jobs would be allocated to Saudi women, Arab News reported May 27. The government has established hundreds of schools and colleges for girls and women and seeks to increase women’s employment from 5.4 percent to 14.2 percent by 2009.
  • Brazil will subsidize birth control pills for low-income people, providing a year’s supply for about $2.40, the Associated Press reported May 28. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said poor families will be able to plan for children and women’s rights advocates said the subsidies could reduce Brazil’s 800,000 illegal abortions each year. Brazil already distributes 254 million condoms annually. About 1.2 million Brazilian women have been hospitalized in the past five years for abortion-related complications, Reuters reported May 30.
  • Bishop Patricia Fresen, a lead figure in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, ordained five women as Catholic priests in Toronto, the BBC reported May 28. The Vatican says it does not recognize such ordinations or the groups performing them. Bishops in the movement say they are legitimate because male priests in good standing ordained them secretly.
  • Several domestic violence organizations joined together to select three winners in a competition designed to find the most innovative solutions to domestic violence. The Washington, D.C., advocacy group Men Can Stop Rape; Kenyan Men for Gender Equality Now, a network of men to end gender discrimination and the spread of HIV-AIDS; and Action India, a group that aids Delhi’s urban poor, were the winners of $5,000 grants in the competition.
  • Dan Bartlett, a veteran aide to President Bush, acted on his family values when he announced his resignation from the administration, Reuters reported June 1. Bartlett said it was time to put his family first and was searching for a less demanding job to “concentrate on helping raise his three young children all under the age of 4.” Bartlett first joined Bush’s staff as a campaign advisor in 1993.

For more information:

“Women with AIDS Need Our Help”:

“Tune In to Last Gasps of Patriarchy in Rome”:

“Brazil Begins Talking Openly About Abortion”:

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Britain’s two most senior Roman Catholic officials, Cardinal Keith O’Brien–who leads Scotland’s Catholics–and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor–who leads Catholics in England and Wales–have warned Catholic politicians who support abortion rights not to receive holy communion, the Telegraph reported June 1. The warning amounts to a heavy sanction and denotes strong disapproval on the part of church hierarchy.

In a sermon marking the 40th anniversary of legalized abortion rights in Britain, Cardinal O’Brien urged voters to consider the pro-choice views of politicians when making their decisions. Parliament Member Jim Devine said the comments–which followed news last week that abortion rates in Scotland were rising–were an “affront to democracy.”

On May 26, a British woman was convicted for an illegal abortion under the nation’s 78-year-old child-destruction law, United Press International reported. Maisha Mohammad was convicted of having an abortion when she was more than seven months pregnant, but has denied doing so and the fetus has never been found. She faces a 12-month prison sentence; the 22-year-old woman has three other children.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • More than 1,500 female executives are suing General Electric, claiming they were continuously underpaid and under-promoted, Reuters reported June 1. GE transportation general counsel Lorene Schaefer, a lead plaintiff in the action, said women are underrepresented at top levels because they are denied executive promotions. The lawsuit named 13 GE offices and directors and seeks class action status for the plaintiffs.
  • Pregnant military wives face a significantly higher risk of postpartum depression in initial screening tests, the Los Angeles Times reported May 27. Postpartum depression is marked by feelings of guilt or hopelessness, of inadequacy about motherhood, nagging worries about the infant’s safety and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts or behaviors. In new research, scientists found that women whose husbands were deployed during their pregnancies had 2.7 times the risk of having test results that indicate they could experience depresson.
  • Montreal university student Audrey Vachon complained to Quebec’s human rights tribunal after being kicked out of Le Stud, a gay bar in Montreal. Vachon said after sitting down for a drink with her father, a waiter informed her it was a male-only bar and asked her to leave. Le Stud’s owner says the bar has a house policy to admit only men.