Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, an activist for indigenous people, is the first indigenous woman in Guatemala to run for the presidency, the Inter Press Service reported Aug. 29. Menchu is fifth in the polls and is expected to win about 3 percent of the vote in the Sept. 9 election but her candidacy has raised the political profile of both women and indigenous people.

Menchu started the Winaq movement to represent the 40 percent of the population that is indigenous and has also condemned the violence that has marred the campaign, including the Aug. 27 murder of Clara Luz Lopez Marroquin, a candidate for a town council seat. About 40 candidates and campaign workers have been killed. Amnesty International issued a call Aug. 28 to all candidates to condemn the violence.

“We are the voice of the thousands of silenced people, who have no room (in the system) and who only take orders,” Menchu told the news service, emphasizing her role as an indigenous woman in “machista, racist” Guatemala.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel topped Forbes magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful women for the second year. Wu Yi, vice premier of China, was No. 2. Others include No. 6 Sonia Ghandi, president of the India National Congress Party; No. 8 Patricia A. Woertz, chair of agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland; No. 20 Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; No. 25 Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; and No. 45 Janet L. Robinson, chief executive, The New York Times Company.
  • Saudi women studying law at King Abdul Aziz University are pressing for the right to practice once they graduate, Arab News reported Aug 29. Five female students are preparing a study to support their case to present to the king. In their study they have found no Islamic ban against women becoming lawyers.
  • A women’s support group in Tajikistan used U.S. funding to launch the nation’s first shelter for battered women, Radio Free Europe reported Aug. 29. At least 60 women have sought help at the shelter and 700 people have contacted a hotline. The facility can house 12 people and authorities in northern Tajikistan have announced plans to donate part of a local hospital to a new shelter.
  • Botswana has reduced the rate of mother-to-infant HIV transmission below 4 percent, the Boston Globe reported Aug. 27. About 34 percent of pregnant women carry the virus, but transmissions have been prevented through HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women; without intervention the transmission rate is 30 to 35 percent.
  • China plans to stiffen its laws against gender-selective abortion, which has resulted in a nationally skewed sex ratio of 119 boys for every 100 girls, Agence France-Presse reported Aug. 25. Selective abortions are illegal but enforcement and penalties are rare. The government is reacting to warnings from scientists that the pending “bachelor bomb” could destabilize the country in the future.
  • Duke University named Nancy C. Andrews as dean of its medical school Aug. 27, making her the only woman to lead one of the nation’s top 10 medical schools, the Associated Press reported. “The fact that in 2007 there are still firsts for what women can do in medicine says something about how difficult it can be,” Andrews said.
  • Three women are on the final list of five candidates to become the bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Chicago diocese, the Chicago Tribune reported Aug. 29. Rev. Tracy Lind, who is a lesbian, said of her nomination that she will respond with faith and grace. The election is Nov. 10.
  • A Gender Public Advocacy Coalition survey of 278 colleges and universities found that 69 percent have policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, expression and sexual orientation. More than 100 public school districts have also passed similar policies, but the coalition says that some top universities–such as Stanford, Northwestern and Michigan–lack policies and students may face harassment.

For more information:

Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Maternity Leave Fact Sheet

Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, GENIUS Index

Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women:

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The maternal mortality rate in the United States has risen to its highest level in decades, the Associated Press reported Aug. 24, reaching 13 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2004.

That was up from 12 deaths per 100,000 the year before, which was the first time deaths rose above 10 in 100,000 since 1977, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Race is a significant factor; African American women are three times more likely to die from maternal complications than white women. “The hardest thing to understand is how in this day and age, in a modern hospital with doctors and nurses, that somebody can just die like that,” said Tim Davis, whose wife Elizabeth died after giving birth in 2000.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • The feminization of poverty in the United States continues, according to 2006 Census data released this week. More than half of poor households are headed by women, and women comprise 56 percent of those living below the poverty line; children are about one-third of those living in poverty. Full-time working women saw their earnings drop 1.2 percent in 2006 from the year before.
  • “We are being told we are in the fifth year of an economic recovery. I have trouble saying that with a straight face,” said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of Chicago Foundation for Women. “These numbers show that women and children carry the burden of poverty in America.”

  • Female suicides have increased in Iraqi Kurdistan because they are forced into marriages or because of economic circumstances, the Taipei Times reported Aug. 27. About 350 women died in the first seven months of 2007; a common method is to douse the body in cooking oil and then set themselves on fire.
  • An analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has found that the 100 best companies selected by Working Mother magazine lag in parental benefits, with 52 percent offering six weeks or less of paid maternity leave and 24 percent providing four weeks or less of paid leave to new parents. Twenty-eight percent of the firms provide nine weeks or more paid leave to women.
  • The Bush administration watered down a pro-breastfeeding advertising campaign two years ago in response to pressure from infant formula makers, the Washington Post reported Aug. 31. The ads initially included blunt messages linking breastfeeding to health benefits, but were replaced with “friendly” images of dandelions and cherry-topped ice cream cones. The resulting campaign had no discernible results in improving U.S. breastfeeding rates.
  • Police in Cambridgeshire, England, raided 73 suspected brothels and discovered that trafficked women were sold at auction in pubs before they were forced into sex work, the Guardian reported Aug. 26. Gang members bid on the women at auctions, some paying as little as $2,000. So far, seven women have been rescued.
  • A controversial judge, Carlos Alberto Menezes Direito, was appointed to Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court after Catholic bishops called President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in support of him. Direito, a member of a Catholic anti-abortion lobbying group, faced strong opposition from several other judges and the national justice minister.
  • Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi called on the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to investigate the status of women’s rights in Iran and accused the government of detaining female activists and increasing the pressure against them, Reuters reported Aug. 23. The “One Million Signatures” petition campaign to demand freedoms for women reached its first anniversary, despite the government’s blocking of its Web site several times.

Nouhad Moawad manages the Women’s eNews Arabic site, Tereza Perazza is Brazil correspondent and Jennifer Thurston is associate editor.

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