Cliffhanger elections, checkered pasts and old age were no roadblock to women’s political-power drive this week.

Ukraine’s parliament elected Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister Dec. 18. After losing elections for this office by one vote Dec. 11, Tymoshenko contested the results and asked for a new vote by show of hands to avoid subversions in the voting system. Pro-Russian factions boycotted but Tymoshenko and her allies still secured the minimum 226 votes to capture the nation’s top position.

Former Georgian Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney, now a California resident, announced she will run for the U.S. presidency on the Green Party ticket. McKinney was ousted from office by voters after a scandalous scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer in 2006.

In South Africa, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who lost her seat in parliament after she was convicted for fraud, netted the most votes in the election of the African National Congress’s national executive committee. Votes for the former wife of Nelson Mandela suggested she was more popular than Jacob Zuma, the former vice president who was tried and acquitted on rape charges in 2006 and elected ANC party leader.

Queen Elizabeth II became the oldest reigning monarch in British history on Dec. 19; she has been on the throne for 50 years.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Sex education in U.S. schools is pushing back teens’ sexual debut and pushing forward contraception, a Dec. 19 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The study, which made no distinction between programs that emphasized abstinence and those that are comprehensive, contradicts previous studies discrediting the benefits of sex education. Female teens who received sex education were 59 percent less likely to have intercourse before age 15, and male teens were 71 percent less likely. Black female teens were 91 percent more likely to delay sex. Condom use increased for males, but not for females, during their first sexual encounters.
  • Scotland overhauled its sex-assault laws in a bid for greater clarity and higher convictions, the national daily The Herald reported Dec. 20. Currently, 4 percent of reported rape offenders are convicted. In the new statutes, consent is fully defined and the definition of rape is expanded to include male victims.
  • U.S. football star Jason Witten was voted the Dallas Cowboys’ man of the year for his great performance on field and his support for domestic violence work off-field. This month, Witten and his wife unveiled plans for The Jason Witten S.C.O.R.E. Foundation that will provide mentoring and educational programs for victims of abuse to aid recovery and break the cycle of violence.
  • A Muttontown, N.Y., couple–Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani–were convicted of enslaving and abusing two female Indonesian immigrant workers, on Dec. 17. They face up to 40 years in prison each.
  • Saudi King Abdullah pardoned an 18-year-old rape victim who had been sentenced to 200 lashes and jail time for being alone with a man, a criminal offense for women in Saudi Arabia.

For more information:

McKinney for President 2008:

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States:

NARAL Pro-Choice America:

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Voters in South Dakota will face a second ballot initiative to ban abortions in the state. In November 2006 an abortion ban that allowed an exception only to save the life of the woman was rejected 56 percent to 44 percent. The new proposal widens that exception to include rape and incest and to preserve a woman’s health, the Associated Press reported Dec. 14.

Following the 2006 election, opinion polls indicated that about 55 percent of voters would approve an abortion ban if the exceptions were broadened. Only 39 percent of state residents approve of legal abortion rights, according to a November poll.

As written, the abortion ban would eliminate nearly all abortions currently performed in the state, which has only one abortion clinic. Last year, there were 748 procedures. Anyone who performs an abortion could receive a $20,000 fine and a 10-year prison sentence.

Supporters have until April to collect the required 16,776 signatures to put the proposal on the 2008 ballot.

The 2006 initiative was designed to serve as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. Anti-choice proponents believe that the climate on the current court is ripe to roll back abortion rights, particularly with the April 2007 ruling in Gonzalez v. Carhart, which for the first time barred a specific procedure used after 12 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of the health consequences.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Violence against women has peaked in the run-up to Kenya’s political elections on Dec. 27. Over 255 cases of assault have been reported without a single arrest made, Al Jazeera reported Dec. 17. The Kenyan parliament, which has 222 members, has only 18 women and has also rejected three affirmative action bills.
  • Over 150 girls underwent female genital mutilation in the past two weeks in Kenya’s Marakwet district, the Nation newspaper reported Dec. 17. Another 300, many of them school girls, left home and took shelter in rescue centers to try to avoid the outlawed rite.
  • Spain’s parliament shot down a motion to decriminalize abortion one day after six health practitioners were arrested in Barcelona for conducting abortions in advanced pregnancy cases, El Financiero reported Dec. 18. Spanish law only permits abortions for pregnancies resulting from rape during the first 12 weeks, a malformed fetus or a health risk for the woman. There are 100,000 illegal abortions each year.
  • Sex scandals have followed United Nations peacekeepers from Congo to Haiti, where girls as young as 13 sold themselves for as little as $1, the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 15. Allegations of sexual exploitation surfaced in August and investigations led to the expulsion of 114 Sri Lankan troops in November. Haitian women’s groups are demanding reparations from Sri Lanka’s government.


Facing a veto threat from President Bush, Democratic lawmakers agreed to strip a provision from a massive federal spending measure that would have weakened the so-called global gag rule, which bars distribution of U.S. family planning funds to clinics in other countries that provide abortion or abortion counseling, or lobby for changes in abortion policies.

The budget bill increased funding for international family planning and reproductive health programs by $21 million. Federal Title X funding, which covers basic operating costs at family planning clinics serving low-income women across the country, was increased by $17 million.

In Memoriam:

Rep. Julia Carson, the first African American and the first woman to represent the city of Indianapolis in Congress, died on Dec. 15 from lung cancer. A military honor guard carried her body to lie in state at Indiana’s state capitol for mourners to pay respects and she will be buried today.

Elected in to public office in 1972, Carson championed women’s rights along with other causes. She was instrumental in the effort to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a bus and challenging segregation.

–Allison Stevens contributed to this report.

Dominique Soguel is Arabic editor.

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