AIDS researchers have reported a breakthrough in developing microbicide gels to combat HIV, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Feb. 5. Microbicide gels have been eagerly anticipated by anti-AIDS activists because they can be applied without a male sex partner’s consent and may be more acceptable to some partners than using condoms for protection.

Researchers at a Boston conference announced they had found a low-cost way of reproducing a specific anti-HIV molecule that scientists previously thought would be too cost-prohibitive, making distribution of microbicides more difficult to women in the developing world, which has the highest HIV infection rates.

They also found that a drug already being used to prevent HIV transmission during childbirth with a single dose can also cut transmission when continued during breastfeeding. A regimen of the drug nevirapine reduced the rate of HIV transmission from mother to child by half in six-week-old infants and by a third among infants after six months, Science Daily reported Feb. 5

The World Health Organization estimated that 150,000 infants become HIV-positive through breastfeeding each year.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Over 16 women’s rights advocacy groups are fighting to put an end to female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone, Agence France Presse reported Feb 6. About 35 to 40 percent of the country’s women participate in the rites, a sometimes deadly practice still being carried out in more than 28 nations. The United Nations Population Fund called for a stronger world commitment to ending the cultural practice on Feb. 6, designating the date as an international day against female genital mutilation and cutting.
  • British schools will introduce vending machines dispensing free condoms and pregnancy kits in an effort to boost contraception and cut unwanted pregnancies, the Daily Telegraph reported Feb. 7. Overall, the country estimates 400,000 unwanted pregnancies per year, including 38,804 pregnancies among women under 18. The effort is part of a $52 million health initiative that will also encourage long-term forms of contraception, such as implants and injections, over daily birth control pills.
  • The Turkish parliament approved on Feb. 7 a constitutional amendment that could lift a 28-year-old ban on Islamic headscarves in universities. A second, decisive vote will be cast on Feb. 9. If the ban is annulled, as expected, secularist opponents could challenge the decision in Turkey’s constitutional court.
  • President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines inaugurated the nation’s first female-only police station, the Manila Inquirer reported Feb. 6. Female police officers at the Women’s Children and Protection Center in Camp Crane will be armed and ready to deal with extreme cases of domestic violence and hostage situations.
  • Columnist Ellen Goodman was honored with the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award for 2008 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Goodman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and writes about the civil rights and women’s movements for the Boston Globe.

For more information:

“African Women Test Anti-HIV Gel”:

Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman’s recent columns:

“Judges’ Private Custody Meetings Raise Questions”:

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President Bush submitted a budget proposal Monday that advocates say would shortchange women.

“The economy is sputtering, wages are stagnant, and the number of poor and uninsured Americans is rising,” said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “Yet President Bush has proposed more of the same failed policies: more tax cuts for the wealthy and more cuts to services important to American families.”

The $3.9 trillion resolution would make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent and put a virtual freeze on overall discretionary spending in fiscal 2009.

Key programs that aid low-income people–the majority of whom are women–would see considerable cuts.

The administration’s proposal would cut funding for Justice Department programs designed to combat domestic violence by $100 million; cut money for Medicaid and Medicare by $195 billion over five years; and freeze spending on the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which helps low-income people afford child care, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The administration also hopes to maintain level funding for programs that offer low-income people family-planning services and increase by $28 million funding for abstinence-only education programs, which were proven ineffective in a study last year by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The budget resolution faces stiff resistance in a Congress controlled by Democrats.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Two sisters and a man, tried in separate cases of adultery, were condemned to death by stoning in Iran, Human Rights Watch reported Feb. 6.
  • A sexual harassment case against Halliburton, a U.S. military subcontractor, filed by former employee Tracy Barker was referred by a judge to a closed-door arbitration process due to stipulations in Barker’s employment contract, ABC News reported Feb. 6. Barker claims she was harassed while working in Basra, Iraq, and requested that her case be heard by trial, arguing that sexual harassment exceeds the scope of normal arbitration proceedings. A separate claim by Barker that she was sexually assaulted by a State Department employee while on the job was transferred to a federal district court.
  • In a Feb. 5 editorial from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writer Maureen Downey pointed out that a proposed constitutional amendment in Georgia to establish “personhood” for fertilized eggs from the moment of conception would include far-reaching consequences. As submitted by State House Rep. Martin Scott, the proposal could jeopardize some forms of birth control that work by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs, including the pill and the IUD. A second bill from Rep. Bobby Franklin would outlaw all abortions–without exception–in the state, and make any doctor who performs one subject to a felony murder charge, which in Georgia is punishable by the death penalty.
  • A Feb. 6 Supreme Court ruling in France has given parents the right to register the name and recover the body of miscarried or stillborn fetuses and threatened to stir up new abortion debates, the AFP reported. The ruling raises questions on the issue of “personhood” for unborn fetuses and provides anti-choice forces a platform to challenge French laws on birth control and abortion.
  • On Feb. 7 MSNBC correspondent David Shuster slurred Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, by remarking, “Doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” during a talk show. Shuster apologized the next day, but his remarks followed another MSNBC scandal which ended with an apology from talk show host Chris Matthews for his repeated misogynistic descriptions of Hillary Clinton during the course of the campaign.


Mazoltuv Borukhova, an internist whose husband was killed on a Queens, N.Y., playground in October, was arrested Feb. 7 on murder and conspiracy charges. Police believe Borukhova contracted a distant relative, Mikhail Mallayev, to shoot and kill Malakov. The couple was engaged in a bitter custody dispute. Borukhova has denied involvement in the killing. Daniel Malakov was killed a week after receiving custody of the couple’s daughter Michelle in a judicial hearing that excluded Borukhova. The child is now in foster care.

Alison Bowen, Shanelle Matthews, Dominique Soguel, Allison Stevens and Jennifer Thurston contributed to this report.

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