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Namibia has reached 30 percent female representation in the national assembly, a target set in 1997 to be met by 2005 by the South African Development Community, the Windhoek New Era reported May 5. Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique have previously met the goals.

Patricia Mulasikwanda, Zambia’s gender affairs minister, commended Namibia for meeting the targets, saying the four countries that have achieved the goal should inspire the other 10 nations, including her own, that have not.

South Africa’s public services minister, Geraldine Moleketi, announced that her government would also reach a target of filling 50 percent of senior management positions in the public sector with women by 2009, the Tshwane BuaNews reported May 6.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Canada awarded honorary citizenship to Burmese Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi May 6, calling on her release from house arrest, Agence France-Presse reported. Canada’s foreign minister said Suu Kyi “personifies the struggle to bring freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” to the nation, struggling with the aftermath of last week’s cyclone. Relief agencies predict the cyclone’s death toll will rise over 100,000.
  • Hazel Jones, an 84-year-old World War II veteran from Dover, N.H., was awarded five medals last week including the Women’s Army Corps Service Medal. Jones received the medals after arrangements by Rep. Carol Shea Porter, who has made it a special priority to work with the military to issue veterans’ medals even if they are years past due, according to her office. Jones served 17 months in World War II, enlisting after she saw a recruiting poster of Uncle Sam telling her, “I want you for the U.S. Army.” She was offered the choice of working in the kitchen or driving a truck, and she chose the truck.
  • More currently, Pfc. Monica Brown, a medic serving in Afghanistan, became the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for her heroism in treating wounded comrades in the battle zone, the Washington Post reported May 1. Three days after the medal ceremony, Brown was pulled from her post because she is not allowed to serve in combat zones as a woman.

  • Maria Soledad Vela, a member of Ecuador’s parliament who is helping to rewrite the nation’s constitution, has proposed that women have the right to “free, responsible and informed decisions” about their sex lives, the BBC reported May 3. She said she wanted clearer laws to cover life, health and sexual education. Parliament member Leonardo Viteri accused her of trying to “decree orgasm by law.”
  • The British government has launched an ad campaign warning men not to pay for sex with women who have been trafficked or exploited, Reuters reported May 5. The posters directly address male brothel customers: “Walk in a punter; walk out a rapist,” they read.
  • A Maryland court has ruled that a couple’s Islamic divorce is not valid, the Washington Post reported May 8, because the “talaq” custom where a man declares “I divorce thee” three times deprives a woman of her due process rights. The ruling allows the wife to seek an equitable financial settlement from her husband, who now lives in Pakistan.
  • Malaysia abandoned plans to require women traveling abroad to carry a letter of permission from their parents, the International Herald Tribune reported May 5. On May 8, meanwhile, a Malaysian court for the first time allowed a woman to renounce Islam, the nation’s official religion, Reuters reported. The woman converted to Islam when she married a Muslim, but sought to abandon the faith after her divorce.

For more information:

Save the Children, State of the World’s Mothers 2008

Revolution Health, momScore

Follow the Women

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Every minute, a mother meets her death while giving birth to a child.

This is part of the bleak assessment that Save the Children released on May 6 along with its annual index ranking the best and worst of 146 countries to be a mother, which considers amenities such as safe water and education, among other criteria.

Niger was ranked lowest. There the average woman lives to 45, has less than three years of education and nearly every mother is likely to experience the death of a child.

Eight sub-Saharan nations rank in the bottom 10. The United States dropped to 27th place from 26th. (The United States ranks 41st in the world when only maternal death rates are considered.) Sweden was ranked first, followed by Norway and Iceland.

Among U.S. states Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi were considered the worst for being a mother, according to an index issued May 7 by the Revolution Health group. Vermont, Connecticut and Minnesota were considered to be among the best.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Women will bear the brunt of a worsening economy and are more worried than men are about their economic security, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded in a May 8 report. One in 8 women could not afford to take a child to the doctor last year; 1 in 5 could not afford to fill a prescription; and 1 in 14 went hungry at some time last year because of a lack of money. Using data drawn from the Rockefeller Foundation’s American Workers Survey, the report found that women express fears about not having enough savings for retirement or being able to care for family members at higher rates than men. Women of color have the greatest hardship risk.
  • In a weakening economy states’ welfare caseloads showed a 0.6 percent increase during the second half of 2007, USA Today reported May 5. Payments under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program average $350 per month and reach only 42 percent of eligible families.

  • A coalition of 80 advocacy groups –including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America–is pressing President Bush to reinstate a domestic ban on federal funding to organizations that provide abortion referrals or share facilities with abortion providers, the Hill reported May 5. The ban–known as the domestic “gag rule”–was first imposed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s but was rescinded by Bill Clinton in 1993. It affects Title X funds, currently $300 million a year, that pay for family planning programs and birth control for low-income women.
  • Activists plan a national day of protest against the birth control pill on June 7, RH Reality Check reported. The protest is on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to contraception.
  • Bisharo Mohammed Waeys, the last female journalist working in Somalia’s Puntland region, escaped a murder attempt by armed gunmen on May 4, according to Reporters Without Borders, which condemned the attack. She received two death threats the following day. The Committee to Protect Journalists has tallied 500 murders of news media personnel in the last 15 years, the Inter Press Service reported May 2. In less than 15 percent of cases have perpetrators been brought to justice, creating a climate of impunity for attacks against journalists.
  • The Women’s National Basketball Association is instructing new rookies about make-up and fashion tips in an effort to market the league’s players off the court, the Chicago Tribune reported May 4.


  • Nearly 400 female peace activists from 28 countries have been riding in the 12-day, 180-mile fourth annual Pedal for Peace bicycle ride across the Middle East, which began in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 3, and goes through Syria, Jordan and Palestine through May 14. As the journey was unfolding, sectarian fighting broke out in Lebanon, where Hezbollah fighters have seized control of Beirut.
  • Among other things the cycling event highlights women’s role in building the conditions for peace in the Middle East. About 2 million Iraqis have fled to Syria and Jordan since the U.S. war began in 2003; this week the United Nations said there is a $130 million shortfall in funding to aid refugees. Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding amid hostile statements from Iran.

  • The watchdog group Public Citizen is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to remove the birth control patch Ortho Evra from the market, saying it releases too much estrogen and is unsafe for women, Reuters reported May 8.
  • Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons filed for divorce last week from his wife of 23 years, Dawn Gibbons, and is seeking a court order to vacate her from the governor’s mansion, the Associated Press reported May 6. Gibbons was accused of sexually assaulting a waitress in a garage before his 2006 election and is currently the subject of an FBI corruption investigation.
  • Phyllis Schlafly will be awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, this month. The announcement has stirred criticism from some women’s rights activists. Schlafly helped lead a campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment and wrote the 1977 book critical of the women’s rights movement, “The Power of the Positive Woman.”

Jennifer Thurston is associate editor of Women’s eNews.

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