Cheers and Jeers



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A long-delayed protocol was signed at the South African Development Community summit to guarantee women’s equal rights, the Inter Press Service reported Aug. 18. The protocol contains 25 separate articles specifying women’s rights, ranging from 50 percent female representation in all levels of government to access to clean water. It also sets specific targets for achieving gender equity.

Gender-based violence, including marital rape, is banned. Free primary and secondary education and equal protection under the law are among the new guarantees.

The protocol was developed over the past seven years, but has met with opposition among member states in the past. It is now signed by 12 heads of state.

"It has been a very long journey for us," said Colleen Lowe Morna, the executive director of GenderLinks, a group based in South Africa. "The protocol has been watered down and we are not entirely happy by that. But there are 23 concrete targets set down that each country must work towards. It is one of the most concrete and explicit documents on gender equality in the region and it will be a challenging target to all governments."

More News to Cheer This Week:


  • The California Supreme Court ruled that medical providers cannot deny care to patients because of their sexual orientation, ruling against a San Diego clinic that refused artificial insemination to a lesbian couple, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Aug. 18. And the Coquille Indian Tribe of Oregon has legalized same-sex marriage within its jurisdiction, the Oregonian reported Aug. 20. The tribal law is in effect despite a state constitutional amendment that limits marriage to a man and a woman.


  • Afghan families are beginning to speak out publicly about their daughters being raped as part of a media campaign, the Telegraph reported Aug. 20. Commentator Nushin Arbabzadah wrote that the effort represents a significant shift in a culture that frequently silences or shuns victims, such as a 12-year-old girl who was gang-raped and whose family was ridiculed for seeking official justice. The public campaign also prompted a response from the government of Hamid Karzai, leading to arrests. Religious scholars also spoke out against sexual violence.


  • Vietnam’s Ministry of Health has asked health clinics and hospitals to enforce a ban against ultrasounds for gender-selective abortions, the BBC reported Aug. 19. There were 105 males for 100 females in 2005. Recent statistics show that across 16 provinces, there are between 115 and 128 boys for 100 girls.


  • European women earn 16 percent less than men for equal work but the gender wage gap is narrowing, the Associated Press reported Aug. 21. The gap has dropped each year since 2001, when it was 20 percent.


  • In a rare show of public criticism against the monarchy, women’s rights activists in Swaziland have spoken out against royal extravagance and a shopping spree by eight of the king’s wives, the Telegraph reported Aug. 22. Activists said the spree was a waste of money for a nation that has the world’s highest HIV rate. Jim Gama, the governor of the royal capital, condemned the women as "un-Swazi." "I have never heard of women marching," he said.




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The Bush administration issued new rules on Thursday that will allow doctors and health care providers to refuse to provide abortions to patients and undermine women’s access to reproductive health care and birth control. Clinics and hospitals that require employees to provide abortion services or referrals could lose all federal funding under the new policy.

An earlier draft of the new regulation met with fierce condemnation from reproductive rights groups because it redefined abortion to include some forms of contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices. Over 325,000 people signed a petition circulated by Planned Parenthood protesting the new definition in less than a week, ABC News reported Aug. 20. And 57 groups wrote to the Health and Human Services Department to oppose the earlier draft.

In the final version, the new definition of abortion was not included, but Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said opponents of abortion rights are likely to "press the definition," the Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 22. Karen Brauer, the president of Pharmacists for Life, said that’s how she expects members of her group to react. Anti-choice pharmacists have increasingly refused to dispense emergency contraception, which prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg but does not cause an abortion.

States that have laws requiring health care providers to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims or that require pharmacies to stock and dispense prescriptions could be voided under the new regulation, although the final impact is still unclear. It goes into effect after a 30-day public comment period.

"It will have the same net effect, which is to set the stage for women being denied access to health care, women being denied information . . . and women even being denied referrals," Roger Evans, director of litigation for Planned Parenthood, told Reuters.

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • The University of San Diego withdrew the offer of an endowed chair to scholar Rosemary Radford Ruether after Catholic groups criticized her selection for the position, UPI reported Aug. 20. Reuther supports abortion rights and serves on the board of Catholics for a Free Choice.


The Census Bureau announced that the number of women between 40 and 44 who remain childless has doubled in a generation from 10 to 20 percent, USA Today reported Aug. 19. Hispanic women have the highest fertility rates, with 2.3 children each. Non-Hispanic women aged 14 to 44 have 1.9 children each. Over one-third of women with children are unmarried and 57 percent of women with a recent birth are in the labor force.

In Memoriam:

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, 58, of Ohio died Wednesday after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Elected in 1998, she was the first African American woman to represent her state in Congress.

Tubbs Jones campaigned frequently for female political candidates–most recently supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton–and was an active figure in the women’s rights movement. "She was a leader and it was clear she fought incredibly hard for equality and for humanity," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "We dubbed her our ‘shero’."

Tubbs Jones was also the first black woman to serve on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, and was one of 11 members of Congress to vote against the 2003 authorization of the war in Iraq.

Jennifer Thurston is associate editor of Women’s eNews.

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