cheers and jeers



thumb pointing upA leading British scientist says new research reveals that a vaccine or drug to prevent breast cancer is plausible, the Guardian reported Oct. 6. Valerie Beral, director of the cancer epidemiology unit of Oxford University, also urged the scientific community to turn its focus toward breast cancer prevention, where efforts are now minimal in comparison to the funding and research dedicated to breast cancer treatment.

Beral leads the Million Women’s Study in Britain, which she says has now proven that breast cancer is caused by the absence of hormonal changes linked to childbirth. Because women have fewer children and breastfeed less than they did historically, breast cancer rates have risen as a result. Beral says a vaccine could be the end result of studying hormonal surges caused by childbirth and mimicking those effects, but research isn’t occurring.

Death rates have dropped but the actual number of cases is increasing. In recent years, a growing body of U.S. studies have also revealed racial and income discrepancies that affect how women receive early treatments, which may play a role in breast cancer death rates.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is October. At the start of the month Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading breast cancer foundation, announced that it will distribute $100 million in grants to researchers this year. Investigating whether a vaccine can be developed is one of seven major research areas the foundation is targeting.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • The Connecticut Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marry because civil unions that guarantee fewer rights are discriminatory, the Hartford Courant reported Oct. 10. In the Nov. 4 election, voters will decide if the state should convene a constitutional convention to allow a same-sex marriage ban to be referred to the ballot.
  • The United Nations announced the implementation of an $8 million three-year program in five African countries–Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania–that will provide access to resources and services to women at the local level in order to improve gender equity.
  • In Guinea, women’s rights activists are condemning blockades preventing women from achieving powerful political and civil positions as they look ahead to the December elections, the Inter Press Service reported Oct. 4. Only 24 seats in the 114-member parliament are held by women. Activists also want to improve girls’ education; only 20 percent of adult women are literate.
  • Reproductive rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler, best known for his long legal battle to strike down Canada’s abortion laws 20 years ago, was awarded on Oct. 10 the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor in the country, CBC News reported.
  • Malalai Joya, who was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament following the end of Taliban rule but was removed from office in 2007 for criticizing fellow lawmakers, received the Anna Politkovskaya award, Reuters reported Oct. 7. Politkovskaya was an outspoken Russian journalist who was murdered in Moscow in 2005. Joya consistently receives threats for campaigning for women’s rights.


thumb pointing downThe presidential election may determine the future of legalized abortion at a time when reproductive rights activists have increasing concerns that “perennial cries” to save Roe v. Wade are muted by constant repetition, the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 5.

The next president is likely to appoint at least one new Supreme Court justice, and may appoint three. Justice John Paul Stevens is 88 and leads the narrow majority that has sought to uphold Roe, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. But the candidates rarely mention abortion rights on the campaign trail.

“Clearly, Roe is on the line this time,” Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, a former lawyer for NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the Los Angeles Times. “It is quite clear they have four votes against it. If the next president appoints one more, the odds are it will be overruled.”

An August Pew Research Center poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in general and 41 percent say it should be mostly illegal.

Two state initiatives on the ballot this November have the potential to become test cases to overturn Roe. In Colorado, the so-called Personhood Amendment would define a fertilized egg as a human being, which could imperil birth control access as well as the right to abortion. An Oct. 6 Denver Post poll found that 48 percent of state voters opposed the initiative, 30 percent supported it and 22 percent were undecided.

In South Dakota, voters will decide whether to ban all abortions in the state except those necessary to preserve a woman’s life or in cases of rape and incest. A stricter ban failed in 2006 but proponents believe that adding the exceptions to the ban will be more palatable to voters this year.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people face violent beatings, forced marriages, rape and everyday humiliation in Kyrgyzstan, both in family settings and from strangers on the street, Human Rights Watch said in an Oct. 6 report that called on the government to step up its response to violence based on gender and sexual orientation.
  • A group of 100 men sexually assaulted women in a middle-income Cairo neighborhood as the holy month of Ramadan concluded, Voice of America reported Oct. 8. Egypt has seen similar mass sexual assaults in the past years, mostly occurring during holidays and public gatherings. Engy Ghozlan of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights said that for the first time the government is acknowledging the problem.
  • An influential Saudi cleric announced his preference for women to reveal only one eye and veil the other, arguing that having both eyes revealed encourages women to look seductive and use make-up, the BBC reported Oct. 3.
  • Over 20 Sudanese women were arrested and beaten for violating an edict against “bad behavior” by wearing tight trousers or short skirts, AFP reported Oct. 7. Most of the women were rounded up by police after leaving a Catholic service.
  • The impact of stress resulting from the financial downturn, endangering physical and emotional health, is greater for women than men, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2008 Stress in America survey. Older woman are the most affected by the current economic situation. One in five elderly U.S. women lives below the poverty line.
  • An Oct. 7 survey from the Forum of Executive Women shows a slight decrease in the total number of board seats held by women at the 100 largest publicly held companies in the Philadelphia area, Market Watch reported. About 10 percent of the board seats are held by women, compared to the 14.7 percent of board seats held by women among Fortune 500 companies.


A female battalion of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, runs its own assault and command structure and is fighting for Kurdish rights and women’s rights, claiming that women grew up enslaved by the Turkish society, CNN reported Oct. 7.

Iulia Anghelescu is a freelance writer in New York.

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