Obama to Push CEDAW; Iran Threatens Activists

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Cheers and Jeers



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President-elect Barack Obama pledged to restore United States’ international standing, including a promise to push for ratification of the long-ignored United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the women’s equal rights treaty known as CEDAW, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Nov. 30.

Although 185 countries have ratified the 1979 treaty, the United States remains one of only eight that have not, alongside Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga. The U.S. Senate must ratify the treaty and it could be difficult to persuade because the treaty says women should have access to "information, counseling and services in family planning," which anti-choice groups have interpreted as a guaranteed right to abortion.

Obama is also expected to eliminate the emphasis on abstinence–as opposed to safe-sex and prevention–in the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. That has some religious conservatives worried that a core policy of President Bush’s foreign aid agenda will be eliminated, the Christian News Service reported Dec. 2.

More News to Cheer This Week:


  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted $11 million to Engender Health to improve maternal health, the New York-based reproductive health group announced Dec. 3. Because global efforts to address maternal deaths are fragmented, a task force will work on coordination and increasing the political will to reduce the annual maternal death toll of 500,000. Many of those deaths would be prevented if medical services and access for women were improved.


  • Eighteen female Iraqi suicide bombers surrendered to U.S. troops north of Baghdad on Nov. 26, signed a reconciliation pledge to cease attacks and declared their support to the Iraqi government, the Associated Press reported Nov. 26. The women’s fathers and clerics advised them not to complete their training because it was against Islam. So far this year there have been 31 suicide attacks conducted by women in Iraq, an increase from eight attacks last year.


  • The first all-female de-mining team in the Middle East started work alongside men Nov. 30 in Jordan, the United Nations’ IRIN network reported Dec. 1. The 25 women on the team will remove land mines dating from the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel and 1970s conflicts with neighboring Syria.


  • Single women and lesbians in Australia’s state of Victoria gained the right to receive fertility treatments under the Assisted Reproductive Treatment bill passed on Dec. 3, the Australian reported. The law also establishes legal parenting rights to lesbians and gays and surrogate parents.


  • A British law criminalizing forced marriages went into effect Nov. 25, Agence France-Presse reported. The law forbids families from taking people abroad for marriage, seizing passports or intimidating victims and is also intended to protect those already forced into marriage from abuses. Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit handled more than 1,500 cases this year, with one-third of victims under 18.


  • A murder case against a Dutch woman who traveled to Spain to have an abortion around the 28th week of pregnancy has been dropped, the AP reported Dec. 5. Dutch law allows abortion up to 24 weeks. The case was the first to press a murder charge against a woman seeking an abortion, and in announcing the decision to drop it, the prosecutor said the woman’s mental health affected her decision to terminate her pregnancy.


  • Protesters in Nepalgunj, Nepal, took to the streets on Nov. 26 and 27 to seek an end to the Muslim divorce practice of "talak," where a husband divorces a wife by declaring an end to the marriage, according to the activist network Women Living Under Muslim Laws. The protesters included 465 divorced women and about 100 men, who demanded compensation for the women and equal division of marital assets.




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Over the past two years, women’s rights activists have been increasingly harassed and detained for seeking equal status in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and United Nations investigators officially urged the nation on Nov. 27 to halt its crackdown against women, Reuters reported.

The Islamic Republic News Agency, Iranian government’s official state media outlet, and other Iranian media published articles threatening teachers and students from McGill University in Montreal, the McGill Tribune reported Dec. 2.

Among those threatened was Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, targeted for defending women’s rights activists, homosexuals and questioning punishments issued under Islamic law. Ebadi is also a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century and has contributed an essay to the site. Her daughter has also been targeted for converting from Islam, which is punishable by death in Iran.

In addition, Iran sentenced two women to death by stoning in the past week, according to the watchdog group Women’s Forum Against Fundamentalism. In the southern city of Shiraz, a woman called "Afsaneh R" will be stoned for committing adultery and murdering her husband with the help of her paramour. And in the town of Roudan, a pregnant woman named Shahla will be stoned with her husband for drug trafficking even though they had no lawyer. The watchdog group says eight Iranian women were sentenced to stoning deaths in July and 14 women total now face execution.

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • Five bombs were planted on the road to Panjwai, the Taliban heartland of Afghanistan, to prevent Afghan women from gathering with female soldiers from Canada for an all-female village council session, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Dec. 3. Believed to be the first women’s "shura" gathering, 25 women participated despite the risks, and the bombs were discovered before detonating by Afghan forces.


  • Male babies are being killed by women in order to end a 20-year-old tribal war in a Papua New Guinea highland region, according to the National newspaper that received confessions from two women, Fox News reported Dec. 2. No figures about the numbers of infanticides were provided. One of the women said that all women agreed to kill the male newborns to bring down the numbers of men and force them to end their fighting so they can instead help feed their families.


  • Nujood Ali al-Ahdal, the 10-year-old Yemeni girl who recently received a divorce after being forced into marriage, has now accused her lawyer, Shatha Nasser, of corruption and stealing local and international aid meant to support her life and education, the Yemen Observer reported Dec. 2. Al-Ahdal was named a 2008 Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine.


  • Moroccan sex workers lack awareness about AIDS, according to a November study, Magharebia reported Nov. 27. Of 500 prostitutes surveyed, 44 percent did not use condoms with their clients.


  • Jestina Mukoko, a human rights activist and director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted Dec. 3 after a protest organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Africa Action reported Dec. 5. An escalation of human rights abuses in the nation has come amid a national cholera epidemic.


  • The Houston Comets, winner of the first four Women’s National Basketball Association championships from 1997 to 2000, has been disbanded by the professional women’s league because no buyers were found to purchase the team, the AP reported Dec. 2.

Iulia Anghelescu is a freelance journalist in New York

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