The new Congress, the Obama administration and the Supreme Court delivered a wide range of victories for women and girls this week.
On the new White House Web site launched after Tuesday’s inaugural ceremonies, the Obama administration listed a wide range of positions to strengthen women’s rights and reproductive health. In his women’s agenda, Obama expressed his support for Roe v. Wade, as well as strengthening domestic violence laws, supporting women-owned businesses and female veterans, and fighting gender violence internationally, particularly in the Sudan.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts couple can sue school officials for violating gender discrimination law by failing to protect their daughter, a kindergartner, from sex harassment on a school bus, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The parents argued the school did not protect their daughter from a third-grade boy who kept pulling up her dress even though the school was obligated to provide a safe environment.
On Thursday, the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a landmark pay equity bill that permits employees to file complaints against employers for pay discrimination after they become aware of it, not when it began. President Obama is expected to sign it next week. Congress began working on its companion bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Jan. 23, according to the National Organization for Women.
On Friday, a day after the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision that legalized abortion, Obama signed an executive order reversing the "global gag rule," or Mexico City policy, CBS reported Jan. 23. The policy banned foreign aid for international groups that provide abortions or abortion counseling and was first implemented by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Obama is also expected to restore U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which offers family planning services around the world, in the next federal budget.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also cleared the way for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy, the BBC reported. The Bush administration limited funding for stem cell research. The FDA decision is independent of White House control, but the Obama administration is not likely to mount an opposition to the agency’s position as was expected under Bush.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Iran’s national poet and women’s rights advocate Simin Behbahani received the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom Jan. 21, Payvand News reported. Behbahani, referred to as the "lioness of Iran" by Iranian intellectuals, plans to use the prize to encourage women’s rights movements in her country. She is president of the Iranian Writer’s Association and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1997.
- Some scientists are marking the arrival of a self-declared science-friendly presidential administration by calling for greater focus on attracting women into science and retaining them once they are there, particularly in academia. Berkeley Law School professor Mary Ann Mason told the New York Times Jan. 19 that she is calling on President Obama to sign an executive order and add more family leave and parental benefits to the recipients of federal grants, which includes many research scientists.
The Taliban bombed five schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley Jan. 19, four days after ordering the closure of all girls’ schools in the region, Agence France-Presse reported Jan. 15. Girls will no longer be able to attend formerly coeducational schools. Although students are on winter holiday and schools were empty, the Taliban had threatened to kill any girls who attempted to attend after Jan. 15 and warned that schools would be bombed. Pakistani officials estimated that 400 private schools are unlikely to open after the winter holidays.
"We consider these heinous acts a direct threat to the civilization and integrity of Pakistan," said lawmakers in a resolution passed Jan. 20. They noted with "urgent concern the grave violation of women’s rights, civilian rights and human rights through terrorist attacks in Swat during the past two years."
About 42 percent of Pakistani women are literate, but that drops to 31 percent for women in rural areas, such as the Swat Valley.
Two suspected U.S. missile strikes hit the Taliban-controlled valley Jan. 23, killing 14 people, including four militants, the BBC reported. Pakistani leaders had expressed hope that the new U.S. administration would halt the controversial air strikes, saying they fuel public anger and complicate Pakistan’s efforts against the Taliban.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- In a Dec. 18 interview with Monthly Review, Dr. Islah Jad, a professor at the Women’s Studies Institute in Palestine’s West Bank, reported on the condition of women in Gaza following the Israeli bombing campaign. "Palestinian women in Gaza are devastated, by all measures," she said. "Many women are seen digging through the rubble of their destroyed homes to look for their buried children." She said women in Gaza have struggled to access water, electricity, food, medicine, heat, fuel and shelter since the fighting began Dec. 27.
- As Caesarean deliveries in the United States have risen, so has the rate of rare but severe complications in mothers, government researchers reported in the January edition of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Other studies have focused on the effects of C-sections on newborns, while this survey looked at its impact on mothers, USA Today reported Jan. 20. A rise in Caesarean births may have contributed to increases in kidney failure and respiratory distress syndrome, said researchers.
- A demonstration planned to protest the treatment of divorced women in northern Nigeria was cancelled after a local Sharia police chief said it would be an "embarrassment" and "un-Islamic," the BBC reported Jan. 19. Women’s rights advocates said that wives in the state of Kano often lose their homes and custody of their children and end up destitute after divorce.
- First lady Michelle Obama was not pleased to learn that Ty Dolls shipped a limited supply of "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia" dolls to retailers, Crain’s Chicago Business reported Jan. 21. "We believe it is inappropriate to use young private citizens for marketing purposes," Obama’s spokeswoman said. The company says the dolls are not connected to the Obama girls and that they just chose "beautiful names."