cheers and jeers



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Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., reintroduced the Responsible Education About Life Act, known as the REAL Act, on March 17. The bill designates federal funding for comprehensive sex education programs rather than those that emphasize abstinence only.

"It’s time for us to get REAL about sex education," Lee said in a press statement. "We should absolutely be teaching young people about abstinence, but we shouldn’t be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Instead of ‘abstinence only,’ what we’re proposing is ‘abstinence-plus.’"

The bill’s introduction followed the release of data by the National Center for Health Statistics that showed teen pregnancy rates have increased for the second year in a row. The rate increased 1 percent in 2007 to 42.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, according to WebMD Health News. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates showing that the sexually transmitted infections of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have also increased, particularly among adult women and youth.

The two consecutive years of upticks in the teen birth rate worried some health advocates that national efforts to prevent teen pregnancy have stalled at the same time that abstinence-only education was emphasized in schools. Since the November election, Congress has reduced its funding for abstinence-only sex education programs, and political support for comprehensive sex ed has increased. As a senator, President Obama co-sponsored the REAL Act.

More News to Cheer This Week:


  • Rino Fisichella, an influential archbishop at the Vatican, said he believed the Brazilian doctor who performed an abortion on a 9-year-old rape victim and her mother deserved to stay in the church and not be excommunicated, the Associated Press reported March 15. Writing in the Vatican newspaper, Roman Catholic Fisichella argued for a "sense of mercy." The girl’s abortion was legal in Brazil and was performed to save her life.


  • Reversing a Bush policy administration, the U.S. State Department announced the signing of an international statement that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world, Reuters reported March 18. The United States was the only Western country that refused to sign the nonbinding "gay rights" treaty. Homosexuality is outlawed in 70 nations.


  • Argentina has passed a national law intended to eradicate violence against women, the Inter Press Service reported March 12. The law establishes a national anti-violence action plan, legal assistance for women, expedited legal proceedings and victim assistance. It follows similar "anti-machista" legislation passed recently in Spain, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Guatemala and Colombia, although advocates have said enforcement has lacked priority among some officials.


  • Britain’s National Health Service will advertise free surgeries to repair female genital mutilation procedures performed by traditional practitioners in some immigrant communities, the Times of London reported March 16. Officials estimate 500 British girls are ritually cut each year.


  • Iran will send its first female skier to the Winter Olympics next year in Vancouver, Canada, CNN reported March 17. Fatemeh Kiadarbandsari, Mitra Kalhor and Marjan Kalhor are all trying to win the female berth on the national team. Skiing is popular in Iran, especially among young people, who are able to ski with members of the opposite sex on the slopes even as a strict gender segregation is still observed on the lift.


  • The American Association of University Women and the Wage Project will offer career workshops on 500 college campuses to help young women learn how to negotiate fair salaries and equal pay, the groups announced March 19. Research shows that over a lifetime, college-educated women earn about $1 million less than men because of wage discrimination.

For more information:

National Council of Women’s Organizations

Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center report, "Dying for Decent Care"

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The health of immigrant women detained by federal immigration officials is neglected and inadequate, concluded New York-based Human Rights Watch in a March 17 report. The findings echo a report issued in February by the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center.

When female immigrants have health problems in detention facilities, they are either ignored or treatment is delayed, further endangering their health, the advocacy groups said. Filing complaints was ineffective, and sometimes resulted in retaliation. Those in detention have not been charged with a crime but are awaiting deportation.

Take the case of Mary T., an undocumented immigrant interviewed by Human Rights Watch, whose eyesight began to fade. She complained to her jailers for 15 days asking to see a doctor. When a nurse eventually arrived to examine her, she said, "Why didn’t you tell us?"

The Florida report documented "cruel and abusive" behavior by some staff at detention facilities, difficulties with interpreters and medical records, unsanitary conditions and improper care for mentally ill detainees, among other problems, noting that death rates in facilities "appear to be worsening."

Tests to detect cervical and breast cancers and prenatal care are difficult to obtain, pregnant women are shackled, and female detainees sometimes also lack sanitary napkin supplies or breast pumps to express their milk, Human Rights Watch said in the report.

Roughly 30,000 women are held in detention facilities each year and the average stay is 38 days, although immigrants can sometimes be detained for years.

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • A high-level, consolidated women’s agency at the United Nations first proposed in 2006 is losing political steam and is likely to be watered down or abandoned altogether, the Inter Press Service reported March 18. A single women’s agency–intended to consolidate or replace the four major women’s programs at the United Nations–has failed to muster strong political and financial support from member nations. The most likely scenario now being considered is to create a composite entity, creating a department under the Secretariat combined with some features of an independent agency.


  • The number of sexual assaults in the U.S. military rose 8 percent in 2008, and half the cases involved rape, Voice of America reported March 18. Defense Department statistics showed more than 2,900 reports of sexual assault among 1.4 million active-duty personnel during 2008, while officials acknowledged than an estimated 80 percent of assaults go unreported. There was a 25 percent increase in assaults reported in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.


  • Forty-five percent of women in India were married before age 18 despite a national ban against child marriage since 1929, the Times of India reported March 18. One in five women were married before age 16 in a data analysis released by the Boston University School of Public Health, while 3 percent were married under age 13.


  • Small-scale farmers in Ghana, mainly women, are being displaced from their croplands by the demand for biofuel production, the Accra Public Agenda reported March 16. Foreign agriculture firms are moving in and contracting large tracts of land to produce sugarcane and jatropha for biofuels, but pay farmers for only a portion of the lands under contract while monopolizing the best parcels, normally reserved for food.



  • Pakistan’s Mukhtar Mai, who became an internationally known women’s rights activist after a tribal council ordered a gang-rape to punish her brother for a misdemeanor crime in 2002, married police constable Nasir Abbas Gabol on March 15, the BBC reported. After she was raped, Mai defied cultural taboos against speaking out and successfully pressed for the prosecution of her six rapists; she also opened a girls’ school and women’s crisis centers. Mai is the second wife of Gabol; in Pakistan, men are allowed to have up to four wives.


  • A trend to induce abortion by ingesting veterinary drugs is developing in rural Wisconsin and cases have been documented in three counties, World Net Daily reported March 19. The drugs, Prostaglandins, Cystorelin, Factrel, Gonadorelin or Lutalyse, are used by farmers to manage livestock, but cause severe complications in humans, especially in large doses. The self-induced abortions were revealed by the "crisis pregnancy center" in Wisconsin’s Green County.

Jennifer Thurston is managing editor of Women’s eNews.

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