Cheers and Jeers



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Worldwide, women are continuing to achieve upticks in political representation in national assemblies and legislative bodies, according to the annual report card of the Inter Parliamentary Union. In 2008, women’s representation increased to 18.3 percent from 17.7 percent in 2007, with a 60 percent overall increase in female representation since 1995. The ranks of female lawmakers still fall short of a 30 percent benchmark target set by the United Nations in 1995, the Associated Press reported March 5.

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8–and the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–the United Nations has increased its calls to end violence against women. Events in nations around the world are drawing attention to anti-violence efforts, including rallies, press conferences, exhibits, concerts, panels and seminars.

“This year there is much to celebrate,” UNIFEM executive director Ines Alberdi said in a prepared statement. “The vision women marched for over a century ago, of a life free of poverty and violence, has spread to countries around the globe. People everywhere believe that lives of men and women can be different, and governments have the fundamental obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.”

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • “The Hijabi Monologues” is catching on with audiences and challenging perceptions of women who wear the Muslim headscarf, the Los Angeles Times reported March 6. The play was written by three women in 2007 and, like Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” gathers women’s stories about their experiences covering their heads. The play has had fewer than a dozen performances in the United States, but interest has picked up rapidly in the past few months, with performances planned in more U.S. cities and additional women writing monologues.
  • Members of the First Inclusive Women’s Sagarmatha Expedition–the 10 Nepali women who climbed Mt. Everest in May 2008 to become the first all-women expedition to summit the world’s highest peak–have started a project presenting a video of their story to schoolgirls around the country, the Inter Press Service reported March 2. The mountaineers are hoping to inspire other Nepali women to climb the peak, which is scaled each year by several thousand people, mostly male and foreign. Before 2008, only seven Nepali women had climbed Everest.
  • Girls have tentatively been returning to school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, the United Nations’ IRIN News reported March 4. Taliban militants had banned girls from attending school in the region in December.
  • Vietnamese women form 50 percent of the paid work force, comprise 83 percent of those participating in economic activity and hold 30 percent of seats in their national assembly. Vietnam was recognized as the Southeast Asian nation that has done the most to eradicate the gender gap over the past 20 years, Vietnam News reported Feb. 27. The country ranked 68th among 130 world nations in the 2008 Global Gender Gap report and continues to experience high rates of domestic violence, increasing HIV rates among women and an imbalanced sex ratio between male and female infants.
  • Discussion of abstinence-only sex education is “unpopular on Capitol Hill these days” and the Democratic Party’s control of Congress signals the “beginning of the end” for the curriculum, CQ Weekly reported March 2. Annual funding provided to states to pay for abstinence-only programs currently amounts to $95 million, but political support has waned. Abstinence education has been assaulted by reproductive health advocates as ineffective, deeply flawed and even harmful to women’s health.

For more information:

International Women’s Day 2009

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The global gender wage gap is 22 percent, according to a March 8 report issued by the International Trade Union Confederation. That gap–indicating that women earn on average 78 percent of a man’s pay–is actually wider than previously described by researchers, who calculated a 16.5 percent global gap from government statistics. The larger gap figure is drawn from Internet surveys as well as government data.

Unpaid work is also not receiving its fair due. The greater burden of women in providing care–especially in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic–is a main theme of the 53rd session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which is holding hearings through March 13. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called for the recognition of unpaid work and caregiving in homes and communities and increasing men’s ability to share the burden.

The widening economic crisis will throw an additional 22 million women around the world into unemployment, according to employment estimates released by the United Nations March 6. Researchers estimate that the global jobless rate for women will rise to 7.4 percent in 2009, compared to 7 percent for men.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • The Catholic Church has excommunicated the mother of a 9-year-old rape victim after the girl had an abortion, the Scotsman reported March 6. The 80-pound girl was allegedly raped by her stepfather and was carrying twin fetuses, which doctors said posed a grave risk to her life if she were to give birth. Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho also excommunicated the doctors who performed the procedure. The stepfather has been jailed; no report on whether he was excommunicated.
  • A study in the British medical journal The Lancet found that two-thirds of deaths by fire in India are women and most are ages 15 to 34, the BBC reported March 2. A spike in deaths among younger women was blamed on kitchen accidents–including some domestic homicides covered up as accidents–as well as self-immolation and other forms of domestic violence, including dowry disputes.
  • The U.S. Army denied a discharge to Lisa Pagan, of Davidson, N.C., for over a year and called her up for deployment as a reserve soldier, USA Today reported. Pagan asked for an exemption because there was no one to care for her two preschool-age children; if her husband were to quit his job in order to take care of their children while she deployed, she said, the couple would lose their home. It wasn’t until she reported for duty to Fort Benning in Georgia on March 2 with both her children in tow that the military agreed to provide her with a discharge and grant the exemption, CNN reported.


Thomas Dart, the sheriff in Illinois’ Cook County, has filed a lawsuit against the Internet classified site Craigslist, accusing it of promoting prostitution by allowing ads for erotic services, CNN reported March 5. A Craigslist spokesperson said the Internet service works “diligently” to prevent criminal activity on the site; the sheriff accused it of being the “single largest source of prostitution” in the nation.

In Memoriam:

  • Ann Bryan Mariano, one of the first female correspondents to cover the Vietnam War, died Feb. 25 in Massachusetts at age 76. While developing an Asian edition of the German tabloid Overseas Weekly, Mariano covered the darker side of the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. That earned the ire of the Pentagon, which banned the newspaper from Saigon newsstands. Mariano eventually won a lawsuit allowing its sale. As a woman, Mariano was also barred from reporting in military zones during the war’s early period. She spent the final two decades of her career at the Washington Post.
  • Molly Kool, the first woman to be licensed as a ship’s pilot in North America, died Feb. 25 at home in Maine at age 93. “Captain Molly” began hauling cargo, primarily in the Bay of Fundy, in 1939 after she graduated from a merchant marine school in her native Nova Scotia. After she married in 1944, Kool stuck to land and sold sewing machines. In 2006, she was honored by the Canadian government as the first female captain.

Jennifer Thurston is managing editor of Women’s eNews.

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