Cheers and Jeers



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The New York legislature passed a bill last week prohibiting the state’s prisons from using handcuffs or shackles on female inmates in labor, reported Restraints are routinely used on pregnant women when they are delivering an infant in U.S. federal and state prisons.

The new law will make New York one of just four states in the country that restrict the use of restraints on incarcerated women during pregnancy or childbirth, reported California and Illinois were the first states to put legal limits on the practice, but before the restriction was imposed in Illinois, for example, it was standard practice to chain female inmates to their hospital beds before, during and after the births.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, called the practice “barbaric and unconscionable,” the article reported. This is particularly true since handcuffs and shackles for women in labor can pose health problems, such as increasing pain, slowing down or complicating labor and causing delays if a woman needs an emergency caesarian section.

Most women in the United States are arrested for nonviolent larceny and theft or drug-related offenses, reported, and when Amnesty International asked prison administrators to provide examples of past in-labor escape attempts, no examples were forthcoming.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that gay U.S. diplomats will be given benefits similar to those of their heterosexual counterparts, reported the Associated Press. The State Department had previously withheld some benefits from the families of gay diplomats, citing the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The article reported that among the benefits that will now be granted to gay and lesbian diplomats are the right of domestic partners to hold diplomatic passports and the use of U.S. medical facilities abroad.
  • The International Baseball Federation has formed an 11-member panel to push its case for the inclusion of women’s baseball in the 2016 Olympics, reported the Associated Press. Baseball and softball were dropped from the 2012 London Games in a vote by the International Olympic Committee in 2005, but the federation estimates that more than 400,000 women and girls play baseball globally and they expect the number to double in coming years, the article reported. Baseball will be vying for two openings on the 2016 program.
  • The Pompidou Center in Paris, a modern and contemporary art gallery, unveiled an exhibition this week called “elles at centrepompidou” to draw more attention to women’s artistic achievements, the LA Times reported. It’s being advertised as the first such exhibition in the world, with about 500 works by more than 200 female artists. The exhibit includes no works by men and will run for an entire year.
  • A woman has been named chief of a police division for the first time in Bangladesh’s history, AsiaNews reported. Hosne Ara Begum was appointed chief officer to a division in the capital city Dhaka as of May 18th. Begum began her career with the Bangladesh police in 1981 and has worked in many regions of the country. Women first entered the country’s police force in 1974 and at the time there were only 14 women; there are now 1,937, the article reported.
  • The progressive Auburn Theological Seminary will continue to be led by women. Katherine Rhodes Henderson was elected the new president of the New York City-based seminary and will take over on July 1. She succeeds Barbara J. Wheeler, who has led the institution for the past 30 years.


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On May 26 the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, a voter decision made last year to prohibit same-sex marriages. The court did decide, however, to preserve the 18,000 same-sex marriages already performed in the state.

The court voted 6-to-1 to uphold the ban, noting that same-sex couples still have a right to civil unions. The California court ruled last May that same-sex couples had the right to marriage. The backlash led to Proposition 8, which received 52 percent of the vote last November, the New York Times reported.

Within 24 hours of the ruling, however, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and trial attorney David Boies filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the controversial provision, FindLaw reported. Olson and Boies are best known for their roles in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.

The Proposition 8 ruling comes at a time when other state governments have moved in the opposite direction. The National Organization for Women denounced the ruling in a press release, stating: “The California court’s decision flies in the face of recent progress on the issue. In the last two months, same-sex couples won the right to marry in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. The Washington, D.C., city council voted 12-to-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere–a major step for our nation’s capital that first must be approved by Congress before it can take effect.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • A study being released by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology on June 1 indicates that minorities are seriously underrepresented in the tech industry, especially at the senior level. According to the report, about 8 percent of women (and 6 percent of men) in Silicon Valley high-tech companies are minorities. The report adds that representation at the highest levels of the technical ladder is especially poor for women of color.
  • There’s been an avalanche of anti-abortion laws in Mexico recently, reported the Inter Press Service. In the last 13 months, 12 of Mexico’s 32 states have approved amendments to their state constitutions defining a fertilized human egg as a person with a right to legal protection. Seven other states are taking similar steps. Mexican nonprofits say this is a reaction to a Mexico City law that took effect in April 2007 decriminalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Ronak Safarzadeh, an Iranian women’s rights activist, was beaten by inmates inside a prison in the western province of Kurdistan, Iran Focus reported. The 22-year-old student, who was recently sentenced to a 6-year prison term on charges of “acting against national security,” was beaten by intelligence operatives inside the prison. According to activists, the organization reported, she is continuously tortured, insulted and verbally harassed by prison guards and agents.

Juhie Bhatia is contributing editor of Women’s eNews

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Cheers and Jeers

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