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Congo/Women in DC

Washington, DC looks at the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, in the form of a hearing tomorrow that will be held by women's rights advocate Senator Barbara Boxer.  The panels feature State Department reps, playwright and V-Day founder Eve Ensler, and Enough's John Prendergast, among others, and is aimed at addressing the staggering problems of rape and sexual violence in both DRC and Sudan.

Washingtonians can also literally see the situation faced by Congolese women in a photo exhibit on display this week called Congo/Women, featuring these stunning images of life and women in Congo.  Be sure to check it out if you're in the District.

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Scores of Afghan Schoolgirls Ill in Poison Gas Attack

Once again, young girls pay the price simply for being born female:

Five young girls slipped briefly into comas and nearly 100 were taken to hospital after a gas attack on their school on Tuesday, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan officials said.

The early morning mass-poisoning at Qazaaq school was likely the work of Taliban sympathizers hostile to girls' education, the head of security for Kapisa province told Reuters.

Despicable.

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Calling all midwives

We need more of you.

The number of midwives worldwide would have to more than double to meet Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal and infant deaths by 2015, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and World Health Organization on International Day of the Midwife.

Maternal mortality is the “highest health inequity in the world with more than 99 percent of deaths [in pregnancy and childbirth] occurring in the developing world,” World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a joint statement. In 2008 the agencies pledged to work with governments to fill the “urgent need for skilled health workers, particularly midwives”, the statement says.

WHO estimates that for the annual 160 million births worldwide it would take an additional 350,000 midwives to ensure that at least 95 percent of births were attended by trained health workers, thereby helping meet MDGs.

(image of midwives in Gambia, from flickr user mknobil under a Creative Commons license)

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Singer Ayman Udas Allegedly Gunned Down by Her Brothers for Appearing on TV

As Dispatch readers know, I focus a good portion of my posts on the unconscionable crimes perpetrated by humans against humans, and especially on the brutal treatment of women and young girls around the globe.

In a recent piece on Huffington Post, I wrote:

The World Health Organization's World Report on Violence and Health estimates that over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. The report states that violence is "among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females."

What's so disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how deeply pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

In Beirut during the '70s and early '80s, I witnessed terrible acts of violence, car bombs at supermarkets and missile strikes on residential neighborhoods, bloody bodies and corpses in the street, the carnage of urban warfare. It has made me keenly attuned to the darker aspects of human nature, the willingness to brutalize one another. Four decades on this planet and I still cannot fathom how a man can rape a baby, how people can gas, hack, strangle, shoot, smother, burn, and torture their fellow humans. Rather than become dulled and inured from violence overload, I am ever more appalled and horrified by it.

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Maternal Health in Ethiopia

UNTV posts a compelling story about the plight of pregnant women in Ethiopia. Death during childbirth is an enduring problem in countries like Ethiopia, where it is not uncommon for women to have eight or more children.  This one is worth a watch.

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UN Report: “Honor Killings” Rampant in Iraq

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) released a new report on the human rights situation in Iraq.   According to the summary, gender based violence remains one of the "key unaddressed problems throughout  Iraq." Honor killings, female genital mutilation and even female self-immolation have occurred with problematic frequency over the last year. 

UNAMI has reported 139 cases of gender based violence 15 in the last six months of 2008 in five governorates in northern Iraq16. Out of the total number, 77 women were seriously burned, 26 were victims of murder or attempted murder and 25 were cases of questionable suicide.

[snip]

UNAMI... has been alerted by local advocates for women's rights in the [Kurdish Regional Government] of the frequency of the so-called "honour killings" and cases of female self-immolation in the Kurdish region, despite efforts from the KRG to raise public awareness regarding violence against women. In cases reported to UNAMI, women have been attacked, wounded and left to die and the death characterised as "accidental" by family members. For example, in the village of Pangeen Qushtapa sub-district), 16-year-old Kanyaw Maghdid and her sister 22-year-old Lafaw were shot by their father on 23 September. Lafaw told police that her father shot his daughters to "protect their honour" when he found out about the relationship one was having with a boy.Kanyaw died on the spot while Lafaw was admitted to a hospital but later died. At the writing of this report, an investigation has been open but no arrest made yet. It has also been reported to UNAMI that the suspected killer of D'waa Aswad Khalil, a 17-year-old Yezidi girl publicly stoned to death in April 2007 in the village of Bahzan in the Ninawa governorate17 was seeking traditional reconciliation with the victim's family to avoid criminal charges.

Appalling. 

Photo from Flickr user jamesdale10

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Karzai Says Marital Rape Law Will Be Amended

The abhorrent -- not just "controversial" -- law that the Afghan government passed, and President Hamid Karzai signed, then sent back to the Justice Ministry for review, will evidently be amended.  Karzai spoke with Afghan women's groups yesterday, and his excuse -- that he "did not know all the contents of the law" -- seems disturbingly underwhelming, even if the statute was written in "complicated Islamic theological language."  Surely Karzai did notice the rocks and insults hurled at Afghan women who did protest the law, and it will at least a welcome development when (or if) the law is wholly repealed.

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UNIFEM receives increased funding

The early good news coming out of the United States in support of global women's rights keeps getting better. Not only has the Obama Administration rescinded the exceedingly counter-productive "Global Gag Rule," but the new Congress has stepped up funding for the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

As a result of the recent budget passed by the United States Congress, UNIFEM will receive much appreciated increased funding for 2009. The US contribution to UNIFEM core resources will amount to US$4,500,000, an increase of nearly one million from last year. Also benefitting is the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UNIFEM, which will receive US$2,500,000, an increase of more than US$700,000 from 2008.

This is money well spent.

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NYT – Afghan Women: “We Want Equality!” Men: “Get Out of Here, You Whores!”

From the New York Times, a perfect example of the abuse women are subjected to across the globe:

The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.

“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”

The women scattered as the men moved in.

“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”

The women ran to the bus and dove inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.

“Whores!”

But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.

That's courage.