Recent Resources for Feminists
Melbourne ~ Sunday January 25, 2015
Rosie Batty is Australian of the Year
By Shane Green
Video: The Rosie Batty Factor
Domestic and family violence campaigner Rosie Batty reflects on her year in the public spotlight.
Australians of the Year share some common features. In the main, they are individuals who stand out in their chosen fields: those who can hit or kick a ball, can act or sing, excelled in their professions. But no one has been like Rosie Batty.
As she collected her award from Tony Abbott on the lawns in front of Parliament House, we as a nation watched and applauded this remarkable woman. But at the same time, as we have always done when she has appeared in public, we drew a short, pained breath at the profound tragedy of it all, that the beginning point was the death of her 11-year-old son, Luke.
Three weeks short of a year ago, Ms Batty and Luke were making a life in the small semi-rural community of Tyabb, a single mother and son. The facts of what happened next are tragic: Greg Anderson, her former partner and Luke's father, murdered his son in the nets after cricket practice. Rosie Batty Australian of the Year. ( Jay Cronan)
The shocking and public act of family violence jolted us, how the everyday and seemingly safe setting of kids practising cricket on a weekday afternoon became so brutalised. Still, after the initial coverage, there is every chance the story of Luke Batty and the wider, overarching concerns about domestic violence may have receded.
Rosie Batty ensured that didn't happen. Following Luke's death, the expected and accepted thing would have been a retreat into private grief. But the next day, she emerged from her home to speak to reporters. "My name is Rosie," she said. "I am the mother of Luke."
In a calm, low voice, she told the story of the increasingly erratic behaviour of Luke's father. But it was not a story of anger. "No one loved Luke more than Greg, his father. No one loved Luke more than me. We both loved him," she said. "I want to tell everybody that family violence happens to everybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are. It can happen to anyone, and everyone."
Her demeanour, her strength, was remarkable. As the past 11 months have demonstrated, these traits are deeply ingrained. From the tragedy of Luke's death, she has emerged as a powerful, articulate campaigner on the often-hidden crisis of domestic violence, speaking with the loud and clear authenticity of one so painfully touched.
Her name brings an instant recognition, and her strong voice has moved the likes of retiring Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay, who has talked about the "Rosie Batty factor" as a catalyst for change. She has championed the cause, calling for an overhaul of the court system and criticising systemic failures and a lack of leadership.
Certainly, the Rosie Batty factor has been at work in the new Victorian Labor government fulfilling its election promise to call a royal commission into family violence.
That such change could result from such tragedy is a positive. But Rosie Batty also deals with the profound pain of the loss of her son.
"There have been moments of acute reality at the loss of Luke and unreality of finding myself doing things I would never have done otherwise," she says. "It has that sense of being unreal."
In part, the power of the Rosie Batty factor has been the empathy from every parent placing themselves in her position, trying to imagine what it could be like – that short, pained breath we take.
"I could never imagine not having Luke," she says. "When you have a child, you just can't imagine them not being there, or seeing them suffer or something happening to them. As a parent, you're just built to protect them, from pain, from hurt. You're overly sensitive when it comes to things that happen in the playground, at school. So ultimately, there is that acknowledgement as a parent that you can't imagine having to cope with what I'm having to cope with."
Before Luke's death, Ms Batty had seen others experience tragedy, and marvelled at their personal strength.
"I've always been amazed at the courage and strength that people do have. Ultimately, you have no choice but to get up each day and face the world, and put one step forward. What is the alternative?"
The support and respect she has received from the wider community has been enormously helpful, she feels. "And certainly, it could have been a different experience," she says. "I could have said wrong things, and I could have all gone very ugly for me in many ways. I just feel incredibly fortunate that it has unfolded in such a positive and constructive way."
As for awards and acknowledgements, she has received plenty – including some of which she was unaware. It has made her appreciate their value. "You actually don't realise how much an award means to you until you're actually acknowledged," she says.
But beyond the accolades is the momentum for real change generated by the Rosie Batty factor. "What I'm looking forward to is really starting to see the change in legislation, strategy, programs and things like that," Rosie Batty says, "the work starting to unfold."
[But, please read on to learn of the impact of the Abbott Government’s outrageous budget cuts to Victorian community legal services, Aboriginal services and men's support services - which all help women to leave violent relationships]
Melbourne ~ Sunday January 25, 2015
Victorian family violence services face cuts
By Miki Perkins/Reporter for The Age
Family violence experts have echoed Australian of the Year Rosie Batty's calls for the government to guarantee long-term funding to specialist women's services.
Many Victorian community legal services, Aboriginal services and men's support services - which all help women to leave violent relationships - will have to slash programs or face closure because of federal funding cuts.
The new Yarra Ranges Legal Centre in Healesville is set to close after only 10 months because its $200,000 in federal funding was pulled after the change in government.
This comes despite surging family violence in the region: police stats show the number of applications for intervention orders in the Yarra Ranges has increased by almost 230 per cent in the past five years. Family violence cases are the centre's biggest area of work.
Eastern Community Legal Centre head Michael Smith, who manages the centre, says if they are unable to find back-up funding it will close its doors in June.
"We're very proud of Rosie and we would hope with her announcement [as Australian of the Year] the Federal Government will make family violence a real priority and fund it properly," Mr Smith said.
In Victoria, 14 community legal centres will be affected by federal budget cuts from June. A third of all new cases opened by Victorian centres each year relate to family violence, the Federation of Community Legal Centres says.
Antoinette Braybrook, chief executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service, says the well-regarded service is facing closure.
Ms Braybrook, who has been with the service since it was founded, said control of its funding has been taken over by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and it has been forced to re-apply from scratch for funding in a tender process.
With funding for the Victorian centre to run out at the end of June, Ms Braybrook will not learn if their application is successful until July.
"I've been working in this job for 12 years and I've never felt this much uncertainty before, it is really, really concerning," Ms Braybrook said. "We've got amazing staff that are sticking by us, but the pressure's on for everyone."
When she accepted her award for Australian of the Year on Sunday, Ms Batty made reference to the high incidence of family violence for Indigenous women: "The statistics are unacceptable, indisputable and, if they did happen on our streets, there would be a public outcry."
As well as legal services and housing services, men's services in Victoria have also been affected by federal budget cuts.
About $600,000 a year in specialist family violence services grant funding has been cut, with about half of that money allocated to men's behavioural change programs, said No to Violence spokesman Rodney Vlais.
In a statement, new Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said he would welcome an opportunity to meet Rosie Barry and hear her proposals.
Last year the Federal Government launched the Second Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and allocated it more than $100 million, Mr Morrison said.
AM December 23 2013
Concern over cuts to Indigenous family violence program
Connie Agius reported this story on Monday, December 23, 2013 08:00:00
Listen to MP3 of this story ( minutes)
TONY EASTLEY: One of the Coalition's key appointments in the field of Indigenous affairs has spoken out about the government's cost cutting.
The chairman of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, is concerned about cuts to the national program helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are victims of family violence and sexual assault.
He says that although cuts to Indigenous legal aid programs were necessary, he doesn't think the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service program is the right place to start.
With more, heres Connie Agius.
CONNIE AGIUS: The Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service is a national program with offices around the country. It provides a range of legal and support services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are victims of family violence and sexual assault.
A woman, who we'll call Jane, credits the program with her escape a violent home.
JANE: I was a victim of family violence for seven years. And so it just escalated to a point where it was quite dangerous for myself and that it was dangerous for the children.
CONNIE AGIUS: It was important to Jane that she find a service that understood her culture.
JANE: It meant that I didn't need to have to explain my position as an Aboriginal woman and mother. It meant that I was working with Aboriginal workers as well, and it meant that when I have the service in court that they were able to speak as if I was the one that was speaking about my situation as an Aboriginal woman.
CONNIE AGIUS: Jane benefited from one of four legal assistance programs now targeted for government cuts. The program's administrators say they'll lose $3.6 million over the next three years.
The Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, issued a statement to AM saying funding will be stripped from policy reform and lobbying activities - and he says frontline legal services won't be affected.
But the national convenor for the program, Antoinette Braybrook, disagrees.
ANTOINETTE BRAYBROOK: The Family Violence Prevention Legal Service program does not get funding for policy and law reform, so I'm not sure how they can say that it is only to that and frontline services won't be affected. That $3.6 million cut to our program will have to come from frontline service delivery.
CONNIE AGIUS: Antoinette Braybrook says Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely than the rest of the community to be hospitalised because of family violence. She says the service is already struggling to keep up with demand.
ANTOINETTE BRAYBROOK: We're always at capacity and trying to manage those high caseloads. So we are under-resourced now, and these cuts will only contribute to us not being able to meet that demand.
CONNIE AGIUS: Ms Braybrook's concerns are shared by Warren Mundine, who is the chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council.
WARREN MUNDINE: It is really tough, because we do need to ensure that we are working hard in this area, because it is a very crucial area for us.
CONNIE AGIUS: Is this the right area to be cutting, in terms of funding?
WARREN MUNDINE: Well no, not really, because it's an area that it is likely in regard to the domestic violence situation, and I see this as a very critical and crucial area for us.
What it really means for us in the Council and that is we need to get on top of this very quickly, and we have to then have conversation back with the Government about, okay, what are the outcomes we need to have in this area, and how do we ensure that the funding and that the proper programming that it replaced to ensure that we are reducing the rate of domestic violence and violence within Aboriginal communities overall.
CONNIE AGIUS: While Warren Mundine is critical of this particular cut, he supports the Government's general plans to cut waste in Aboriginal spending.
TONY EASTLEY: Connie Agius reporting.
India ~ Tuesday 13 January, 2015
Supreme Court asks Centre to respond on clinical trial of vaccinesBy PTI
SC asked the Centre to file its response giving details like process of taking consent of persons on whom clinical trial of cervical cancer prevention vaccines.
NEW DELHI: Supreme Court today asked the Centre to file its response giving details like process of taking consent of persons on whom clinical trial of cervical cancer prevention vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, have been carried out.
A bench of justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant asked the Centre to also indicate who would be liable to pay compensation to the persons if the clinical trial of the vaccination caused adverse impact.
Besides the Centre, the bench also asked governments of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where clinical trials of the vaccines have taken place, to file their responses within four weeks about issues including the number of affected persons.
The bench asked the Centre to keep in view the 81st report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on clinical trial of vaccines while filing its response.
During the hearing, the counsel for Gujarat said seven deaths were reported from the state and moreover, these did not happen due to the clinical trials but were rather caused by reasons including snake bites.
The court, however, did not concur with the submission. Earlier, the court had asked the Centre to place before it the records regarding the licenses given to cervical cancer prevention vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix.
It had directed the Centre to place before it the report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare which has dealt with the issue of drugs relating to Human Papilloma Virus ( HPV) vaccine.
The court had allowed to make Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as respondents in the matter as some villages in these states were chosen for administering the vaccine as an experiment and reports had allegedly suggested that girls suffered side effects of Gardasil and Cervarix, manufactured by pharmaceuticals major Merck Sharpe and Dohme respectively.
The bench said it had to examine whether proper protocol and procedure was followed for introduction of these vaccines because it has been alleged that deaths have also been caused due to the situation.
Wednesday January 14, 2015
Apex court raps Centre over clinical trialsBy TNN
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to respond what action it intended to take on the parliamentary standing committee's report on irregularity in clinical trials of cervical cancer vaccine saying that government should be concerned about health of its people.
"It should be the concern of UOI that health of people is preserved. Don't leave the matter to court. It is for the government to find out a way," a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said adding, "If Parliamentary Committee has done something then it is obligatory for the executive government to take action on the report".
The court asked the government to file an affidavit stating what procedure should be followed in clinical trial of drugs and who should be held responsible for death or adverse effect on the people who underwent trial.
"File affidavit stating protocol to be followed for getting consent of people to undergo trial and the process to find out what is the effect of vaccination and whose liability is it to pay compensation," a bench headed by Dipak Misra said.
The bench raised questions on why clinical trials of a cervical cancer vaccine were allowed and why particular states and districts were chosen for the trial.
It directed the states of Gujarat and Telangana, which had granted permission for the trial, to file affidavit on how many people died or suffered side effects due to the trial.
Earlier, the court had summoned the files relating to grant of permission for conducting clinical trial of the vaccine in 2012. It had also directed the Centre to produce all files relating to grant of licence for trial of the vaccine to prevent human papyloma virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer.
UK ~ Tuesday 13 January 2015
EXCLUSIVE: Doctors 'used nine-year-olds as human guinea pigs' for a new cervical cancer vaccine... and they suffered side-effects including nausea, dizziness and weight-loss
Indian children 'were unaware' they were part of cervical cancer drug trial
They were paid £10 to be injected with drug to fight cancer in west
But court papers claim they were duped into taking part in the trial
Children 'suffered side-effects from weight loss to dizziness to nausea'
Cervical cancer victim Jade Goody's mum says: 'This is just not right'
Doctor at centre of 'scandal' says participants were 'adequately informed'
Merck, the company behind drug has also denied any wrongdoing
By Gethin Chamberlain In Indore, India, For Mailonline
Children as young as nine suffered side-effects after being used as unwitting human guinea pigs for a new multi-billion pound anti-cervical cancer drug, it has been claimed.
The new anti-cancer drug has just been approved for use in the United States and is due to be released in Britain this year.
But MailOnline has learned that several of the children used as 'guinea pigs' for the drug trial in India reported suffering problems including weight loss, fatigue, dizziness and menstrual problems.
They and their parents claim they had no idea they were being used to test out Gardasil 9, which was then an untried drug.
The claims have sparked a furious row with the mother of reality TV star Jade Goody, one of the most high profile recent victims of cervical cancer, telling MailOnline: 'It is not right.'
Jackiey Budden said she would not have wanted her daughter - who died aged 27 in 2010 - to have been vaccinated with a drug that had been tested on children who did not know what was happening to them.
'Vaccination is a good idea but it shouldn't be tested on kids,' she said.
Aman Dhawan, 16, is one of many youngsters from Indore who took part in the trial without being aware they had been signed up to test Merckís new Gardasil 9 drug, aimed at preventing cervical cancer
Sana Ansari, 19, her brother Mazhar and sister Asiya were all enrolled in the trial of Gardasil 9 drug - but she and her family say she had no idea she was testing the drug
Aman Dhawan, 16, from Indore, lost weight and strength after being enrolled in the trial, which he didn't know he had signed up for either
Jackiey Budden, mother of Jade Goody, pictured above, who died of cervical cancer aged just 27, says trials like these are wrong
'It is difficult because you want to save lives but it is not right to do it on children that young. They should be able to make up their own minds if they want to test it out.'
Drug firms are already facing claims that they exploited children in the developing world to develop the vaccine.
Merck, which makes Gardasil 9, faces a hearing in India's Supreme Court tomorrow over the alleged use of young girls from poor tribal communities in trials of an earlier anti-cervical cancer drug.
It also involves the Cervarix vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline, along with US-based health non-profit organisation PATH, which organised the trials with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Seven girls died before the trials were halted, although those involved deny the deaths were linked to the vaccines.
An Indian government committee which investigated those trials concluded that they amounted to a serious breach of trust and medical ethics amounting to child abuse and 'a clear cut violation of the human rights of these girl children and adolescents'.
Now Merck is facing fresh claims that it put children at risk to satisfy the demand for a new vaccine.
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women worldwide and kills more than 265,000 people every year, according to Cancer Research UK.
In the UK alone there were 920 deaths in 2012, the latest figures available.
Both America and Britain advise girls to be inoculated against the deadly disease while in adolescence - and the vaccination programme is worth huge sums of money to the pharmaceutical industry.
Merck's new drug, Gardasil 9, is designed to protect against the strains of Human Papillomavirus responsible for 90 per cent of cervical cancers.
Its effectiveness is not disputed: Merck's clinical trial data shows impressive results, with 99.5 of participants testing positive for antibodies after completing the trials.
But as the Indian test subjects discovered - and Merck's own published research confirms - some recipients of the vaccine do suffer side effects, known as systemic adverse reactions.
The most frequently reported side effects were headache, pyrexia [fever], nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Dr Hemant Jain (left) faces accusations that he ran drugs trials for international pharmaceutical firms without the consent of patients. The latest case to emerge involves Merckís new Gardasil 9 drug, which Dr Jain administered to 44 children - including Aman (right)
Kalpana Mehta highlighted a series of drug trials on young girls in India which resulted in at least seven deaths. A public interest litigation she brought with two others left India's Supreme Court to request a government investigation into the trials and ultimately led to the court halting drug trials in India
In one trial more than 1,000 out of 7,071 subjects reported suffering headaches, with more than 200 reporting dizziness up to 15 days after the vaccination.
According to Merck, 305 people reported 'serious adverse events' and 321 reported new medical conditions 'potentially indicative of systemic autoimmune disorders'.
Its own report warns that the similarities between the new drug and its predecessor mean that when Gardasil 9 becomes more widely available, some users may also suffer problems reported during the use of Gardasil - including deep vein thrombosis, immune system disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and nervous system disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome - known as locked-in syndrome - and motor neuron disease.
Claims of such side effects have made the original Gardasil the subject of some controversy in the US, where some campaigners have questioned its safety.
But last month, after studying the results from trials on at least 13,234 people [Merck also uses the figure of 13,236 in its published research] the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that the vaccine was safe and approved the vaccine for use on children aged nine and upwards. It is now expected to become one of the most widely used anti-cancer drugs in the world.
WHAT IS CERVICAL CANCER?
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women and kills more than 265,000 people every year, most of them in developing countries, according to Cancer Research UK.
It is caused by changes to the cells in the cervix - which sits at the neck of the womb.
Diagnosed early, it is usually possible to treat - but can mean a woman needs a hysterectomy, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
But cervical cancer isn't easy to spot: it often has no symptoms in its early stages, although some women may have bleeding in-between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
However, these symptoms don't definitely point to cervical cancer so women are encouraged to be screened regularly to check for signs of the disease.
In England, this takes place from the age of 25 and is commonly as a 'smear test'.
The test shows up any abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. Abnormal tests do not necessarily mean a woman has cervical cancer, as most are caused by infection or treatable pre-cancerous cells, NHS guidance says.
Most are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) - a common virus spread through sex.
There are many strains of the virus - many of which do not cause cancer. Just two known to be responsible for 70 per cent of all cervical cancer.
To cut the rates of cervial cancer, vaccinations against HPV were introduced in 2008. The vaccinations are now routinely given to 12 and 13-year-old girls.
It is hoped it will reduce the incidences of cervical cancer, which caused 920 deaths in 2012, according to the latest figures available.
For Merck - which has cut 8,500 jobs in the last two years in an attempt to save £1.5billion a year - the stakes could not be higher: industry analysts estimate that Gardasil 9 could be worth more than £1.2billion a year to the company in sales.
But those forecast sales may have been on the back of trials conducted on children in the Indian city of Indore that, according to an affidavit lodged with the Supreme Court, were both illegal and unethical.
The affidavit, submitted to the court as part of the public interest litigation over the earlier drug trials, claimed that:
- • None of those involved were told that they were taking part in a drug trial
- • Middlemen acted as touts to recruit patients
- • Parents were lied to and told their children would be getting a successful foreign medicine
- • Those involved targeted the poor and vulnerable
- • Children who suffered health problems received no health care or compensation
Documents lodged with India's Clinical Trials Registry [CTR] reveal that trials of the drug - which during testing was known as V503 - also took place in the UK and 25 other countries.
In India the work was allotted to seven investigators and involved 225 boys and girls aged from nine to 15. Those involved received a series of three injections. No details have been published of the outcomes on the CTR documents.
But MailOnline has seen the list of 44 participants who took part in the study run by Dr Hemant Jain at the MGM Medical College in Indore. The documents bear his stamp and signature. They are the subject of the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court.
Mazhar Ansari, 18, who was enrolled in a trial of Merck's new Gardasil 9 drug
Whistleblower Dr Anand Rai, 37, lifted the lid on the scandal of illegal drugs trials in the city and now has been given an armed guard to protect him
In addition to the affidavit, MailOnline has spoken to families whose children were used as 'guinea pigs' for the drug.
Among them is Aman Dhawan, 16, who lives with his family in the Pancham Ki Phel slum in Indore in Madhya Pradesh state in the heart of India.
Until 2010 he was a healthy young boy with an aspiration to be be a dancer.
The invitation to receive the vaccinations had come from a neighbour. Other parents were doing it, she said, and not only were their children getting a fantastic new Western 'cure-all', they were getting money for going too - as much as Rs 1,000 [£10] - a large sum in a country where more than 300 million people live on less than the official poverty rate of Rs 47 a day. What was there to lose?
'The doctor said "Don't worry, the vaccine is very good, it will take care of all your diseases",' he says.
'My mum told me this would cure me from several diseases including malaria.
'I wasn't afraid of the injection. But after taking the medicines I saw there were things taking place in my body.'
He began to lose weight and strength, he says.
'Whenever I was eating I wanted less. I was losing my taste for food so that now I don't like to eat a meal in the evening.I was unable to do the things I used to do earlier.'
He shrugs the shoulders of his slight frame.
'I was a very good athlete. At school I won many prizes, but now when I try to run as fast as I used I feel pain in my body and my stomach aches.'
His family do not know what is wrong with him: they say they have received no follow up care after the trial and are too poor to be able to afford to pay for tests of their own.
'I think it may be because of the injections. I can't do the things I used to be able to do. I wanted to be a famous dancer. But I can't be a dancer now. My body is too weak. I don't have the strength. So now, I don't know. Maybe I will open a shop.
Indore, India, where a number of illegal drug trials took place. More than 2,800 people have died during drug tests in Indian since 2005
A hospital building where Dr Hemant Jain - who faces accusations works in Indore
Dr Jain has stamped his name onto this paperwork relating to the drug trial, which was released as a result of questions asked in the Madhya Pradesh state assembly
The first couple of times he attended for the injections, the family was given Rs 200 [£2] 'because they said"'you've come a long way and couldn't work today",' says his mother Seema. The last time he went they were given Rs 1,000 [£10].
'Until now we didn't realise that these drugs were being tested on our children,' she says.
'He was okay initially but then lately he was ill. Earlier he had a good physique but gradually he has lost his weight and he has lost his health.
'Because of our poor and illiterate background we were taken for a ride. If we knew that they were doing this we would never have allowed our children to take these tests.'
Whether by accident or design, many of those who agreed to let their children take part in the trial were poor and illiterate.
Some, like the Dhawans, also noticed changes in their children - late periods, dizziness and weakness. They had something else in common too: they say they had no idea they were taking part in a trial of a new anti-cervical cancer vaccine.
I was a very good athlete. At school I won many prizes, but now when I try to run as fast as I used I feel pain in my body and my stomach aches.
Aman Dhawan, 16
Muskan and Akash Hansari both had the injections, but their father told researchers working for the group behind the Supreme Court case that he was led to believe that it would prevent all sicknesses and illness in general.
'[He has] no idea as to what cervical cancer is. Doesn't know what a uterus is let alone where it is located,' the researchers noted in a report compiled to support the Supreme Court affidavit.
The family was, however, warned that there could be side effects like fever and stomach ache and were given a thermometer to take home and, like all the other trial participants, they were called in later for blood tests.
Muskan, 15, said she was about 11 at the time of the vaccination. She said she 'did not understand anything about the vaccine because nothing was explained to her.'
'Muskan took the vaccine because her father told her to and she trusted him and her father trusted the government doctor,' the report notes.
Mazhar Ansari, 18, and sisters Sana, 17 and Aasiya, 17, were signed up after a cousin heard about the injections from Dr Jain, the man running the trial.
No details have been published on how much Dr Jain was paid to conduct the trial, but published rates for other trials in Indore suggest that an investigator might expect to be paid up to £5,000 for such a trial. Rates vary widely though.
The trials are the subject of a complaint to the country's Supreme Court - the same court which warned In October 2013 that 'foreign companies are treating India as a heaven for clinical trials, but it is proving hell for India'
But it is alleged youngsters like Aman are being used as guinea pigs without their knowledge to ensure the drugs are safe for children in the UK and US
'It should not have been done. It is completely wrong,' says their father Mohammed Umar Ansari.
The family was told that the vaccine was for cervical cancer, but Ansari said he had no idea what that was. Like the Dhawan family, they were paid for their time. Both girls say they have experienced problems with their periods, which have become late and irregular.
This echoes accounts from the US, where some girls vaccinated with the original Gardasil have reported problems with missed periods.
Shaurya Mishra's father told the researchers the family felt 'short changed and cheated' by the doctors after the 14-year-old was signed up for the trials. He was told the vaccine would prevent cervical cancer but confessed he did not know what this was.
'He felt bad that American companies try their vaccines out on Indians and then those same vaccines are given to the Americans to benefit them while the Indians are just used as guinea pigs.'
Shruti and Leena Pardeshi's mother was also convinced that the vaccine would be good for her girls. She was warned that they could get a light fever and stomach ache, and was given a thermometer to take home.
Instead, Shruti had felt dizzy and weak and doctors had been unable to get blood from her on the blood tests. Both girls started to experience late periods.
The activists behind the court challenge include veteran women's campaigner Kalpanna Mehta and Dr Anand Rai, a doctor who has campaigned for years against drug trials.
Mehta shuffles a sheaf of documents released by the state health department in response to a request from a member of the state assembly. This is where the list of the trial participants came from.
'The trials are extremely faulty,' she says.
Hollie Anderson, 13, pictured at home in Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, was the first teenager to have the vaccination against the virus that can lead to cervical cancer
She says her researchers have interviewed 14 of the children and their families and recorded a range of problems suffered since the vaccinations.
'One girl had serious mood swings and depression. Another developed serious anaemia. One boy lost a lot of weight, one girl has stomach ache, four have menstrual abnormalities and one has stopped her periods.'
But many patients do not realise they have rights, she says.
'Even when they know it is wrong they don't want to fight. We still live in a country were they think doctors are gods. There are no risks [for the drug companies] here.'
But there are risks for the campaigners. Last year Dr Rai was given a bodyguard in response to death threats made against him because of his campaigning.
He sits in the canteen of the MY Hospital in Indore, watching his bodyguard clean a double-barrelled shotgun.
'Some people are unhappy with me,' he says. He says he has been threatened by other doctors and told he will not get work because of his efforts to expose the way some drug trials are run in the city.
'They chose poor groups, weaker groups, illiterate groups, those who needed medicine at any cost. They are poor. They have to rely on these doctors, they have to rely on government hospitals because they don't have any option.
'International companies use Indians as guinea pigs.'
They chose poor groups, weaker groups, illiterate groups, those who needed medicine at any cost. They are poor. They have to rely on these doctors, they have to rely on government hospitals because they don't have any option.'International companies use Indians as guinea pigs. - Whistleblower Dr Anand Rai
A detailed report prepared by Dr Rai and colleagues - upon which the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court was based - is highly critical of the Gardasil 9 trials.
It noted side effects among children including dizziness, weakness, weight loss, mood swings, depression and suicidal tendencies.
'Not a single family knew it was a clinical trial and were all duped into believing that this vaccine had proven to be effective in other parts of the world,' it says.
The report does not, however, allocate blame for who was responsible for this failure.
'These families have been duped into taking the HPV vaccine and their right to give informed consent was violated. Many of them took the vaccine in good faith and were unsuspectingly used as guinea pigs for yet another clinical trial in India.'
The man behind the trials, Dr Jain, refused to meet face to face, but issued a staunch defence of his work, claiming that the allegations about the trials were the work of 'vested interests' chasing compensation.
Dr Jain, a paediatrician, criticised the 'hue and cry' around his trials. He said his centre had World Health Organisation approval for conducting vaccine trials and that many of the children involved in the Gardasil 9 trials were middle class or the children of colleagues.
'All the trial participants and their parents were adequately informed about the whole process of the trial and their queries if any were suitably answered at the time of signing the consent form,' he said in a written response.
It is not the first time he has had to issue a denial over his drug trial work. An earlier report by the State Bureau of Investigation of Economic Offences criticised him after 18 people suffered serious adverse events during drug trials he conducted. The report notes that he received several large payments for the trials, including Rs 2 million (£20,000) for a World Health Organisation sponsored trial on 400 children. Dr Jain said that none of the adverse events were related to the trials.
Previously India's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights also registered a case against Dr Jain following a complaint by the parents of an 11-year-old girl, who claimed she had been the subject of a vaccine trial without their consent and which had led to serious side effects.
In 2012, Dr Jain was the subject of an undercover television investigation by India's Headlines Today station, which filmed him talking about the profit margins from drug trials.He was shown explaining that there was an 18-20 per cent margin.
The news channel accused him of signing up patients to trials without informing them that they were participating. He denied any wrongdoing.
Hollie's mother paid £450 for her to have the vaccine, Gardasil, privately after seeing her own mother batttle against cancer
In a statement Merck - which trades in India as MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd - said: 'Merck conducts clinical trials worldwide to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its therapeutic candidates. These trials are fundamental to the development of innovative medicines and vaccines that help treat or prevent illness in humans.
'It is Merck policy that all investigational studies in human subjects must be conducted in a manner consistent with laws, regulations and guidelines for the protection of human subjects, including International Conference on Harmonization-Good Clinical Practices (ICH-GCP) standards.
'Individual country regulations and guidelines are an important source of specific requirements for the conduct of medical research.'
A spokeswoman for Merck argued that while the additional affidavit on the Gardasil 9 trials had been submitted to the Supreme Court, it was not included in a subsequent list of issues the judges were considering.
The campaigners say that it was submitted and remains part of the case launched two years ago by Mehta and her colleagues.
The court's record of proceedings from last August shows that the judges are primarily concerned about whether those taking part in the original trials of Gardasil and GSK's anti-cervical cancer drug Cervarix gave their informed consent and whether they had been the subject of clinical experimentation. They cited at length the report of a hugely-critical government report into the original trials.
'It's not right': Jackiey Budden, pictured above visiting her daughter Jade Goody's headstone on the first anniversary of her death on March 21, 2010 in Upshire, England, has said she disagrees with vaccines being trialled on children
Concerns: Jackiey Budden the mother of Jade Goody, who died of cervical cancer, has spoken of her worry that a vaccine was trialled on children in India
Around 2,900 cases of cervical cancer, pictured under the microscope, are diagnosed each year in the UK
The whole matter was 'fishy,' according to the 72nd report of the parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare. Everything pointed to a 'well planned scheme to commercially exploit a situation.'
The committee noted that a large number of participants were illiterate and had apparently consented by placing a thumb print on forms they could not read.
It concluded that the trial operators 'violated all laws and regulations laid down for clinical trials by the government.'
Their sole aim had been to promote the commercial interests of the manufacturers who 'would have reaped windfall profits' if the drug had been approved for use in India.
'This is a serious breach of trust by any entity as the project involved life and safety of girl children and adolescents who were mostly unaware of the implications of vaccination,' it wrote. 'The violation is also a serious breach of medical ethics…It also deems it an established case of child abuse.'
That report led the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend clinical trials across the country until new safeguards could be put in place, including new independent ethics committees, registration of all trials and audio-visual recording of consent.
'Foreign companies are treating India as a heaven for clinical trials, but it is proving hell for India,' the judges stated at the time.
Over the past decade, drug trials have become a £300 million a year business in India. In 2003, there were fewer than 50 clinical trials running in India, but the number increased rapidly as pharmaceutical firms realised that costs were up to 60 per cent lower in India than in the US. By 2011, there were 1,852 trials registered with the government, involving an estimated 150,000 patients.
In March 2013 India's health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad revealed that 2,868 people had died since 2005 in government-approved drug trials.
GSK argues that the Supreme Court case does not involve the company and is targeted only at those who conducted the tests, although it is named as a respondent in court papers.
In a written statement GSK said: 'GSK has not been named in the ongoing case and therefore it would be inappropriate for GSK to comment on the matter further.
'Cervarix is already licensed for use in India. GSK submitted the required clinical trial data demonstrating the safety profile and efficacy of Cervarix to the regulators in accordance with the applicable regulations. It is now registered in 130 countries worldwide and has been used in national vaccination programmes to protect women from cervical cancer in many countries, including the Netherlands, Panama and regional programmes across Italy, Poland, Spain and Mexico.'
In a statement PATH said it had cooperated fully in the inquiry into its use of the vaccines and was committed to meeting the highest scientific, ethical and legal standards.
Sunday, 11 January, 2015
Schoolgirls in China paid large sums to donate eggs to infertile couples on black market
Young women are undergoing intensive procedures in exchange for tens of thousands of yuan - but could end up infertile, medical experts warn
Scroll Down to Also Read "Women lured by cash for eggs can pay high cost to health" and from the archives 10 years back by Judy Norsigian in DifferenTakes #33 "Egg Donation for IVF and Stem Cell Research: Time to Weigh the Risks to Women's Health"
- A prospective seller is measured by agents. (SMP)
Health experts have called for government regulation to halt the black market trade in women's eggs, following a report on the practice by state broadcaster CCTV yesterday.
The sellers - some still in high school - were being paid tens of thousands of yuan for their eggs by agencies acting on behalf of infertile couples but were being misled about the risks of the drug therapy involved, the report said.
"The girls we target are all around 20 years old, because that's the age when women's eggs are best," one agency representative told CCTV.
Retrieving the eggs required only drug therapy and minimally invasive surgery across about 20 days, agencies told the women. They could earn between 30,000 (HK$37,910) and 100,000 yuan for a successful retrieval, depending on appearance and education level, CCTV said.
The women were told: "You guys can earn tens of thousands of yuan each time, so why not?"
Mainland law prohibits compensating women for their eggs, although they can donate them up to three times.
Medical experts warned the procedure carried risks.
"Egg retrieval needs a certain dose of injections for ovarian stimulation before the operation, which could cause different levels of damage to the ovaries," said Dr Suen Sik-hung, a private obstetrician in Hong Kong.
"For young women, a large dose might produce more than 20 eggs each time, which could enlarge her ovaries, and in some cases, it could cause bleeding or even necrosis, meaning she will become infertile."
The infertility rate among mainlanders of child-bearing age rose from 3 per cent two decades ago to between 12.5-15 per cent in 2009, according to a report by People's Daily last year. More than 50 million people on the mainland have been diagnosed as infertile, it said.
Some agencies in Guangzhou were charging infertile couples up to 1.2 million yuan for a boy. The package covers eggs, surrogacy services and abortions if the foetus is a girl, according to CCTV.
A Guangzhou-based agency said the minimum charge, if the sex of the baby was not specified, was about 400,000 yuan.
Ai Xiaoming, a professor of women's studies based in Guangdong, said a lack of regulation and medical information could lead young women to sell their eggs for money. One woman undergoing the procedure told CCTV she was paying off credit card debt.
"It's nothing new as in today's China, the human body has become a commodity. It's impossible to ban the commercial surrogacy business as assisted reproduction technology has become part of our lives," Ai said.
"But the growing market shows there is a need to form a comprehensive regulation system, which should be based on a large government-led public consultation between medical authorities and experts from different sectors.
"All the cases show that if the government still hesitates to come up with regulation against these illegal operations, the rights of children and women, as well as the sex imbalance in our country, will never be properly addressed."
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Illegal egg donors 'run big risks'
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Women lured by cash for eggs can pay high cost to health
Documentary reveals 'dirty little secret'
By Cheryl Wetzstein
A few years ago, Alexandra, a doctorate student, decided that selling her eggs to a fertility clinic was the perfect way to get an extra $3,000 she needed to pay for her tuition.
But then "things went south," she recalls in "Eggsploitation," a new documentary on the health hazards of paid egg donation. Alexandra and two other women, identified only by their first names, say their experiences with egg donation led to hospitalizations, ovary loss, stroke and possibly cancer.
College campuses are filled with ads offering to pay young women large sums of money - as much as $100,000 - for their eggs, which are the "main commodity" of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, film director Jennifer Lahl said at a recent screening of her film at the conservative Family Research Council.
But no one is speaking out on behalf of these young women when problems and complications arise, said Ms. Lahl, a registered nurse and founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which released the film. The "dirty little secret" of the industry is that life-threatening complications can occur with egg donation, she said.
The documentary is likely to fan a long-running controversy over the ethics, finances and health risks of the procedure. Unlike collecting sperm, egg donation is an involved and drawn-out process involving weeks of hormone injections designed to stimulate the ovaries, followed by a surgical extraction conducted with the use of a local anesthetic.
In its defense, the fertility industry points to decades of experience it has built with egg donation and says it knows the risks of short-term complications - such as abdominal discomfort and nausea - as well as more severe, longer-term dangers.
The risks "are primarily related to the stimulation drugs that we're giving," said Dr. R. Stan Williams, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
About 1 percent of the time, the process can lead to severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), he said. OHSS can lead to other complications, such as thrombosis, stroke or a heart attack. "These [OHSS complications] are extremely rare, but they do occur," he said.
"Smaller but still significant'" risks include internal bleeding from the egg-retrieval procedure and pelvic infection, Dr. Williams said.
But, he added, "there's no connection between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer or any kind of cancer."
Information about these rare complications "may or may not be visible" on websites, Dr. Williams said. But "certainly by the time a woman reaches the physician's office," she will hear about them, "as it's the physician's duty to counsel the patient about the risks of any procedure, and that includes the egg donor."
The federal Food and Drug Administration has "absolute oversight" of the screening of the donors "so that infectious diseases are not transferred," and has "an inspection process in place, where they send inspectors out to a random number of clinics each year" to monitor adherence to FDA regulations, Dr. Williams said.
The fertility industry also sets standards and guidelines on egg donation, including payment, he said. It is acceptable to compensate egg donors $5,000, and possibly as much as $10,000 in special circumstances. But advertisements offering $35,000 to $100,000 for egg donations? "We consider those unethical."
But a study last year published in the Hastings Center Report, a leading bioethics journal, found that a fourth of the egg-donation ads culled from more than 60 colleges offered compensation that exceeded the recommended $10,000 ceiling. In another apparent violation of ethical guidelines, the offered pay went up in tandem with the SAT scores of the average incoming freshmen.
Clinics say they adhere to the guidelines laid down by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, but that so-called egg "brokers" - who link donors and clinics - are far more likely to skirt the rules.
Egg donors also testify about their experiences, usually happily, on fertility websites or social networking sites. For instance, a graduate student named "missjamiesue" posted a 10-part video on YouTube describing how she donated 15 of her eggs. "It was not that big a deal. Well, it was - but it isn't something you should be scared of if you are considering doing it," said the young woman, who said she received $5,000 in compensation.
Young women are the targets for this procedure and yet there's not enough clear or unbiased information about its pros and cons, said Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, a reproductive advocacy group. As a result, she said, Choice USA is working with Generations Ahead, a social justice group, and the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University, to survey egg donors and launch a website on the procedure.
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, said her organization is "keeping our eye on" the issue as well.
Campus ads on egg donation are reaching young women "right when they need that money most, so we've got to be out there saying, 'Look, you need to take a second look at what you're about to do,'" said Ms. Hawkins.
"The women interviewed in "Eggsploitation" underscore that warning.
Alexandra, for instance, said she read up on egg donation before agreeing to it, but "didn't see the risks."
She eventually produced 28 eggs and felt fine for a week. But then came a searing pain, followed by doctor visits and prescriptions for painkillers.
When she saw a doctor two weeks later, "his face went white" when he saw her distended abdomen. She went in for surgery but lost her ovary.
When she reached her 30s, Alexandra said, cancer was diagnosed in one of her breasts and then in the other breast. She had no known risk factors for cancer, and - except for donating eggs - her health history was unremarkable, she said.
Another egg donor named Sindy landed in the hospital, too: She responded powerfully to the fertility drugs, resulting in a harvest of between 50 and 60 eggs. Pain soon drove her into a hospital, where doctors discovered she had a puncture in an artery, either from the harvesting process or from hyperstimulation. Sindy said she has since endured more surgeries.
Calla, a third donor, said she signed up for egg donation to help someone have a family, but said she regrets it now. She said she suspects the drugs she took interacted with a hidden, benign tumor in her pituitary gland, leading to a massive stroke. In addition to suffering from several disabilities, "I can't have my own children now," she said.
"Eggsploitation" also suggests that two women who donated eggs died directly or indirectly as a result of the procedure.
These donors' stories "need to be told," Ms. Lahl said.
Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.
Saturday January 3 2015
Street crime in Delhi triples, a rape recorded every 4 hours
By Karn Pratap Singh, Hindustan Times New Delhi
Nearly 300 people were robbed, mugged or had their belongings snatched every day of the past year in Delhi, data released by the police said Friday, underlining the failure of the authorities in keeping the city's roads safe.
Street crimes in the city surged by 186% in 2014 with 12 cases reported every hour, up from four in 2013. The overall crime rate also doubled - 147,000 cases till December 15, 2014 - compared to the previous year.
Delhi remains notorious as rape and molestation cases shoot up in the city
Crimes against women remained a worry with a rape reported every four hours and a molestation every two hours in the Capital. Number of rape cases grew to 2,069, up 32% from 2013 while cases of molestation jumped 25% to 4,179.
Percentage of crimes solved, however, plunged to an abysmal 29.5% from 48.86% in 2013. Culprits in only 26.96% of all snatching cases and 46.12% of robbery cases were brought to book in 2014, down from 47.24% and 75.56% respectively in 2013.
Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi attributed the spurt in street crimes to police registering all complaints and police control room calls as FIRs, not turning away people to keep the crime graph down.
The number of investigating officers hadn't kept pace with rising crime, causing the dip in number of cases solved, Bassi added. Delhi has around 84,000 officers policing its 1.67 crore population - a ratio of one cop per 200 people.
Amongst street crimes, robbery rose by a whopping 459% -- 18 cases daily or 6,180 overall - when compared to 2013 that reported 4 cases daily and 1,106 in total. Incidents of snatching also doubled from 3,316 in 2013 to 6,944 last year.
Bassi said the rise in cases was due to his batting for "truthful registration" of crime. "Last year, I urged we must stamp out the practice of burking from our functions since it is a major cause of public dissatisfaction. I now have no hesitation in saying reluctance to register cognizable crime has almost disappeared among Delhi Police officers," he said.
Wednesday December 10 2014
Sexual violence in Delhi: what the numbers say
By Rukmini S
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 (The Hindu)
The rape of a young woman in a taxi is another reminder of Delhi's reputation as India's most unsafe city, a reputation only partially borne out by facts.
Official police data comes from the National Crime Records Bureau (whose data until 2013 came with one important, hidden caveat).
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 in the aftermath of the December 16, 2012 gangrape, a phenomenon the police attribute to better reporting. (The far bigger leap was in the reporting of molestation). As of mid-November this year, 1879 cases of rape had been registered in the city, but the increase between 2013 and 2014 was far smaller.
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 (The Hindu)
How does Delhi do in comparison to other cities?
In 2013, the most recent year for which comparable data exists, Delhi did have a higher rate (proportionate to its population) of reported rape than Mumbai or Chennai, but cities in Madhya Pradesh do even worse.
In Delhi - as in the rest of the country - less than 5 per cent of alleged rape is by men not known to the complainant.
Moreover, the precise nature is complex, as The Hindu found in an investigation earlier this year. Two out of three cases, court records revealed, concerned parents criminalising the acts of consenting young couples and broken promises of marriage. Under 3 per cent involved rapes by strangers, and conviction was nearly certain in such cases.
What of rape that never gets reported? It is true that rape in India (for statistical reasons, Delhi is hard to disaggregate for this data point) is grossly under-reported as comparing the National Family Health Survey with NCRB data shows, but the vast majority of that sexual violence is by husbands.
Wednesday November 26 2014
Evil of rape goes on unabated
Turn the pages of any news daily in any language on any day or turn on the news channel of your choice on any given day, seldom will you pass a day without reading or hearing a story of petrifying and dehumanising rape or abuse of a child taking place in some part of India!
The terror of rape on a land known for its culture and tradition is appalling. The metaphor of terrorism to describe rape implies that no girl or woman today can feel absolutely secure as she steps out of her house during any time of day or night.
Almost two years have elapsed since the brutal rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012 on a moving bus and the country has witnessed numerous sexual assaults on women in different parts of India since then. Despite unprecedented public hue and cry over the incident and new legislation, there are no visible signs of drop in the rape cases.
The gang rape of a medical student of Manipal University last year did not receive same national attention. The suspicious death of Sowjanya, a pre-university student of SDM College Ujire, has not seen a decisive end in spite of enquiry by the CID and CBI. What does this imply? Justice delayed is justice denied!
Recently, Bengaluru, known as the IT hub, hit the headlines for child rape incidents that occurred in school premises. Further, these incidents reported in elite international schools have forced the government to issue security guidelines to schools.
However, many schools are yet to implement them. Is the government ready to shell out funds to implement its own guidelines in government schools across the state?
In the most recent unbelievably brutal incident, a woman in Rajasthan was paraded naked on a donkey on the orders of village elders for allegedly killing her nephew.
Few years back, a girl was paraded naked through the village with the mob chasing and abusing her along the way. Incredible India! Where are the so called custodians of culture and self- proclaimed moral police?
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,923 cases of rape were reported in India in 2012. It is worth noting that these statistics are only about the reported cases.
In a country where sex is taboo, the voice of victims of rape is enfeebled. Amidst this, politicians are speaking irresponsibly. Samajwadi party head Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke in a justifying tone that it is natural for boys to commit such crimes!
Pertaining to child abuse incidents in Bengaluru recently, Karnataka politicians stooped to a new low in using sexist language and exploiting the topic of rape for political gains!
Rape is increasing or is it being highlighted more nowadays? The question calls for research because recently when the home minister and chief minister of Karnataka were quizzed about the increasing incidents of rape, they retorted, "The media is looking for news on rape for increasing its TRP rate." Is there smoke without the fire?
Majority of the households in rural India do not have a toilet at home and are forced to answer the nature's call in the open.
In such situations, women and girls become soft targets of sexual perverts. The gang rape incidents during the post-Godhra Gujarat riots revealed rape could be used as a powerful weapon to display hatred and hegemony.
The rapes of toddlers as young as 2-3 years reveal that it is nothing short of a psychological disorder. It suggests that no single reason can be cited for every rape case.
So what is the panacea?
Merely stressing on punishment is no solution. The need of the hour is suitably manpowered investigative agencies and enough number of fast track courts. Tougher laws make sense when they are properly implemented. Providing security, financial and moral support to the victims can make them stronger and steadfast in their legal fight against their offenders. The new guidelines issued by the Union health ministry for treating rape victims should be implemented at the earliest.
Laws alone cannot create wonders. The cultural construct of woman as an object of pleasure, as often projected in films and ads, needs to see a sea change. Encouraging women to take up a profession can instill confidence in them.
Incidents of rape are not less in developed countries. Despite scientific and technological progress, sexual violence has become commonplace. Nevertheless, this is in no way a justification for a developing country like India for the brutal rapes.
Before India is branded as 'the rape capital of the world', let's arise and awake for a positive action. Let there be anti-rape campaign on the lines of 'Clean India campaign!'
(The writer teaches at the Bahrain Training Institute, Bahrain)
Thursday January 01 2015
Women need to thrive, not just surviveBy Meena Menon
Instead of strengthening women's rights in the Asia Pacific region and in the rest of the world, governments are whittling them away in some cases
There was one significant photograph missing in the lobby of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) hall in Bangkok where an important regional review of the Beijing plus 20 goals was under way from November 17-20. While many women leaders in the region, including former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, were represented, Thailand's first woman Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ousted in a military coup in May, didn't find a place. The Thai Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs, Yongyuth Yuthavong, in his inaugural address, confessed to being the odd man out in a women's meeting just a few years ago, but today the scene is different; there were more men in the room, he said. Yes, there are certainly more men for gender equality meetings now but there are also many elephants in the room.
Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and 35 years after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted, some countries like Iran don' recognise feminist organisations, Russia has a problem with sex education, India conveniently denies armed conflict and caste, and everyone is reluctant to acknowledge sexual rights for women, differences in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
As a result, the Asia Pacific ministerial declaration on gender equality and women's empowerment, which was accepted in November, was a tame affair. Peace is inextricably linked with equality between men and women, according to one of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action. Yet only six countries in the region have development national action plans on women, peace and security. Survivors of armed conflict are still fighting for transitional justice with very little mechanisms in place for post-conflict situations and also for internally displaced persons. The Indian government, backed by Indonesia, managed to get the words 'armed conflict' out of the final declaration, the second important change it succeeded in making without much ado. That caste has deep implications, especially on women, was lost on the Indian government and it preferred the term 'social origin' instead; this was not opposed by any other country. The term 'sexual orientation' was replaced with 'men and women in their diversity,' angering activists who had fought for SOGI to be recognised.
A global concern
Two major UN meetings to review the Beijing Declaration and Sustainable Development Goals are coming up in 2015. Right from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, gender equality has been a global concern. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the Declaration and Platform for Action set the global standard for promoting women's issues.
Reviews by governments of the Beijing goals 20 years later reveal many shortcomings. The UN Secretary General's campaign 'Unite To End Violence Against Women' cites data to show that 50 per cent of sexual assaults in the world take place against girls who are under 16 years of age, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime, between 15 and 76 per cent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, and 60 million girls are married before they are 18 years old.
On the positive side, a significant change in the last 10 years has been the increasing focus on involving men as partners in gender equality. The MenEngage programme and the HeforShe movement are some of the initiatives by UN Women to rope in men to speak up against violence and be partners rather than adversaries in the process. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region are only now conducting studies and coming up with policies. Nicolas Burniat, deputy representative at the Multi Country Office for the Pacific at UN Women, says, "There is a recognition that we need to spend much more energy on this issue. There is a broader community realisation that gender equality cannot be achieved without involving men and boys, and in the last ten years the region has seen laws passed against violence and for stronger political commitment."
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, one of the two intergovernmental bodies, elected a woman as a secretary general. The Pacific region, which has reported a high rate of violence against women, is now realising the power of its collective voice on gender.
Speaking in a collective voice
However, attitudes to violence in a region where communities are matriarchal are hampered by kinship ties. Abacca Anjain-Madisson, chief of the community division from the government of Marshall Islands, says even recognising that violence exists is a challenge. The first study of women and violence in the Islands reported that one in two women experienced partner violence and only ten per cent were able to seek help. When women complained to the police or the church or community leaders, it was found that the violence was related in "some way to their husbands and [the leaders] refused to take cognisance of complaints." She added: "We are taking ownership of the data and will soon have a gender policy."
Climate change impacts, the rights of indigenous people and the vulnerability of women emerged as major issues at the conference. Land grabbing by corporates and struggles over land ownership were also identified as critical areas. There is a recognition that the region can speak in a collective voice on gender just as it did on climate change as part of the Alliance of Small Island States, Mr Burniat said. Even while there is progress in addressing violence against women in the region, promoting leadership and political participation of women, improving gender parity in primary school net enrolment and attendance rates and parity in secondary school education, high rates of violence, lower work participation, and threats to health and maternal mortality also persist. Roberta Clarke, UN Women regional director, asks, "Why are we underachieving so consistently?" She called for a reaffirmation of political will and financial commitment to deal with gender inequality.
According to ESCAP, for every hundred employed men, there are only 62 employed women in the Asia Pacific region, the average wage gap is 10 to 30 per cent, and women are still concentrated in low-paid, low-status and low-skilled work. The Asia Pacific region's child sex ratio, which is in favour of boys, is one of the highest in the world. As a result of this, gender-biased practices including prenatal sex selection exist. Yet, comprehensive sex education is nonexistent in many countries and the ministerial declaration took a retrograde step by not recognising the sexual rights of women, which was an important right contained in the Beijing Declaration. In 17 Asia Pacific countries, less than 10 cent of seats in Parliament are held by women.
As the world is looking to set new goals post 2015, financial and political commitments assume more importance than ever. Governments have to step up investment in gender equality and do more than recognise that it is an important area for improvement. As Laisema Ralika, an official from the Fiji Ministry of Education asks, "If it's not now, then when?"
Women in the region and in the rest of the world are demanding their rights, already guaranteed to them in various global and national instruments of law. Instead of strengthening that, governments are whittling them away in some cases. "A very big part of the women's agenda is that financing is the key to the post-2015 development goals and there is a need to step up existing commitments. Gender inequality is the scourge of the 21st century, and it is a systemic change that is called for," says Noelene Nabulivou from Diverse Voices and Action for Equality. Women, as Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil Kjiner aptly sums up, "need to do more than just survive, we deserve to thrive."
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