Recent Resources for Feminists
Afghanistan: Women raise voices for justice, & fearful of Taliban return claim voice at peace table Print E-mail

 Friday 8 March 2019

Afghanistan: Women will be silent no more

Afghan women must have a say in the future of their country, Amnesty International said today, as the human rights organization unveiled a mural in Kabul celebrating their tremendous achievements.

As part of Amnesty International’s BRAVE campaign to promote the rights of human rights defenders, the mural depicts Afghan women protesting for their rights, demanding equality, and raising their voices for justice. The mural is the production of a collaboration with the famed Afghan grassroots collective, ArtLords .

This is the second mural that Amnesty International and ArtLords have unveiled in Kabul as part of its BRAVE, or “Shuja” (in Dari) campaign. The first mural was consecrated to the memory of journalists who have been killed doing their jobs, depicting the famous Afghan photographer Shah Marai of Agence France Presse holding a camera.

“Afghan women are famous for their resolve and we are celebrating that this Women’s Day. Despite more than 17 years of conflict, they have made remarkable strides. They are lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, run their own businesses and are in the ranks of the military and police,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International.

“These hard-won advances must not be rolled back at any cost. Women have been at the forefront of the calls for peace in Afghanistan. But there can be no peace process worthy of the name that excludes women or compromises on their rights. Afghan women cannot be ignored or silenced.”

Important human rights gains
Under Taliban rule, women’s rights were violated with impunity. Women were not allowed to freely exercise their human rights, including the rights to freedom of movement, to education, and to work.

Now, there is a dedicated Ministry of Women’s Affairs, with departments throughout the country at provincial levels. Afghanistan also has an Independent Human Rights Commission chaired by a renowned woman human rights defender, Sima Samar. And women constitute 27 per cent each of parliament and the civil service.

In 2009, Afghanistan passed the law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, after a hard-fought struggle led by women human rights defenders. The law, which fell into disuse after parts of it were absorbed into Afghanistan’s revised Penal Code, was reaffirmed by President Ashraf Ghani in March 2018.

Enduring challenges
These impressive gains notwithstanding, Afghan women continue to endure great challenges when it comes to their human rights.

In 2018, Afghanistan suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began recording figures. There were 3,804 deaths and 7,189 people were injured. One in ten civilian casualties were women.

Women continue to face other forms of violence and abuse. As a UNAMA report in 2018 found, there are disappointingly few prosecutions of violent crimes against women. More than half of the 237 cases monitored by UNAMA between 2015 and 2017 were instead referred for ‘mediation’ in violation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law.

The UNAMA report also found that in 280 murders of women, there were convictions in a mere 50 cases. Most of the cases were not even heard by the courts.

In December 2018, members of Afghanistan’s women’s football team came forward to speak out against the sexual assault and harassment they suffered. At the time, Hafizullah Rahimi, the head of Afghanistan's Olympic committee, acknowledged: "Sexual abuse does exist, not only within the Football Federation but in other sports federations as well. We have to fight it.” An investigation is currently underway.

Since peace talks between the USA and the Taliban have begun, there has been extremely limited participation of women and no serious discussion on women’s rights.

“It is crucial that Afghanistan builds on the limited but important gains made on women’s rights so that we are able to confront the many challenges that remain. The international community must stand with Afghan women at this crucial time,” said Samira Hamidi.

 London ~ Friday 8 March 2019

Afghan women are celebrating International Women's Day with a fearful eye to the future

Recent Taliban statements hint at just how they regard the gains made since 2001, denouncing ‘so-called women’s rights activists’

By Lynne O'Donnell @lynnekodonnell

The women of Afghanistan will mark International Women’s Day today with a public holiday that will give them time to reflect on what could be their fate if the extreme misogynists of the Taliban are successful in their quest to return to power in their country.

A so-called peace process prompted by US President Donald Trump, aimed at ending the long war in Afghanistan and, more importantly, withdrawing American troops ahead of his possible bid for re-election in 2020, has given the Taliban a long sought-after global platform as a legitimate political force.

At the same time, it has marginalised and delegitimised the Afghan government and the people it represents, by indulging the Taliban in their insistence that they talk directly to Washington rather than to the “puppets” it claims the US has installed in Kabul.

Taliban figures who appear to have breached international travel bans to attend these get-togethers have been provided with largely uncritical air time to proclaim they will honour women’s rights according to unspecified “Islamic values” and “Afghan culture.”

Afghans fear they will be forced to pay if they are pressured into accepting peace on terms dictated by the political agenda of a president who is rushing for the exit without regard for the huge strides made for all Afghans, and especially for women, since 2001.

International Women’s Day: groundbreaking figures from history
Radical political activist Angela Davis speaks at a protest in Raleigh

Critically, the Taliban, from their redoubts in Pakistan, refuse to acknowledge Afghanistan’s constitution, which guarantees a range of rights that we in the West take for granted, including rule of law; freedoms of speech, media and association; and, for women, equality and protection from violence.

It is just 18 years since the Taliban were forced from power in Afghanistan after harbouring Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network throughout the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks on the US.

The treatment of women under their five-year regime featured prominently in the justification for the allied invasion that came just weeks after those attacks. The Taliban infamously forced women to remain inside their homes, and to appear in public only in the company of male relatives – and then only if they were wearing all-covering garments called burqas which make seeing and walking difficult.

Taliban enforcers roamed the streets to enforce an “Islamic” women’s dress code, and publicly whipped any women they saw transgressing, however minutely, unwritten rules on how they should be clothed.

Girls were banned from school, and women from jobs. Not just their identity but their very existence was denied to them. Horrific photographs from that era show anonymous figures shrouded in blue rayon burqas quivering on their knees in public arenas, waiting to be executed for their apparent crimes, in front of crowds bussed in to observe the spectacle.

This brutality towards women – as well as bans on music, dancing, the national pastime of kite-flying; anything, really, that brought joy – was justified with recourse to their own interpretation of their religion.

Recent Taliban statements hint at just how they regard the gains made since 2001, denouncing “so-called women’s rights activists” and the “alien-culture clothes worn by women,” while claiming commitment “to all rights of women that have been given to them by the sacred religion of Islam”.

The war in Afghanistan since 2001 has been costly, with 454 British and more than 2,400 American soldiers killed, and many more killed and wounded from allied nations. It has become fashionable in some quarters to say that it was all for nought, that the Taliban’s territorial gains are indicative of Western failure, that the time to leave is well overdue.

This thinking ignores the phenomenal progress that the country has made, with the help of its Western allies, to transform itself in less than 20 years into an emerging parliamentary democracy and trading link between East and West.

No one could claim that Afghanistan has become a perfect model of democratic statehood since 2001; this is a multi-generational project that has only just begun. Millions of Afghan people who have braved Taliban threats and attacks to vote in multiple elections have shown they have faith in this project.

Millions of girls go to school and university; women run their own businesses and sit in parliament. They have access to health care and justice; thriving civil society and media champion their rights every day. All this exists where nothing did under the Taliban.

The men who spout vacuous platitudes in their vainglorious attempt to hoodwink Trump’s emissaries into believing they are honourable, have spent their time cornering the global market in heroin while sending children in suicide vests to murder fellow Afghans.

Few Afghan women see the Taliban as anything other than the baby killers and widow makers that they are. Let’s listen, on this of all days, when they remind us of what they have gained, and, more vitally, tell us what they could lose if the Taliban are permitted any say in the future of Afghanistan.
Spain: New alliance denting EU's brothel and its mega-profits from women trafficked into sex slavery Print E-mail
 London ~ Saturday 11 May 2019

'Prostitution is seen as a leisure activity here': tackling Spain's sex traffickers

It's staggeringly big business in Spain, where demand is being met by traffickers. Can a groundbreaking team turn the tide?

Annie Kelly and Ofelia de Pablo in Madrid

: Anti-trafficking police officers speak to a woman in Colonia Marconi, Madrid. (All photographs: Ofelia de Pablo and Javier Zurita/The Guardian)

On a sunny morning in Madrid, two young women duck down a side street, into a residential block and up to an apartment front door. Then they start knocking. Marcella and Maria spend a lot of time banging on doors and yelling through letterboxes all over the city. Most of the time, these doors never open. When they do, the two women could find themselves in trouble. Their job on the frontline of Spain's fight against sex trafficking is a dangerous one; both have been assaulted and threatened. Yet they keep on knocking, because they have been on the other side of those doors, forced to sell their bodies for a handful of euros, dozens of times a day, seven days a week.

To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a 2011 United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish Socialist party, which two weeks ago won another term in government, has promised to make it illegal to pay for sex, prostitution has boomed since it was decriminalised here in 1995. Recent estimates put revenue from Spain's domestic sex trade at $26.5bn a year, with hundreds of licensed brothels and an estimated workforce of 300,000.

Supporters of decriminalisation claim it has brought benefits to those working in the trade, including making life safer for women. Yet this vastly profitable and largely unregulated market has also become infested with criminality, turning Spain into a global hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Prostitution becomes sex trafficking when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. In the UK, thousands of women are thought to be trapped in sexual servitude, but the scale of the problem in Spain is staggering. Until 2010, the law didn't even recognise human trafficking as a crime. Now the Spanish government estimates that up to 90% of women working in prostitution could be victims of trafficking or under the control of a third party - such as a pimp - who is profiting from them. Between 2012-2016, security forces in Spain rescued 5,695 people from slavery but acknowledge that thousands more remain under the control of criminals.

Since it passed its first anti-trafficking laws in 2010, the government has been scrambling to get on top of this crisis, spending millions of euros on an emergency plan to target the individuals and gangs operating with impunity. In 2015, it went further and created formal alliances between security forces, prosecutors, judges and NGOs, to rescue victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Survivors such as Maria and Marcella now find themselves playing a crucial part in bringing the battle to the criminals who once sold and exploited them. But can Spain's new alliance of defenders really turn the tide against the traffickers?

I meet Maria and Marcella, both in their mid-20s, in the offices of Apramp, an organisation set up to protect, reintegrate and assist women in prostitution. Apramp helped them escape their traffickers, and they are now among its outreach workers. Their day job is to identify potential trafficking victims and try to offer them a way out. They find women they think might need help on the streets, in hostess clubs, and in some of the 400 residences they say are operating as informal brothels in Madrid.

: Maria, a trafficking survivor who helps others forced into prostitution. ‘You don't have time to realise what has happened to you

Both shrug off the suggestion that they are brave. "When I'm wearing the Apramp vest at those apartments or on the streets, I don't feel scared," Marcella says. "We know from our own experience they're doing much worse things to the girls and women inside. So it only makes us more determined."

The two poised and eloquent young women, dressed like students in jeans and trainers, have lived through terrible things. Maria, petite and softly spoken, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, was brought to Spain from Romania by someone she trusted: she thought she was going on holiday with her new boyfriend. Instead, he drove her over the border using their EU residency cards and within 24 hours she was on the streets.

"It just happens so fast," she says. "It's difficult to describe how much you can be broken in such a short time. The shock and the trauma makes you go into survival mode. You don't have time to realise what has happened to you." She spent eight months being prostituted on street corners, in brothels and in strange apartments. "You're alive but you're not really existing," she says. "Not one of the men who paid to sleep with me asked me if I was there out of choice, or whether I wanted to be doing this. They didn't care either way."

She was told by her pimp that she would have to pay off a debt of €20,000 before she could go home. "With Romanian women, the traffickers threaten to kill your mother or your sister or your children if you don't pay off your debt," she says. "People always ask, ‘Why didn't you just run away or go to the police?' but they don't know what they're talking about. You can't just stop a random person on the street and ask for help, because someone you love could get killed. The police in Romania are often corrupt. You think, why should it be different here?"

The promise of freedom in return for paying off the debt almost always turns out to be a lie. Maria says that, throughout her time under the control of the traffickers, she was hit with hundreds of tiny charges: she'd have to pay for clothes, rent for the corner she worked, for condoms and sanitary towels. If she didn't bring back enough money, she wouldn't eat or she'd be beaten.

"Debt is invisible," Maria says. "It's not a physical chain but it works the same way." She says some traffickers force women to get breast implants and even though the operation costs around €3,000, tell them they have to pay back €10,000. Marcella nods in agreement. She was trafficked from her native Brazil after applying to do a master's in Spain, a university course that turned out to be bogus. She was forced into prostitution immediately after she was collected from the airport. "If Apramp hadn't found me, I think I'd be dead by now," she says.

The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. "The mafia take you and destroy your whole identity. Even now, you're recovering but you can never forget your past," she says. "Doing this work really helps."

From left: José Nieto, Spain's leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer, Rocío Mora, director of Apramp, which helps trafficked women, and prosecutor Beatriz Sánchez.

Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers. It's a process that takes months, sometimes years. Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. "We have to show them that their lives are worth living again," Marcella says.

Rocío Mora, Apramp's co-founder and director, sweeps into the room and embraces Maria and Marcella, who are about to start their afternoon shift. "The only ones who really understand what we are facing are the survivors," she says. Tall and immaculately groomed, Mora is one of Spain's best-known anti-trafficking advocates; her rage at what she sees happening on the streets is raw and visceral. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves. "The sex industry profits from the sale of women who are being controlled and exploited through debt, violence or psychological manipulation," she says. "Our mobile unit has contact with 280 women a day and almost 100% are victims of exploitation and trafficking."

There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Spain's sex trafficking epidemic is, she says, just the most extreme manifestation of the country's problematic attitudes to women and sex. "There is huge demand for prostitution here. It's become so normalised that it's just seen like any other leisure activity."

One survey in 2008 found that 78% of Spanish people consider prostitution an inevitability in modern society. And demand is huge: another survey, conducted in 2006, found that nearly 40% of Spanish men over the age of 18 had paid for sex at least once in their life. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex. Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. "The social stigma isn't the same as it was when I started out," she says. "We have a generation of young men growing up believing they have the right to do anything to a woman's body if they have paid for it, and they don't have to worry about the consequences."

As a young girl, Mora watched her mother (also called Rocío) start Apramp from their kitchen table. At 18, Mora was studying by day and driving a mobile health unit through Madrid's red-light district by night.
: A club in a high-end neighbourhood of Madrid.

"When my mother started this work, it was mainly getting health services to Spanish women who were engaged in prostitution to feed their families or a drug addiction," she says. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. "And it really was a radical change. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion - men on the streets watching the women and taking their money."

Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. "And the gangs are more sophisticated and more ruthless. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control. This is what makes it much harder to fight, because many don't see that they have a way out."

On Calle Montera, one of Madrid's busiest shopping streets, eastern European or South American women stand alone or in small groups. Maria and Marcella point out that many of the women they help don't look like trafficking victims: it is easy for people to walk past them and not realise. Maria says many are also acting as human signposts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby. When we get back to our car that evening, flyers have been stuck under our windscreen wipers offering a two-for-one deal on women for the special price of €30.

A short walk from Calle Montera is the HQ of the Centre of Intelligence and Risk Analysis, run by Spain's national police. José Nieto is its chief inspector and Spain's leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer. As with Mora, anti-trafficking work has become Nieto's vocation. He has spent more than 20 years trying to develop an effective police response to a human rights catastrophe that, until 2010, wasn't even included in Spain's criminal code.

"When I started in 1997, I was part of the brigade that believed all prostitutes did this work because they wanted to," he says. "But it's like an illness: at first you feel that something is wrong but you haven't got a diagnosis. But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is."

He explains the myriad reasons why Spain has become such a magnet for sex trafficking networks; "a perfect storm", he calls it. "First, we are fighting a crime that is socially acceptable, because prostitution is accepted and embraced by many people here." Second there is geography: "We are at the centre of all major migratory routes. The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card. Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America."

As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. "There is great fear among victims that if they tell the police, they will be sent back to their countries with their debts unpaid," Nieto says. "It makes policing very difficult; if the women don't ask for help, there is a limit to what you can do. Here in Spain, prostitution itself isn't illegal, running a brothel isn't illegal, so you have to prove that what is going on is more than meets the eye."

: A sex worker takes a break in Colonia Marconi. ‘There is huge demand for prostitution here. It's become so normalised.'

That evening, Nieto, the Guardian photographers and I join an undercover police unit conducting inspections of private clubs in Barrio de Salamanca, one of Madrid's most high-end neighbourhoods. Although the police have all undertaken anti-trafficking training, their main job tonight seems to be restricted to checking ID and carting any woman found to be working illegally off to the police station.

At our first location there is a short period of confusion as our two unmarked cars drive up and down the street trying to find a parking space. By the time we enter, the music is already off and the club deserted - other than four women sitting silently on bar stools clutching their ID cards and a manager conspicuously cleaning glasses behind the bar. None of them is Spanish. The women all appear to be here on student visas, and shake their heads when the police chief asks them if they need help. There is no evidence that these women are victims of trafficking, but it seems ludicrous to expect anyone to disclose anything in this environment.

At other clubs, a few women who don't have the right ID are loaded into a van. In one, three very young Chinese women sit silent and apparently terrified in their underwear on a cracked fake leather banquette, while police check the damp and dirty premises. A lone punter, a sweaty Spanish man in his 20s, is ejected from a bedroom at the back; outside another, a "sexy nurse" uniform hangs on a hook. The women keep their eyes fixed on the thickset Chinese man behind the bar as he chats easily to the police and shows them his licence. As we leave, the heavy metal door slams shut with a thud, leaving the women inside. One of the officers runs a hand over his face and exhales. "Dios mío," he says. My God.

Yet Nieto believes there is hope and says the new strategy of creating formal alliances between police, prosecutors and frontline services is putting more pressure on criminal gangs. In particular, he cites coordination with Apramp's Mora: "With her help, we're making connections with survivors, we're following the money and sending people away. We're making the traffickers understand that the Spanish police are something to fear."

: Uniforms in a Chinese brothel. In Spain, prostitution isn't illegal.

Nieto has been working with prosecutor Beatriz Sánchez for the past decade. Since 2010 the formidable Spanish lawyer has overseen more than 100 trafficking cases; in 2012, she succeeded in sending Ioan Clamparu, the "capo" of the biggest prostitution trafficking ring in Europe, to prison for 30 years. She is upbeat, funny and warm, but steely in her determination. "We've made huge advances in prosecuting and convicting human traffickers," she says. "But many cases get dismissed or don't go to trial." Sánchez says only one-tenth of the trafficking cases she takes on make it to court because the burden of proof is high, requiring witness statements and months of police work. "Often cases are organised and transnational, involving the movement of huge amounts of money. They are complex crimes that are difficult to dismantle." Under Spanish laws, you need proof of the use of extreme violence and intimidation to prosecute cases of pimping and coercion. "All forms of pimping need to be criminally punishable," she says. "Only then can we effectively stop human trafficking."

Sánchez says her natural optimism can be blunted by the uphill struggle to get cases to trial. "It would be hard if I was doing this alone, but the good thing is I have Rocío and José - we're a team," she says. "So when you are down and feel like things are hopeless, you have a reason to carry on. The others can pick you up and say: ‘Come on! We must keep going!'" Sánchez keeps in touch with all the women she represents. "Seeing them rebuild their lives is as satisfying as seeing their abusers go to prison," she says.
We visit one of Sánchez's former clients, Helena, at the offices of Proyecto Esperanza (Project Hope), the NGO that has supported her through her court case. Her family is from Ecuador but she was living on the outskirts of Madrid, with a Spanish passport, when she was forced into prostitution in her own neighbourhood five years ago, after falling victim to fraudsters who lent her money. They threatened to kill her small children if she didn't work as a prostitute to pay it back. "When I was in that situation I didn't see a way out, and the longer I did it, the more I died inside," she says.
It took years, but in the end her traffickers were sent to prison and Helena was awarded landmark compensation of €100,000 by the state, €92,000 of which was estimated to be what her traffickers had earned from the sale of her body. She is yet to see any of this money, and her debts to family and neighbours remain unpaid. "I still owe €12,000 to friends and family from that time in my life, and I have no idea how to pay it," she says. But for now she is surviving. Proyecto Esperanza is helping her find a job and providing counselling. She has a home and is rebuilding her relationship with her children. Despite her experiences, she is trying to teach them that the world can be a good place.

Helena praises Sánchez for giving her the courage to do this. "Beatriz was always so positive and strong at a time when I didn't believe in myself at all," she says softly. "Now I am trying to learn to love myself again. And that's what I want to teach my kids - that no matter what other people do to you, it is important to love yourself and to look ahead. That in every terrible situation there can be a light at the end of the tunnel - a way out of the darkness."

US: Lawsuits set to challenge abortion restrictions imposed by Govt Dept Health & Human Services Print E-mail

 Volume 393, ISSUE 10184, Pages 1923-1924, May 11, 2019

World Report

Legal battles over abortion heat up in the USA

Changes to Title X, several legal challenges, and a change to the Supreme Court composition could mean drastic changes for access to abortion in the USA. 

By Susan Jaffe

(Copyright © 2019 Joshua Roberts/Reuters) "We are the department of life...from conception until natural death, through all of our programmes", US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar said earlier this year at a forum sponsored by the conservative Family Research Council. Among other things, the group helps to organise pro-life rallies in Washington on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion and prohibited states from restricting access.

The government's anti-abortion efforts have ignited lawsuits from Maine to California. Eventually, one or more of these cases are expected to reach the Supreme Court. With its newest arrival­Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination by Trump was championed by abortion opponents­the Supreme Court's ideological balance has now shifted towards a conservative majority. The change has raised opponents' hopes that a sympathetic court will diminish, if not overturn, Roe.

Late last week, lawyers for the HHS appealed decisions by two federal court judges in Oregon and Washington state to temporarily halt new administration rules that would limit the information abortion services that some federally funded health-care providers could be allowed to offer patients. Under the new rules, which would have taken effect on May 3, a "referral for abortion as a method of family planning is prohibited", an HHS spokeswoman said last week. Critics say the ban puts providers under a gag rule. It is one of the new conditions tacked onto the nearly US$256 million in federal funding for some 4000 health clinics serving 4 million patients nationwide distributed under a family planning programme known as Title X, named after the section of the law Congress passed in 1970 to create the programme. It is the only federal grant programme that subsidises family planning health-care services, including pregnancy testing, contraception information and supplies, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, prenatal care, infertility services, cancer screenings, and family planning counselling. About 40% of patients receiving Title X services get them at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Trump had pledged to defund the organisation during his presidential campaign because it provides abortion services. Although that promise might have earned him the support of many socially conservative voters, the new rules would not affect funding for abortions, because the 1976 Hyde Amendment prohibits federal money from being used to pay for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the mother's life). Should the new HHS rules for Title X services take effect, discussion of the abortion option by health-care providers receiving Title X funding would be prohibited as well.

In Portland, Oregon, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Medical Association, and 22 states filed lawsuits in March to block the rules shortly after the administration finalised them. In Washington, the state attorney general and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents publicly funded family planning providers, filed a similar suit. Other cases are pending in Maine and California.

"We want to block any attempt by anyone, the federal government, insurance companies, anybody who wants to tell a physician what they can and cannot say to a patient", Barbara McAneny, a New Mexico oncologist and president of the American Medical Association, told The Lancet.

If the lawsuits are unsuccessful and the new rules take effect, Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen told The Lancet that the clinics will refuse the federal money rather than comply with the gag rules. Several governors have said their states will do the same. "For us, this is not a choice", said Wen, who is also an emergency medicine physician. "Planned Parenthood will never force our doctors and nurses to compromise their ethics, which is why we said from the very beginning that we cannot accept gag funds."

She acknowledged that refusing the Title X funds could jeopardise patients' health. By issuing what she called "these unethical and dangerous rules", the Trump administration is harming patients, she said. "We're talking about 4 million people who depend on Title X for their care." Because many patients have inadequate or no health insurance, Wen said Planned Parenthood clinics are their only source of medical care, particularly in rural areas. The clinics use Title X money to provide basic primary and preventive care, birth control counselling and supplies, vaccinations, breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and other services.

The consequences of losing that money are not hard to imagine for Kami Geoffray, chief executive officer of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. The non-profit received $14 million this year in federal Title X funding, the second largest award in the USA. The association distributes the funds to a network of 38 public and private agencies operating nearly 150 clinics across the state. After the Texas legislature cut state family planning funds by two thirds in 2011, Geoffray said some clinics reduced staff and some closed. "We saw unintended pregnancies increasing, maintenance of contraceptive methods decreasing, increased use of less effective contraceptive methods, and increases in Medicaid births, which are obviously a strain on federal and state funding", she said.

California's Essential Access Health received the largest Title X grant, $21 million, and is also a plaintiff along with the state's attorney general in a lawsuit seeking to block the new Title X rules on behalf of its 1 million low-income patients. In this lawsuit, ten states, led by Ohio's attorney general, are supporting the Trump administration. In their amici curiae (friend of the court) brief, they argue that "the new rules help preserve broad support for Title X by keeping a healthy distance between the consensus supporting family-planning services and the controversy over abortion". In the event that the court overturns the rules, they say that decision should apply only in California, not to "Ohio or in other states that welcome the updated regulations".

Another Trump administration rule finalised by the HHS last week allows broadly defined health-care workers to refuse to serve patients on the basis of religious or moral grounds. The objectionable care can include abortion procedures and protects health-care providers as well as non-medical, ancillary employees including receptionists and clerical workers. It applies to providers whose patients have health insurance under Medicaid, Medicare, or other federal health programmes. Administration officials describe it as "the conscience rule" that is intended to protect individuals and health-care facilities from discrimination. "This rule ensures that health-care entities and professionals will not be bullied out of the health-care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life", said the director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, Roger Severino. Lawyers representing the city and county of San Francisco have sued Azar and the Trump administration, claiming the new rule will have the opposite effect by increasing discrimination and disparities in health care. It "requires the City and County of San Francisco... to prioritise providers' religious beliefs over the health and lives of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, and other medically and socially vulnerable populations", according to the city's lawsuit. San Francisco could lose almost $1 billion in Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal payments for health-care services if the HHS found that health-care providers were forced to participate or assist in health care despite their religious or moral objections.

As these controversies unfold in the federal courts, legal battles directly affecting abortion access continue on the state level. Nearly all states have laws relating to abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. For example, 43 states prohibit abortions after either fetal viability or 20 or 24 weeks of pregnancy (except where the mother's health is in danger). A handful of states also prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as 6 weeks, when some women might not even know they are pregnant.
The day Ohio's governor signed its so-called heartbeat law in April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted, "We'll see you in court". The ACLU will be joined by Planned Parenthood and Preterm, a Cleveland abortion clinic, to sue to block the heartbeat law, which takes effect in July.

"It is not constitutional and the state knows this", said Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm, one of the seven clinics left in the state. "Their goal is to get something to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost welcomes the opportunity to defend the state law and perhaps topple the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. "In the last 46 years, the practice of medicine has changed", he said. "Science has changed. Even the point of viability has changed. Only the law has lagged behind."

Wen says Planned Parenthood and its supporters will protect Roe "on all fronts: We are fighting back in the courts, we are fighting back in Congress and in state legislatures all across the country", she said, noting that one in four women in the USA will have an abortion in their lifetime. "The public is with us when it comes to defending access to safe legal abortion, which people understand is part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, which is health care."

Pakistan: Poor Christian girls prey for Bride & Sex trafficking markets back in China Print E-mail

 Tuesday May 7, 2019

Pakistani Christian girls targeted by Chinese as brides

Parents receive several thousand dollars and are told that their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts

By AP in Gujranwala

In this April 14, 2019 photo, Mahek Liaqat, who married a Chinese national, shows her marriage certificate in Gujranwala, Pakistan. (AP)

Muqadas Ashraf was just 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man who had come to Pakistan looking for a bride. Less than five months later, Muqadas is back in her home country, pregnant and seeking a divorce from a husband she says was abusive.

She is one of hundreds of poor Christian girls who have been trafficked to China in a market for brides that has swiftly grown in Pakistan since late last year, activists say. Brokers are aggressively seeking out girls for Chinese men, sometimes even cruising outside churches to ask for potential brides. They are being helped by Christian clerics paid to target impoverished parents in their congregation with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.

Parents receive several thousand dollars and are told that their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts. The grooms turn out to be neither, according to several brides, their parents, an activist, pastors and government officials, all of whom spoke to The Associated Press.

Once in China, the girls - most often married against their will - can find themselves isolated in remote rural regions, vulnerable to abuse, unable to communicate and reliant on a translation app even for a glass of water.

"This is human smuggling," said Aslam Augustine, the human rights and minorities minister in Pakistan's Punjab province. "Greed is really responsible for these marriages ... I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor."

Augustine accused the Chinese government and its embassy in Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the practice by unquestioningly issuing visas and documents. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that, saying China has zero tolerance for illegal trans-national marriage agencies.

Human Rights Watch called on China and Pakistan to take action to end bride trafficking, warning in an April 26 statement of "increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China".

On Monday, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency arrested eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis in raids in Punjab province in connection with trafficking, Geo TV reported. It said the raids followed an undercover operation that included attending an arranged marriage.

The Chinese embassy said last month that China is cooperating with Pakistan to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centres, saying "both Chinese and Pakistani youths are victims of these illegal agents".

The Associated Press interviewed more than a dozen Christian Pakistani brides and would-be brides who fled before exchanging vows. All had similar accounts of a process involving brokers and members of the clergy, including describing houses where they were taken to see potential husbands and spend their wedding nights in Islamabad, the country's capital, and Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

"It is all fraud and cheating. All the promises they make are fake," said Muqadas.

In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted, a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country's gender balance toward males. Brides initially came largely from Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Now men are looking further afield, said Mimi Vu, director of advocacy at Pacific Links, which helps trafficked Vietnamese women.

"It's purely supply and demand," she said. "It used to be, 'Is she light-skinned?' Now it's like, 'Is she female?'"

Pakistan seems to have come onto marriage brokers' radar late last year.

Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist, said he first began to see significant numbers of marriage to Chinese men in October. Since then, an estimated 750 to 1,000 girls have been married off, he said.

Pakistan's small Christian community, centred in Punjab province, makes a vulnerable target. As many as 2.5 million in the country's overwhelmingly Muslim population of 200 million, Christians are among Pakistan's most deeply impoverished. They have little political or social support.

Among all faiths in Pakistan, parents often decide a daughter's marriage partner. The deeply patriarchal society sees girls as less desirable than boys and as a burden because the bride's family must pay a dowry and the cost of the wedding when they marry. A new bride is often mistreated by her husband and in-laws if her dowry is considered inadequate.

By contrast, potential Chinese grooms offer parents money and pay all wedding expenses.

Some of the grooms are from among the tens of thousands of Chinese in Pakistan working on infrastructure projects under Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, a project that has further boosted ties between the two countries in recent years. Other grooms search directly from China through networks. They present themselves as Christian converts, but pastors complicit in the deals don't ask for any documentation.

They pay on average $3,500 to $5,000, including payments to parents, pastors and a broker, said Iqbal, who is also a journalist with a small Christian station, Isaak TV. Iqbal has gone to court to stop marriages and sheltered runaway brides, some as young as 13.

Muqadas' mother Nasreen said she was promised about $5,000, which included the cost of the wedding and her daughter's wedding dress. "But I have not seen anything yet," she said.

"I really believed I was giving her a chance at a better life and also a better life for us," Nasreen said.

Dozens of priests are paid by brokers to find brides for Chinese men, said Augustine, the provincial minorities minister, who is Christian. Many are from the small evangelical churches that have proliferated in Pakistan.

Gujranwala, a city north of Lahore, has been a particular target of brokers, with more than 100 local Christian women and girls married off to Chinese in recent months, according to Iqbal.

The city has several mainly Christian neighbourhoods, largely dirt poor with open sewers running along narrow slum streets. Tucked away in the alleys are numerous evangelical churches, small cement structures unrecognisable except for small crosses outside.

Pastor Munch Morris said he knows a group of pastors in his neighbourhood who work with a private Chinese marriage broker. Among them, he said, is a fellow pastor at his church who tells his flock, "God is happy because these Chinese boys convert to Christianity. They are helping the poor Christian girls."

Morris opposes such marriages, calling them an insult. "We know these marriages are all for the sake of money."

Rizwan Rashid, a parishioner at the city's Roman Catholic St. John's Church, said that two weeks earlier, a car pulled up to him outside the church gates. Two Pakistani men and a Chinese woman inside asked him if he knew of any girls who want to marry a Chinese man.

"They told me her life would be great," he said. "Everything would be paid for by them."

They were willing to pay him to help, but he said the church's priest often warns his flock against such marriages, so he refused.

Brokers also troll brick kilns, where the poorest work essentially as slaves to pay off debts, and offer to pay off their workers' debts in exchange for daughters as brides.

Pakistani and Chinese brokers work together in the trade. One prominent broker in Gujranwala is a Pakistani known only as Robinson. He refused to talk to the AP, but his wife Razia told the AP that they make arrangements through a Chinese marriage bureau in Islamabad.

Moqadas and another young woman from the same neighborhood, Mahek Liaqat, said Robinson arranged their marriages, providing photos of potential grooms. Afterward, they each described being taken to the same, multi-story house in Islamabad, a sort of boarding house with bedrooms. There, each met her husband for the first time face-to-face and spent her wedding night.

Mahek, 19, said she stayed there with her husband for a month, during which she saw several other girls brought in. She attended several weddings performed in the basement.

Other brides told of meeting their husbands at a similar house in a posh neighbourhood of Lahore.

Simbal Akmal, 18, was taken there by her parents. Two other Christian girls were already there in a large sitting room, picking grooms. Three Chinese men were presented to Simbal, and her father demanded she choose one. She told him she didn't want to marry, but he insisted, claiming "it was a matter of our honour," she said.

"He had already promised I would marry one," she said. "They just wanted money."

She married, but immediately fled. She was joined by her sister, who refused her parents' demands to marry a Chinese man. Both escaped to a refuge run by the activist, Iqbal.

Muqadas said her husband had claimed to be a man of money, but when she arrived in China in early December, she found herself living "in a small house, just one room and a bedroom."

She said he rarely let her out of the house on her own. He forced her to undergo a battery of medical tests that later she found were attempts to determine why she was not yet pregnant. On Christmas Eve, when she pressed him to take her to church, he slapped her and broke her phone, she said.

"I don't have the words to tell you how difficult the last month there was," said Muqadas. "He threatened me."

Finally, he agreed to send her home after her family said they would go to the police.

Mahek said she hadn't wanted to get married, but her parents insisted. Her Chinese husband was possessive and refused to let her leave the house. "He was just terrible," she said.

In China, her husband, Li Tao, denied abusing Mahek. He said he was a Christian convert and worked for a state-owned Chinese company building roads and bridges when he met Mahek through a Pakistani matchmaker introduced by a Chinese friend.

He was taken by her at first sight, he said. "If you look at her and you see she's right for you, that's it, right?"

Li returned with Mahek last winter to his hometown of Chenlou, a village surrounded by wheat fields in coastal Jiangsu province. They moved into his mother's home, a one-story courtyard house.

After Malek's family reached out to their government for help to bring her back, the police showed up at Li's home and said they were told he was illegally confining a woman in his home.

He said it was Mahek who refused to go outside.

"I wouldn't force her into doing anything," Li said. "She just had to learn to adapt to a new environment. I wasn't asking her to change right away." Still, he bought plane tickets to take her back to Pakistan.

Others, however, are unable to come back.

Mahek's grandfather Idriis Masih said he contacted the parents of several other Pakistani girls whom Mahek had befriended through a phone app in China and who were desperate to return home. All the parents were poor and shrugged off his attempts to convince them to retrieve their daughters.

Each told him, "She is married now. It is her life," he said.
 Tuesday 07 May 2019

Over 10 Chinese Nationals Arrested For Illegally Marrying, Forcing Pakistani Girls Into Prostitution

The FIA swung into action following reports of Chinese nationals being involved in organ trade and forced prostitution of Pakistani girls, mostly from the minority Christian community, after marrying them and taking them back to China.

By Outlook Web Bureau

Pakistani Women Are Being Forced Into Prostitution In China After Their Illegal Marriage With Chinese Men

At least 10 Chinese nationals, including a woman, have been arrested in Pakistan for allegedly luring young Pakistani girls into fake marriages, then forcing them into prostitution in China, the country's premier probe agency has said.

The Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) arrested eight Chinese nationals, including a woman, on Monday and last week, two Chinese nationals were arrested when a marriage ceremony was being performed in Faisalabad, about 150 kms from Lahore.

"On Monday, we have arrested seven Chinese men and a Chinese woman for their alleged involvement in trafficking of Pakistani girls to China for the purpose of prostitution," FIA Punjab Director Tariq Rustam told PTI.

The FIA swung into action following reports of Chinese nationals being involved in organ trade and forced prostitution of Pakistani girls, mostly from the minority Christian community, after marrying them and taking them back to China.

Rustam said that their leader, identified as 'Candice', was among those arrested. He has been living near the Lahore airport for the last one year.

"The girls were moved to the rented houses acquired by the Chinese in Lahore where they were taught Chinese language before they leaving for China after completion of their marriage-related documents," he said, adding the girls were forced into prostitution in China.

"We are collecting the data of the girls trafficked to China during the last couple of years. Their number may run into hundreds," he said.

“We are interrogating the arrested Chinese nationals and hopefully arrest all those involved in the crime,” he added.

The Government recently ordered the FIA to take action against the gangs involved in smuggling of Pakistani girls to China on the pretext of contracting marriage.

According to the local media reports, poor Christians girls are lured with money and promises of a 'good life' by the illegal matchmaking centres to marry Chinese men, who are either visiting or working in Pakistan.

These centres produce fake documents of Chinese men showing them either as Christians or Muslims. Most of the girls reportedly became victims of human trafficking and forced into prostitution, the report said.


UK: Ipsos MORI IWD study reveals women still have a long way to go, esp. in Govt & politics Print E-mail

 London ~ March 8 2019

A female prime minister doesn’t hide women’s raw deal in politics

By Kully Kaur-Ballagan

With a female prime minister at the helm and three of the major UK political parties being led by a female, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking that here, in 2019, our work on achieving gender equality is going great guns. However, a global Ipsos MORI study carried out for International Women’s Day reveals there is still a long way to go ­ and particularly when it comes to government and politics.

The study shows we still think it’s very much a man’s world out there; globally, over half (52 per cent) believe that there are more advantages to being a man in today’s society than a woman. Brits are pretty much in line with this average, with 49 per cent saying there are more advantages to being a man and just one in ten saying there are more advantages to being a woman. Fewer people across the world now say they would describe themselves as a feminist; 33 per cent compared with 37 per cent last year, suggesting that the term continues to carry fairly negative connotations. In Britain, 35 per cent say that they define themselves as a feminist, which is similar to last year’s 37 per cent.

However, there is some cause for optimism. Slightly more people globally believe the push for gender equality hasn’t gone far enough ­ more disagree than agree, by 49 per cent to 42 per cent respectively, that, when it comes to giving women equality, things have gone far enough, suggesting that the desire for gender equality is gaining wider traction. And Brits ­ along with the Japanese and Australians ­ lead the charge in thinking things haven’t gone far enough.

Indeed, British men are more “woke” than most. Sixty per cent of British men agree that women won’t achieve equality without their support. And while a significant minority (35 per cent) of British men feel they are being expected to do too much to support women’s equality, half disagree, which is at least better than the global picture where more men feel put upon.

In terms of where we think equality will be achieved, 47 per cent globally are confident that discrimination against women in education will have ended in 20 years’ time. However, people are much less confident about this happening in government and politics, at only 37 per cent. In Britain the picture is also concerning ­ only 34 per cent are confident that discrimination in government and politics will end in 20 years’ time and 43 per cent believe not enough is being done to tackle discrimination in this area.

The public is right to draw attention to the slow progress here; the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap report highlights that the political empowerment gender gap remains the widest (compared with others such as economic participation and educational attainment) and that progress has stalled or even reversed in some countries. The UK has actually improved a little, but 100 years after the first female MP entered parliament, only 32 per cent of our MPs are female and at this rate of progress, achieving a gender-balanced parliament will take about 50 more years.

It’s not really surprising that politics is lagging behind when you consider some of the obstacles that women face. A recent global study showed that a staggering four in five female parliamentarians have suffered some form of abuse or harassment in politics. Amnesty UK has highlighted the unprecedented abuse that Diane Abbott received on social media in the run up to the 2017 general election, to give just one example.

More recently, we’ve seen that many of the female MPs joining the Independent Group have suffered similar opprobrium. However, it’s not just when women enter parliament do they face discrimination ­ it starts way before then. A report by the Fawcett Society concluded that women still faced “multiple barriers to being selected as candidates simply because they are women”.

With discrimination still systemic in our political processes, it’s not surprising that people lack confidence that we’ll have gender parity. We shouldn’t be happy that our government and politics is seen as one of the worst spheres of life when it comes to gender equality ­ indeed, we should hold them to higher standards. However, until we address many fundamental issues, we won’t achieve a better balance.

Kully Kaur-Ballagan is research director at Ipsos MORI

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