Women rally across Pakistan for rights, end to injustice
KARACHI: Thought-provoking seminars and protest rallies were held across the country on Friday to mark International Women's Day, which is celebrated by the global community every year on March 8.
Scores of women, men as well as transgender persons came out to participate in the Aurat March staged in major cities of the country, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad and Larkana.
The march was aimed at expressing solidarity with women from across Pakistan and to push for accountability and restorative justice against violence and harassment at the workplace, at home, in public spaces as well as at the hands of security forces.
The participating women demanded economic justice, including implementation of labour rights, and also raised other pressing concerns such as access to safe drinking water and air, protection of animals and wildlife, recognition of women's participation in production of food and cash crops, access to fair justice system, reproductive justice, access to public spaces, inclusion in educational institutions, rights of religious minorities, promotion of an anti-war agenda and end to police brutality and enforced disappearances.
In Lahore, hundreds of women gathered under the banner of "Hum Aurtain" at the press club and marched to Al Hamra Arts Council, shouting slogans against patriarchy.
In the federal capital, besides the march, several other events were organised to highlight the sufferings faced by women in the country and their contributions to social development and in various other fields.
The British High Commission hosted a multimedia training session and conference for women journalists and bloggers, in collaboration with the Media Training and Research Centre.
Addressing the conference, Joanna Reid, head of the UK's Department for International Development, said that women were the future of Pakistan and they had the ability to change things.
Besides, Serena Hotels hosted a breakfast morning to celebrate the day and to honour the women from different walks of life, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The chief guest was the president's wife Samina Arif Alvi. Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplaces Kashmala Tariq was also present.
In Peshawar, several functions were held under the aegis of different government departments and civil society organisations where participants urged the government to ensure implementation of women protection laws and policies without delay.
Aurat Foundation regional chief Shabina Ayaz, Gulalai Ismail of the Aware Girls, activist Sana Ijaz and former MNA Jamila Gilani shared their views about the significance of Women's Day and the need to raise gendered concerns.
In Quetta, the day was observed with zeal and passion as seminars were held and a procession was taken out to mark the occasion.
Major events to celebrate the day were organised by the UN Women in collaboration with the Balochistan government and the Balochistan National Party, separately. Activists of the Women Democratic Front took out a procession.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani, speaking at the Women Leadership conference, highlighted the role of women in the society and said that without participation of half of the population of the country, Pakistan could not progress and one could not expect the formation of an exemplary society.
Messages pour in Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message on International Women's Day reaffirmed his government's commitment to providing women a safe environment so that they could contribute to the country's development.
"We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring women a secure and enabling environment to play their rightful role in our nation's development," he said.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the contributions of women on duty in uniform and at household, particularly the ones of martyrs' families, were greatly valued.
"The great Pakistani women have a role and responsibility towards the progress of Pakistan," he said in a message issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations on Twitter.
Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman, referring to the Aurat March, drew attention to a number of issues women faced, saying: "I march because women don't get the same pay or opportunities as men. Because I'm done keeping quiet about sexist jokes, about snide remarks and unspoken collusion to keep women out of decision-making. I march for my less fortunate sisters who suffer daily indignities."
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif lauded "the incredible work our women are doing to strengthen their families, communities and the country".
The first week of March, 2016 was a big one for Pakistan.
We lost a big cricket match and won a small one; Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won her second Oscar for 'A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness' to mixed reactions in Pakistan and we passed a bill that has been kicked around in both public and political circles for the past six years.
The most surprising context in these cases is that the government in place is the Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz.
Let's face it, historically speaking, there are a few who associate radical counter narratives whether accidental or contrived with the 'Noonies'.
Every year International Women's Day is celebrated with pledges for parity regarding women's rights. The occasion allows for thematic op-eds and columns (like this one) advocating that we all need to 'do more' for women.
In Pakistan, there is the annual backlash reiterating 'western agendas' and 'what about men' questions. This year is different, or better put, this year has the potential to be different.
The adoption of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA) 2016 has already altered the discussion on women's rights and will continue to do so in the weeks to come.
To clarify, I do not say this because the Act itself is revolutionary or because our generally paternalistic state has somehow seen the light on women's concerns but rather because, for the first time in a long time, women seem to believe that the state is on their side.
This is the birth of a tenuous, tremulous trust between women and the powers that control them. It remains to be seen whether it is warranted. They will no longer hide their abuse My own cynicism on the Act took a bit of a beating a few days ago when I received a phone call from a group of friends. I had worked with these five women when I was a full-time journalist; two have experienced acid attacks and are disfigured. The other three were raped by members of their family.
Every one of these women left their home and is now struggling to make a living in Lahore.
I have been trying to assist them with this exercise in whatever capacity I can. They sporadically call me and tell me how their kids are doing; we occasionally go shopping together or watch a movie. It's always Bollywood, they opt for anything with Hrithik Roshan; I'm told it's his eyes. None of them talks of their respective pasts.
On Tuesday evening, they called me and asked whether they should report their cases to the authorities. I was stunned; I asked them what made them think they should.
Two of them mentioned that 'now the law was on their side', they asked me if it was 'true' that their family members could be punished under the law.
Women who I have witnessed hiding their histories of abuse suddenly told me they wanted to put it on record and this is the trust I am referring to. It has never existed before and for good reason. I am not sure if it ought to exist now. Nevertheless, in these cases, it does and that needs to be acknowledged.
Putting a face to crime None of us can testify yet if this law will work or if the authorities will do their part in prosecuting abuse but one end of this equation is emerging. It has been a little over a week since the passage of the bill and two cases have been registered under it one old and one new.
On February 29, Bassara Bibi filed a case against her husband over abuse under the Women's Protection Act. However, in the past few days there have also been several reported honour crimes across the country, so one must manage expectations.
Many have credited Chinoy's documentary and its Oscar nod for directly pushing the bill through. The documentary was screened for the prime minister and other political leaders and this move personalised the issue; the rest can be relegated to good story telling and the power of film.
Also read: We need to change the conversation about Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Here's how.
There is a case to be made for making statistics personal and for 'putting a face' to crime. Chinoy's documentary featured one woman's story that struck an emotional chord that 7,010 reported cases by Aurat Foundation in 2014 did not manage to do.
And yet, telling women's stories is inherently problematic in a social rubric where women face the brunt of the blame for the violence they themselves experience.
Here, the state will have to be responsible in how it frames the narrative surrounding this Act. What does our culture stand for? The religious right has already begun chiming in with the usual suspects 'Western propaganda', 'against Pakistani culture'; Maulana Fazlur Rehman has expressed his concerns that the law will promote divorce and it is already being challenged in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC).
Such voices immediately ground us in the binaries we face when we speak about women in Pakistan.
Explore: 9 things Pakistani women don't need to be afraid of anymore Just because the state is finally supporting women's rights does not mean it is standing against men…unless those men are violent.
To imply that punishing violence against women is an exclusively 'Western' notion is tantamount to condoning it and calling it a part of our 'culture'.
One constantly hears the phrase 'there is no 'honour' in honour killings' in which case punishing perpetrators of honour crimes should be promoted. It is about time we stop parroting one narrative on policy and another in practice.
When it comes to practical implementations of this legislation and room for abuse, there are gaps. Our procedural bodies and our law enforcement will require sensitivity training on these issues.
We need to work towards creating female-spaces where crimes such as rape, acid attacks and domestic violence can be reported to female police officials, and where women can perform the medical procedures.
Such measures may help address the major concerns most women have of reporting violence in the first place i.e. fear of police treatment, intrusive questioning and family pressures to silence the issue.
As for the punishment end, what should serve as punishment? These questions still need to be deliberated and the passage of the bill into law by no means caps that process.
Why not pull for a system where men convicted of abusing women or honour crimes are imprisoned and their labour and wages are used to fund girls' schooling, female-entrepreneurship programmes or women's shelters?
It is about time we recognise that what is considered 'criminal' under the law and what is considered criminal in practice is not always the same. Pakistan has many laws that we do not implement and thereby, while they may be framed as 'criminal' under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) they are not regarded as such.
Crime is categorised in social consciousness by its counterpart 'punishment'. 'Honour killings' are a crime against humanity but we will not believe this until people who commit that violence or kill in that context are punished for it.
We can and should argue about how, when and in what context we will implement this law but not about the need for it.
This Women's Day affords us all with an opportunity; for once there is sufficient momentum surrounding women's concerns in and outside Pakistan.
People are listening to us and this makes it especially important that we are mindful about what we say.
We need to speak for inclusivity, and for justice, and we need to do so in a language that brings people to these causes rather than drives them away.
It is about time that people who value 'our Pakistani culture' begin to protect what this culture stands for -it either promotes violence or it does not. If it does not, then the state standing up for the integrity, agency and security of half of its citizens simply cannot be bad thing.
Women take to the streets of Pakistan to rewrite their place in society
Campaigners will march on International Women's Day to protest against harassment, child marriage and 'honour killings'
By Sabrina Toppa, in Lahore
: Supporters of the leftwing Pakistan Peoples Party participate in a rally in Lahore to mark International Women's Day 2018. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
During Jalwat Ali's school days in Lahore, there were limited spaces to gather with other women, never mind flood the streets with punchy placards.
Public spaces often feel constricted in Pakistan, as though under critical male scrutiny. But over the past few days, Ali has been recruiting dozens of women, from garment workers to domestic helpers who barely get a day off. "To solve any problem, we need to make a collective effort," she says. On Friday, a series of International Women's Day marches will be held in several Pakistani cities, calling for women's place in society to be rewritten.
Organisers hope the aurat march ("women's march") and aurat azadi march ("women's liberation march") will bring a cross-section of society on to the streets to draw attention to the struggle for reproductive, economic, and social justice across Pakistan. The marchers will be protesting against sexual harassment in the workplace, child marriage, "honour killings", wage inequalities and limited political representation.
The aim is to reach ordinary women in factories, homes, and offices, says Nighat Dad, an aurat march organiser in Lahore.
"We want an organic movement by women demanding equal access to justice and ending discrimination of all kinds," she says.
Her fellow activist, Leena Ghani, points out that Pakistani women have a history of taking to the streets, famously during military dictator Zia ul-H aq's martial law in the 1980s: "Many women before us have paved the way for us. There is a tradition of women being politically progressive in Pakistan."
While Pakistan has made major strides towards gender equality -achieving greater workforce participation, reserved seats in parliament, and anti-discrimination laws for women -poorer, marginalised women and transgender citizens continue to struggle, Ghani says.
Designer Shehzil Malik has created a series of striking posters for the aurat march that counter typical representations of Pakistani women as docile and subservient. "These women mean business," says Malik.
Speakers at the Lahore march range from a woman fighting to reform marriage laws to the women who worked on the landmark Punjab Domestic Workers' Act -legislation that outlaws child labour in homes and provides maternity benefits to workers.
"The aurat march will allow us to display unity with other workers and women," said Arooma Shahzad, a key campaigner on the new domestic workers' laws.
: Students in Lahore mark International Women's Day last year. (KM Chaudary/AP)
Others, like Laaleen Sukhera, a writer with three young daughters in Lahore, will march to protest against Pakistan's regressive family laws. After years of failing to receive adequate child support and alimony, Sukhera's acrimonious divorce was an unpleasant awakening.
"The time for change is now," she says. "The Pakistani mindset tends to be Victorian. The system frequently grants mothers custody, but makes life a living hell for them, with little or no support for raising kids."
Women are also protesting against discriminatory policies in universities, where male and female students are afforded different levels of freedom. "Most university hostels have a relationship of mistrust and constant surveillance of women," says Wafa Asher, 21, a university student in Lahore participating in the aurat march. "There is over-policing of dress and behaviour and early curfews for women."
A Pakistani university recently caused a furore on social media by banning women from wearing skinny jeans and sleeveless shirts.
"Given the issues the average Pakistani woman faces -sometimes with nowhere to go -creating a space that recognises a woman's right to be there is integral," says Kanwal Ahmed, the founder behind women-only Facebook group Soul Sisters, which has attracted nearly 150,000 people.
: 'The unsung heroes of Pakistan's burgeoning feminist movement': women in Lahore go about their work. (Rana Sajid Hussain/Light Rocket/Getty Images) With more than half of Pakistan's informal sector consisting of women, the plight of female workers is also a central theme. For months, the government has not paid the all-female staff at Pakistan's first and only Violence Against Women Centre, the founder Salman Sufi said. The centre in Multan has handled almost 3,000 cases of abuse, rape, and domestic violence, and has been a key instrument in combating gender-based violence that other government departments neglect. For Ali, these women on the economic margins are the unsung heroes of Pakistan's burgeoning feminist movement. They face conflicting pressures between their work and family lives. While Pakistani women are increasingly participating in the labour force, their husbands often refuse to take on household chores, she says. "There's a double, triple burden on these women," Ali adds."When they go home after a full days' work, they face the same problem in their domestic lives -work."
The aurat march is a step forward, she says. "We can't work in silos or as members of different groups. Our demands are for all women -these injustices affect us all," Ali says.
For women seeking refuge in Spain, a trail of peril awaits
The stories of women migrants making the desperate Mediterranean crossing to Europe are different from those of the men, marked by a higher level of exploitation and abuse. Lucia Benavides reports from Spain.
Rescued but fearful: these are images of sub-Saharan women brought ashore from the Alboran Sea to the port of Motril near Granada by maritime rescue teams. Whether draped in red blankets or clinging fast to a railing after their time on the waves, uncertainty is written on every face. (CARLOS GILL / SOPA IMAGES / GETTY)
On the last leg of her long and perilous journey to Europe, Joy Good was eight months pregnant. Fortunately, she was rescued from a rubber dinghy bobbing off the coast of Spain last August.
The 20-year-old had started her trip to Spain from a small Nigerian village two years earlier. She says life there was tough for a young woman like her, especially after her first pregnancy - a result of a rape when she was just 15 years old.
'I left because I don't have help,' said Good. 'I don't have anyone.'
Both of her parents died when she was young. So, as soon as she gave birth to the child - a girl - Good handed her over to neighbours in the village. Then she headed north, hoping to find better opportunities in Europe.
But the journey proved more difficult than she had anticipated.
'The police [at the Morocco-Algeria border] would see us and they said they wanted to make love to us,' said Good, referring to the other women travelling alongside her. 'They beat everybody. They always beat. They also beat me.'
Good has a difficult time talking about her journey. She often stops to rub her face with her hands, take a deep breath and look at me as if asking when the questions will stop. When she brings up the father of the unborn child - a boy, whom she planned to keep - she says he stayed behind in Morocco.
Good is just one of many women who crossed into Spain last summer, eventually making it to Malaga and applying for asylum. She has qualified for a six-month governmental programme that provides shelter, Spanish classes and other immersion activities.
As Italy closed its ports to NGO vessels carrying migrants, and human rights violations in Libyan detention centers intensified, Spain became the main entry point for migrants crossing into Europe. As of the end of 2018, some 58,525 migrants had crossed into Spain by land and sea - more arrivals than in the last three years combined. The number of arrivals in Spain was almost double that seen in Italy and Greece.
Women make up 10 per cent of those migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. And their experience differs widely from that of their male counterparts: immigration lawyers say many face sexual abuse and exploitation on the way. Their journeys are often long - it can take months, or even years, to reach European soil - running up costs totalling thousands of euros. As a result, many women resort to sex work en route - one of the few options to make some money quickly.
Survival strategies 'Women face all kinds of patriarchal violence during their journey. But we have to keep in mind each woman's agency, the act of deciding what the best strategy for surviving the journey is for her,' says immigration lawyer Ana María Rosado Caro, who works with the Association for Human Rights of Andalusia, a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers and lawyers. 'Each woman finds the strategy of survival that works for her, be it by getting a so-called “journey boyfriend”, or something else.'
The term 'journey boyfriend' refers to a man who protects a woman along her migration route in exchange for having sexual access to her whenever he wants. Rosado Caro says it's likely that the father of Good's child played this role at some point in her journey. Like many other women who crossed into Spain last summer, Good was travelling alone, and this was one way of protecting herself.
'There's always the stereotype that almost all sub-Saharan women that arrive are victims of sex trafficking,' says Rosado Caro, but that's not always the case. She adds that the process of identifying victims and sex traffickers is much more complex.
While every female migrant has her own individual story, Rosado Caro says she generally sees two types of profiles. There are those who cross under the thumb of mafias, who facilitate the journey from start to finish in exchange for a debt of tens of thousands of euros; and those who cross of their own will, but pay traffickers along the way to reach their destinations.
Yet the assumption that all female migrants are sex-trafficking victims has resulted in cases where sub-Saharan women were separated from their children at the border.
'They consider you a sex-trafficking victim from the start, without asking you, without observing you, without knowing you,' says Rosado Caro. 'If you have children, they could separate you for some time.'
The latest case was in 2017, when one woman from Côte d'Ivoire was separated from her four-year-old son for five months, as Spanish authorities ran various DNA tests to confirm their blood relation. Spanish authorities, who thought she was a victim of sex trafficking, argued that this placed her child in a situation of neglect. There was no legal basis for the separation - and mother and son were eventually reunited. But only after a long and arduous bureaucratic process, during which the child was left in the care of a refugee centre for minors.
A new life, alone Lola López, immigration commissioner at Barcelona's City Hall, says things don't necessarily get easier once migrants reach Europe.
Her department works with the Red Cross and other NGOs to provide housing for the thousands of migrants that arrive in the Catalan capital every year. Between July and October 2018, she says, the city received 3,500 migrants transferred from refugee centres in the south of Spain - where they had arrived by boat.
'With women, what we try to do is detect sex-trafficking victims. If we detect them, there's a municipal programme that takes care of them and puts them up in safe places,' López says. She says it's much harder for women to build new lives in a new country. Once in Spain, they don't have the support of family and friends, which they had back home. 'There are more opportunities for men within the underground economy. It's easier to build networks and form communities that will help you do things like find housing,' says López. 'But women are much more alone. Their communities are much smaller.'
Rescued but fearful: these are images of sub-Saharan women brought ashore from the Alboran Sea to the port of Motril near Granada by maritime rescue teams. Whether draped in red blankets or clinging fast to a railing after their time on the waves, uncertainty is written on every face. (CARLOS GILL / SOPA IMAGES / GETTY)
Work opportunities for undocumented migrants are scarce - and more so for women. Many end up getting jobs in domestic work or setting up stands alongside the so-called manteros, sub-Saharan African men selling souvenirs and off-brand merchandise on blankets. The women, in turn, sell jewellery or offer to braid people's hair; they are by far outnumbered by male sellers.
A large percentage of women, however, choose to make their money through sex work. Much like during their journey north, female migrants living in Europe often find that it is the fastest and easiest way to make up the debt they accumulated during their crossing.
'If you need to survive, you'll survive however you can,' says López. 'If there are no possible legal migrating processes, they'll find other ways.'
Rosado Caro says Europe is in need of more safe and legal migration channels for African migrants fleeing poverty and violence. In most cases, a national from an African country needs a visa to set foot on European soil - and often those visas are not granted in the first place. This leads people to take drastic measures, says Rosado Caro, like risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea crossings.
'There's a structural and symbolic violence that comes about because of immigration laws. The law that we have in Spain, for example, makes it virtually impossible to enter in a legal way,' says Rosado Caro. 'The European Union has an immigration policy that's based on racism and xenophobia. If they take away men's humanity, for women it's even more so.'
The moment Good set foot in Malaga, she was taken straight to a hospital. It's protocol for all female migrants who arrive in Spain pregnant; other women and children are taken to apartments run by the Red Cross or refugee centres where NGOs provide humanitarian aid.
Good was taken to a centre run by the nonprofit Spanish Commission for Refugees. When I spoke to her - two weeks after her arrival - she told me she didn't know anyone in Spain and hadn't yet made any friends. While she waits to find out whether the Spanish government will grant her asylum, she's taking Spanish classes and finding ways to make money. She can braid hair for the time being, she says, until there's a better opportunity.
She says she's happy to be in Spain, and that she plans to make it work in the Mediterranean country - as opposed to continuing her journey north to France or Germany, like a lot of other migrants.
'I feel good,' Good told me. 'It was a very long journey; it was not easy. But, at last, God made everything possible. So everything was successful.'
Lucia Benavides is a radio and print journalist based in Barcelona, Spain. She has written for National Public Radio, al-Jazeera and Teen Vogue, among others.
Statement: Feminists from India and Pakistan Call for Peace in the Region
By Chiang Mai, Thailand
We, feminists from India and Pakistan at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) express our growing concern on the escalation of conflict between India and Pakistan. We note with mounting dismay that the rhetoric deployed by both Governments is aimed at creating an unstable environment where media and social media is used for proliferation of unsubstantiated claims and counterclaims that are encouraging hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Many lives have already been lost, including those of soldiers and civilians. We urge both governments to stop exploiting the spectacle of war to reap political mileage in the two countries at the expense of people’s lives, peace and justice.
We are particularly concerned about the effects conflict has and has had on the women of South Asia, particularly sexual violence, enforced disappearance of male family members leaving women headed households vulnerable and economically insecure, and growing fundamentalism and curtailed civil and political rights leading to abrogation of women’s human rights.
The ‘retaliatory’ attacks on Kashmiri civilians across India in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of the Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama can never be acceptable or justified. Citizens of Kashmir in India have suffered through decades of conflict. By some estimates there are thousands of mass graves, sexual assaults, enforced disappearances, extra judicial killings, torture, blinding and maiming over the decades, as draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (1990) and Public Safety Act (1978) have been enforced in the valley, granting complete impunity to the armed forces. Not a single accused armed forces personnel has been prosecuted in civil courts till date. Reports of religious minorities in Pakistan facing violence on account of these transgressions in India are also increasing in ‘response’. In all situations, women, sexual minorities and children are left without means to safeguard their right to live free of violence or discrimination. We note with particular concern that the issues in the upcoming General Elections in India have been completely usurped by the rhetoric of war and ‘revenge’. We further urge the mass media in both countries to act with dignity, abide by fundamental principles and ethics of journalism and restraint instead of propagating fake and unverified news and fomenting conflict.
We urge the Indian Government not to equate an entire state with a terrorist outfit as this sets a dangerous precedent. Further, we urge the Government of India to move away from it’s narrative of blaming Pakistan for waging a ‘proxy war’ and instead acknowledge the root causes of this conflict: the legitimate demands of Kashmiris and the need for demilitarisation of Indian-held Kashmir. The Government’s policy in Kashmir in the last few years, including but not limited to use of pellet guns to blind and kill thousands of youth, have only resulted in exponential i ncrease in young Kashmiri boys joining armed insurgency. We condemn the refusal of the Government of India to excoriate attacks on Kashmiri civilians across India until over a week after the Pulwama terrorist attack. Meanwhile we have seen a growing environment of insecurity created for Kashmiris and Muslims across India. The Government of India must refrain from jingoism and take action to condemn with equal force the attacks on civilians based on ethnicity and religion just as much it condemns the terrorist suicide bombing. As South Asian feminists, we reiterate that peace,security and democracy of the entire region is linked to the just resolution of the Kashmir issue, through a process which centers the voices and democratic participation of Kashmiris themselves.
We urge the Government of Pakistan to investigate the human rights violations caused due to militarisation in regions like Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Pakistan’s use of militants as proxies to fight its wars and suppress dissent. The growing militarism and military surveillance and control of everyday lives of citizens notwithstanding, fundamentalism continue to exist and target religious minorities and women. Further, ex-militants have not been held accountable for their actions and in some instances have been allowed to contest in the electoral processes, while disbanded outfits have been allowed to regroup despite their unchanged extremist ideology. Importantly, we urge Pakistan government to also prioritise the concerns of Kashmiris in Pakistan-held Kashmir.
We ask both governments to:
1. De-escalate the current situation, prevent armed confrontation and ensure that rhetoric of hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism is curbed in both countries;
2. Adhere to international human rights and humanitarian laws and principles, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
3. Engage through democratic processes like bilateral peace talks across the Line of Control, especially given their responsibilities as nuclear-armed countries;
4. Accept United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 in good faith;
5. Accept the offer of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to engage in meaningful mutual engagement to maintain peace and stability in the region.
As the two largest countries in the subcontinent, both governments must aim to seek lasting peace solutions involving all parties and work together to achieve goals of peace, justice and sustainable development. We condemn any further actions from the both governments that escalates fundamentalism and disaffection among their citizens.
About APWLD Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) is a leading network of feminist organisations and grassroots activists in Asia Pacific. Our 236 members represent groups of diverse women from 27 countries in Asia Pacific. Over the past 32 years, APWLD has actively worked towards advancing women’s human rights and Development Justice. We are an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organisation and hold consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
For further information please contact Madhura Chakraborty:
By Gautam Dheer : A programme to create awareness about the rights of bride trafficking victims.
As 'purchased brides', they have lived a deprived life for years. Now, they have become 'survivor leaders'. They are out in the field, making their way in the face of adversity to square the circle of bride trafficking. Not one or two, but an army of.400 survivor leaders have become harbingers of change and are helping other deprived women live a better life. Their past and the hope for a better tomorrow unite the 'purchased brides' of Haryana.
Winds of change are blowing across the state as a greater number of these brides have become survivor leaders. Empower People, an NGO, is generating solidarity among trafficked brides living with their partners. The NGO is steadfast in providing a solution through organising these women into village communes. Such communes are currently active in the 252 villages of Haryana. Various district legal service authorities and NGOs have joined hands in achieving the objective of ensuring a self-reliant life for these unfortunate women.
Living in Multhan in Nuh, 30-year-old Sanjidha is one such survivor leader. She was relocated as a 'purchased bride' from Guwahati. "I don't know who brought me to Mewat. I was just 11 years old then," she told DH. Sanjidha is a volunteer with Empower People. an NGO, is generating solidarity among trafficked brides living with their partners. The NGO is steadfast in providing a solution through organising these women into village communes. With four children, she wants to focus on her mission to help other women like her. "I engage with other village women and make them aware of their rights. We tend to act as their support system. Our past binds us all," she said. Police have no clue Empower People's founder, Shafiq ur Rahman Khan, explains how sensitive the issue of 'purchased brides' is. He said it cannot be addressed at the level of police or any other enforcement agency. The police do not have statistics of bride trafficking, he said. "Many of these women have been staying with their partners without any legal validity of marriage.
Still, you cannot suddenly intervene and ask these women to walk out of the marriage. It's a complex issue he told DH. "We are attempting to create a mechanism that will address the issue," he said. "A majority of women in Haryana are trafficked for marriage and not for commercial or sexual exploitation."
These survivor leaders are trained and equipped with information to become change-makers. They hold awareness campaigns to stem the rot of bride trafficking. "One of the survivor leaders will be contesting the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana" Khan said.
Empower People representatives engage with local government and have been able to include issues of bride trafficking with government schemes and local welfare plans. "The survivors communes are trained to act as para-legal counsellors in their areas. They connect sufferers with the appropriate mechanism," Khan said.
Selfie with Daughter Foundation, another NGO, is leaving no stone unturned to restore the dignity of these women. The foundation has launched a campaign which says: 'Pardesi Bahu, Mahri Shaan' (Outside daughter-in-law, our Pride). "According to our estimates, in wake of the skewed sex ratio in Haryana, over the past decade, nearly one lakh women have been brought from other states. Most of them have been have been purchased," the foundation's director Sunil Jaglan told DH. Campaigns and awareness drives are being held in many villages, he said. Change-makers Survivor leader Marzina, a native of Assam, talks about the 24 'purchased brides' in her village, Khedli. She now goes around video recording the experiences of such women. "We help them in every possible manner," she said.
The formation of many community-based organisations (CBOs) at the grass roots, led and managed by these brides, remains central to the success of various initiatives. These CBOs act as an eye and ear of various stakeholders and help not just as support groups for the victims but also as reliable facilitators for their rescue and rehabilitation.
"We work in tandem to support law enforcement agencies and families of the victim," Khan said, adding that the communes run skill centres for the women. Empower People also runs a helpline in Assamese, Bangla, Hindi and English to help these women in distress.
But more serious problem to deal with at the ground level is of property and land rights for these women. Empower People is working in this direction to secure a future for these women. Another problem central to the crisis of bride trafficking is the future of the children of purchased brides. They suffer from identity issues. "It's a major concern," Khan said. These children belong 'no-where' and face discrimination.
Khan says, despite all claims, it is observed that many children do not attend school or receive basic support from the society.
Haryana's poor sex ratio is one of the reasons for this regressive practice. Aditya Parihar, a former research associate at Panjab University, said lack of income or occupation and fragmentation of land leading to decreased landholdings contribute to the crisis.
An eerie silence engulfs when one initiates a discussion on the life of the victims of bride trafficking in Morkhi village, around 225-km from Chandigarh, in Haryana. Across meandering narrow lanes strewn with cattle dung and open drain gullies, the villagers are unwelcoming if the discussions are around the women brought here from other states. This explains much about the rot that exists.
Women 'bought and brought' as 'purchased brides' from states across the country live in an appalling condition, suffering exploitation, both physical and mental, and doubling up as maids. They are referred to as a paro (outside woman) or molki, derogatory terms in local language, in scores of Haryana villages.
These women hate being called paros. But the name-tag seems inseparable and reflects their doleful predicament. 'Import of brides' is rampant in Haryana, which is infamous for bride trafficking. Worst still, it is fast becoming an accepted social norm in rural areas. An ear to the ground reveals the ugly part. "You can purchase a bride for as low as Rs 7,000, and a buffalo for Rs 70,000," they crudely say.
In most cases, 'purchased brides' become victims of unverified, unregistered marriages. They 'live a life on the fringes,' with no legal validity of marriage, which throws enormous legal complexities to deal with. Chronic bachelorhood or 'male marriage squeeze' as termed by sociologists is common in Jatland. Many men in the state are finding it difficult to find a partner mainly because of the gender imbalance. This is the main reason for purchasing brides from other states. Life sans dignity The Muslim-dominated region of Mewat in Haryana has a large number of 'purchased brides'. According to a sample survey in 56 Haryana villages where the problem is rampant, about 7% of women are purchased from other states and are living without any human rights.
Many like Abida (name changed) have been sold and resold multiple times. Hasina (name changed) living in Mewat has been 'married' several times and the men were twice her age in some alliances.
Abida's life explains how nexus operates. She was sold and married when she was just 15 years. She was brought from Maharashtra in 2012 by her maternal aunt on the pretext of marriage with a rich man from her community. Her groom turned out to be a 60-year-old who wanted a son from her. The purchase price was Rs 22,000.
He died in 2015, but Abida's ordeal had just begun. She wanted to go back but was sent to another man through a tout who said there was no escape as a price had been paid by her next buyer. After a few months, Abida was thrown out from the house. She returned to her first husband's house, where her brother-in-law forced her into a physical relationship. She again became pregnant and had to seek the intervention of judiciary to terminate pregnancy.
Morkhi village has in excess of 150 such women leading a miserable life. Villagers remain tight-lipped, unwilling to admit any crisis. But every house has a story to tell. Most of the women brought to Haryana are from Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Talking to DH, Prof Rajesh Gill, sociologist and coordinator, Centre for Excellence in Cultural Fixation and Honour (CPEPA-UGC), Panjab University, Chandigarh, said, in many cases it has come to light that paros are subjected to domestic violence, made to perform all household chores and are used as sex slaves. "These women don't get the status of a wife. They are purchased from other states and are kept at home. They don't have any legal marriage rights. These women are an exploited lot. They are not allowed to communicate with their families back home. They lose their name, identity and culture," Prof Gill said. There is also a prevalence of a trend towards polyandry, a report by an NGO, Empower People, points out. Last month, a minor bride purchased from Odisha by a man in Bhiwani district made an attempt to escape from the dungeons where these women are generally kept. She jumped off the man's house and was badly injured. Fortunately, she was rescued.
The Bhiwani man and his mother were arrested for buying a minor bride for Rs 2 lakh and keeping her hostage for two months.
This bold act is just an exception. Comprehending there is no possibility of escape, the 'purchased brides' in several regions of the state have accepted a highly subservient life as their destiny. As the victims grow old, life becomes intolerable for them. Marzina, 38, was forced into this vicious circle when she was 14 years. She was sold by her relatives in Assam. Her husband, who died in 2014, was 31 years older than her. "My marriage was not registered. I have no proof of marriage. I have daughters to nurse. My husband's family now wants to throw me out. They want to get rid of me, so they harass me every day," she told DH. According to a sample survey by an NGO working to square the circle, 35 out of 62 women interviewed were brought as brides when they were minors. One of them was just nine years when she got 'married'. "The number of women brought here as 'purchased brides' after they crossed 20 years is less," the report stated.
No longer a stigma Prof Rajesh Gill points towards a dangerous trend. "The conditions of victims of bride trafficking are so common in Haryana that it has almost become an acceptable norm. This trend being institutionalised is a scary development. It is no longer considered a stigma in villages."
So how does this whole business of purchasing girls as brides take place? There are touts in this trade of 'bride bazaars' who are experts in identifying the vulnerable people and striking a deal, said Aditya Parihar, at Centre for Social Work at Panjab University, who has documented 41 case studies of the victims of bride trafficking. "There are reference points in villages who remain active to look for potential customers for which they get a commission. They act as brokers. There are also some agencies, which organise such deals. In some cases, old 'purchased brides' become agents and bring girls from their home towns." In return, they get paid, in cash or kind. Once the deal is finalised, a visit is organised to the bride's native to create an impression that the marriage was solemnised. The prices are negotiated based on the woman's age, beauty and virginity. Villagers say that the price ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 for each deal.
A maximum number of deals is made through agents. Sources told DH that the national highway townships of Panipat and Sonipat are the main transit points for the trade. Truck drivers also act as middlemen.
In Haryana, trafficking happens in the name of 'marriage'. Poverty remains the common thread that binds all the girls brought from other states. According to an estimate, 23% of girls are trafficked to Haryana from West Bengal, followed by Himachal Pradesh which accounts for 17% of girls sold in the name of marriages. ~~~~~~~~~~~` Sunday February 24 2019
With no way to escape, victims live a miserable life
By Gautam Dheer
Families in Khedli village in Nuh district of Haryana are gearing up for the arrival of a new bride in the village around the month end. But Marzina, who lived all her life as a paro, shows no excitement. That's because she knows the new bride being brought to the village will be a paro. She knows that a price would have been paid to settle the deal. Marzina, a native of Assam, knows what it's like living a life on the fringes.
The son of her friend Salaha, she says, is physically challenged and has not been able to find a bride for himself. "Salaha and her son have gone to Bihar. They went through a contact," she confided. The new bride in the village, Marzina feared, will also live a doleful life, the one she has been living all through.
The crisis of purchasing girls for marriage looms in the state for long. The increasing acceptability and institutionalisation of sorts of this culture bestowing validity to such marriage deals is now turning to be a dangerous trend.
The process of purchasing brides through payment has long existed in Haryana. Some of these helpless women have been living in villages for over a decade. Take the case of Farida, who was 'bought' and brought from Hyderabad at the age of 25 and was made to marry a man nearly twice her age. For Farida, it was her first marriage and naturally, she had dreams of leading a happy wedded life. But that was not what destiny had in store for her. She was blinded from the fact that her husband had six children from his first marriage. Illusions and realities His first wife had died of tuberculosis and so the man needed a woman to take care of the kids and satisfy his sexual needs. His search for a local girl was unsuccessful which was when he came across a a middleman in Palwal in Haryana. A deal was agreed upon. Farida's family was poor and couldn't afford to meet the dowry demands of men in their area.
For them, the marriage proposal would not only help their daughter to have a better future but also brought them some monetary return. Eventually, the girl was brought to Mewat.
She had to toil like a servant at home and nurse her husband's six children for years. She was not allowed to visit her parents in Hyderabad. She came to know about their death only after a couple of years. "I was made to slog in the house like a maid and was addressed in derogatory terms. My dignity remained bruised all through," she rues. she was thrown out of the house after her husband's death. Today, Fatima struggles to meet ends without a space for living. Stories of inhuman treatment as a fallout of such unverified, unregistered marriage deals can be heard in every corner of these villages. A 35-year-old man in Haryana's Jhajjar could not find a bride for him despite all attempts. A 20-year-old woman was purchased from Bihar through a reference. The woman was at the mercy of the husband. She was kept as a sex slave to produce children. But she was asked to stay away from her children. While she was treated as a servant, she was not allowed to not allowed to come out of the house and interact with the villagers. She was kept under constant watch. After she gave birth to a son, the child was separated from her and given to her husband's elder brother's wife. This woman was termed mad and and worthless by her family. She still struggles to endure the pain.
Women like these, says Professor Rajesh Gill of the Department of Sociology, Panjab University, have adapted to life sans dignity. Years of enduring pain and insult have driven them to a point where they accept the violence and abuse on them and fail to resist, Prof Gill feels. In some cases, widows and abandoned 'purchased brides' are rehabilitated by social or government interventions. But those with children face enormous challenges. Bride hunters A report prepared by the Centers with potential excellence in particular areas, a scheme of University Grants Commission, and Department of Sociology in Panjab University, documents cases of 'purchased brides' in Haryana and Punjab. It illustrates the case of Saleem (name changed), who was married 20 years ago and has six daughters. Saleem, the report states, who purchased a bride for himself, now acts as a middleman for 'bride hunters'. The report elucidates: Saleem went to Bihar with a man who informed him that there was an eligible girl in his village whom he could get married. Saleem accompanied the man to Gaya in Bihar and stayed there for 15 days before marrying the girl. Saleem claimed that the whole expenditure on the wedding was borne by him and he also paid some amount to the middleman. Saleem said he then spent about Rs 5,000 for the marriage deal.
Saleem had four girls from his wife after which doctors told him that his wife could no longer be able to bear a child. But Saleem wanted a son, and so started to explore the possibilities of a second marriage. He went to Jharkhand and married a 30-year-old girl by spending about Rs 25,000 on the entire arrangement. Saleem, again, did not have a son from the second marriage.
The report states that his first wife was in acute depression, something which Saleem refused to acknowledge. Saleem used to badly thrash his first wife due to which she lost her mental balance, villagers were quoted in the report. The man used to hit her daughters as well, he gave talaq (divorce) to his first wife and even tried to sell her. He is now a middleman purchasing brides from Bihar and Jharkhand to the village in Haryana. Every village in the Mewat region of Haryana has a story to share, a story of betrayal, misery and helplessness. ~~~~~~~~~~~
On Thursday, the Vatican is hosting a summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse. Presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the globe will meet for four days, to listen to survivors and discuss the Church’s response. The main themes of the meeting are responsibility, accountability and transparency.
It is absolutely essential that women’s voices are represented at this meeting. Horrific atrocities perpetrated by Catholic priests have torn apart the wellbeing of families, of religious orders, of schools, and of parish communities. Women are not only members but leaders of these spaces. We have authoritative insight into the causes and effects of clerical sex abuse, as well as possible solutions. The Vatican must listen and respond to these insights if the Church is to begin the process of healing and restoration.
CWF Submissions to the Summit Toward this end, the Catholic Women’s Forum (CWF) has submitted a set of documents to the summit. CWF strives to amplify the voices of Catholic women within the Church and the culture, in support of the Catholic faith.
The Forum’s submissions represent women’s voices in three ways: A letter from Letitia Peyton, the wife of a deacon and mother of a 16-year-old boy molested three years ago by his parish priest in Louisiana (USA). Her letter is a moving reminder that the Church’s abuse crisis is not past history, but a present, terrible reality, please read HERE
The responses of 5,038 U.S. Catholic women who participated in a recent survey regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Our report, “Giving Voice to Catholic Women: A Survey of U.S. Catholic Women on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis,” offers a window into the hearts of Catholic women strongly committed to the faith and generous to the Church., please read HERE
The recommendations of experienced seminary professors (all women), whose document, “Sharing a Spirit of Discernment: Recommendations from U.S. Women Seminary Professors,” offers insights on strengthening seminary culture and formation, reducing clericalism, and fostering chaste celibacy, please read HERE
These three submissions were shared with the organizers of the summit, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Pope Francis. Additionally, they were shared with bishops from the U.S. and more than 40 countries.
I highly recommend that you read all three of them, for they contain unparalleled insight and wisdom.
CWF director Mary Rice Hasson writes: While these submissions do not claim to speak for all women, they offer the hierarchy a realistic, though painful, view of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, as seen through the eyes of Catholic women.
Protection of Minors: a journalist offers some advice
Mexican writer and journalist Valentina Alazraki (right) addressing the summit on the "Protection of Minors in the Church". (Vatican Media)
A veteran Vatican observer and journalist shares her views on why it is so important to report on clerical sex abuse, calling for trust on the part of the Church.
By Linda Bordoni
The last speaker to take to the podium at the Meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church” was Valentina Alazraki, writer and journalist with long-standing experience in Vatican matters.
Alazraki, who is Mexican, has reported on papal activities since 1974, travelling on 100 of Pope Saint John Paul II’s 104 apostolic journeys as well as all those undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI and by Pope Francis. She began her presentation, during the session dedicated to “Transparency”, explaining she had been invited to speak about communication, “in particular, about how transparent communication is indispensable to fight the sexual abuse of minors by men of the Church”.
“At first glance there is little in common between you, bishops and cardinals, and me, a lay Catholic without position in the Church, and also a journalist. However, we share something very strong: we all have a mother, we are here today because a woman begot us. Before you, I have perhaps one more privilege: I am first and foremost a mother. Therefore, I do not feel only as a representative of journalists, but also of mothers, families and of civil society. I want to share my experiences and my life, and - if I may - add some practical advice” she said.
Just as for a mother there are no first or second-class children, she said, there are no first and second-class children for the Church, underlining the fact that “Her seemingly more important children, as are you, bishops and cardinals (I dare not say the Pope), are no more so than any other boy, girl or young person who has experienced the tragedy of being the victim of abuse by a priest”.
Journalists are allies, not enemies To be able to fulfill her mission to preach the Gospel, Alazraki said, the Church needs a moral guide; “coherence between what one preaches and what one lives is the basis of being a credible institution, worthy of trust and respect”, an institution that reports crimes that may have been committed and follows up with credible procedures.
This, is where journalists are called into play, she continued, observing that they are allies – and not enemies – helping the Church “find the rotten apples and to overcome resistance in order to separate them from the healthy ones” and seeking the common good.
“We journalists know that there are reporters who are more thorough than others, and that there are media outlets more or less dependent on political, ideological or economic interests. But I believe that in no case can the mass media be blamed for having uncovered or reported on the abuse” she said.
Pointing out that “Abuses against minors are neither rumours nor gossip: they are crimes”, Alazraki told those present she would like them “to leave this hall with the conviction that we journalist are neither those who abuse nor those who cover up. Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice”.
Lack of communication is a form of abuse Alazraki went on to describe lack of communication as another form of abuse warning the bishops that the more they fail to inform the mass media and thus, the faithful and public opinion, the greater the scandal will be.
Communicating, she said, “is a fundamental duty because, if you fail to do so you automatically become complicit with the abusers”.
Take the initiative The journalist also invited the Church to be the first to provide information, in a proactive and not reactive way.
She observed that “In the age we live in” and with the prominence of social networks,” it is very difficult to hide a secret”, thus she said, “the Church has only one path: to concentrate on awareness and transparency, which go hand in hand”.
Invest in communications Alazraki invited those present to learn from past lessons and not to repeat the same mistakes. She urged them to embrace transparency, to put the victims in the first place, listening to them and sharing their pain.
She told them it is alright to seek advice and encouraged them to “invest in communications in all your ecclesiastical structures, with highly qualified and experienced individuals in order to address the demands for transparency in today’s world” and she invited Church organizations to communicate better and in a timely manner.
“I assure you that investing in communications is a very profitable matter, and is not a short-term investment; it is a long-term investment” she said.
Scandal of nuns and religious victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops Alazraki concluded her presentation by mentioning a different topic that, she says, puts us at the threshold of another scandal: that of nuns and women religious as victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. She noted it has been reported upon by the “Osservatore Romano” and acknowledged by Pope Francis himself.
“I would like that on this occasion the Church play offense and not defense, as has happened in the case of the abuse of minors” she said, “It could be a great opportunity for the Church to take the initiative and be on the forefront of denouncing these abuses, which are not only sexual but also abuses of power”.
I hope that after this meeting, she said, “you will return home and not avoid us, but instead seek us out. That you will return to your dioceses thinking that we are not vicious wolves, but, on the contrary, that we can join our forces against the real wolves”.
For more information on the Meeting on “The Protection of minors in the Church” and on Valentina Alazraki’s presentationHERE ~~~~~~~~~~~~ January 29, 2019
Called to Account: Inside the Feminist Fight to End Clergy Sex Abuse
by Angela Bonavoglia
Ms. was part of the early days of breaking the silence on clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In 1992, I reported on the abuse of Rita Milla, which began when she was a teenager in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and evolved over time to her being taken by a ring of priests to a hotel room that they rented by the hour. When I found one of those priests celebrating Mass in my own backyard at a Brooklyn parish and called the diocesan spokesperson to ask questions, I witnessed a real-time example of the church hierarchy’s modus operandi for dealing with abusive priests: He was swiftly transported to a parish in his homeland, the Philippines.
It would take another decade, until 2002, for The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team to expose the sickening extent of clergy sexual abuse of children in the Boston archdiocese and the criminal cover-up by church officials. That’s also when the country began to take note of a choir of survivors’ voices, led by an extraordinary woman, the late Barbara Blaine, who in the 1980s launched what quickly became the world’s major advocacy organization for victims: the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
In the intervening years, survivors filed and won lawsuit after lawsuit, which pried open secret church files, exposing criminal priests and the prelates who protected them. Survivors also led the charge in getting seven states and counting to temporarily lift civil statutes of limitations, allowing victims to file lawsuits, regardless of how much time had passed since their abuse.
Overall, the National Catholic Reporter estimated that the U.S. church paid out nearly $4 billion between 1950 and 2015 in costs related to the clergy sex abuse crisis. To date, an estimated 21 dioceses and religious orders have declared bankruptcy. In time, devastating reports by grand juries and attorneys general came out of Boston, New York, New Hampshire, Maine and two dioceses in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown). Evidence of the pattern of abuse and cover-up erupted worldwide, too, in news reports from the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Guam, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Germany, Chile, Canada and elsewhere.
But in 2018, events overtook the church hierarchy. And all hell broke loose.
The year began with Pope Francis’ ill-fated visit to Chile. The pope’s appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 had inspired angry protests from the local Catholic community, outraged over allegations that Barros had not only covered up but personally witnessed abuse of minors by Father Fernando Karadima. Chilean and global condemnation followed, which led Francis to a complete about-face: He met with survivors, ordered an investigation, apologized for his “serious mistakes” in assessing the country’s sex abuse crisis, and then summoned all the Chilean bishops to Rome, where he accused them of destroying evidence and playing chess with abusive priests, after which every Chilean bishop offered to resign. Francis finally began to accept resignations.
From Germany this past September came a report that some 1,670 Catholic clerics, almost all priests, were found to have abused 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014, a number the researchers deemed “a conservative estimate.” That report followed an extraordinary 17-volume 2017 Australian Royal Commission report on the sexual abuse of children in all of its institutions across denominations from 1950 to 2015. Catholic authorities reported having received claims of child sex abuse from 4,444 claimants. An Australian court ordered Australian Cardinal George Pell, appointed by Pope Francis to be his top finance minister, to stand trial on charges, which Pell denies, for his “historical sexual assault offenses.” According to press reports in December, Pell was found guilty, making him the senior most Catholic official to be convicted of child sex abuse.
From France came news that the archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, would stand trial in January along with several other clerics for allegedly failing to report child sex abuse to authorities. Here at home, Catholic-watchers were shocked by the precipitous fall of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the high-profile, high-powered former archbishop of Washington, D.C., over a credible allegation of abuse of a minor and charges of years of sexual misconduct with seminarians and young priests, including two cases involving adults that resulted in financial settlements.
Before we could catch our collective breath, the Pennsylvania grand jury released its stunning report revealing credible allegations of abuse by more than 300 priests of more than 1,000 child victims, though the report asserted the actual number was likely higher, “in the thousands.” Other states immediately began to announce their own investigationsat press time, 14 and counting.
In October came blockbuster news: The U.S. Department of Justice launched the first-ever federal investigation into sex abuse and cover-up by the leaders of the Catholic Church. In November, a Boston Globe-Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found that “more than 130 U.S. bishopsor nearly one-third of those still livinghave been accused … of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses,” and at least 15 “have themselves been accused of committing abuse or harassment.”
To fully understand this crisis, it is crucial to recognize that it is taking place in a church where women remain locked out of the governing structure, without voice, vote or power. Subservient and second-class, women have had little currency with the hierarchs, and this includes the mothers who came pleading for action on the abuse of their children.
Participants in women’s ordination are excommunicated, but not child rapists. While Catholic clergy promote “pro-life” causes worldwide, some have been known to impregnate underage girls and vulnerable women, including nuns pressuring some to have abortions or requiring new mothers to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for meager financial aid, if they get any aid at all. Today these theoretically celibate churchmenmany of whom have thwarted civil law for decades, abusing or shielding abuserslobby tirelessly to incorporate into civil law anti-woman, anti-choice, homophobic policies that even a majority of Catholics reject.
Despite polls like the Pew Research Center’s showing that 51 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances, and a Guttmacher Institute study showing that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of birth control (other than “natural family planning”) at some point in their lives, church leaders continue to substitute their draconian Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services for accepted medical standards, as well as the patient’s own religious and ethical beliefs, in their Catholic-owned and -affiliated health care facilities. Among the care prohibited by those health directives are contraception; condoms to prevent HIV transmission; sterilization, even if another pregnancy could be fatal; and abortion, which is “never permitted” and has been interpreted at times as forbidding termination of a pregnancy for a woman in the throes of a miscarriage, facing fever, infection and possible death, until the fetal heartbeat stops. From 2001 to 2016, the number of Catholic-owned and -affiliated acute care hospitals in the U.S. grew by 22 percent; they account for four of the top 10 largest health systems by hospital beds, which, in turn, depend on public monies (Medicare and Medicaid) to cover an average of 47 percent of patient charges.
In 2011, the USCCB put a new face on its long-standing opposition to reproductive health care and homosexuality with the creation of a Committee for Religious Liberty. Under that banner, they succeeded in pressuring the Obama administration to exclude abortion coverage from the essential benefits package of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Insisting that contraceptives and sterilization “are not ‘health’ services,” the bishops launched a full-scale attack on the ACA’s historic contraceptive mandate requiring that insurance companies cover all methods of Food and Drug Administration–approved contraception, without a deductible or copay.
If legal challenges (ongoing at press time) to the Trump administration’s new rules fail, any private, nongovernmental employera company, a nonprofit, a universitywill be able to claim a “religious exemption” or, with the exception of publicly traded companies, a “moral exemption” to providing birth control coverage. Obama-era rules protected a woman’s right to coverage; they required both religiously affiliated nonprofit employers and, as a result of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, closely held private companies to notify insurers of their religious objection so the insurers could provide the coverage directly. The new rules have no such requirement.
In part a response to the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage (the USCCB filed an amicus brief in opposition), discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ people in the name of religious liberty is taking new forms. Catholic Social Services in 2018 claimed that its constitutional right to religious freedom entitled it to a taxpayer-funded city contract to provide public foster care services, despite the fact that the agency is unwilling to comply with the city’s contract provision that prohibits discrimination based on characteristics like religion and sexual orientation. The case is being litigated with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The USCCB is among the conservative constituencies that want to put that principle that social service providers, for example, have both the right to discriminate and the right to public money and tax-exempt statusinto federal law in the form of the First Amendment Defense Act.
Developments like this are especially concerning given the amount of government funding that goes to Catholic agencies. According to The NonProfit Times Top 100 List, in 2017 two of the top five nonprofit recipients of government funding were Catholic: The largest recipient, at $1.3 billion (the only one to break the $1 billion mark), was Catholic Charities; the other, Catholic Relief Services, received $540.6 million.
Even as Catholic Church leaders lobby for these exemptions from existing law, a 2017 Public Religion Institute poll showed that most Americans support same-sex marriage, including approximately twothirds of white and Latinx Catholics. Observing the current church-state landscape, Catholics for Choice’s vice president Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe notes, “The bishops are working to enact Catholic teaching into law because they can’t get the Catholic faithful to follow them.” Sister Jeannine Gramick, cofounder of New Ways Ministry, a leading Catholic LGBT advocacy organization, agrees. Of the new religious exemptions, she says: “They’re a smoke screen to enable people to discriminate. [People] should work politicallywith their senators, representatives, locallyto prevent this kind of abuse. It’s an abuse of religion. It’s not religious freedom at all.”
Preventing the other abuse of religionmolesting children in the name of Godrequires similar action. “Protecting children from sex abuse is all politics,” says Hamilton, the law professor. “If you’re interested in protecting the vulnerable, you have to hold your elected representatives to account.” She contrasts the failed response of the federal government to the clergy sex abuse crisis to the response that came after revelations of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of female gymnasts. The legislators, she says, “almost immediately had [congressional] hearings and actually passed a law very quickly,” a mandatory reporting law that applies to amateur athletic governing bodies. By contrast, she notes, “The grip of religious lobbyists in Washington and in most state capitals is so tight that women’s issues, sex abuse survivors’ issues and LGBT issues fall to the wayside.”
David Clohessy, a survivor-activist long at Barbara Blaine’s side as national director of SNAP, now a volunteer, agrees on the actions that have to be taken: “Everyone should be leaning hard on secular officials, police, prosecutors, lawmakers, AGs and say again, ‘No institution can police itself, especially not a rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy.’” As to the future, he’s hopeful, he says, “despite the bishops, not because of them.” He sees a “new level of anger among the Catholic laity. … Before 2002, many of us felt like, Where is everybody? Why is no one paying attention? Since 2002, a lot of us have felt like, Where are lay Catholics? … Where is law enforcement? Both of those groups seem to be stepping up more now… I am grateful for every single outraged Catholic and every single police officer and prosecutor who spent time on this.”
He also reports having experienced a change over time in his feelings about the heart of SNAP’s workthe work with survivors. “I went from feeling nothing but sadness every time a survivor called,” he says, “to feeling sadness mixed with satisfaction and reassurance that this person will never, ever feel as alone, this person will never, ever feel as helpless again.”
That’s because SNAP is here. Outraged Catholics, attorneys general, gay and women’s rights activists are here. And they are all watching.
Angela Bonavoglia, former Ms.contributing editor, is the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.