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Global: As Laws fail, Female Foeticide widespread, led by Liechtenstein, China, Armenia & India Print E-mail

Monday  11 July 2016

Female Infanticide Worldwide: The Case for Action by the UN Human Rights Council


TRANSCEND Media Service

Releasing its report, “ Female Infanticide Worldwide” (Read in full HERE)  the first ever global study on the issue, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) stated that female infanticide for son preference due to variety of reasons is a worldwide phenomenon with 1.5 million female foetuses being aborted every year.

Analysing the available statistics provided by “CIA World Fact Book” on child sex ratio at birth, ACHR’s study ranked the top countries in the world on skewed sex ratio at birth as follows:

Rank              Name of the country         Sex ratio at birth

No.1               Liechtenstein                       126 males/100 females

No.2               China                                     115 males/100 female

No.3               Armenia                               113 males/100 females

No.4               India                                      112 males/100 females

No.5               Azerbaijan                           111 males/100 females

No.5               Viet Nam                              111 males/100 females

No.6               Albania                                 110 males/ 100 females

No.7               Georgia                                 108 males/100 females

No.8               South Korea                         107 males/100 females

No.8               Tunisia                                  107 males/ 100 females

No.9               Nigeria                                  106 males/ 100 female

No.10             Pakistan                                105 males/100 females

ii. Failure of the laws
The report stated that with the exception of South Korea, no other country has been able to reverse child sex ratio at birth in favour of the girls despite adoption of a number of laws and schemes. Several laws in China namely the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994,  Regulations on Administration of Technical Services for Family Planning of 2001  and the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China of 2002 prohibit sex identification of the foetus and sex selective abortions.  In India, the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) prohibits sex-selection or disclosure of the sex of the foetus “by words, signs or in any other manner” and prohibits sale of “any ultrasound machine or imaging machine or scanner or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus” to persons, laboratories, clinics, etc. not registered under the Act. In 2002, Nepal amended the Country Code (Muluki Ain) to allow abortion on medical grounds but prohibited sex selective abortions.  The Population Ordinance (2006) and Prime Minister Decree (2006) of Viet Nam prohibit all practices of antenatal foetal sex diagnosis and sex selection. A number of countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan have been debating legal measures to ban sex selective abortions.

“These measures of the governments have not been fully successful because of the easy access to ultrasonography and weak law enforcement. In China, ultrasound for pre-natal determination of sex can be done for as low as US$3 while entire ultrasound-plus-abortion package is available for about US$150 in India.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.

iii. Reproductive tourism and celebrities promoting sex selection through new technologies
The report highlighted ‘reproductive tourism’ for the purposes of sex selection through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other new technologies such as Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), and sperm-sorting as the next challenge to combat female infanticide. In Thailand where sex selection is not illegal, the Chinese, Indians, and the Eastern Europeans account for over 70-80% of the tourists visiting for purpose of reproduction and over 80% of PGD practices are undertaken for the purpose of sex selection and not for any medical purpose.

“Many celebrities from all over the world have been promoting sex selection of the foetuses through these new technologies and it has domino effects in societies having son preference”- further stated Mr Chakma.

 iv. Calls for UN action
“The growing surplus of men has dire consequences for the human race, among others, for causing trafficking of girls/women in the areas having shortage of women and trafficked women facing violence and discrimination.”- further stated Mr Chakma.

Lamenting that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fail to specifically refer to sex selective abortion as one of the harmful practices against women, Asian Centre for Human Rights described female infanticide as the worst form of gender discrimination and urged the UN Human Rights Council to review and discuss the impact of existing strategies and initiatives to address female infanticide and make effective recommendations and programme of actions to eliminate female infanticide and foeticide.

  Saturday July  09, 2016

India has company, worst sex ratio is in Liechtenstein

15 lakh foetuses aborted every year worldwide

  • A study by Asian Centre for Human Rights reveals that female infanticide is a worldwide phenomenon with15 lakh female foetuses being aborted every year

  • Liechtenstein has the most skewed sex ratio at birth at 126 males for every 100 females; China has 115 males per 100 females; and India 112 males per 100 females

  • Countries with intense gender discrimination are Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Albania, South Korea, Tunisia, Nigeria and Pakistan

By Aditi Tandon/Tribune News Service


New Delhi: While India and China top the global charts on the most skewed sex ratios at birth, preference for sons is emerging as a worldwide phenomenon with the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein posting the worst performance on the indicator.

A new study on the comparative status of nations on sex ratios at birth shows India has the fourth worst sex ratio in the world, behind only Liechtenstein, China and Armenia. The study by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, an organisation with special consultative status with the UN ECOSOC, analyses the impact of domestic anti-sex-selection laws to conclude that except South Korea, which used these laws to reverse the trend of low sex ratios, no other country achieved success.

The survey, “Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council”, unveiled today urges the UN to recognise skewed sex ratio as a harmful practice in its Sustainable Development Goals adopted for realisation by 2030.

“Female infanticide for son’s preference due to a variety of reasons is a worldwide phenomenon with 15 lakh female foetuses being aborted every year. India ranks fourth when it comes to the most skewed sex ratio,” says the study.

It reviews statistics provided by CIA World Factbook 2016 on child sex ratio at birth and ranks the worst 10 countries in the world on skewed sex ratio at birth. Nigeria and Pakistan have the ninth and 10th positions, respectively, on the table, while India and China share the dubious distinction of sex selection and abortions of female fetuses.

Biologically, normal sex ratio at birth (SRB) varies from 102 to 106 males per 100 females. Liechtenstein has the most skewed sex ratio at birth in the world at 126 males for every 100 females; China has 115 males per 100 females; Armenia 113 males per 100 females and India 112 males per 100 females. Other countries with intense gender discrimination are Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Albania, Georgia, South Korea, Tunisia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The report says several laws in China namely the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Regulations on Administration of Technical Services for Family Planning of 2001 and the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China of 2002 prohibit sex identification of the fetus but they haven’t helped.


India's dubious distinction in female infanticide

UN Human Rights Council UN Human Rights Council

In a first ever global study on female infanticide by Asian Centre for Human Rights, a Delhi-based NGO dedicated to protection of human rights, it has been revealed that preference of son over daughter is a major reason for female infanticide in many countries around the world. Dowry system in South Asia, which makes daughters an unaffordable economic burden, also contributes to female infanticide.

Titled Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council, the report makes a continent-wise analysis of infanticide patterns. It sets the tone by stating that 117 million girls demographically go missing due to sex-selective abortions, as claimed by the United Nations Population Fund.

Countries with the most skewed sex ratio at birth Source: CIA World Factbook 2016 Prevailing laws

Apart from the Law of the Peoples Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Beijing also has a Population and Family Planning Law of the Peoples Republic of China of 2002 that prohibits sex identification of foetus and sex-selective abortions.

In India, the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) prohibits sex-selection or disclosure of the sex of the foetus. It also prohibits sale of any ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus to persons, laboratories and clinics not registered under the Act.

Nepal, in 2002, amended the Country Code, Muluki Ain, to allow abortion on medical grounds and prohibit sex-selective abortions. Similarly, the Population Ordinance (2006) and Prime Minister Decree (2006) of Vietnam prohibit all practices of antenatal foetal sex diagnosis and sex selection.

Challenges still remain

However, weak law enforcement and easy access to ultra-sonography fail to curb this practice. According to the ACHR report, ultrasound for pre-natal determination of sex can be done for as low as US$ 2.6 in China. In India, ultrasound and abortion can be done for about $150 in India.

Moreover, sex selection through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other technologies such as Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS) and sperm-sorting has emerged as the next challenge towards curbing female infanticide.

Sex-selective abortion

Unfavourable sex ratio, according to the report, is a result of sex-selective abortion, childhood neglect of girls and infanticide. However, it emphasizes that only sex-selective abortion can affect the sex ratio at birth. As compared to Child Sex Ratio, the Sex Ratio at Birth is a more robust indicator of the extent to which sex-selective abortion is happening. The average SRB for the entire world is 101 males per 100 females. However, the ratio looks highly distorted in some countries, especially in India (110) and Liechtenstein (126).

China's preference for boys

Firstly, SRB in China is heavily skewed in favour of boy because the preference for son is deeply rooted in Confucian values. Secondly, when the one-child policy was introduced in 1980 to arrest population explosion, it ended up creating huge gender imbalance as the policy encouraged the expectant parents to do ultrasounds and undertake sex-selective abortions to ensure only boys were born. The SRB, which increased in China in the late 1980s, reached 117 in 2011.

South Korea: a success story

According to the ACHR report, South Korea is one of the very few nations where the imbalanced sex ratio has been reversed. While the introduction of ultrasound technology in the 80s saw a sharp rise in SRB from 109 in 1985 to 115 in 1994, the country introduced several measures that helped reverse the tide. By 2013, the SRB came down to 105.3.

Nepalese women under pressure to bear a son

According to a survey by a Nepal-based NGO, Center for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities, 81 percent women, whose first child was a daughter, prefer son. Some women also reported to have faced pressure to bear a son. Pressure, which is in the form of psychological abuse, mainly comes from husbands (42 percent) and mothers-in- law (41 per cent). The study found out that unsafe abortions are also carried out clandestinely.

Curious case of Liechtenstein

The data on Liechtenstein, taken from the CIA World Factbook 2015, puts the SRB at 126, which is by far the highest rate of sex imbalance in the world. This small European nation is faring worse than China (117.8), Azerbaijan (115.6) and India (110.5).


While the SRB in most African countries remained static at 103 or less in 2014, Nigeria and Tunisia have experienced a rapid increase in its SRB. From 103 boys per 100 girls in 1996-2008, Nigeria witnessed a rise to 106 boys per 100 girls in 2009-2014. Moreover, about 7,60,000 abortions occur annually in Nigeria despite restrictive abortion law. Tunisia, with 107 boy births to 100 girls, has the highest sex ratio at birth among all of the countries in Africa.

How is India trying to tackle female infanticide?

India has one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world. Declining number of female child population in the age group of 0-6 years from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. During the period 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914.

Apart from Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT Act) to address the issue of sex-selective abortion, India also enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971 to regulate access to safe abortions. The MTP Act of 1971, amended in 2002, allows abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has acknowledged that illegal abortions still outnumber legal abortions and thousands of women die every year due to complications resulting from unsafe abortions. According to the Population Research Institute, at least 12,771,043 sex-selective abortions had taken place in India between 2000 and 2014. It takes the daily average of sex-selective abortion to 2,332.

The under-reporting under the MTP Act has also been a problem.  In a bid to encourage families to have girl children, prevent female foeticide and educate the girl child, the government launched Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign in January 2015. It also launched several conditional cash transfer schemes such as Balika Samriddhi Yojana and Dhanalakshmi Scheme.

Reproductive tourism

In nations where gender selection is banned, people travel to Thailand, the US, Mexico and other nations where its legal to undergo PGD/ PGS. In Thailand, for example, the Chinese, the East Europeans and Indians form the majority of people (70-80 percent) preferring PGD. According to the Asian Law Institute, over 80 percent of PGD practices were undertaken for the purpose of sex selection.

Apart from Thailand, the US has also become the hub for such reproductive tourism. According to the report, hundreds of Australians started flocking to fertility clinics in the US when sex selection was banned. Singaporeans have also been going overseas, especially the US and Thailand, to choose their babies. (Courtesy: Down To Earth)


Pakistan: Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 fails to address rising acid attacks Print E-mail

 Pakistan ~ Sunday June 26, 2016  Ramzan 20, 1437 A.H

How to stop this corrosive violence

By Yasir Habib Khan

Easy availability of dangerous acids must be controlled to stop incidents of acid crimes mostly against women

Acid: Cheaper than water.

It was easy for Ahsan bin Rashid to buy sulphuric acid from a chemical market near Lohari Gate, Lahore, for as cheap as Rs15 per kg. No questions were asked about the buyer’s identity or the acid’s usability.

Rashid got the acid for his small retail shop in Mughalpura. “We sell acid to people but never ask customers who they are or what they want it for,” he says.

These acids are so strong that they cause body tissues to melt, often damaging bones, sometimes even dissolving them. Victims of sulphuric acid attacks seldom survive. Hydrochloric acid is used in cases of suicide. Yet, buying and selling dangerous acids is easy business. Other than sulphuric acid, corrosive substances like nitric acid and hydrochloric acid are marketed at cheap rates in small shops located in different parts of Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi.

Last week, acid crime attracted every one’s attention when a woman Shamim Bibi, a mother of four, doused her lover, Sadaqat, with acid after he refused to marry her in Multan. On June 21, the victim succumbed to 50 per cent burn injuries at Nishtar Hospital Burn Unit.

In another incident, some unidentified people stormed into the house of Amina Bibi, 22, in Salamat Colony, Harbanspura, and threw acid on her. In yet another incident, a mother, Tayyaba, 35, of Garaywala in Multan, after a clash with her husband, forced her two daughters Manahil, 2, and Hijab, 8, to drink acid before consuming some herself. Ruqayya Bibi and her daughter from Taranda Basharat village, Uch Sharif, were asleep when Shafiq threw acid on them. Both were hospitalised at the Bahawal Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur.

As per data provided by the Acid Survivor Foundation (ASF) Pakistan, a non-profit organisation working since 2006 to eradicate acid violence from Pakistan, between 2007 and 2015, there have been 512 victims of acid crime in South Punjab, 168 in Central Punjab, 20 in Sindh, 10 in Balochistan, 18 in KP and three in AJK.

The rate to acid crimes is the highest in South Punjab, where acid is widely used to cleanse seeds and in other procedures involved in cotton production.

“Its easy availability has made acid a poor man’s weapon which he uses to settle scores in a barbaric manner,” claims an ASF Pakistan official.

Dr Hamid Ansari, a senior faculty member of the Burn Unit and Plastic Surgery Department in Mayo Hospital, Lahore, confirms, “sulphuric acid is the most common cause of serious burns”.

Under the Poison Act (XII) of 1919, government issues licences for possession and sale of poisonous substances including acids but only for commercial purposes with conditionality. Its sale is limited to only industries relating to textile, tanneries, marble cleansing, iron-polishing, pesticides, pharmacy, batteries and others. There is strict ban on their sale without license.

But who cares?

In the wake of fragile enforcement and inspection system, people with criminal intent buy these acids without any fear.

“For the law to be foolproof, it needs immediate amendment,” says Nasir Khan, a legal expert on licensing. “There was a court ruling that pragmatic amendments to the law for regulating acid business may be enacted to prevent the rising incidence of acid attacks against women in the country. It snubbed the federal government for keeping the gaps in law unplugged.”

The surge in demand for UPS and lead batteries has increased the easy availability of acids in markets. In order to manufacture batteries, small places in residential areas have been converted into small factories where sulphuric acid is normally stocked. “There are hundreds of such units in streets in the length and breadth of Pakistan, where acid is stored in drums,” says Abid Ali, Programme Officer, Aurat Foundation, a non-government organisation working for women empowerment.

Acid-throwing was not considered a crime till six years back. “Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 recognised acid and burn violence as a crime against the state for the first time, with a fine of Rs1 million and life-time imprisonment,” says Zainab Qaisrani, Project Coordinator, ASF Pakistan.

According to her, the next target was to get the Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 approved that comprehensively deals with the regulation of sale and purchase of acids in the market. The bill is still pending.

The recently passed Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 is a glimmer of hope for women facing all forms of domestic violence but does nothing to check the sale and purchase of acid in open market.

The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) that aims to review the Punjab laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women, has not compiled reports and data on acid sale and purchase, legal and illegal.

Sonia Qadir, legal advisor PCSW, says commission does not have the mandate to draw out modalities and various TORs for acid business. However, under the first ever helpline and complaint mechanism, they have received 34,814 inquiries, “out of them, 26 are about acid burns.”

PCSW Punjab Gender Parity Report 2016 claims 6,505 cases of violence against women were reported with only 1 per cent conviction rate in 2015. Among them, 22 incidents of acid throwing were reported in Punjab.

It’s obvious that this nation needs political will to check this crime.

Pakistan: Women's emancipation urgently awaits politics & sociology purged of religion & patriarchy Print E-mail
 Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.

Special Report:

What needs to change

Making an attempt to see what needs to be changed for women (Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman)

This is not a token Special Report routinely done around women's day. Sitting in today's Pakistan, you cannot imagine anything else more important and worthy of discussion. The events of the last month or two have raised some serious questions about the status of women. The most pertinent ones that come to mind are: what is it that needs to change the mindsets and how will that come about.

The incidents are bizarre to say the least. The photograph of 16 year old Ambreen's charred body in a burnt van in Doongagali was followed by two more incidents of burning of young women in the name of honour. Alongside came the instances of two parliamentarians who insulted their women addressees in a manner that left one bewildered if this was better or worse than being burnt alive. In between came the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) with its own "light beating" solutions for wives and other similar nonsense.

That's how botched up our attitudes are towards women, where harassment and violence feed into each other. For each progressive and women-friendly law that is passed, there is the CII issuing most retrogressive directives to the parliament. Somehow, the discussion is centred more on the CII's controversial statements that are understood to have religious sanction, putting the state and the governments on the defensive.

Clearly, something must change, in the attitudes, in mindsets, that is. The laws are there but nobody seems to care. Do we need to change something in the law to address this impunity for killing in the name of honour? Will that law still be bypassed or misused, and the perpetrator let free by entering into a compromise?

One particular institution that we have focused on is that of political parties. Ironical as it may seem, considering the level of insults hurled by the parliamentarians themselves (at least one of whom belongs to a party that is presumably going to be headed by a woman) we still think the change has to come at the level of political parties.

We have also tried to look at the contribution of women rights movement in the country and what more could it do. This movement was spearheaded by women who raised their voice against victimisation, discrimination and violence when the odds weren't in their favour. They effected laws, they raised voices against discriminatory laws, they tried to change attitudes and yet these seem like two steps back.

Something needs to change. This Special Report is an attempt to just bring the people to realise this.

"The religious character of the constitution will have to give way to secular inclusivity of rights, equality, and equity," concurs Rehmat adding, "An aggressive affirmative action streak in favour of women should underline all laws and curriculum, government policies and legal languages of the constitution and laws be "purged of the image of subservience between genders".

 Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.

What needs to change

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

"With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology are rigged against the emancipation of women," analysts share their views

Why do Pakistani men hate their female counterparts so much? They hate them at home, in the market place, on TV and even in the air conditioned sanctum of the parliament? "And they hate them with an intensity that borders on the passionate," says media and political analyst, Adnan Rehmat.

They dole out the most horrendous and barbaric punishment anyone can imagine ­ from acid attacks to forcing them to marry, to handing them over as retribution in the form of vani and swara. They may be stoned or flogged; even raped and gang-raped and if that is not enough then murdered but before that burnt alive.

Side-by-side these "real" world crimes committed against the women is the technology related violence meted out on them which is not on the radar. They are stalked, bullied and blackmailed.

Add to that the daily fare of a volley of verbal sexist abuse thrown at them by husbands, brothers, fathers and now even political leaders, that too, in full public view.

"The spate of violence ­ both physical and verbal ­ against women in Pakistan reported over the last few weeks is bad even by Pakistani standards," says Rehmat, pointing to the recent "burning" of women for wanting to marry of free will; "misogyny in statements" by members of the cabinet; "catcalling" fellow women legislators and use of "uncouth language by a religious party senator" as well as attempted physical assault on a woman panelist on a talk show.

Why did young Zeenat Rafiq of Lahore have to fall in love and elope to get married to a person her family did not approve of? She had to be made an example by being burnt alive; a week before 19-year old Maria Sadaqat, was murdered in Murree by a group of men for refusing to marry the son of the owner of a school where she taught.

Then Khawaja Asif, the Defence Minister of Pakistan who is also the minister of water and power, put his mask down when he ridiculed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader, Dr Shireen Mazari, for her appearance and voice in front of the parliament.

The heat had not even settled on Asif‘s unwarranted ranting when Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam's (Fazl) senator, Hafiz Hamdullah, attacked rights activist Marvi Sirmed in a talk show in what nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy termed a language "laced with sexual filth".

"When even parliamentarians can do this publicly, it underscores the decreased dignity accorded to women in today's hyper-religious environment," says Hoodbhoy, a public intellectual.

To classical dancer, Sheema Kirmani, one way to end violence against women is to make Pakistan a secular society. "Remove religion from public life and the state and make religion a private matter," she says emphatically.

But many say violence against women in Pakistan is nothing new. Between 2014 and 2015, nearly 933 people, mostly women, were killed for honour in the country, according to official figures provided by the Ministry of Human Rights in 2015. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported 1,096 cases of honour killing during the same period.

There is a growing display of "callous disregard for the rights of women and downright maleficent behaviour by senior representatives of government and parliament," says Rehmat.

"Despite gallant movements by women to resist this tide of misogyny, the country's overtly patriarchal character is being reinforced by indirect support from the government's indifference to suffering of women," he says.

"With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women," he explains.

"It is difficult to end this violence as it suits men and women will continue to suffer," laments Dr Shershah Syed, renowned obstetrician and gynecologist.

"Religious leaders believe that women are there to serve and please men and no other role is acceptable," says Syed, who often treats young girls brought to him with severe injuries to their genitalia and pregnant women beaten up blue and black.

"And it's in keeping with Council of Islamic Ideology and other Islamist thought ­ that women cannot have a role in public sphere. They must be wives only ­ and that too obedient to men else they'll be beaten," says Afiya Zia, a feminist researcher-scholar.

"Little wonder then that the average person believes that giving equal rights to women will overturn the status quo and to counter this they resort to their comfort-zone influence over women's futures and fates as arbiters instead of facilitators," says Rehmat.

But associate professor, Kausar S. Khan, who heads the Division of Behavioural and Social Sciences at Karachi's Aga Khan University, finds hope in the ongoing protests by the civil society.

Protests there may be, but where are the Pakistani men? asks Zia. "Why don't masses of men come out saying they condemn the idea of beating wives or boycott the channel on which women are abused," she says, referring to the recent Marvi Sirmed vs Hamdullah altercation.

Zia also has problem with armchair protestors who "only tweet or issue statements" from the safety of their living rooms.

"Where is their presence and why aren't they challenging these criminals?" she asks, adding, "Simply venting on social media is beyond ineffective ­ it's self indulgent." She mourns that Pakistani women have "very few defenders".

"We must not allow ourselves to be dragged into the quagmire of despair and lament," says Khan. She believes there is a need to assess the psyche of the perpetrators to understand them before violence can be stopped.

"Those who abuse, kill and maim women have a peculiar psychology that needs to be fathomed in order to curtail it."

The Pakistani law may allow a woman to marry of her choice, Islam may give the woman a right to choose her spouse, but cultural norms and traditions do not. So, while the world may be in the 21st century, in the mind of Pakistani men, women must continue to lead the life as in the 18th century.

"People are confused that, on the one hand, there is progressive legislation and, on the other, such horrific brutality," says Zia, but adds that it is not a contradiction, it's complimentary.

"Women break boundaries now ­ more working, more marrying of their own will, more vocal in the parliament and defying male rules and codes in homes and communities. And the state is legally bound to protect them. So the only way men can deal with controlling women like in the past or regaining control is by punishing defiant women themselves," she explains, citing American author and journalist Susan Faludis' warning of a "backlash" (incidentally also the title of one of her books).

"This violence is to send the message that women who don't fall into line will be punished by men as representatives of God even if the state won't take action," says Zia.

Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the HRCP agrees with Zia. "I believe patriarchy is feeling threatened by the progress (even if slow) that women are making and the courage they are showing in asserting some rights (such as the right to choose a marriage partner)."

But what Yusuf finds beyond shocking is mothers' involvement in killing of daughters.

To add insult to injury, Pakistan government's official religious council ­ the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) that enjoys financial favour with the government which allocates a whopping Rs100 million annually has fanned violence perpetrated against women by coming up with misogynistic recommendations on the role of women in society.

The latest suggestion being that it is alright for husbands to "lightly" beat their wives if they turn down sex. They even want the minimum age of marriage to be lowered to as young as nine if a girls shows "visible" signs of puberty.

Zia finds such pronouncements "extremely dangerous" because they "offer moral impunity". "Those who say these statements are innocuous or redundant or are in denial," she warns.

Hoodbhoy, on the other hand, has observed that while Pakistan's English-speaking elite may have responded with "righteous indignation" to the bill sanctioning the "light" beating of "wayward" wives, with the focus of its ire as CII's chairman, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, they have "studiously stayed clear of interpreting those verses of the Quran that apparently justify such punishment".

Further, he observes, that CII's proclamations have not evinced a particular negative reaction from either Urdu newspapers or ordinary people. "This suggests that Sherani's views are scarcely different from those commonly accepted," he says and concludes, "Clearly, the premises behind today's patriarchal society are not under significant challenge."

To classical dancer, Sheema Kirmani, whose theatre and dance company promotes the plight of women and suppressed minorities, one way to end violence against women is to make Pakistan a secular society. "Remove religion from public life and the state and make religion a private matter," she says emphatically.

"The religious character of the constitution will have to give way to secular inclusivity of rights, equality, and equity," concurs Rehmat adding, "An aggressive affirmative action streak in favour of women should underline all laws and curriculum, government policies and legal languages of the constitution and laws be "purged of the image of subservience between genders".

 Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.

Chronicle of a movement

By Enum Naseer

While legislation in favour of women is the result of continuous hard work of women's rights organisations, a lot remains to be done
Protesting for a just cause.

In just a matter of days, in addition to a display of misogynistic attitudes both in the parliament and on national television, there have been incidents of horrific violence against women in Murree, Lahore, and Kasur. Completely out of touch with the changing environment ­ the dynamics of urbanisation and globalisation that have increased women's mobility and participation in the public sphere ­ are the conservative rightwing.

"When it comes to violence against women, the state has had a history of being complicit. Why have we gotten to this point? It is because the state has provided men impunity and all of a sudden, that is being challenged," says Nabiha Meher Shaikh, a member of Women's Action Forum.

"Having said that, it would be unrealistic to expect NGOs to do all the work," she adds.

"I think Shirkat Gah has been the most successful. They have been around for so long and they were probably the first proper ‘feminist' organisation and a sort of mother organisation. Women's Action Forum was born later and was very successful too in Sindh and Hyderabad," she points out.

"At the moment, the organisation is still actively engaged in bringing about change. Then there is Aurat Foundation which is now more or less engaging the media through numbers and statistics (this leaves a lot more to be desired). Simorgh, [another women's rights NGO] has been working on textbooks and education and gender sensitivity," she adds.

"It is only in the past 10 years or so that the focus has been on changing mindsets which is a great change in itself. The impact of this has been quite massive," she says.

"It was during the PML-N's government in the 1990s when a huge number of honour killings took place and it is during the same party's tenure that we are now condemning honour killings after Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's documentary film. I think the movement has been very successful in changing people's minds and motivating women to stand up for themselves even in the face of violence," she comments.

Sonia Qadir, Legal Advisor for Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), agrees that there has been a change in society's mindset. "We are definitely seeing change in attitudes, in the echelons of government, amongst civil society organisations and activists as well as ordinary women," she says.

Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), adds that the changing attitudes are also the result of international pressures.

"After being awarded the GSP Plus status, for instance, Pakistan has to comply with 27 international conventions and among them, 2 deal with human rights ­ ensuring women's rights are protected is important, for many reasons," she says.

But, according to her, that is just one aspect of the situation.

"The results you see today in the form of Criminal Amendment Act of 2006, legislation against acid-throwing, Hindu Marriage Bill, and even the fact that cases related to hudood (despite the myth that these laws could not be touched) are almost disappearing is the result of the hard work of MPAs, women's rights activists and women's rights organisations," she argues.

"While things did slow down after the Hudood laws were implemented, women have, by and large, been alert about protecting their rights," she believes.

Qadir seconds the notion that women are increasingly showing "a willingness to come forward and speak up, and be informed about remedies available to women." In fact, she says, "it is not just women who reach out to the commission ­ often it is male relatives, and sometimes neighbours or other acquaintances, who do so when they see violence against women."

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of PCSW, recalls that compared to when the commission started its helpline, the number of calls today has shot up considerably. "It all depends on the capacity of the organisation and word-of-mouth referrals that give people confidence. It seems like a no-brainer but in experience you feel that dedicated institutions and dedicated positions do have a huge role in women's empowerment agenda in the government and in the society at large," she says.

Whenever there are institutions for redressal ­ both men and women end up using them. By virtue of our mandate, this is what we are supposed to do ­ for the commission, for instance, it's not just policy and legislative review but also about changing perceptions," asserts Viqar.

Commenting on the violent backlash that victims face after they seek help, Qadir says, "Fear of backlash (especially harassment from perpetrators and their families) is substantial, and for this there are few remedies in our legal system. If women take a case to court, they have to be able to afford the fee, face mobility issues, social stigma, and harassment from police and lawyers, besides harassment from the accused." She understands that "hesitance to report is not only a factor of traditional values, but a practical observation of the hurdles women face."

She underlines the importance of having "government infrastructure, and civil society organisations, available for the protection of women. Because women often do not have other kinds of support networks readily available".

Differences in mindsets and leanings can even be seen from the disparity between provinces as they legislate on women's rights. In provinces like Sindh, that has seen the most progressive reforms on women's rights, "there is a strong, progressive and secular element" according to Justice Rizvi as opposed to provinces like Punjab and KP. Change is imminent, she believes, but it will take time and a combined effort.

 Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.

Misunderstanding women, deliberately

By Adnan Rehmat

For no good reason, the events of the past few months suggest a wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate

Women generally have it bad in Pakistan but there is a growing display of callous disregard for the rights of women and downright maleficent behaviour by senior representatives of government and parliament that can only result in – indeed is resulting in – wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate. Almost as if women were offenders rather than victims.

And, yet, according to the government's own figures, three out of four girls don't get schooling beyond primary level. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has for several years now been reporting hundreds of women killed every year in the name of honour. Men's honour of course, never women's.

And the news in Pakistan these past few months have been especially bleak. Several instances of girls burnt alive by their families for marrying for love and awarded as compensation by communities for sins of their male family members. A noted rights activist, a woman, shockingly browbeaten and cussed at on television by a male senator belonging to a religious party allied with the government. Two male ministers of the federal government unabashedly caricaturising – in the National Assembly and at a press conference later – an opposition parliamentarian, also a woman. Several religious parties successfully obstructing a law passed by Punjab Assembly from being activated to shield women against violence at home. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government seeking the help of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for advice on a similar law and being advised to tone it down and accepting it. The CII proclaiming that beating up wives is kosher, that scientific method of using DNA to determine culpability of rapists is haram and that legislating against child marriages is a conspiracy against Islam because girls as young as nine are eligible for matrimony.

It is shocking how much Pakistani men in particular and the patriarchal society, the urban macho legislatures and the virtually gender-blind policymaking echelons of the governments and state in general hate women. Perhaps nothing shocks more than what has been happening in the country's bicameral national parliament, which is perhaps the best barometer of what the country and its representatives think and prioritise.

In many ways, the performance of parliament, supposedly the check on a wayward government, has been found wanting when it comes to defending, strengthening and enforcing the rights of women. Worse, the parliament is guilty of being dismissive of the role that women in the House have played in furthering the agenda of human rights in the country. It is the same house where ministers deride women with almost gleeful abandon – Sheikh Rashid commenting on Benazir Bhutto, Khawaja Asif on Shireen Mazari and Mahnaz Rafi, Talal Chaudhry on Shireen Mazari, Abid Sher and Shaikh Aftab on Shazia Marri, and so on.

Currently there are 70 women MNAs making up for 20 per cent of the total representation in the House of 342. In the Upper House there are 19 women senators making up for 18 per cent of the total representation in the House of 104. Overall, 89 women make up for 18 per cent of the total membership in bicameral parliament. According to data from Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), in the last completed parliamentary year for National Assembly (June 2015 to February 2016) and Senate (March 2015 to March 2016), women legislators constituting 18 per cent of the combined members of both houses accounted for 44 per cent of the agenda of both houses ­ a whopping three times the proportion of their representation.

With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women.

Considered in the context of how the social, political and economic systems are inherently rigged against emancipation of women in Pakistan, this performance in the parliament by them more than negates any assertions of pretentions by the state and its polity at who delivers more when opportunities present themselves ­ men or women.

The stated agendas of development and progress outlined in the manifestos of political parties ring hollow when measured up to translated gains. The yawning gap between promise (at the elections) and performance (three years in power for PML-N and JUI in Centre, PML-N in Punjab and Balochistan, PPP in Sindh and PTI and JI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) is precisely because emancipation and empowerment of women have never been part of policymaking and governance.

Among many reasons for this is perhaps the fact that women do not constitute even five per cent of the memberships of the central executive committees of these political parties, or even three per cent of the memberships of the federal and provincial cabinets. Or the fact that, in general, the leadership of the political parties feel they are not obliged to attend parliament ­ their day job!

According to Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Training (Pildat), in the last completed calendar year (2015), the PM attended only 20 per cent of the National Assembly sittings and Imran Khan only two per cent. With their leaders not even showing up for work, what would you expect from their male colleagues, in general?

In the provincial assemblies, shockingly Punjab CM attended only two sittings (less than 1 per cent), KP CM only 34 per cent while Balochistan CM Dr Malik faring only somewhat better at 63 per cent and Sindh CM at 71 per cent. In short, almost no one is interested in making women part of the development policies ­ either as practitioners or beneficiaries.

Media – while not part of the government – is also part of the problem. This is the chicken and egg situation. Which came first – negative portrayal of women by media or negative treatment of women by society? Theoretically media is the guardian of public interest and is supposed to serve as the voice of the voiceless and supposed to bring to account government policies and state priorities to ensure the marginalised communities and underdogs have protections against discrimination.

Women are not a minority and yet they are marginalised wantonly and widely.

It is hard to discern any exceptional efforts made by media in Pakistan to promote women's rights as priorities to focus on even though the media never shies away from reporting the subjugation and strident discrimination against women and sensationalising the discourse around it. If the media cannot aggressively champion the cause of women, it is failing in its primary duty. It does not help that less than 750 of the 18,000 journalists in Pakistan are women, according to Freedom Network, Pakistan. This is too insignificant a ratio to address gender bias in news and opinion perspectives since male journalists, in general, are simply not interested in championing women's interests.

As for why Pakistani men hate women with an intensity that seem to border on the passionate? With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women. With both state religion and cultural sociology regarding women on the basis of their biological functions rather than their sociological rights, both the legal framework and its attendant implementation mechanisms make sure women remain second-class citizens at best.

Little wonder then that men believe that effectively giving equal rights to women will overturn the status quo to their peril and to counter this they resort to their comfort-zone influence over women's futures and fates as arbiters instead of facilitators.

US: Supreme Court strikes down 2013 Law aimed at closing majority of Texas's abortion clinics Print E-mail
 Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A22

A Major Victory for Abortion Rights


  (Lilli Carré)
In the most significant victory in a generation for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas’s harsh and dishonest anti-abortion law by a vote of 5 to 3.

The justices’ reasoning in overturning the law applies to hundreds of other attempts in recent years by Republican lawmakers around the country to restrict or destroy constitutionally protected reproductive rights.

While the decision was unquestionably correct, the vote should have been unanimous. The 2013 Texas law ­ which forced abortion clinics and their doctors to meet absurd, pointlessly strict medical standards ­ was the textbook definition of what the court had prohibited in a major 1992 ruling on abortion: “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”

In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court relied on that earlier decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, to invalidate the requirement that abortion clinics meet the strict equipment and staffing standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and that doctors working at those clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Because “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Breyer wrote, both violate the Constitution by placing “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”

The admitting-privileges requirement has no bearing on the level of care that a woman receives, and Texas could not provide any evidence that it does. Likewise, the strict surgical standards are unrelated to the actual risk of complications stemming from a legal abortion, which is among the safest medical procedures. Texas does not, for instance, impose such standards on many riskier procedures, including colonoscopies, tonsillectomies and liposuction.

If there were any lingering doubt that the point of Texas’ law was to make safe and legal abortions nearly impossible to obtain, it was dispelled by the declarations of top state officials. The former governor Rick Perry, in pushing for the law, said it was one step toward an “ideal world” where there was no abortion. Immediately after the State Senate passed its version of the law, known as SB5, David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor at the time, posted a map on Twitter showing the expected closure of most abortion clinics across the state. “We fought to pass SB5 through the Senate last night, and this is why!” he wrote.

Both men knew what they were talking about: More than half of the state’s roughly 40 abortion clinics, unable to meet the admitting-privileges requirement, closed ­ 11 on the day the law was enacted. Had the justices upheld the entire law, as few as seven clinics would have remained, all in major metropolitan areas. Hundreds of thousands of women living in the vast rural stretches of Texas have already been forced to travel great distances to exercise their constitutional right. This actually increased the health risks of abortion, since women in this position are more likely to choose illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a concurring opinion, “it is beyond rational belief” that the law “could genuinely protect the health of women.” Beyond rational belief, perhaps ­ but not beyond the polemics of Justice Samuel Alito Jr. In a lengthy dissent, Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas, offered unconvincing explanations for clinic closures. Perhaps, he postulated, older doctors in those clinics had decided to retire ­ on the very same day.

For years, the court has looked the other way as lawmakers around the country have grown increasingly bold in their efforts to weaken or obliterate a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Versions of the Texas law are on the books in 23 other states, and other laws have tried to block abortion rights even more directly ­ for instance, by banning all abortions six weeks after conception, when many women don’t even know they are pregnant.

Monday’s ruling should spell the end for many if not most of these regressive, unconstitutional laws.

 Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A23

The Facts Win Out on Abortion

By Linda Greenhouse

 Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Monday. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

SOMEONE landing from Mars on Monday and coming upon Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s majority Supreme Court opinion in the Texas abortion case would have had no hint of the decades-long battle over women’s right to abortion and the dogged efforts by states to put obstacles in their way.

There is no poetry in the 40-page opinion, which strikes down a Texas law that would have closed most abortion clinics in the state in the name of protecting women’s health. The dry, almost clinical tone could scarcely be more different from the meditative mood the Supreme Court struck the last time it stood up for abortion rights, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 24 years ago this week. “Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt” was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s mysterious opening line in that opinion.

There was no mystery in what the five justices in the majority, crucially including Justice Kennedy, accomplished this time, nor in the decision’s impact. By holding the state’s asserted rationale for its clinic-decimating regulations up to the light and finding it specious and counterproductive, the court has shut down one of abortion opponents’ main recent strategies: enacting “targeted regulation of abortion providers” laws that impose on doctors who perform abortions special restrictions not placed on doctors who do procedures of equal or greater risk.

“Specious” is my word, not the court’s. Justice Breyer was careful not to call out the Texas Legislature for placing a health-related veneer on laws whose true intent is to make access to abortion more difficult. Judges are extremely reluctant to accuse legislatures of acting in bad faith, and Justice Breyer didn’t have to do that. He simply had to show, carefully and methodically, the “virtual absence of any health benefit” from requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals or requiring abortion clinics to retrofit themselves as mini-hospitals at huge cost.

Why does the absence of a health benefit matter? Because, as suggested in Casey and made explicit here, a court confronting a state-devised obstacle to abortion has to balance the burden the law imposes against the benefit it provides. Not the benefit the state claims for it ­ we’re only trying to protect women’s health, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, and attorney general, Ken Paxton, avowed lamely on Monday ­ but the benefit the law actually conveys. In the decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, evidence-based medicine meets evidence-based law.

The logic of the opinion is so clear as to seem self-evident; indeed, two of the three dissenters, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., didn’t even try to confront it, arguing instead and at length that the clinics’ appeal was flawed for procedural reasons. The Casey decision established the “undue burden” standard for judging abortion laws, and the word “undue” itself implies a comparison: undue as compared to what? The answer: An undue burden is one that outweighs a benefit.

But the almost laughably conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit didn’t understand it that way in the decision that the Supreme Court overturned Monday. That court rebuked the district court judge, Lee Yeakel of Austin, Tex., an appointee of President George W. Bush, for having the nerve to insist on evidence for the state’s health-related claims. “In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the court. In an earlier phase of the case, another Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Jones, declared that the court would defer to the Legislature even if the law was based on “rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

Those days are now over. The provisions of the Texas law, Justice Breyer concluded, “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”

Although nearly one- third of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime, a goal of abortion opponents has been to carve out abortion practice from ordinary health care, to ghettoize and delegitimize it. Those days are now over, too. Singling out abortion for regulation that can’t be justified on medical grounds is unacceptable, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized in a concurring opinion.

When I first read Justice Breyer’s opinion, my sense of relief struggled against a feeling that something nonetheless was missing: not necessarily the aspirational rhetoric of the Casey decision but some explicit acknowledgment of what it means to women’s equality and dignity not to be trapped in an unwanted pregnancy.

Then I realized that while the court in Casey called upon “the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution,” it didn’t really work out. Maybe, after all, this is not a moment for poetry, but for facts. There’s not much in Justice Breyer’s opinion that’s quotable. But there’s not much that’s debatable either, and that’s what matters.
 Monday JUNE 27, 2016

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that would have severely limited abortion access in the state. Activists outside the Supreme Court reacted to the news.

WASHINGTON ­ The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed and strengthened constitutional protections for abortion rights, striking down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have drastically reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state, leaving them only in the largest metropolitan areas.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. It found that Texas’ restrictions ­ requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers ­ violated Casey’s prohibition on placing an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.

If Casey limited the right established in Roe, allowing states to regulate abortion in ways Roe had barred, Monday’s decision effectively expanded that right. It means that similar requirements in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion. It is also sure to energize anti-abortion forces and make abortion a central issue in the presidential campaign.

The decision concerned two parts of a law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers in Texas signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

One required all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“We conclude,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

In the Casey decision, he joined Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter in a joint opinion that reaffirmed the core of Roe v. Wade. But Justice Kennedy’s reputation as an abortion rights champion had otherwise been undeserved, said David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, as Casey was the only case in which he had found an abortion restriction unconstitutional in his 28 years on the Supreme Court.

Professor Cohen said Justice Kennedy’s vote in Monday’s case was a puzzle. He may have been swayed by the burdens placed on women having to drive hundreds of miles to obtain abortions, Professor Cohen said, or by the lack of medical evidence justifying the restrictions ­ or both.

Many states have enacted restrictions in recent years that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion, and the ruling in the new case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274, enunciated principles that will apply to all of the ones said to be justified by a concern for women’s health.

In a message posted on Twitter, President Obama said he was “pleased to see the Supreme Court reaffirm” that “every woman has a constitutional right to make her own reproductive choices.”

Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, said, “The court is becoming a default medical board for the nation, with no deference being given to state law.”

The Texas law was passed in 2013 by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and turned a Democratic state senator, Wendy Davis, who conducted an 11-hour filibuster against the law, into a national political star.

Last June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, largely upheld the contested provisions of the Texas law, saying it had to accept lawmakers’ assertions about the health benefits of abortion restrictions. The appeals court ruled that the law, with minor exceptions, did not place an undue burden on the right to abortion.

Justice Breyer said the appeals court’s approach was at odds with the proper application of the undue-burden standard. The Casey decision, he said, “requires that courts consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”
Australia: Forget Equal Pay - truth instead women pocket significantly less money in today's economy Print E-mail
 Friday June 9, 2016

Australia's top 10 jobs with the biggest gender pay gap revealed

By Jessica Irvine

Video: 'I'm really happy to put career first'
Account director Betsy Oyler would like to see more young women fight for better pay and the jobs they want.
Everyone knows the gender pay gap is just a myth, right? Once you control for experience, seniority, hours worked and the industries they work in, women receive equal pay for equal work. So what are we ladies yapping about?

Dismissing the gender pay gap has become fashionable of late.

It's true there are a lot of measurement issues when it comes to calculating the true size of the pay gap between men and women for work of equal value.

: Female barristers face the biggest hurdle in gaining equal pay. (Jessica Shapiro)

But what remains overwhelmingly true is that women pocket significantly less money in today's economy.

And a new analysis reveals where the biggest pay gaps are.

Previous studies have drawn on earnings data from a variety of sources, including the Bureau of Statistics' earnings surveys, Census data and workplace data collected by the Workplace Gender Equity Agency.

But one of the best untapped sources is what Aussies tell the taxman.

When men and women come to confess their income to the tax man each year, they are sorted into 350 different occupational titles. According to an analysis of 2013-14 raw figures by Ben Phillips, a principal research fellow at the Australian National University's Centre for Social Research and Methods, men out-earn women in all but 14 occupations. Interestingly, females earn more than men working as bookkeepers, library assistants, kitchenhands, receptionists, dental assistants and housekeepers – occupations which bring in a whopping annual taxable income of about $30,000.

Across all those reporting income to the ATO, the average taxable income – after deductions - for men is $75,500 and for women it's $48,900, giving a raw gap of 38 per cent. Of course, we know that many women work part-time. Adjusting for the hours gap, using Census data, reduces the raw wage gap down to 19 per cent.

The point here is not that a woman doing the same job earns 19 per cent less. It's that money is power, and women have exactly 19 per cent less power in the economy. A woman may share in her husband's income, but her personal earning capacity is less.

These raw figures are also affected by the different occupations and industries women work in and their level of experience. Men tend to work in higher paid industries and jobs. Looking at the occupation level, the adjusted for hours pay gap shrinks again to about 11.5 per cent.

However, "there are some occupations with significantly larger gaps than typical, such as finance, medical and legal professions," observes Phillips.

It would surprise absolutely no one on Phillip Street to learn that barristers exhibit the biggest gender pay gap on these figures.

The average male barrister who does his taxes declares a taxable annual income of $169,000 and the average female barrister just $60,000 – a gender pay gap of a whopping 184 per cent. Take a male barrister's taxable income, then halve it, then almost halve it again. Adjusting for the fact that male barristers work on average 44 hours a week, compared to 37 hours for female barristers, the pay gap shrinks to 141 per cent, but remains the biggest of all occupations.

In second place, on the hours adjusted pay gap, come stockbrokers and futures traders and other "financial dealers". You can take a male stockbroker's annual taxable income of $254,000 and halve it to get the average female's $125,000.

Surgeons have the fourth biggest pay gap, with an average taxable income of $405,000 for men – the fattest pay cheque of any occupation - and $215,000 for women.

Rounding out the top 10 most sexist jobs are sportspeople, pilots, obstetricians, electrical trades workers, finance and insurance brokers, crane operators and metal machinists.

Again, the figures don't distinguish between seniority in those jobs or experience.
: Female athletes such as cricketer Ellyse Perry also face a big gender pay gap. (Paul Kane)

For barristers, the most senior in the profession become "senior counsel" or "silks", dramatically increasing their earning power. Nine in 10 silks are men.

But accepting the reductionist arguments about whether women get equal pay for work of equal value involves ignoring a host of other important questions, like: Why aren't women in more senior roles? Why do they lack as much experience? Why do they work fewer hours? Why do they cluster in low-paid industries?

If men and women are truly equal, if they desire success, wealth and power in equal measure, if they have equal capabilities to perform both caring and paid work, why do women consistently take home less pay?

And must ask more difficult questions still. Do we, as a society, still not trust women to wear the wig and gown, to wield the scalpel, to gamble our money on the stockmarket or to deliver our babies?

Or, is it that the men in those professions, and the networks they have developed, are so strong, they actively resist women?

Certainly, we're talking about some of the most demanding jobs in the economy, with the longest and least predictable working hours, volatile income and high upfront costs to rent chambers or suites.

The demands of these jobs make them better suited to a primary income earner, with a partner at home to take care of the domestic side. No doubt female professionals find it harder to find a potential partner to fill that role than their male counterparts do.

And it's true that, from a business case point of view, sometimes a professional's ability to their job is influenced by the prevailing sex of the industries they deal with. Stockbrokers are employed to network with clients and the companies they research – professions which are dominated by upper class white men. It's easier then, to do your job if you are also an upper class white male, able to tap into old boys networks and stay out to all hours drinking and otherwise cavorting.

But let's not discount the existence of outright sexism in these workplaces. A close friend who worked as a stockbroker – the only female on the floor – recounts turning up to a meeting to present her research only to be thanked for "making an effort for us" with her attire and makeup.

Make no mistake: sexism is alive and well in our most respected and trusted professions.

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