Recent Resources for Feminists
Monday June 15, 2015
When marriage is less than sacredBy Vasundhara Sirnate
Illustration: Deepak Harichandan
By appropriating female consent in sexual matters, misogyny denies women the right to stand up to sexual abuse from violent husbands.
In April, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said marriage in India is a sacrosanct institution. The concept of marital rape is not suitable in the Indian context, he said, due to illiteracy, poverty, social customs, values, religious beliefs, and other factors.
Many years ago, when I was travelling in rural north India on a research trip, I encountered some women in a village, who asked me if I was married. I said I was not. After giving me warnings about finding a “good boy” before it was too late, the women started joking about their men. And in an uncharacteristic move, they began to discuss their very first sexual encounters. I was shocked, not by the unexpectedly liberated manner of these women, but by the acts that they described on their wedding night, where their husbands had pounced on them in hormone and alcohol-fuelled frenzies. Their initiation into conjugal life was through an act that can only be described as rape.
They did not know the word for rape, but from what they described, they hated the encounter, which turned into a lifelong abhorrence for their husbands. At least one woman said that she had tried to lock the door the next night. You may be compelled to dismiss the argument saying, “but they were married” much like some of our current politicians.
However, what I realised is that these women in ghoonghats had no desire for their men; they did not love them and hated the idea of intercourse. When we discuss marital rape and whether women need to be protected from it, we need to think about one key issue women’s consent and its relationship to misogyny. Misogyny is a special type of hatred for women, much like racism, where a person believes that women deserve to be treated in particularly demeaning, hateful ways; that they are inferior simply because they are women. Misogyny is the ideology that undergirds patriarchy, a system where men dominate in all spheres of life. Misogyny formulates for patriarchy an “other” over whom a man can express superiority, ritually and through open violence. Without this female other to suppress, patriarchy would not be a system.
Misogyny is insidious because it is also an ideology that appropriates and controls female consent. Patriarchy is a system that can only thrive if women’s consent to the rules of the patriarchal game is pre-scripted and defined. The practice of misogyny is the practice of prejudice. Misogyny is an ideology that affects the lived experiences of women.
To understand this debate on marital rape, we need to first locate what Indian society’s relationship is to the idea of female consent. On the one hand, consent in many matters is taken as given. For instance, girls who are raped are “asking for it because they wore short skirts” (implied consent or availability for sexual acts), or if a woman marries someone she is consenting to intercourse always. On the other hand, it is precisely the lack of consent which is part of the allure for a misogynist. So misogynists, on the one hand feel entitled to a woman’s consent, on the other; when it is not given, men see it as extra encouragement to extract this consent by other means, usually
Therefore, misogyny not only appropriates female consent in matters especially related to desire and sexuality, but when a woman begins to make choices, misogyny denies women the freedom to say no. When we do not recognise marital rape and sexual crimes against women, we are derecognising female consent. Derecognising consent in a sexual matter means that a woman’s “no” is equated with her saying “yes”. In other words, a woman can say whatever she wants; a man is still entitled to her body. Her voice does not matter. Neither does her choice making, nor her consent or lack thereof. When we do not recognise marital rape as rape, we are consigning women to lifelong sexual abuse at the hands of men, who should properly belong in jail. Consider that the National Family Heath Survey revealed that about one in twelve women had at some point faced sexual violence. Of these, as Kanika Sharma and Aashish Gupta report, 93 per cent had experienced this at the hands of their spouses.
To suggest that a husband has a right to his wife’s body is spurious. Let me illustrate this. Suppose a wife bakes a cake and asks her husband to eat it. He says no. So, she forcibly opens his mouth and shoves large chunks of cake down his throat without his consent. Even when he says he has had enough and asks her to stop, she continues to shove more cake down his throat. He then asks her again to stop but she does not. She slaps him and force-feeds him the whole cake until he throws up. Once he is done throwing up, she feeds him a second cake until he throws up again. He is terrified of her because this is a never-ending cycle. Technically, she is a good wife feeding her husband. But chances are that she would be booked for cruelty and abuse.
Differences in a ‘no’
Are we disturbed by this illustration? We are, and this is because when a man says “no”, society understands that he means “no”. Marriage does not mean that choice and consent are always given and non-contested. A woman's “no” should be treated at the same level as a man’s “no”. Our ministers and lawmakers are trying to deny women the right to say “no” to intercourse in a marriage in the name of culture, values and tradition. When they do this, they clearly do not have a clear picture of the type of abuse that women face in Indian marriages. They clearly also have not looked at data which ably demonstrates that sexual violence within families and by acquaintances is rather high for a country which mistakenly prides itself on culture and values. Their assessment rests on a circular logic that a husband cannot be a rapist because he is a husband. How logical is it to assume that men, who have abusive patterns of behaviour, will not somehow sexually harm a woman who they have complete control over because they married her?
As mentioned before, part of the allure of misogyny is to take consent by force when it is denied. If we can safely assume (and we can) that a majority of men are misogynist in India, then how can we possibly logically conclude either that marital rape does not occur, or if it does it is not quite so serious. If the housewife suicide rate between the ages of 18-35 and the number of cases of cruelty to wives are any indicators, then Indians are foolish to think either that marital rape doesn't happen, or, that it can be left out of policymaking.
Policymakers have a responsibility to protect their citizens from violence by putting in place preventive laws and generating consequences for perpetrators. A man who commits a violent crime against his wife should be tagged as a criminal for he has violated another rights-bearing individual. When we do not take marital rape seriously, we allow husband-rapists to get away with crimes that they would be prosecuted for had they not been married to the victim. We take away from women the right to choose when to give consent to an act of intercourse and we allow men to maintain a hateful entitlement to the body of
(Vasundhara Sirnate is the Chief Coordinator of Research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy.)
Tuesday May 12, 2015
Justice Verma report forgotten
Women's safety takes a back seat
Public memory is short; it gets shorter when it involves humiliation and molestation of women. In a patriarchy like ours, where men can afford to flaunt their heightened sense of entitlement, our honourable ministers go into record-defying research studies to claim marital rape is not applicable in India. Why, because Indians treat marriage as a sacrament! The sticklers to the sacrament must be treating their women like goddesses; it's just another matter that every five minutes a woman gets bashed up by her husband or relatives in India, according to the national data on domestic violence. The rising number of reported and unreported cases on molestation, sexual harassment, acid attacks and rapes committed by strangers is a different matter altogether.
In the wake of Arshdeeps death, the adolescent, who was thrown out of a moving bus in Moga by her molesters, there is a fresh demand for implementation of the Justice Verma Committee report by the Punjab State Women Commission, especially to provide WASPS (Women Armed Special Police Squad) in buses to instil a sense of security among women passengers. But making laws, looking into the viability of laws and implementing them are entirely different issues, especially when the laws are aimed at providing dignity to the poor, including women.
People may recall reports of members of WASPS being at the receiving end of miscreants and molesters a few months back. When those who are vested with the power to legislate laws for the safety of women find it hard to shake off patriarchy, for others it is easy to shun responsibility needed to bring about change in society that offers equality to women. No wonder, the Justice Verma report, drawn with the sensitivity required for a layered society like ours, is diluted by the implementers who cherry pick its recommendations so that it does not disturb the status quo of patriarchal rights of all shades.
Thursday April 30 2015
Concept of marital rape not valid in India: Govt
Marriage is sacred
- The government in the Rajya Sabha said the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context as marriage is treated as a sacrament or sacred as per mindset of the Indian society.
Brides at a mass marriage function in Faridabad. file photo
New Delhi: The concept of marital rape cannot be applied in India where marriage is considered as a sacrament, the government said today, adding there is no proposal to make it a criminal offence.
It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc, Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said.
He was replying to a question of DMK MP Kanimozhi in the Rajya Sabha.
Kanimozhi had asked the Home Ministry whether the government will bring a Bill to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to remove the exception of marital rape from the definition of rape; and whether it is a fact that the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against women has recommended to India to criminalise marital rape.
The Law Commission of India while making its 172nd Report on Review of Rape Laws did not recommend criminalisation of marital rape by amending the exception to Section 375 of the IPC and hence, presently there is no proposal to bring any amendment to the IPC in this regard, Chaudhary said.
Kanimozhi had also said that according to the United Nations Population Fund, 75% of the married women in India were subjected to marital rape and whether the government has taken cognisance of the fact.
Chaudhary said the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Women and Child Development have reported that the UN panel has recommended to India to criminalise marital rape.
The Justice JS Verma Committee, set up in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape to suggest changes in the criminal law, had recommended that the exception of marital rape be removed from the IPC. PTI
Thursday April 30, 2015
Anger over Ministers marital rape comment
By Vidya Venkat The Hindu (K. Murali Kumar)
Reactions on social media; other parliamentarians condemn it Tuesday November 11, 2014
Are marriages in India a sacred vow or a license to rape? The question is now being hotly debated over social networking sites and elsewhere, with prominent voices and ordinary citizens reacting strongly to a comment by the Minister of State for Home Affairs that marriages in India are sacred and therefore marital rape cannot be criminalised.
In response to DMK MP Kanimozhis question in Rajya Sabha as to whether the government would amend the Indian Penal Code to remove the marital rape exception from the definition of rape, MoS for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said that it was not possible because of the cultural and religious values in India and societys belief that marriage is sacred.
The issue of rape is premised on the concept of no consent between man and woman in a marital relation. It doesnt change with a marriage certificate. You cannot treat a marriage certificate as a license for non-consensual sex, Brinda Karat, CPI (M) Polit Bureau member told The Hindu. This argument that India is somehow different is unacceptable. What has Indian culture got to do with it? A Minister cannot make such irresponsible statements, she said.
Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy reacted on Twitter that if a 17-year-olds husband rapes her, it is legal, but if a 17 year old makes love to her boyfriend, it is rape and then he goes to adult jail, highlighting the hypocrisy of the political establishment and the judiciary.
Journalist-author Veena Venugopal commented on Twitter that marital rape not being rape is the one thing that unites this government and the last. Patriarchy is the ultimate leveller, she said.
The J.S. Verma Commission report in 2013, released after the December 16 Delhi gang rape incident, had recommended that India should criminalise marital rape. Though it is ten years since the Domestic Violence Act was passed, it is highly underused and though it allows for complaints on sexual violence at home, it does not criminalise marital rape, Ms. Karat pointed out.
Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi reacted on Twitter saying marital rape is violence, but unless the victim complains how will she get social/legal help?
Chennai-based homemaker Jayashree B reacted on Twitter saying that it was not just about legislating on marital rape, but the attitude to the issue that was so disturbing. She also said that stopping violence against women had to start at home.
Marital rape: the numbers don’t lie
Rukmini S. PTI Numbers clearly show that sexual violence within marriages is common
The data assumes more importance since household-level data on the nature of human relationships is rare in India and the National Family Health Survey being famously delayed.
The International Centre for Women (ICRW) and United Nations Population Fund’s (UNPFA) new study provides some insight into societal expectations of masculinity, son preference and the impact on violence against women. Among the findings is some data on sexual violence within relationships. The data assumes more importance since household-level data on the nature of human relationships is rare in India and the National Family Health Survey being famously delayed.
One caveat first: the study was conducted in eight States only: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. It covered 9,205 men and 3,158 women aged 18-49, and the sample was representative across caste, religious and income groups.
Now for a little more on the key data on violence.
The last NFHS showed that the vast majority of sexual violence reported by women was within the marriage; just 2.3 per cent of rape that women reported to the NFHS interviewers was by men other than the husband, researcher Aashish Gupta found.
The ICRW-UNFPA study does not ask questions about non-partner sexual violence. Here’s a look at the marital status of their sample:
These are the questions they asked on sexual violence:
Here’s what they found on the prevalence of sexual violence within relationships, which, as the relationship status data suggests, is largely marriages:
A third of men in these States admitting to having forced a sexual act upon their wives/ partners at some point in their lives (note the far lower proportion of women who admit to the experience). That is significantly higher than what Mr. Gupta found from the NFHS (6.6 per cent of women said they had experienced sexual violence by their husbands), but the NFHS is both pan-India and globally recognized as robust.
Between them, what these numbers clearly show is that sexual violence within marriages is undeniably common.
Wednesday Oct 22, 2014
‘Marital and other rapes grossly under-reported’
By Rukmini S.
All numbers for 2005, (*100,000 women)
Just 2.3 per cent of rape was by men other than the husband
Husbands commit a majority of acts of sexual violence in India, and just one per cent of marital rapes and six per cent of rapes by men other than husbands are reported to the police, new estimates show.
In keeping with the widely held belief among women’s rights activists in India that sexual violence is grossly under-reported, social scientist Aashish Gupta with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics compared National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics on officially reported cases of violence against women with data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which asked women respondents whether they had faced any sexual or physical violence.
Since the most recent round of the NFHS was conducted in 2005, Mr. Gupta compared the NCRB statistics for that year with the extent of violence that women had admitted to in the NFHS survey.
Mr. Gupta found that while 157 per 1,00,000 women reported to NFHS surveyors that they had experienced rape by men other than their husbands in the past 12 months, 6,590 said their husbands had physically forced them to have sexual intercourse against their will. This meant that just 2.3 per cent of all rapes experienced by women were by men other than their husbands.
For both marital and non-marital rapes, however, the officially reported figures were extremely low, Mr. Gupta said in a working paper he shared with The Hindu. Comparing the NCRB and NFHS data in 2005, just 5.8 per cent of rapes by men other than the woman’s husband were reported to the police, and just 0.6 per cent of rapes by the husband. Since marital rape was not recognised as a crime in India, it was probably reported as “cruelty,” Mr. Gupta found.
While India lacks a “crime victimisation survey,” which in countries such as England has largely replaced police statistics as official crime data, Mr. Gupta’s findings are confirmed by other sources.
The NFHS itself asks women who experienced violence if they reported it to the police; just 0.6 per cent said that they had.
The Delhi-based women’s rights organisation Jagori made similar findings in a sample survey in Delhi in 2011 just 0.8 per cent of women who had been sexually assaulted, stalked or harassed reported it to the police. “There have been some area-specific studies like ours, but the NFHS is really the only victimisation study that India has,” Kalpana Viswanath, researcher and executive committee member of Jagori, told The Hindu. “Our recommendation has been for the NFHS to expand their questions on violence and look at sexual violence other than rape too,” she said.
Severe physical violence was equally under-reported, Mr. Gupta found. At the State level, Mr. Gupta looked at physical violence and marital rape, since the numbers on rape by men other than the husband were too small at the State level for statistical analysis.
Delhi has the lowest actual incidence of violence against women and highest rates of reporting in the country.
In general, States associated with gender equality the North-Eastern States, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had both lower levels of actual incidence of violence and higher levels of reporting, but no State reached double digits in its extent of reporting
Melbourne ~ Monday June 1 2015
Joan Kirner obituary: the woman premier who represented many firstsBy Jennifer Curtin
n 1991, Joan Kirner tries on one of two hats made for her by clothing studies students at Broadmeadows College of TAFE to wear to the Cup today and to Oaks Day (Tina Haynes )
Joan Kirner, who has died in Melbourne aged 76 after a battle with cancer and other illness, occupies a special place in Victorian political history for being the state's first and still only woman premier. Yet she sometimes suffered the fate of commentators and scholars hyphenating her premiership with that of her Labor predecessor, John Cain jnr, as if she were not a premier in her own right. Indeed, had Kirner not been Victoria's first woman premier, we might be forgiven for wondering if her two years in office (1990-92) would be invisible a neglected interregnum between the social democratic adventurism of the Cain era and Jeff Kennett's neo-liberal revolution
This would be doing Joan Kirner's legacy a great disservice. She represented a number of firsts. Not only was she the first Victorian woman premier, she was also the first Labor premier who came from the Socialist Left faction and prior to this, from an explicitly community politics background, with relatively little schooling or apprenticeship in party or trade union politics. In a sense Kirner forced a male-dominated ALP to recognise that participation in community politics as mothers was a legitimate form of political activism and equivalent to other forms of political apprenticeship.
Joan Kirner was often been depicted as the working-class girl made good: attention given to the fact that she came from Moonee Ponds, an only child from a working-class background but privileged in that her parents provided her with a good education. Born Joan Elizabeth Hood in 1938, her father John was a fitter and turner with a munitions factory, her mother Beryl, a homemaker and a teacher of music and kindergarten. It was from her father that Kirner learnt the importance of each person's dignity and the distribution of resources based on need. John Hood had lost his job during the depression and had to hawk tea to save the family home from being lost. When he regained his job at the department of defence he continued working there for 40 years. She also gained from her father a love of sport, particularly football. From her mother she acquired a love of music, a sense of determination, a rigid commitment to the protestant work ethic, a strong sense of equality for women and an unswerving belief in educational opportunities.
Kirner began her secondary schooling at Penleigh Ladies College, subsequently moving to the select-entry University High. After gaining an Arts degree from Melbourne University in 1957, she began teaching and three years later married a fellow teacher, Ron Kirner, with whom she had three children. How Kirner came to be involved in education issues is a well-cited story. She took her first son to kindergarten in the Croydon area only to find there was only one teacher for over 50 students. Appalled, she organised a petition and staged an ongoing protest outside the education department until the school was granted extra teachers and classrooms. She became an active member of the school's mothers club, and later began attending Victorian Federation of State School Parents Club conferences. In 1971, Kirner became president of the federation and remained so until 1976. She was also president of the Australian Council of State School Organisations (1975-1981) and in 1973 was nominated as a parent representative to the newly created Australian Schools Commission, a centerpiece of the Whitlam Labor federal government's education reform program. Her time on the commission ensured her a profile as education advocate extraordinaire. And, in 1980 she was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) for her contribution to community services.
In 1982 Kirner entered the Legislative Council as the member for Melbourne West and her parliamentary ascent was swift. In 1985, she was promoted to the Cain government's front bench as minister for conservation, forests and lands. She later listed her achievements in the portfolio as the passage of critical National Parks legislation and the negotiation of a difficult timber strategy. Her intervention on behalf of women was evident in her establishment of the Rural Women's Network, and her consultative style was appreciated by many in the farming community. However, it is Landcare that proved Kirner's most lasting legacy in this portfolio. Its success as a policy innovation can be demonstrated by its implementation not only in Victoria but its emulation throughout Australia.
Joan Kirner was at Yarraleen Primary School in Bullen with Bush singer David Isam to launch 1990 schools touring Arts program.
In 1988, Kirner was elected to the safe lower house seat of Williamstown. The same year she realised her driving ambition in taking over the education portfolio. While she later held the portfolios ethnic and women's affairs, it was eduction that was her political raison d'etre. As minister she proved a knowledgable, enthusiastic and at times formidable leader. She oversaw the phased introduction of the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), a reduction in class sizes and a surge in school retention rates surged.
Kirner's rise continued with her election as deputy premier in February 1989 and 18 months later, Joan Kirner became premier on 9 August 1990, following the resignation of John Cain. On the day after her election, The Age's Shaun Carney wrote: 'let's just deal with the shock of it … Joan Kirner. A woman. A member of the Socialist Left. Premier. In Victoria! It is real. It has happened.'
However, the premiership was widely recognised as a poisoned chalice - unemployment at 6.4 percent. The state debt had risen to $25 billion, and federal Labor's economic and industry policies were having a significant impact on Victoria's economy. Pyramid collapse had also claimed a considerable number of victims and surrounding her throughout this time were rancorous and increasingly destabilizing factional relations.
Nevertheless, after 100 days in office, the reactions to the Kirner government's direction were not all bad. Kirner had further steadied the ship after one year as premier and opinion polls showed her personal rating was a solid 44 per cent. Moreover, by the time Kirner left parliament in May 1994, the Reserve Bank of Australia had conceded that Victoria had begun moving out of recession in 1991 while she was still premier. At the time of the October 1992 poll, however, there was little economic sunshine in the state and the ALP's primary vote crashed to 38.7 per cent state-wide. For Kirner there was some consolation in media assessments that, without her as premier, Labor's losses would have been far worse.
Joan Kirner's public profile evolved during her time in politics: she began as the mother from the suburbs who went from mothers' club president to parliamentary candidate; as the polka dot-caricatured woman writ-large in cartoons; but perhaps ultimately as the first woman premier who inherited a political and economic mess and stoically struggled on to lose in a landslide, but with dignity intact.
After retiring from state politics, Kirner became the chairwoman of the Employment Services Regulation authority, in 1994 and she was elected president of the Victorian ALP in the same year. In taking up the presidency, Kirner moved the historic resolution to entrench the ALP's affirmative action rule which required women to be elected to 35 per cent of parliamentary and party positions by 2002. She was one of the instigators of EMILY's List, an organisation independent of the ALP that supports the election of progressive women, and she co-authored the Women's Power Handbook, a 'how to manual' for getting pre-selected and elected to parliament. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described Kirner as a mentor and inspiration.
Kirner had been battling oesophageal cancer since her diagnosis 2013 and had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment. At the time, leaders from both sides of politics were keen to offer her support. Premier Denis Napthne said Kirner had "been a real leader for Victorian politics, the Victorian community and particularly Victorian women".
While Joan Kirner may not have solved Victoria's economic crisis, nor saved the ALP from defeat in 1992, her legacy to the ALP and Victorians has been significant. She demanded that both the party and the parliament become more accepting of and open to women; she was defiant in the face of sexist media and political commentary, and outed many a politician for inappropriate and gendered language. Moreover, Kirner remained resolute and determined during difficult times; she was shrewd, tough and ambitious, and demonstrated that such characteristics were fitting for a female premier.
Joan Kirner is survived by Ron, her husband of 55 years, their three children, Michael, David, and Kate, Michael's partner Madeleine, and grandchildren Ned and Sam Kirner, and Xanthe and Joachim.
Melbourne ~ Monday June 1 2015
Promoted to an impossible job as Premier, Joan Kirner made tough decisions By Josh Gordon
Victoria's first and only female premier, Joan Kirner, has died after a two-year battle with cancer. When Joan Kirner became premier in August 1990, she was bequeathed a political and economic mess.
The Labor government was in crisis. Unemployment had leapt from 4.7 per cent to 6.6 per cent in the space of a year (it would reach 10.4 per cent a year after that).
Joan Kirner concedes defeat at the tally room in October 1992. (Mario Borg}
State debt, at $25 billion, was in danger of spiralling out of control.
The government had presided over a series of devastating financial scandals. The Victorian Economic Development Corporation, a sort of venture-capital fund that attempted to pick winners, had chalked up losses of about $110 million.
The State Bank of Victoria had collapsed under the burden of bad loans handed out in the 1980s, mostly by its merchant arm Tricontinental.
Mrs Kirner, in her role as Conservation, Forests and Lands Minister announces a program to ensure proper planning for Warrandyte Parks in 1987. (Mike Martin)
Pyramid Building Society, along with its associated entities, collapsed with debts of more than $2 billion, costing Victorian taxpayers more than $900 million.
Labor had become balkanized, dogged by factional infighting and industrial unrest (the latest being a union threat to shut down the entire public transport system in protest over a new ticketing system).
Initially, Kirner's elevation was greeted with shock. Dubbed "mother Russia" by some commentators in the media and often depicted by cartoonists wearing a polka dot dress, Kirner was a member of Labor's Socialist Left faction.
She faced questions, including from her own side, as to whether she was up to the job of tackling the profound problems facing the state.
By this point Labor's fate was more or less sealed, but Kirner set to work trying to repair some of the damage. As a first step, she entered into negotiations with Paul Keating to sell the State Bank of Victoria.
According to Jennifer Curtin, who authored a chapter on Kirner in the book The Victorian Premiers, it was a momentous decision for a Socialist Left premier, leading to claims she had been "duchessed" by Keating.
Joan Kirner leaves Parliament after becoming deputy Labor leader. (John Lamb)
According to Curtin, for all the controversy, the sale had the benefit of kick-starting a debt reduction strategy, partially alleviated costs incurred by the Tricontinenal collapse, and hinted at the resolve Kirner could muster in making tough decisions when needed.
In response to the collapse of Pyramid, Kirner also put in place a politically unpopular 3c-per-litre fuel levy that would last for five years to help recover lost funds. She also furthered the privatisation agenda by offering for sale the State Insurance Office and several other agencies, put a casino for Melbourne on the political agenda and implemented cuts to the public service.
Kirner may not have put Labor in a winning position (polls showed Labor trailing by 20 percentage points one year in to her premiership) but she did perform surprisingly well, with a reasonably positive reception by the business community and the broader public.
"By the time Kirner left Parliament in May 1994, the Reserve Bank of Australia had conceded that Victoria had begun moving out of recession in 1991 while she was still premier," Curtin writes. "At the time of the 1992 poll, however, there was still little economic sunshine in the state."
According to Swinburne University political science professor Brian Costar, one of Kirner's lasting legacies was that Labor's 1992 wipeout could have been far more serious had she not proved a relatively popular and resolute leader, given the difficult circumstances she inherited.
Indeed, at the 1992 election Labor's primary vote collapsed to 38.7 per cent. The broad assessment in the media was that it could have been far worse.
But perhaps a more lasting legacy related to her work advocating for women in parliament.
After leaving politics in 1994, Kirner was elected president of the Victorian ALP, moving a resolution mandating that 35 per cent of parliamentary and party positions would be held by women by 2002. She was also instrumental in forming EMILY's List.
As Costar points out, in addition to ameliorating Labor's landslide defeat, her trailblazing efforts promoting women in parliament will have a profound and lasting influence not just on the Labor Party, but on the nation.
Melbourne ~ Tuesday June 2, 2015
The night Joan Kirner and Julia Gillard rocked on for Emily
By Daniella Miletic/Social Affairs Editor, The Age
'Joan Jetts and the Fishnets' perform at the Regent Theatre in 1998 (Jane Clifton)
Mary Delahunty smiles when she talks about the night in June, 1998, she, Joan Kirner and Julia Gillard pulled on fishnet stockings, bright red lipstick and leather jackets to take the stage for a performance she will never forget.
The women performed with Sharan Burrows and Jennie George – who would both later become ACTU presidents – and singer Jane Clifton in a fund-raiser for Emily's List, a political network supporting women candidates seeking election to office.
Jane Clifton sings with Joan Jetts and the Fishnets in 1998 at the Regent Theatre as part of Joan Kirner's 60th birthday celebrations (Jane Clifton)
"Feminists know how to have fun, and it was on rich display that night, with senior women knowing how to be self-deprecating and enjoy themselves, Ms Delahunty recalls. "And the dancing was pretty good, although I am not sure about our voices."
The group called themselves Joan Jett and the Fishnets and the floor of the Plaza Ballroom under the Regent Theatre shook as the crowd stomped their feet for an encore.
The song was Joan Jett's rock anthem I Love Rock'n'Roll, a repeat of a Late Show performance Joan Kirner had given five years earlier. She was also celebrating her 60th birthday.
Joan Kirner rocks out with a familiar face in the background: future PM Julia Gillard. (Fay Pirotta)
"We wore bright red lipstick and fishnet stockings and we only had one rehearsal about 20 minutes before the show," Ms Delahunty laughed. "But despite the lack of preparation the performance was adored by the appreciative audience and there were stampedes for encores ...
"It emanated from Joan Kirner's wonderful sense of humour and ability to laugh at herself, but we were all laughing together, not at anyone that night."
Ms Delahunty said a photo taken that night was one of her most cherished possessions.
In another photo, taken the same night by retired teacher's aid Fay Pirotta, a young Julia Gillard is providing back-up vocals to her mentor. She posted it on Facebook the night Ms Gillard resigned.
In a heartfelt tribute, Ms Gillard today wrote that Mrs Kirner was "the truest of friends".
"For me, the relationship went beyond one of student and mentor," she said. "She was one of the dominant influences on my life. I basked in her warmth and treasured her support."
Monday May 25 2015
Also at: Tuesday May 26 2015
Women in politicsBy Tahir Mehdi
RECENTLY, it was reported that women were barred from voting in the Lower Dir by-election held earlier this month. It was not the first time, however, that this has happened, nor is it limited to Dir alone. More importantly, the oft reported phenomenon of women’s deliberate exclusion from participating in elections is only the tip of the iceberg. The issue that underpins it women in politics seldom finds place in our political discourse.
Democracies across the world have struggled to ensure equal participation of women. Although the success rate has understandably not been uniform, Pakistan seems to be going in reverse gear.
Consider, for example, the fact that whereas there were 77.8 women voters compared with 100 men in the first general elections of 1970 in the then Western provinces (present-day Pakistan), their ratio of participation in elections held almost half a century later, in 2013, actually slipped a notch to 77.4!
If these two, almost equal figures, are viewed in the specific socio-political context of the years in question (such as level of urbanisation, literacy, etc), they don’t represent a standstill. They in fact stand witness to our regression.
The debate on women’s participation in politics in Pakistan has largely remained confined to reserving seats for them. The 1973 Constitution reserved 10 seats in the National Assembly for women with the general seat members serving as their electoral college. The reservation was made for three general elections or ten years, whichever came later. The reason for this time bar was that it was hoped that within that span of time, women would arrive at par with men in politics, thus negating the need for special provisions.
The optimism, however, proved to be misplaced. Although Gen Zia doubled the number of women’s seats, he did not extend the time bar. The seats thus expired after the 1988 elections and the next three parliaments were without women’s seats.
Gen Musharraf proved more generous than his predecessor and increased the number of women’s seats in the National Assembly to an impressive 60, and likewise in the provincial assemblies. He did not put an expiry date on these either. Three elections have been held under this system so far and together they constitute a substantial body of experience, enough to evaluate whether it has brought us any closer to the objective of gender equality in the political sphere.
The answer is not difficult to find. It is written all over our politics. The reserved seats have only helped political patriarchs increase their numerical strength in the houses. They see them as a bonus, the awarding of which is monopolised by the party heads under the party-list system. Members may grumble over this monopoly but they do not disagree that only women belonging to the political elite should come on the reserved seats.
Earlier this year, Balochistan Assembly speaker Jan Mohammed Jamali (PML-N) refused to withdraw his daughter’s name in favour of his party’s chosen candidate in the Senate election.
The case of Sindh MPA, Parveen Junejo, is even more telling. She was elected from a general seat in Dadu as a proxy for her husband who was barred from contesting for legal reasons, but after the couple became estranged, Ms Junejo claimed she was forced to resign her seat. Her party and the Sindh Assembly, in the manner of a tribal jirga, promptly completed the procedure required to unseat her.
Equality of women in politics is not on any party’s agenda. They are content with flaunting their few women leaders as evidence of their progressive politics. In practical electoral terms, it is much easier for them to take women’s votes as multipliers of male consent. They are then left with the task of managing only the local-level male powerbrokers.
On the other hand, the parliamentary status of women on reserved seats remains completely dependent on their male colleagues even if they outperform the men on the floor of the house. Women are acceptable only as proxies or an extension of male politicians.
The present electoral system and the politics it is generating have become a vehicle for reinforcing the gender status quo, instead of being a tool to challenge and change it. There is a reason why even the parties that are against women in the political sphere, including Jamaat-i-Islami which spearheaded their exclusion from the Lower Dir by-election, happily nominate women candidates on reserved seats.
In hindsight, it seems the present system was designed only to play with the optics of women’s participation. It has effected a complete disconnect between the image and the reality on the ground. While we have a considerable number of women in parliament, womenfolk can still be barred from getting registered as voters and from casting their ballots.
If the increased presence of women was intended to have a trickle-down effect, let us admit that it simply hasn’t happened and there are no signs it can ever do so.
This is not to say that ensuring and increasing women’s participation in politics is impossible. One way can be for women to have a double vote, with one vote for the general seat candidate and another for the women’s seat. A single voter casting multiple ballots for different categories of candidates, including women, minorities, etc was tried out in local government elections of 2000 and 2005.
Another method could be to make it mandatory for a winner to have secured men and women’s votes in a fixed proportion. Yet another option can be to assign women’s votes an additional fractional weightage while consolidating results.
The point here, however, is not to propose a particular method but to stress that unless the electoral system puts an additional value on the votes of common womenfolk and incentivises their participation, women’s equality or even their increased participation will remain a distant dream.
The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group.
Tuesday May 19 2015
Tens of female students poisoned in Samangan
By Mohammad Barat
AIBAK (Pajhwok): Dozens of female students were poisoned in Khuram Sarbagh district of northern Samangan province, with few of them were stated to be in critical condition, officials said on Tuesday.
The school is located in Abdul Malik locality of the district.
Qari Tajuddin, development council head of the locality, told Pajhwok Afghan News when students entered the school sharp at 9:30am they found white-type powder sprayed on the schools yard.
He added the students first felt itching in their bodies and later fell unconscious.
Abdul Latif, a resident whose two daughters had been shifted to hospital, said: When I came to know about the incident I rushed to school. I saw white powder with bad scent. Itching first and when I came out I nauseated twice.
Mohammad Nawab, Khuram Sarbagh acting district chief, said more than 50 students had been poisoned at the school.
He added eight of the students were in critical condition and were being shifted to the provincial hospital. The rest, he said, were admitted in the local hospital.
Nawab said nobody had been detained in connection with the incident yet and they have started investigations to divulge facts.
Thursday May 7, 2015
Honour reproductive rights of women
Nearly 21 per cent of all pregnancies in India are either unwanted or mistimed. This not only exposes women to avoidable maternal health complications, but also affects their overall development and well-being
By Poonam Muttreja
Out of the total family planning outlay of Rs 397 crore in 2013-14 Budget, 85 per cent was spent only on sterilising females.
The recent Economic Survey reveals that tubectomy and laparoscopic sterilisations together accounted for 97.4 per cent of the total number of sterilisation operations performed in India in 2012-13.
Even in the developed states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, female sterilisation accounts for 90 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, of all family planning methods used.
The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome, it calls for multiple choices of sterilisation for women and their social empowerment.
The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome to be swept under the carpet in India. Thinkstock
India has made some commendable progress towards ensuring safe motherhood for women in the recent years. However, any satisfaction one may derive from the steep decline in maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 398 per 1,00,000 live births in 1998 to 167 in 2013 is tempered by the fact that the country still accounts for 17 per cent of all global maternal deaths.
Safe motherhood has three significant components that need to be addressed in equal measures: mortality, morbidity and social determinants of fertility. Unsafe delivery and pregnancy related complications are major factors why women die before, during or after child birth. While the direct medical causes of mortality - haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labour - are largely preventable with provision of better quality healthcare services, a significant proportion of maternal deaths are also attributed to indirect causes like anaemia and malaria.
The unmet need for contraceptives
One aspect of safe motherhood, often overlooked in India is unwanted or early-age pregnancies and high unmet need for contraception. According to National Family Health Survey 3, adolescents (15-19 years) contribute about 16 per cent of total fertility in the country and 15-25 years age group contributes 45 per cent of total maternal mortality. Nearly 21 per cent of all pregnancies are either unwanted or mistimed. This not only exposes women to avoidable maternal health complications, it also affects their overall development and well-being. A more accessible and equitable family planning programme that offers a wider choice of contraceptive methods to couples constitutes a simple, low-cost investment which can reduce maternal and child mortality by preventing early age pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies at a later age.
The present-day discourse on maternal health pays insufficient attention to the issue of morbidity. For every woman who dies in childbirth in India, about 20 more suffer from long-lasting illnesses with physical, psychological, social, and economic consequences. Severe and continuing ill-health among women affects their children’s health as well, in terms of nutrition and nurture, thereby having inter-generational consequences. A study by social activist Dr Rani Bang in Gadchiroli has suggested that over half of women in rural India suffer from maternal morbidity, highlighting the widespread extent of the problem.The focus of safe motherhood needs to be widened to include morbidity as an important aspect of maternal health.
To be sure, family planning has had many successes over the last two decades. There has been a much-needed attitudinal shift. Contraceptives are now no longer considered only a means to stabilise the population but also as an intervention that improves maternal and child health. An analysis of the SRS 2011 report reveals that 8,00,000 births a year are being averted through the provision of family planning. Births among 15-19 year olds have come down by 3,50,000. Additionally, 1,700 maternal deaths are now being prevented each year and 3 out of 4 births are taking place in institutions.
Despite this, significant disparities and inequities in women’s access to healthcare continue to persist and the country remains far away from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of an MMR of 109 by 2015. The decreasing maternal mortality figures, as a whole, mask wide variations between different communities, states and even districts in the same state. Assam’s MMR of 390 compares poorly with 81 for Kerala. Many poor women from marginalised communities continue to exist outside the ambit of the healthcare system.
High mortality and family planning
The unmet need for family planning remains a significant challenge in reducing maternal mortality. The District Level Household and Facility Survey-3 (DLHS 3)assesses the total unmet need for contraception at 20.5 per cent nationally, comprising 13.3 per cent for limiting, i.e. women who do not want any more children but are not using any contraceptives and 7.2 per cent for spacing i.e. women who want to delay their next pregnancy. The trend of unmet need shows that the rate of change is very slow, with the figures being 25.3 per cent, 21.1 per cent and 20.5 per cent for DLHS 1 (1998-99), DLHS 2 (2002-04) and DLHS 3 (2007-08), respectively. This directly translates into unwanted and untimed pregnancies.While the total wanted fertility rate is 1.6 in urban areas and 2.6 in rural areas, the total fertility rate is 2.06 and 2.98, respectively. The difference can directly be attributed to the unmet need for family planning.
It is estimated that if the current unmet need could be fulfilled within the next five years, India can avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths.
To ensure proper health and avert maternal deaths, it is important to widen the basket of choices with the addition of more methods, address issues of accessibility and quality of family planning services, and allay myths and misplaced health concerns that prevent women from using modern contraceptives.
Of equal significance for safe motherhood are social determinants of fertility. Women’s low status in the family and in society means they eat last and the least, resulting in a low body mass index. About 33 per cent of all women in India are malnourished, and 52 per cent are anaemic. This, along with marriages at an age is not ideal for conception, this makes women vulnerable to maternal morbidity and mortality, with a long-term negative impact on the entire family.
The Economic Survey this year has taken a closer look at “Unleashing Naari Shakti” or empowering women, who constitute 48 per cent of Indian population. It talks about reorienting family planning towards reproductive health and rights, paying greater attention to quality and spacing methods, and doing away with targets and incentives for sterilisation as well as sterilisation camps. This is an extremely significant statement of intention by the Government, but words need to be translated into action.
To create a more productive, egalitarian and sustainable world, it is essential to recognise women as equal stakeholders in human progress. While positive outcomes of women’s empowerment can come from a bouquet of opportunities, such as education and earning capacity, the crucial role of contraception and modern spacing methods in transforming gender inequality has been missing from the national discourse. The heavy skew of Government expenditure on family planning towards only female sterilisation has not been debated and questioned in any significant way.
Out of the total family planning outlay of Rs 397 crore in 2013-14 Budget, as much as 85 per cent was spent only on sterilising females. The recent Economic Survey reveals that tubectomy and laparoscopic sterilisations together accounted for 97.4 per cent of the total number of sterilisation operations performed in India in 2012-13. Male vasectomy procedures, considered much less complicated and risky, accounted for the rest. What is more shocking is that even in the developed states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, female sterilisation accounts for 90 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, of all family planning methods used. The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome to be swept under the carpet, with women bearing the cross of meeting the Government’s family planning targets.
Female sterilisation, though a straight-forward operation, is often life-threatening in India due to poor quality, infrastructure and callousness, engendered by the pressure to meet Government-mandated targets. Last November’s incident in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, is still fresh in memory when 16 women, many of them in their prime, lost their lives in a mass sterilisation camp. Every such incident is not only a tragic loss of life, it is also a setback to the family planning efforts. The Government needs to reorient its efforts at stabilising population. Instead of employing the ill-conceived strategy of driving family planning through female sterilisation camps, it needs to focus on respecting the reproductive rights of women and expanding the choices available to them in terms of modern spacing methods. The shift from terminal methods like sterilisation to implants, oral pills and injectables is a national imperative because of the reproductive momentum generated by a youthful population. Young women and men need wider contraceptive choices to plan their families and space childbirth.
Modern spacing methods account for a small fraction (10 per cent) of contraceptive use in India. Between 1998-1999 and 2005-2006, there was a minimal increase (from 6.8 to 10.1 per cent) in the proportion of couples using oral contraceptives, IUCDs, and condoms. Data indicates that India’s family planning programme has not, so far, succeeded in providing contraceptives in any significant way to delay the first birth and space subsequent births. It currently offers five methods female sterilisation, male sterilisation, intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD), oral contraceptives, and condoms. In contrast, other countries in the region like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have seven contraceptive methods available, including injectables and implants. This is significant because global experience shows that overall contraceptive use rises with every additional contraceptive method made available. The addition of one method available to at least half the population correlates with an increase of 4-8 percentage points in total use of modern methods, studies have shown. India’s family planning programme should therefore strive to provide widespread access to a range of methods, in line with international norms. This will empower women, families and communities.
If the country were to introduce new contraceptives in the public health system, the immediate options are progestin-only pills, injectable contraceptives and implants. The former two are already approved and available in the private sector. The health benefits of increase in contraceptive choices are dramatic: universal access to reproductive healthcare could prevent two-thirds of unintended pregnancies, 70 per cent of maternal deaths, 44 per cent of newborn deaths, and three quarters of unsafe abortions in the world. Unfortunately, Introduction of new and modern methods of contraception has not been easy in India. It has been contentious, not in the community, not among the women for whom the contraceptive is meant, but among those who have the luxury to debate, discuss and oppose, who do not have to rely on unhygienic and life-threatening sterilisation camps as their only choice for contraception.
The issue of safe motherhood in India is much wider in scope than providing healthcare and family planning services for women. It involves a wider debate about their education, dignity, and reproductive rights and denying them the choices , they should be making on their own.
The writer is Executive Director, Population Foundation of India.
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