The 2015 UN theme for International Women's Day (March 8) Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it! envisions a world in which women can exercise their choices, whether that be participating in politics or living in a society free from violence and discrimination. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a globally endorsed framework towards advancing gender equality, human rights, and women's empowerment.
Progress on the health-related recommendations from this framework has been uneven. Although maternal and child deaths have fallen since 1995, an unmet need still exists for family planning, gender-based violence is still a huge unaddressed problem, and deaths due to pregnancy-related causes still prevail, especially in developing countries and particularly among the poorest in society, who have no access to sexual and reproductive health services. On March 9, No ceilings: the full participation project, an initiative co-sponsored by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will launch the findings and recommendations from its data-driven assessment of the gains made by women and girls since Beijing. Interestingly, they will show that gains made in health and primary education are far greater than in the other areas of economic participation, leadership, and security. But clearly, far more progress in health is needed.
At the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (March 9–20), the political declaration for the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference will be adopted. The absence of health in the draft is a concern, and it is weak on human rights, especially sexual rights, which encompass abuses such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, and violence. Negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda have similarly struggled to address these core issues. Sexual and reproductive health and rights must not be sidelined again as they were initially in the Millennium Development Goals. The opportunities offered by UN negotiations this year must not be squandered if we are to secure actionable commitments that could yield vast improvements for girls and women everywhere.
By JON FERNQUEST/ Reuters News agency New law "aims to stop Thai women's wombs from becoming the world's womb" & ends "rent-a-womb" industry that made Thailand a top destination for fertility tourism.
Baby Gammy who suffers from Down Syndrome with birth mother Pattharamon Janbua. (Wichan Charoenkiartpakun)
NLA passes surrogacy ban on foreigners
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) today affirmed a law that bans foreigners from seeking surrogacy services to end a "rent-a- womb" industry that made Thailand a top destination for fertility tourism.
The cabinet gave preliminary approval in August for to draft legislation to make commercial surrogacy a crime. It passed its first reading in November and became law on Thursday.
"This law aims to stop Thai women's wombs from becoming the world's womb. This law bans foreign couples from coming to Thailand to seek commercial surrogacy services," NLA member Wanlop Tankananurak told Reuters.
The law bans foreign couples from seeking surrogacy services and stipulates that surrogate mothers must be Thai and over 25.
"The important part is if the couple seeking surrogacy services is Thai or the couple is mixed-race, they can find a Thai woman to be their surrogate providing she is over 25," he said, adding that violation of the law carries a "severe prison sentence" .
Critics say making commercial surrogacy illegal could push the industry underground, making it harder for patients to access quality physicians and medical care.
The country was rocked by several surrogacy scandals last year, including allegations that an Australian couple had abandoned their Down Syndrome baby with his Thai birth mother taking only his healthy twin sister back to Australia with them.
Parliament passes law banning fees and preventing foreign and same-sex couples from seeking surrogacy services
The case of Baby Gammy put overseas surrogacy arrangements in the spotlight in Australia. (Apichart Weerawong/AP)
By Australian Associated Press
Thailand's parliament has passed legislation banning commercial surrogacy, putting a halt on foreign couples seeking to have children through Thai surrogate mothers.
The issue of surrogacy was in the spotlight in Australia last year after a Western Australian couple were accused of leaving a twin boy, known as Baby Gammy, with his surrogate mother after they discovered he had Down syndrome.
The legislation passed by Thailand's national legislative assembly on Thursday closed loopholes in the country's public health laws that enabled commercial surrogacy to thrive.
The new law bans all foreign and same-sex couples from seeking surrogacy services in the country.
Only married heterosexuals with at least one Thai partner are allowed to use surrogates. There are no fees allowed for the service and the surrogate mothers must be Thai and over 25 years old.
The surrogate mothers are also required to be relatives of either the husband or wife.
The legislation also includes a ban on advertising and promotions, and shuts down surrogate agents and unregistered clinics.
The Baby Gammy case made headlines in August 2014 when Thai surrogate Pattaramon Chanbua alleged West Australian couple Wendy and David Farnell had abandoned Gammy and returned to Western Australia with his healthy twin sister, Pipah.
Farnell, a convicted child sex offender, retained custody of Pipah late last year after an investigation by the WA Department for Child Protection.
Through the support of charities and the public, Gammy and his surrogate mother and her family have a new home in Thailand's Chonburi province and he is receiving the medical treatment he needs.
Pattaramon also applied for Australian citizenship for Gammy and it was granted last month.
Officials from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs (Dfat) said last year up to 150 Thai surrogate mothers carrying babies for Australian couples were expected to give birth by the end of 2015.
Dfat officials have negotiated with Thailand for a transition period to enable the children and their Australian parents to depart Thailand.
Turkey rallies over murder of woman who 'resisted rape'
By Selin Girit BBC News
A woman with a bullet hole painted on her forehead takes part in a demonstration against the murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan, who was killed after she resisted an alleged attempt to rape her in the southern city of Mersin, in Ankara on Saturday
Women on the protest argue that violence against women has become more acceptable in Turkey in recent years
Thousands of women in Turkey have protested at the murder of a young woman who allegedly resisted an attempt by a bus driver to rape her.
Police discovered the burnt body of Ozgecan Aslan, 20, in a riverbed in the city of Mersin, on Friday.
They have arrested three men in connection with her death - a minibus driver, his father and a friend.
The Turkish president and prime minister called Ms Aslan's family to offer their condolences.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised the family to hunt those responsible for the crime and punish them.
Ms Aslan, a psychology student, was kidnapped on Wednesday on her way home.
The driver allegedly tried to rape her. She reportedly fought him off with pepper spray, but was then stabbed to death. She was also hit on the head with an iron pipe.
The brutality of the murder caused an outcry across Turkey.
Thousands of women staged protests in several cities on Saturday, including Ankara, Istanbul, and Mersin - Ms Aslan's hometown in southern Turkey.
In Istanbul, women activists held two separate protests to show their anger at the murder.
During the day, hundreds gathered behind a banner that read "Enough, we will stop the murder of women!"
In the evening, the crowd got bigger. Thousands of women of all ages and walks of life poured out to the streets.
A young woman, Bulay Dogan, said Ms Aslan's murder scared her.
"I'm afraid, because the same thing could happen to me or my friends. But on the other hand, I'm furious too. How can they [the murder suspects] be so reckless to do something like this?" she asked.
Also on the protests was a gender studies academic who would only give her first name, Zeynep. She thought Ms Aslan's murder was of a political nature too.
"It is the result of the radical Islamic atmosphere created by the government. The men say that women should be conservative. They think if they are not conservative, they deserve this kind of violence," she said.
'Soaring violence' The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has its roots in political Islam and has been in power since 2002.
Women's rights organisations say violence against women has risen sharply in the last decade.
Last year alone, almost 300 women were killed at the hands of men and more than 100 were raped, according to local reports.
Street protests across Turkey after woman 'killed for resisting rape'
Protesters took to the streets in Ankara, Istanbul, and Mersin
By Jon Stone
Thousands of women’s rights activists have taken to the streets in cities across Turkey after a woman was allegedly killed for resisting an attempt to rape her.
The burnt body of Ozgecan Aslan, 20, was found in a riverbed in the city of Mersin in the south of the country on Friday.
Women in Mersin shout slogans against the murder of a woman as they hold a picture of Ozgecan Aslan Police have arrested three men in connection with the death: a minibus driver, his father, and a friend.
Officers believe the driver allegedly tried to rape Ms Aslan, who fought back with pepper spray but was then stabbed to death and beaten around the head with an iron pipe.
A woman shouts slogans during a demostration in Istanbul The murder has caused an outcry across Turkey and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo an has telephoned the woman’s family to offer his condolences, according to BBC News.
Women turned out to protest in the capital Ankara Protests took place in the country’s capital Ankara, its largest city Istanbul, and Mersin itself.
Banners at the protest read “Enough, we will stop the murder of women!”
Other demonstrators carried pictures of Ms Aslan, whilst some performed protest dances.
The vast majority of the demonstrators were themselves women. ~~~~~~~~~~~ The Women for Peace Initiative E-Mail:
The Women for Peace Initiative was formed in May 2009 as a collective struggle against male dominance and war. Since then, the members of the initiative have been trying to make streets, homes, schools, and businesses into peaceful areas in order to both heighten the demand for peace and open the doorway to peace all around Turkey. Women are the ones who feel the consequences of war most severely; in ways such as migration, poverty, violence, rape, and discrimination. This is a result of policies which exclude women, decided upon by administrations which also exclude women. Money that should be used for education, health, development of women, and environmentalism, is instead spent on war, military operations, and bombs. The initiative struggles for a world in which no one is subjected to discrimination or violence because of their thoughts, beliefs, identities or sexual orientations; a world in which we live in peace.
Research finds disease now leading cause of death in British women; many are also carers before succumbing themselves (Scroll down to also read of an important resource on "Home Remodelling" for those affected by Disability)
An MRI scan of a human brain. Women over 60 are now twice as likely to get dementia as breast cancer. (Alamy)
By Robin McKie, science editor
Women are bearing the brunt of the dementia epidemic that is spreading through Britain. A study by Alzheimer's Research UK reveals that the condition has not only become the leading cause of death among British women but that women are far more likely to end up as carers of sufferers than men - suffering physical and emotional stress and job losses in the process.
"Women are carrying the responsibility of care for their loved ones, only later to be living with the condition," states the report, entitled Women and Dementia: A Marginalised Majority. "Women are dying from dementia but not before it has taken a considerable toll on minds and bodies. In the UK, dementia hits women the hardest."
The study, to be published next month, calls for the government to make a significant increase in its funding of dementia research and an improved investment in care. It also reveals that:
More than 500,000 women are now affected by dementia. About 350,000 men have the condition.
Women over 60 are now twice as likely to get dementia as breast cancer.
Women are more than two-and-a-half times more likely than men to be carers of people with dementia.
Most carers do not choose or plan to take on this role and often find the experience highly stressful.
A voice for Britain's dementia sufferers: how our campaign has built awareness
In addition, the report notes that many women play a leading role in dementia research in the UK but, in common with other branches of science, they are discouraged from staying on in academia. Thus the country loses, every year, some of the best talent that it possesses for tackling the illness. "Dementia is a life-shattering condition and represents a ‘triple whammy' for women," said Hilary Evans, director of external affairs at Alzheimer's Research UK. "More women are dying of dementia, more women are having to bear the burden of care, while a disproportionate number of women currently working in dementia research are having to leave science."
Dementia has become increasingly common, partly because more people, particularly women, are living longer. Age is a major risk factor for the condition, and so it is now more prevalent, especially among women.
But there are other reasons why dementia has overtaken heart disease and cancer as the most common cause of death in women (though it remains in third place for men). For a start, there have been major investments in heart disease and cancer research in recent years and these have helped bring down death rates, said Matthew Norton, head of policy for Alzheimer's Research UK. "Just look at the figures," he said. "The total UK spend - from charities and the government - on dementia in 2013 was £73.8m. By contrast, for cancer, that figure was £503m. And we can now see the effect this gulf in funding has on disease profiles in Britain."
This point was also emphasised by Evans. "In recent decades we've seen increased investment in areas like cancer have a real impact, and we need to emulate that success for dementia. Only through research can we find ways to treat and prevent dementia, and transform the lives of the hundreds of thousands affected."
The report also finds that between 60% and 70% of carers - who support dementia patients unpaid - are female and many frequently report finding the experience emotionally stressful.
In addition, the study reveals that women who care for dementia sufferers also feel less supported than their male counterparts. "Wives caring for their husbands with severe dementia reported receiving less support from friends and family than husbands caring for their wives in similar circumstances," says the report. In turn, these female carers were more likely to be depressed, which is itself a risk factor for dementia. Of those women caring for dementia patients, 20% said they had been forced to go from full- to part-time work; 18% had to take leave of absence, while 19% said they had to give up work altogether to look after a relative or partner.
The report concludes that the grim situation regarding dementia and dementia care in Britain will get worse unless the government acts. "The UK already has a larger proportion of people over 65 than the EU average, and as the number of older people rises steeply, the need for carers will continue to increase," it warns. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Amman is a city founded on recent immigration from inside and outside Jordan [Getty]
The Turkmen occupy makeshift dwellings in the wasteland of Jordan's capital, Amman. Without fixed homes, jobs, or ID cards, they live a separate existence from their Arab neighbours.
Her pale face and her piercing looks seared themselves into my mind.
These people are Jordanian citizens. Many of them have family registration cards, meaning they are long-standing Jordanians.
But these people appear as suddenly as they disappear.
Camping in the capital They show up for a day or two, in strange-looking tents, and live between us - yet we know little about them.
I was led to their dwellings by sheer coincidence. I became curious to later discover more about this community. I visited them again, for a different motive; I thought they were of the Nawar people, but I found out that they are a different people. They are not Arabs.
Unlike the vast majority of Jordanians who speak Arabic, the people of this small community speak to each other in a Turkish dialect. Throughout the region they are known as Turkmen.
The community lives in the heart of the city, though, for all intents and purposes, they are on the margins of the city - if not completely outside of it. They are expelled from the city's "mercy", if it ever had any.
Harsh existence I visited them for the first time in their dwellings on the outskirts of Amman, near the suburb of Sahab, with a guide who knows them well.
Wardeh's hair flowed freely; she did not cover her head. She said she was suffering from insomnia, and could not sleep until the dawn call to prayer. Her sister Monica smokes four packets of cigarettes a day and does not eat much.
Their father, Abu Hani, has no idea his daughter smokes so much.
Abu Hani says that his daughter had married years ago, but that her husband left her before she gave birth to her first son. When she gave birth, the father's family came and kidnapped the child. Since then, Monica has been desperate to see her son.
Unknown to authorities Many people in the community are undocumented by the government, and so one can only guess how many Turkmen live in Jordan.
What is certain is that, without ID cards, they are some of the country's poorest, most discriminated against and most vulnerable residents. Boys and girls in the community marry as children, sometimes before they reach 15.
Without documentation, their marriages go unregistered - which makes it easy for the men to leave their wives, marry other women, or to snatch away their children.
To limit the chances of this happening, fathers of divorced women sometimes register their grandchildren as their own offspring.
When they die, those without IDs are often buried under the name of another family member, whose documents they "borrow" for the ceremony and legal proceedings.
Although the Turkmen have two names, one for the family and one for strangers, in the eyes of the state and many in the city, they remain nameless and unknown.
Wadeh says she yearns for a permanent home and an identity card. This would allow her to live like other citizens in Amman - with a home, running water, electricity, access to school and perhaps even a job.
Moving on On my second visit, Wardeh wore a headscarf. She was reciting with difficulty from the opening sura of the Quran and needed some help to finish it. Her enthusiasm for the religion seemed to be in the manner of someone freshly converted to Islam.
She had started praying for the first time in her life, thanks to a girlfriend who was teaching her about the pillars of the faith - even though Wardeh was way past her 20s and is a mother of two.
None of the ten members of her family can read or write.
They make a living collecting and selling junk and scrap metal, though what they make is barely enough to support them. It is possible to see men and youths from their community roaming the streets of Amman, selling leather coats, rugs, cameras and binoculars.
Women and children from their community also often beg, even though this is frowned upon among them. Most are without jobs and their children can't attend school. The only time they are likely to enter a government institution is if they are arrested for being "homeless".
But they do have homes, although their bare and simple dwellings exist between palaces, villas and apartment blocks. They can be uprooted at any time if a Jordanian neighbour makes a complaint against them.
If this happens, the bulldozers move in, flattening their makeshift homes and forcing residents onto the streets. Life will start again. They will find a new patch of wasteland in another part of the city, gather some straw, pieces of cardboard, and a unfold their tarpaulins, and build a new home in Amman.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.