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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.

Australia: Foreign Aid, in contrast to Sweden & other wealthy nations, getting chronically stingier Print E-mail
 Tuesday May 31, 2016

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

By Matt Wade /Senior writer

Video: Budget 2015: cuts to foreign aid 'tragic'
Foreign aid saves lives, argues Greens senator Scott Ludlam as he criticises Hockey's "directionless" budget.

Australians like to think their government is a big-hearted foreign aid donor.

A recent opinion poll found voters believed our overseas aid budget to be about 10 times bigger, on average, than it actually was.

In fact, Australia has never been an especially open-handed donor compared with many other wealthy countries. And during this term of government, foreign aid spending has shifted from moderately generous to downright miserly with little prospect for improvement any time soon.

Illustration: Simon Letch

While aid is only about 1 per cent of budget expenditure it has made up around 25 per cent of all budget cuts announced by the government for the period 2013-14 to 2018-19.

As a result we've tumbled down the international league table that ranks wealthy countries according to their generosity. We were in 13th place a few years back but we'll slump to 19th by the end of the decade even though Australia is at one of the wealthiest moments in its history.

For every $100 dollars we earn as a nation we now give little more than a 20 cent piece in overseas aid - the least generous share on record.

Foreign aid has always been an easy option for budget savings. The main beneficiaries are very poor people who don't vote and, unlike most other savings options, foreign aid cuts don't need parliamentary approval and so can't be blocked in the Senate. While Australia's foreign aid program has been effective overall, it gets relatively little public attention.

The Abbott and Turnbull governments have not held back on this soft target - since the last election more than $11 billion has been slashed from the assistance Australia had promised to developing nations over the five years from 2013. No other significant area of Commonwealth expenditure has been harder hit.

As Australia hacked away at foreign aid spending, many other wealthy nations were doing the opposite, despite their own budget pressures. A report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in April said 22 donor nations increased their aid spending last year, largely in response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean region. Australia and Portugal were the world's biggest foreign aid cutters in proportional terms.

The Coalition's approach to foreign aid is in striking contrast to their conservative counterparts in Britain. Even though the UK budget was hit hard by the global financial crisis, David Cameron's government has lifted foreign aid spending to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. It has pledged not to "balance the books on the backs of the world's poorest people." Now the political party in Britain with a position closest to Australia's aid policy is the far-right, anti-immigration UKIP which wants aid to be cut to 0.2 per

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has previously voiced strong support for foreign aid and called for more spending on it during his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008. Speaking at the National Press Club a day after last month's budget, Mr Morrison said it "grieves" him to preside over Australia's least generous foreign aid spending.

"We will continue to build our budget back up and I hope to one day be able to achieve what I said in my maiden speech, that we can once again be strong and prosperous and also generous," he said.

A fortnight ago the ALP's deputy leader and shadow foreign minister, Tanya Plibersek, said a Labor government would increase foreign aid spending a little. But the timidity of the pledge underscored to how difficult it will be for any future government to haul foreign aid spending out of the doldrums.

It's a far cry from a decade ago when both major parties pledged to lift Australia's aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. Those commitments were made when Australia had a big budget surplus, no net debt and no interest costs. Now there's a sizeable deficit and the Commonwealth's annual interest bill alone is more than the aid budget.

The sheer scale of recent cuts means the damage is very long-term.

Analysis by Garth Luke, a consultant researcher on aid and development policy, shows that Australian governments have never increased aid as a share of gross national income when net Commonwealth debt has been above 10 per cent of GDP. That ratio is now 17 per cent and rising.

"In other words, it is very hard, perhaps impossible, to achieve growth in the aid program when the Commonwealth is seen to have significant debt," writes Luke.

The budget papers predict the Commonwealth net debt will peak at close to 20 per cent of GDP in 2017-18 and not to fall back below 10 per cent of GDP until at least 2026-27.

Government's will also be seeking to fund major commitments including defence projects, the full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and growing health costs driven by the ageing population.

Will foreign aid ever get a look in? Australia's recent stinginess is set to last.

Sweden: National Action Plan prioritises support for Women's Rights in Burma & conflicted nations Print E-mail
 Monday, May 30, 2016


Sweden Lends Women of Burma Its Support


Women and children take shelter as they flee fighting in Burma’s Kachin State. (The Irrawaddy)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden ­ The Swedish government says women in Burma can count on its support in furthering gender equality and protecting them from violence over the next four years.

Under Sweden’s recently adopted National Action Plan for 2016-20, Burma has been identified as one of 12 specially prioritized conflict or post-conflict countries struggling to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

With Burma home to the world’s longest-running ongoing armed conflict, Burmese women have suffered sexual violence and other forms of abuse in conflict-affected areas for decades. In the country’s ongoing peace process, women have largely been excluded from participation, and women’s rights advocates say the few women who are officially involved in negotiations are not accorded the same voice as their male counterparts.

The action plan adopted earlier this month is mainly focused on strengthening women’s participation in the country’s peace process and state-building, and protecting them from harm.

Efforts will be underpinned by the crux of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Passed in 2000, it highlights “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

The structure of the action plan emphasizes approaching issues of Women, Peace and Security from a gendered perspective.

“We have decided to prioritize the works in focused countries,” Disa Kammars Larsson from Kvinna till Kvinna, a Swedish foundation focused on peace and gender equality that was involved in drawing up and implementing the action plan, told The Irrawaddy.

She said that unlike Sweden’s previous two National Action Plans, the 2016-20 iteration has much stronger “political ownership,” with the inclusion of the Swedish Foreign Ministry in implementation of the plan allowing it the opportunity to better wield influence with Burma and the other targeted countries with respect to women’s rights.

“It clearly included political dialogue; that if Swedish diplomats and ministers visit to the focus countries, he or she has a responsibility to raise this issue and the Swedish Embassy in the country has the responsibility to report back to Sweden annually on the situation.”

The National Action Plan would require regular consultation with women’s rights defenders on the ground in Burma, she added.

Thandar Oo, a women’s rights and peace activist from Shan State, urged the international community to support women’s advocates working at the grassroots level to enhance these activists’ capacity to increase women’s participation in all realms of society.

Under the action plan, Burma is joined by Afghanistan in Asia; Iraq, Palestine and Syria in the Middle East; Colombia in Latin America; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mali and Somalia in Africa; and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in Europe, as priority nations.

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