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~ Wednesday January 6, 2016
Turnbull must act decisively on Dutton 'witch' comments
By Phil Cleary
Tony Abbott as opposition leader in front of posters proclaiming "Ditch the witch". (Andrew Meares)
Remember when Tony Abbott stood in front of posters on the lawns of Parliament House in 2011 exhorting Australians to "ditch the witch", our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard? Remember how not one single member of the Coalition had the courage to damn his actions, and the posters, as misogynist and capable of giving succour to violent men?
Four years later, it's a man cut from the same political cloth, the tough-talking Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who has propelled the misogynist notion of woman as witch back into the lexicon.
It might have been a private text to a colleague, sent inadvertently to a temporary adversary, News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden, but what does it say about Dutton's view of women in modern Australia that he saw fit to reduce Maiden's opinions to those of a "mad f------ witch"? Has it escaped him that women accused of being witches were once put to death?
Rather than acknowledging his words as a form of abuse that could reasonably leave people believing he harbours a deep-seated distrust of women, the minister offered a meaningless apology. "Sam and I have exchanged some robust language over the years so we had a laugh after this and I apologised to her straightaway, which she took in good faith," he said with a smile.
The palpable truth is that like so many men – bosses of leading companies, members of the police and armed forces, judges, celebrity sportsmen and politicians among them – Dutton either doesn't understand or doesn't care to understand the cultural landscape that has sustained the epidemic of violence against women.
The anti-violence campaigners aren't propagandising when they point to the generations of women bashed, raped and murdered and then subjected to courtroom depictions and media commentary founded in the myth that they have provoked the violence inflicted upon them, often attributed to a flawed or "witch-like" personality.
Paraded as sophisticated legal argument, so much of what passes as probative inquiry in our courtrooms amounts to little more than character assassination of the kind contained in Dutton's text. That's why the law of provocation has been abolished in several Australian states and the courtroom remains a battleground for reformers.
Last month a Queensland Court of Appeal noted that Allison Baden-Clay "had in the past suffered from depression for which she was prescribed Zoloft", when it controversially dismissed a properly instructed jury's finding that her husband had murdered her. Her state of mind gave veracity, the court said, to the possibility that the mother of three had engaged in an "angry attack" on her husband, who had unwittingly killed her. Her supporters reacted indignantly to the finding and the implication she was "mad" or anything less than a caring and sensible woman.
It seemed those dark days of denying the state's complicity in the scourge of violence against women might be coming to an end when, on White Ribbon Day 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered a "special tribute to the victims of domestic violence, past and present, who have borne the burden of our failure to act for too long", adding that "violence against women is the end point of disrespecting women", and that the solution lies in "significant cultural change".
How can the Prime Minister's words now be treated seriously when a key minister's default position on a woman who crosses him is that her views are those of a "mad witch"? What hope is there when men of such antiquated views occupy positions of power in Turnbull's government?
Try as they might to hide behind the excuse that the use of the word "witch" amounts to nothing more than a robust sledge, the apologists' days are numbered. Having drawn a nexus between male disrespect for women and the epidemic of violence, the Prime Minister cannot maintain the position that Dutton's comments were merely inappropriate. If he is genuine when he says only cultural change can end the violence, he must either sack Dutton or force him to deliver an apology that acknowledges the harm his words have done to the anti-violence campaign.
If the Prime Minister chooses neither of these courses of action, he faces being pilloried by the opposition.
"If little boys see their fathers disrespecting their mothers, they will grow up to disrespect their partners. If they see their mothers respected, they will respect their sisters." So said Malcolm Turnbull on White Ribbon Day. How can those words carry any weight when one of his ministers fosters the malicious idea among his colleagues that a non-compliant woman should be deemed a "mad witch"?
That Maiden appears to have forgiven Dutton for his comments should not and does not lessen the significance of the words or their implications for the government. How she responds emotionally might be her prerogative, but it has little bearing on any objective judgment, mine or the community's, on Dutton's words. As with the "ditch the witch" posters in 2011, we know there can be no escaping the implications for gender relations of a public figure calling a woman a witch. It remains a black mark on Australian political and social history that Gillard was left to her own devices to decry the posters. How different history would look had Turnbull stood with the prime minister, with both sides of politics rising in the House of Representatives to decry the posters and their dangerous implications for women. It was an opportunity lost.
If Australia was a truly democratic society, devoid of gender inequality, misogyny and chronic violence against women, Dutton's comments might have less significance. However, with homicide rates – more than 60 "domestic" murders of women in 2015 – and the violence surging, we are in the middle of a crisis in which there is no room for bystanders. Having nailed his colours to the mast, Turnbull must act. If he doesn't act decisively and publicly, he'll have lost me and, I suspect, many reformers who welcomed and praised his White Ribbon Day speech.
Phil Cleary is a writer, broadcaster and former independent federal MP.
Wednesday January 6, 2016
Greens leader Richard Di Natale calls for Peter Dutton's sacking
By Fergus Hunter
Dutton gaffe a 'test for Turnbull'
Labor puts pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's 'boorish' text message. (Vision ABC News 24)
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and to lead cultural change in Australia by ridding the Liberal Party of "rampant" sexism.
Senator Di Natale called Mr Dutton a "serial offender" who was "not able to deal with complex immigration issues" such as the case of Abyan, an asylum seeker allegedly raped on Nauru.
"Malcolm Turnbull needs to show he's serious about changing culture," Senator Di Natale said.
"One way he can do that is to ensure this repeat offender, Minister Dutton, is sent to the backbench where he belongs, and another suitable replacement is found for that difficult portfolio ... preferably a woman, a capable woman from within the Coalition ranks.
"He has made comments towards a senior journalist that do reflect the sexism that is at the heart of the Coalition government."
Peter Dutton's SMS slip has landed him in hot water. (Andrew Meares)
Mr Dutton is likely to avoid any further consequences for his text mishap, in which he labelled a journalist a "mad f---ing witch", which Mr Turnbull called "completely inappropriate".
Senator Di Natale said the Prime Minister should lead by example and bring about change in Australia's attitude towards women.
"What's required in this country is a change in culture. We need to see that change in culture come from the ground up, from our sporting institutions right through to politics," he said.
"I launched a domestic violence initiative on White Ribbon Day with the Prime Minister where he said very clearly that it was the responsibility of all men in Australia to call out sexism when they see it.
"That it was about men respecting their sisters, their mothers, their wives. And that where they fail to do it, they need to be called out.
"Well, the Prime Minister needs to demonstrate that he takes the issues seriously, that it's more than just rhetoric."
He also called on the government to reinstate domestic violence funding cuts and commended Liberal MP Sharman Stone for admonishing the "boys' club" in her own party.
Labor continues to call for an investigation into the leaking of a photograph of the public servant who complained about the behaviour of former cities minister Jamie Briggs.
"Actions speak louder than words and ... Mr Turnbull needs to show that he is taking this matter seriously by investigating who Mr Briggs sent this photograph to and who it was that gave it to The Australian newspaper so it could be published," shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister has rejected the calls, saying, "These leaks inquiries, they tend to come up with very little.
"I think we know the photograph was taken by Mr Briggs' phone and he shouldn't have done it."
Wednesday January 6, 2016
'I'd call you a c---': Senator David Leyonhjelm drops the c-bomb on Twitter
By Fergus Hunter /Reporter
Following an argument on Twitter, Senator David Leyonhjelm responds by calling someone a 'c---'.
There's plenty of bad language and abuse on social media, but it doesn't usually come from an elected representative in the Australian Parliament.
Libertarian senator David Leyonhjelm has labelled someone a "c---" on Twitter during an argument over Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's text mishap, in which he labelled a female journalist a "mad f---ing witch".
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm in his Sydney office. (Jessica Hromas)
Senator Leyonhjelm, whose profile warns that "offensive abusers are blocked", dropped the "c-bomb" the day after he called another Twitter user a "witch".
He said Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong, who had said she would find being called a witch offensive, "protests too much" and that "offence is chosen".
User @labourareliars then asked him "if someone called you a 'baldy lunatic f---wit', you'd be fine with it?"
- The senator's tweet."I'd call you a c---. And probably a rude name after that," Senator Leyonhjelm responded.
The Liberal Democrat senator is on a plane to Italy. A spokesman said the senator "is a rude man" but noted people offended by his use of the word have "probably used it themselves".
The outspoken senator is no stranger to causing controversy through language:
In November, the NSW senator said that police had earned the saying "all cops are bastards".
That same month, he called children "bundles of dribble and sputum" and praised people for not having them.
In July, he labelled another Twitter user a "legitimate f---wit" when they raised his anti-wind farm views.
In June 2014, he said he thought John Howard "deserved to be shot" when the former prime minister cracked down on firearms following the Port Arthur massacre.
And following the 2014 Martin Place siege, he said tough gun laws had made Australia a "nation of victims".
Mr Dutton continues to face criticism for accidentally sending veteran News Corp political journalist Samantha Maiden a text message calling her a "mad f---ing witch". The message was intended for a colleague.
On Tuesday, Deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce implored Australia not to become too "sterile" and politically correct.
"I like that Australia is to the point," he said.
"One of the great things about Australian politics is our informality and directness and I'd hate to lose that - even if there can be faux pas."
Thursday December 3, 2015
No, woman, no cryBy Namrata Joshi
A still from the film Kajarya , which releases across the country this Friday
Film-maker Madhureeta Anand draws attention to female foeticide in Kajarya
It’s a feature film that comes with the support of a number of women’s groups and NGOs such as One Billion Rising, Actionaid, Sangat, Jagori, Girls Count and more.
The reason is not far to seek. Kajarya , that releases across India this Friday, examines a shameful problem crippling our society, that of female foeticide. But, its maker, Madhureeta Anand, says she has tried to go beyond that to look at the larger fractious, dangerous world in which Indian women exist.
“I have tried to examine the psyche behind the many heinous crimes committed against women. Why do they happen and why do people just watch from a distance than intervene,” she says.
It’s the lurking sense of danger, the feeling of not being safe that she has tried to explore and evoke in the film. “It’s something most Indian women feel but men haven’t quite experienced. While I have tried to offer a sense of catharsis to women, I do hope that men will also realise what we are up against,” she says. Madhureeta’s debut was a hardcore commercial film, Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye , starring Raima Sen and Randeep Hooda. The idea for Kajarya had been sitting in her head for a long time but it was the 2010 Census and the skewed sex ratio it revealed that got her cracking on the film. She wrote several drafts of the script and eventually shot it over 30 days in the second half of 2012 in Jhajjar in Haryana (a place infamous for crimes against women) and in several villages in Uttar Pradesh.
Kajarya is the name of the film's protagonist and Madhureeta has chosen newcomers for the lead and other roles. “My film is like a fable and the newcomers make it believable, they are very close to the grain of my characters,” she says.
In fact, she even used women from the villages where she shot as secondary cast and extras. The film’s rough cut was shown in the Dubai film festival last year.
I have tried to offer a sense of catharsis to women - Madhureeta Anand,Film-maker
November 18, 2015
Female infanticide more in cities than villages: ‘Kajarya’ filmmaker
By: IANS | New Delhi
Filmmaker Madhureeta Anand, who made a deep study of female infanticide in the country in her film “Kajarya”, says she was surprised that the practice is more rampant in cities than in villages.
“Sex selective abortions happen more in the cities now than in the villages. The sex ratios are dropping much faster in Delhi and Mumbai than in the villages. It is very worrying. I don’t think it is a phenomenon which is just rural,” Anand told IANS.
For years, the issue of female infanticide has plagued society, but of late, whether it’s television shows, social campaigns, activists, actors or films, voices have been raised against it. Anand, whose first film was “Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye”, is herself happy that women are no longer reticent to talk about issues as grave as infanticide.
“The women really have a lot to say, but building trust (within them) is a part and parcel of the job. I think when people face this problem, they know it is a problem. They do not deny it. They might say that you are exaggerating it, but they won’t deny it because it is an issue in their faces,” the 42-year-old said.
To spread awareness about female infanticide, Anand even hosted special screenings of “Kajarya” in a few villages across north India. She wanted her 125-minutes- long movie to be watched by screenings for women who have been privy to the social evil.
In fact, Anand also tied up with NGOs like One Billion Rising, Sangat and Action Aid to spread the message in villages particularly. She said that it was a way to “use the film as a tool for emancipation and social change”.
The movie tells the story of two women from different backgrounds, wherein one lives in a village and has the job of killing the baby, while the other is an opportunistic journalist from New Delhi. Actress Meena Hooda plays the former role, while Ridhima Sud is cast as a journalist.
“Kajarya” was premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2013, and travelled to several other movie extravaganzas, evoking strong reactions.
Asked about the importance of international film festivals as many Indian films have taken to premiering at such platforms be it “Masaan” , “The Lunchbox”, “Margarita With A Straw”, “Dhanak” or “Titli” Anand shared that it is “a sad reality, but in India we like the stamp of foreigners”.
“With films also, we somehow don’t trust our own judgement. So, that stamp of quality helps, but the second really good reason to take ‘Kajarya’ abroad and what really helped me was that I showed it to so many audiences, and I got feedback for it,” she said.
The film will be up for judgement by the Indian audience on December 4.
Mumbai ~ Wednesday December 2, 2015
Kajarya review: This feisty, hard-hitting film on female foeticide is not an easy watch
by Subhash K Jha
Sitting numb at the end of this deeply disturbing film on female infanticide, Kajarya, I was informed that 10 million girls have been killed in our country since the 1980s.
This is no country for women. Think about what girls have to go through, from the foetal position to the missionary. If and when they are born, girl children have to face constant discrimination even in educated, ‘liberal’ families where the male heir is automatically given preferential treatment. When girls grow up they face perverse prejudices, unspeakable harassment and unchecked abuse from a civilisation that seems to think women are prey to every form of unwanted attention.
Given the backdrop, Madhureeta Anand’s film Kajarya is intrinsically depressing. She builds a sense of profound oppression , distrust and foreboding from her female characters’ inability to rise above their lot. You can belong to any social strata. But if you are woman you get seriously stymied in thought and action.
This melancholic drama opens with a visibly devastated women sprawled on a charpai. A man prods her awake, ‘Wake up, it’s time’ From this intriguing beginning the narrative builds surehandedly if somewhat jerkily and unevenly ,into a ghoulish suspense drama in a Haryanvi village, where little newly-born girl children are being sacrificed by heretic ritualists.
A still from Kajarya. (Facebook).
Kajarya is not an easy film to watch. With its oppressive ambience of gender atrocities, the other film that comes closest to this one is Manish Jha’s Matrabhoomi. I had sleepless night after watching Jha’s utterly joyless drama of female subjugation. One needs nerves of steel to digest the bitter horrific truth about the plight of the female sex in Kajarya.
The execution of the theme is somewhat self-righteous, reeking more of propagandist martyrdom at times.
Director Madhureeta Anand has our attention by force. She does not allow audiences the luxury to flinch or turn away. The nerve wracking narrative (don’t look for light moments in this grim drama of the damned) force-feeds us with its treatise of gender exploitation to the point when every female character , including the protagonist who has self-admittedly butchered dozens of babies, seem like a victim.
Barring one interesting exception(a Haryanvi man with a little daughter whom he protects ferociously against aggression) every male character here is either a lout or a lech, including a journalist's boyfriend, who is an upperclass brat who pounces on her for sex and demands she wear ‘decent’ clothes work every time they meet.
In one clumsily written but nonetheless effective love-making sequence Nikhil fumbles with Mira’s pants to perform oral sex , and gives up while Mira does the needful smoothly.Ah, what would we do without women!
Women, in Madhureeta Anand’s film are smarter and far more capable than men and yet assigned a subservient status by a social order that sanctions the penis to be the tyrant. It’s all a little lopsided. But then who are we to complain? We brought this on ourselves through centuries of gender inequality.
This is a film that shivers and dilates to a music of simmering discontent. Somewhere in the second-half Lata Mangeshkar’s classic lament of treachery and betrayal "Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani pe roye," from Mughal-e-Azam surfaces to remind us how time passes by.
The women in Kajarya are doughty victims, but victims nonetheless. Towards the end the director brings together the two female protagonists, the Delhi journalist Mira and the Haryanvi child killer Kajarya, for a confrontation. And that just didn’t move me. Maybe by then I was too numbed to react to the on screen drama. Also, Meenu Hooda, who plays the title role of the rustic Haryanvi woman, was a little too urban and way too old to play the character in the flashbacks.
Riddhima Sud, seen making a pleasant debut in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadkane Do, is well cast as the annoyingly self-fixated Delhi journalist who throws all caution to the winds for a scoop. Kudip Ruhil as the village goon, who undertakes monstrous manipulations in the name of religion, is suitably squalid.
Kajarya is not quite the long-legged social statement that the film’s well-researched plot would suggest. But it has its heart in the right place.
December 11, 2015 (Volume 32, Issue 24)
Too young to wed The scourge of child marriage continues to be widespread in India despite the laws prohibiting the practice (Sandeep Saxena )
By RAMESH CHAKRAPANI
Census of India 2011 data show that child marriage is widespread in the country, especially in the rural areas. Despite the existence of laws that forbid child marriage by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 for women and 21 for men, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, some as young as 10, are married off by their parents or families in the name of upholding a tradition that has no place in civilised society today.
The most disturbing statistic that emerges from the data is the prevalence of such marriage, mainly in the 10- to 14-year age group, in all the most populous States, without exception. The worst offender is Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of child brides and child grooms in the country, followed by Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Gujarat. There are at least 1 lakh child brides in that age group in each of these States. The southern States of (undivided) Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also rank high, above Haryana, Jharkhand and Odisha, which are considered more backward. Even Kerala, 100 per cent literate, recorded more than 30,000 such marriages.
The prevalence of child marriage is, not surprisingly, more commonplace among girls aged 15 to 17 in the key States. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of child brides, nearly 5.50 lakh in this age group. In terms of proportion of population, Rajasthan is the worst offender, with over 3.24 lakh instances, accounting for nearly 16 per cent of the total number of girls in that age group. In West Bengal, Gujarat, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Assam and Maharashtra, the figure is at least 10 per cent.
Uttar Pradesh has the dubious distinction of topping in the number of child grooms, having more than 11.76 lakh married males in the 15 to 20 age group. However, Rajasthan again tops in terms of percentage of the population of the category, with 6.9 lakh married males in the ages of 15 to 20, or 14.39 per cent of all males in the age group. Gujarat is second in terms of percentage, while Bihar is second in absolute numbers.
The Census data also show that the regionwise distribution of child brides, aged 15 to 17, is uneven for the most part, with an overwhelming majority found in rural areas in the most of the key States, while Tamil Nadu and Kerala alone recorded nearly even distribution.
London ~ Tuesday 1 December 2015
Northern Ireland law on abortion ruled 'incompatible with human rights'
- High court judgment in Belfast could lead to women being allowed to have terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest
- Attorney general in Northern Ireland says he was “profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal.”
By Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
Scroll down to also read "A milestone for abortion in Northern Ireland - but where does the law stand?"
A high court judge has ruled that Northern Ireland’s almost outright ban on abortion breaches the human rights of women and girls, including rape victims.
The historic judgment, delivered in Belfast on Monday, could lead to women and girls who are the victims of rape and incest as well those suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities having terminations in Northern Irish hospitals.
The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the landmark judgement in Belfast High Court. Breedagh Hughes, the RCM’s Northern Ireland Director, said it would give some legal protection for all health professionals faced with the possibility of carrying out terminations in local hospitals
Hughes said: “Today’s ruling is extremely welcome. It now gives midwives and other health professionals legal protection and a release from the fear of prosecution. This will enable midwives to offer women who have a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly the appropriate care, support and advice that they also have often been denied because of the Assembly’s inertia.”
Hughes said that the failure of local politicians to legislate in favour of some limited forms of abortion had put her members and other medical staff at risk of arrest and prosecution
But Northern Ireland’s attorney general later said he was considering whether to appeal the ruling.
At present, under a 19th-century law, local medical teams could be jailed for life for carrying out abortions even in these circumstances. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied to Northern Ireland and since devolution was restored the Stormont assembly has resisted any attempt to relax the near-total ban on terminations in local hospitals.
Abortions are only permitted in the region’s health service if the life of a mother is directly under threat or in cases in which there would be lasting long-term negative effects on her health by continuing with the pregnancy.
In his ground-breaking ruling and referring to cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, Mr Justice Horner told the high court in Belfast: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the article eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”
Referring to political inaction at Stormont over the abortion question, Horner also suggested that a referendum might have to be held to enact his conclusions on reforming local abortion law.
The judge said that without a referendum it was impossible to know how the majority of people in Northern Ireland viewed abortion.
Welcoming the judgment, Les Allamby, the head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), said: “In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.
“We are please that today that the high court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the commission’s favour.
“Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. It was important for the commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result.”
John Larkin QC, meanwhile, said he was “profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal”.
The attorney general came under sustained criticism from pro-choice campaigners three years ago when he called for a Stormont investigation into the opening of the Marie Stopes Clinic. He even offered politicians advice on how to ensure no kind of termination was carried out by the clinic’s Belfast office.
His intervention prompted claims that he was overstepping his role as a lawmaker in the province.
Back in June, a number of organisations and individuals made submissions to the Belfast high court. They included Sarah Ewart, who went public about having to travel to London to access termination services in 2013 after her first baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a severe brain malformation.
In her case, the NIHRC had argued that forcing women like Ewart to leave the jurisdiction away from support networks amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and that the current law was incompatible with the European convention on human rights, violating the human rights of women and girls.
Ewart welcomed the judge’s ruling on Monday and said she hoped other women would no longer have leave home for England in order to get a termination.
She said: “I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.
“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”
Bernadette Smyth, who heads the anti-abortion group Precious Life, branded the high court judgment “undemocratic”.
She claimed the ruling could “open the floodgates” for abortion on demand not just in limited circumstances – a charge the NIHRC has rebutted, pointing out that its court case was not about extending the 1967 act to the province.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice, which the commission took to court over the abortion issue, has six weeks to decide whether to appeal.
At least 1,000 women and girls from Northern Ireland travel to hospitals in Britain for terminations every year. Official figures for 2013, for instance, suggest 800 Northern Irish females had abortions in Britain – although that number is regarded as an underestimate. Among the 800 was a 13-year-old who became pregnant through incest.
The only law applying to abortion in Northern Ireland is the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, which contains a life sentence for anyone convicted of carrying out a termination even in cases of rape or incest.
Amnesty International said it was shameful that laws on abortion “date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe”.
Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty’s My Body, My Rights campaign, said: “Today’s court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. It’s shameful that the courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland’s women.” NEW
London ~ Tuesday 1 December 2015
A milestone for abortion in Northern Ireland - but where does the law stand?
The ruling that current laws are incompatible with human rights is a milestone but it changes nothing for most Northern Irish women
About 60,000 women have travelled in secret from Northern Ireland to Great Britain for terminations since 1970, according to Amnesty International. (Graeme Robertson for the Guardian)
By Amelia Gentleman@ameliagentleman
Since 1970, an estimated 60,000 women have travelled in secret from Northern Ireland to England for an abortion – some of them have been over the age of 50, some as young as 13. More recently, women have started sourcing abortion pills online from a handful of sites (some reputable, some less so), taking them with no medical supervision.
The restrictive nature of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws is a scandal that has persisted for so long that people have forgotten to be outraged by it. If you are surprised by how restrictive the legislation is in Northern Ireland, you are not alone. This is a legal anomaly largely overlooked in the rest of the UK, where two-thirds of people surveyed in an Amnesty International poll said they had no idea that abortion laws were different in Northern Ireland.
But the law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and carries the harshest criminal penalty of any European country – life imprisonment both for the woman who has an illegal abortion and for anyone who has assisted her.
The 1967 Abortion Act has never been extended to Northern Ireland and abortion is only carried out when the life or mental health of the mother is deemed to be in danger. This happens very rarely; official statistics indicate that only 23 lawful terminations took place in Northern Ireland in 2013-14.
Pro-choice campaigners have welcomed the ruling, but this is a very small step forward. The case looks only at women seeking an abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. It will have no bearing on the difficulties experienced by the much larger numbers of women seeking an abortion simply because they do not wish to continue with a pregnancy for innumerable other reasons.
Despite the high court judgment, many of these women will continue to have to make the difficult journey to clinics in England and Europe. Despite being UK residents, they are not eligible to have the procedure done on the NHS, so in addition to the cost of the flights, they have to pay between £400 and £2,000 (depending on how many weeks pregnant they are) to have it done in a private clinic.
Even those who can gather together enough money find it a miserable process. Some have to save up for weeks to pay for the termination, cutting direct debits, turning off the heating. They describe the predicament of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy until they can afford to terminate it as particularly painful.
The side-effect of having to save up the money means more women are forced to have dangerous later-term abortions. Mara Clarke, who runs the Abortion Support Network, which offers financial help to women from Ireland and Northern Ireland who need to travel for an abortion, explains: “Fewer than 1.4% of the abortions in England, Scotland and Wales happen at over 20 weeks. With our clients, it’s 8%, because they spend so long trying to raise the money.”
Many women try to return home immediately to save money on hotels. This means that those who have taken abortion pills, rather than undergoing a surgical procedure, have to deal with the experience of miscarrying on the flight home. Because abortion remains such a taboo, many women do not want to tell friends and family what they have done and the unhappy experience remains bottled up.
An employee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, working in the Merseyside clinic, which sees about 30 women from Northern Ireland and Ireland every week, said in research carried out by Amnesty: “The impact of travel … well, there’s the financial aspect but that’s not always the main thing at all, because really it’s more the fact that they have to be so secretive and sneak out of the country. They do feel guilty anyway, and it adds to how they feel afterwards. The fact they have to travel and tell lies about where they are going. No woman should feel guilty about an unwanted pregnancy in this day and age.”
Even modest celebration about the ruling may prove misplaced, since Northern Ireland’s attorney general has said he is considering whether to appeal and even if he does not, it is far from clear whether the Northern Ireland assembly will agree to amend the law. Opposition to liberal abortion laws is one of the few things that unites Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party.
17 November 2015
Mass graves of women 'too old to be Isil sex slaves' - this is what we're up against
As the world prayed for Paris, more than three thousand miles east another atrocity was being uncovered in Iraq - two mass graves containing the bodies of older Yazidi women. Mass graves of Yazidi women have been found in Sinjar (Rex)
By Sophy Ridge, Sky News political correspondent
In the desert dust of Sinjar, in north west Iraq, a walking stick lies on the ground.
Strewn casually alongside it are a couple of pairs of scissors, some household keys and a shoe. Bank notes flutter in the dirt.
But, if you look a little closer, the scene becomes a horror show. Clumps of hair and fragments of bone poke grotesquely out of the ditch. It is estimated that almost 80 women are buried in this mass grave, aged between 40 and 80-years-old. The bodies are of Yazidi women, murdered by Islamic State butchers.
As the world prayed for Paris, more than three thousand miles east another atrocity was being uncovered.
People around the world are mourning the Paris attacks Photo: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images
Last week Kurdish forces – backed by British and American air strikes – liberated Sinjar from Islamic State militants, along with 28 other villages.
They discovered two graves. The first – containing the corpses of older women – was found west of the city’s centre, near the Sinjar Technical Institute. The second was ten miles west, and is believed to contain men, women and children. It is rigged with explosives and deliberately difficult to access.
The Kurdish government team will analyse the bodies in an attempt to uncover the grim story of what happened here.
But let’s be frank: it is not difficult to guess.
Over the past year, Islamic State forces have kidnapped thousands of young Yazidi women to use as sex slaves. Now we know what happened to those not deemed ‘attractive enough’ for them.
French President Francois Hollande has called the sickening atrocities carried out in Paris “an act of war” committed by Isil.
But for the Yazidis, persecuted in Iraq, this is not just a war. It has all the marks of genocide.
Reading about what happened to the Yazidis is difficult. At a time when the west is still mourning the victims of the co-ordinated terror attacks in Paris, more horrific news can seem too much to bear.
But the massacre of the Yazidis cannot be ignored if the true nature of the enemy in Hollande’s ‘war’ is to be understood.
President Hollande has declared 'war' on Islamic State (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)
The Yazidis are a religious sect whose faith incorporates parts of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. To Isil, they are 'devil worshippers' – the lowest of the low – who should be either killed or enslaved.
In August 2014 the militants overran Yazidi territory in Sinjar and began killing and kidnapping thousands of men, women and children. The United Nations has already acknowledged that what happened in those dark days may be considered genocide.
In the village of Kocho, Isil militants gave the inhabitants a deadline by which to convert to Islam. If they refused, they would die.
Hundreds of men and boys were slaughtered; many killed by point-blank shots to the head or were pushed off cliffs. More than a thousand women and girls were kidnapped. The brutal sexual violence against these women and girls – passed around by Isil fighters – has been well documented.
Last year, one 17-year-old girl, part of a group of about 40 Yazidi women who were still being held captive and sexually abused on a daily basis by Isil fighters, told how they were raped on the top floor of the building, up to three times a day, by different groups of men.
"Our torturers do not even spare the women who have small children with them. "Nor do they spare the girls - some of our group are not even 13 years old. Some of them will no longer say a word."
Now, another chilling part of the picture has been filled in: what happened to the older women.
After a two day offensive to recapture Sinjar, last Friday, Kurdish forces were met by young Yazidi women who had somehow managed to escape the clutches of the Isil kidnappers. They led their liberators to ditches containing the bodies of their mothers and grandmothers.
According to the survivors, these older women were taken behind the technical institute in the Solagh area, east of Sinjar. After a pause, gunfire was heard.
The belongings scattered by the dusty mass grave in Sinjar show this is no ordinary war. Elderly women who use walking sticks are not soldiers.
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