Recent Resources for Feminists
Saturday June 21, 2014
Beginning a new conversation on women
By Shamika Ravi Anuradha Sajjanhar
Scroll down to also read "GENDER CONCERNS "
Modi’s ‘10-point agenda’ in its current form would be significantly hampered if the government does not take a strong look at injustices against women
Riding on the aspirations of the electorate, of which women are a significant share, Narendra Modi’s victory is commonly seen as a vote for development. But the last few weeks’ horrific reminder of how India publically consumes violence against women, in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s ‘10-point agenda’ for the new government, demonstrates a disturbing lack of policy vision for women’s issues. More specifically, it is important to point out the glaring absences in Mr. Modi’s vision. While he has urged us to not engage in ‘psychological analysis’ of rapes but instead prioritise ‘respect’ for women, this rhetoric indicates a feeble understanding of the sustained gross neglect faced by women in India. Their dismal state at present is reflected in the Gender Inequality Index which ranks us at 132 out of 146 countries. How can any country develop while denying equal rights to life and liberty to half its population?
Expanding the discourse
We start by making a distinction between violence in public and private spaces intra-household and extra-household injuries. While the two exist on a continuum, the rapes in Badaun demonstrate a disturbing need to publically shame, perform and consume acts of brutality against women. On the other hand, intra-household crime and neglect is socially normalised, and the two combined indicate a deeper, embedded psyche that cannot be addressed without a multifaceted policy approach. A political discourse on ‘empowering’ women must then become much more than it is now a rhetoric of protection, justification of male urges and/or occasional lip-service. Indeed, to casually gloss over the structural nature of our entrenched hierarchical tendencies is only to give them a firmer hold.
In “The Subjection of Women” (1869), John Stuart Mill compared marriage laws to slavery of women and argued, “there remain no legal slaves, save the mistress of every house.” Sadly, nearly 150 years later, this still rings true for Indian women. While crimes against women have more than doubled between 1990 and 2011, close to 40 per cent of these are injuries inflicted by husbands or family members. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-3 reports that 37 per cent of women who have ever been married have experienced spousal physical or sexual violence, and 40 per cent have experienced spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence. At present, married women and widowed women have a much higher prevalence of violence against them (37 and 38 per cent) than women who have never been married (16 per cent) or women whose gauna has not yet taken place (15 per cent). The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, which took effect in 2006, includes the prohibition of marital rape and the provision of protection and maintenance orders against husbands and partners who are emotionally, physically or economically abusive. However, a policy approach centred on female agency must also be developed to tackle crimes against women and, in order to do so, the intersection of crimes with intra-household and extra-household bargaining power must be understood.
While ‘empowerment’ often focusses on employment, it is worrying that the number of women in the workforce seems to have lowered and stagnated. According to data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, female labour force participation fell from above 40 per cent in the early-to-mid 1990s to 22.5 per cent in 2011-12. It is even more worrying that studies seem to indicate a link between women’s employment and domestic violence. NFHS-3 reports that there is a much higher prevalence of violence against women who were employed at any time in the past 12 months (39-40 per cent) than women who were not employed (29 per cent), contradicting the widely held assumption that women who contribute income are at a reduced risk of physical violence.
On the link between marital violence and property ownership, B. Agarwal and P. Panda find through a study in Kerala (World Development, 2005) that women owning immovable property are found to face a significantly lower risk of marital violence than propertyless women. This points us to another significant correlation of worth with wealth, and not worth with quantity/amount of work. Control and ownership of land often defines (and is defined by) wider access to economic, social and political power.
Safety of women is development
The ‘male backlash’ theory suggests that a woman’s independence signifies a challenge to a culturally prescribed norm and hence results in physical aggression. This has been found to be problematic elsewhere as it denies possibilities of female agency and, indeed, presents a simplistic analysis of transitioning social structures. However, it seems to be partly consistent with results in India, leading us to the understanding that employment alone does not guarantee external agency. Gender ideology, as crystallised in social perspectives, norms and practices, affects women’s bargaining power, not just in the domestic space but in the market, community and the state as well. This does not, of course, imply that employment is not imperative instead, it indicates that gender equality is a far more complex aspiration and requires the intervention of community organisations, policy-oriented efforts by the state, as well as non-governmental programmes. Indeed, the ‘10-point agenda’ in its current form would be significantly hampered if the government were not to take a strong look at injustices against women investment, tourism and India’s global standing would suffer.
It is an understatement to say that violence against women is multidimensional it is structural, brutal, and a part of everyday life. The new government’s conversation on women so far has been disheartening. A new conversation needs to focus not simply on protection but on equality of opportunity to unleash the full potential of women citizens of India.
(Shamika Ravi is fellow and Anuradha Sajjanhar is research assistant at The Brookings Institution, India Center.)
Volume: 31 Issue: 11 June 13, 2014
Women labourers heading back home, at Paritala in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh. Women are the section worst affected by price rise and vulnerable employment (THE HINDU Archives)
It will be watched keenly whether the new government will take up proactively issues relating to women’s rights in consultation with organisations that have been pushing a progressive agenda.
By T.K. RAJALAKSHMI
IN the aftermath of the gang rape and murder of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in December 2012, a clamour rose across the country for strong measures to prevent crimes against women. Naturally, one of the challenges before the new government will be to provide a safe and secure environment for women and children.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto promises strict implementation of laws on crimes against women, especially those dealing with rape. However, several other laws that need to be implemented strictly, such as the ones relating to domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace, dowry, and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, do not find adequate mention in the document. It is also silent on separate legislation on acid attacks and crimes committed in the name of honour.
The section “Womenthe nation builders” in the manifesto appears to have a limited agenda. Commitments given therein include passing the Constitution amendment Bill providing for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and the State Assemblies, including self-defence training in the school curricula, and setting up business facilitation centres and “business incubator” parks for women.
The Women’s Reservation Bill has been hanging for nearly one and a half decades. Despite the support of the Left parties, the Congress failed to get its allies on board to get the Bill passed.
An issue that all political parties except the Congress raised during the election campaign was the modalities of the dispensation of the fund for the relief and rehabilitation of victims of rape. Not a single paisa was spent from the fund the government had set up in the aftermath of the December 16, 2012, gang rape.
Arresting the declining child sex ratio is a major challenge for any government. Quoting 2011 Census figures, women’s organisations point out that child sex ratios (CSR) fell from 927 to 914 between 2001 and 2011 in 27 States and Union Territories. Recently released Census data show a sex ratio of 919 for the 1-6 age group and 911 for the 7-15 age group. This is a damning indictment of the policies of the Central and some State governments and an exposure of the utter failure to implement the PCPNDT Act. According to women’s groups, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had taken virtually no action against those doctors and medical technologists who were out to make profits, without whose collusion sex-selective abortion cannot occur.
The legislative agenda with regard to women’s empowerment is one that will be keenly watched. The Planning Commission’s Working Group on Women’s Empowerment had expressly recommended a separate law dealing with honour crimes, and a Group of Ministers was constituted to look into it, but this was folded up.
Women’s organisations also point to the inadequacies in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013, which was passed by the UPA government on the basis of the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, constituted following the gang rape in Delhi. In a detailed charter addressed to political parties, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the National Federation of Indian Women, the Joint Women’s Programme and several other groups expressed the need for a relook at the Bill. It says: “The Bill failed to address the important issues of marital rape exception, does not acknowledge the social, economic and political power of those who rape with impunity women from the most vulnerable sections of our society, does not protect young boys and girls who are in a consensual relationship between the ages of 16 and 18 years from the criminal consequences of statutory rape, does not accept the recognition of command responsibility, excludes AFSPA [The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act] from its purview and retains the death penalty.”
Women are also the section worst affected by price rise and vulnerable employment. As such, the charter outlines certain measures for the economic amelioration of women.
It demands that the government should remove the cap on “priority” households in the National Food Security Act and universalise the public distribution system (PDS) and exclude only taxpayers; ensure a minimum entitlement of 35 kilograms of foodgrain a household or 7 kilograms a person in a family; and conduct special drives to ensure that all households, especially single women, workers in the unorganised sector, the disabled, migrants and street-dwellers, have ration cards.
The PDS, the charter says, should be strengthened and the list of items under it expanded to include pulses, sugar, tea, edible oil, salt, milk and vegetables at controlled prices. It also demands strict action against hoarders and black-marketeers under the Essential Commodities Act and calls for a ban in futures trading in commodities. If good times are to come, as the BJP slogan says, the government may well have to look at what the charter says, representing as it does the interests of the majority of women in the country.
Other demands include removing the cap on the number of domestic LPG cylinders available at administered prices, providing subsidised LPG for cooking midday meals at Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres, and ensuring a quota of at least five litres of kerosene a person at controlled prices through PDS shops. The charter also demands a reduction in the prices of petrol and diesel by cutting excise and customs duties, and the rejection of the system of cash transfers and linkage of Aadhaar for availing oneself of essential commodities, especially food and fuel, through PDS.
Although the BJP manifesto talks about incorporating the “best practices of successful PDS models and revising the existing PDS”, it is silent on the issue of universalising the PDS. It says it will address the issue of under-nutrition and malnutrition without saying anything about regularising the services of women engaged in dealing with the nutritional issues of children of the poor.
A major issue at hand is the regularisation of the almost one crore scheme-based workers, including 27 lakh anganwadi workers, 26 lakh midday meal scheme workers and nine lakh accredited social health activists of the National Rural Health Mission. The BJP’s commitment in the manifesto extends only to the point of reviewing the working conditions of anganwadi workers and enhancing their remuneration.
There are also legitimate concerns about fringe right-wing groups starting to impose norms under the garb of Indian culture on young men and women. The attacks on women going to pubs or on couples on Valentine’s Day and the targeting of the rights of sexual minorities when the BJP was in power are still fresh in public memory.
The issue now is whether the BJP, having secured a decisive mandate, will preserve cultural heterogeneity and take up proactively issues relating to women’s rights in consultation with organisations that have been pushing a progressive and democratic women’s agenda.
Dublin ~ Thursday, June 5, 2014
Why we need feminism: women deserve respect
Opinion: It is not okay that young women feel insecure in their own bodies, because of unrealistic media portrayals of women
‘It is notable that while the Irish women’s rugby team were winning the Six Nations a year ago, mainstream media in Ireland often focused on what the wives and girlfriends of the male rugby players were wearing.’ Above, the RBS Women’s Six Nations Championship, Parabiago, Milan. (Dan Sheridan/Inpho)
By Angela Towers
When the National Women’s Council of Ireland asked me to speak at its event on why we still need feminism, I jumped at the chance. For me, it is very obvious that we still need feminism because on a daily basis various sections of the media in Ireland reduce women to the sum total of their appearance, or a combination of their body parts. This has a huge impact on young girls – who suffer from body insecurity as a result. Yet the issue in Ireland is bigger than that. When women succeed, their success is often ignored. This leaves young girls not only concerned about their appearance, but also wondering what they have to do to be appreciated for their minds.
In Ireland, it is understood in theory that gender equality is a good thing, but we often fail to acknowledge that the continuous and everyday sexual objectification of women in the media is a huge barrier to achieving this. This is what the No More Page 3 campaign is about in the UK – taking women in their pants off the pages of a national newspaper. Although since August 2013, there are no longer boobs on Page 3 of the Sun in Ireland, negative portrayals of women in the media still exist. Sexualised images of women are still common in Irish newspapers.
We need to talk about the oversexualisation of women in the media, because it has a very real and very negative impact on women, and on men too. The UN Commission on the Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls 3, signed by the Irish Government in March 2013, was unequivocal in its findings that the media play a vital role in forming attitudes towards women, and should refrain from “presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities”.
So while we don’t have boobs in Irish newspapers, Ireland definitely needs to discuss the fact that women are regularly still presented as inferior and are often still exploited as sexual objects in the media.
It is notable that while the Irish women’s rugby team were winning the Six Nations a year ago, mainstream media in Ireland often focused on what the wives and girlfriends of the male rugby players were wearing. According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in the UK, it’s estimated the media coverage of women’s sports there is about 5 per cent of total sports coverage.
Lucy-Anne Holmes, the founder of No More Page Three, was prompted to begin the campaign after discovering that following a particularly good day for team GB at the London 2012 Olympics, the Page 3 image was still the largest image of a woman in the Sun newspaper, larger than the image of Jessica Ennis winning her gold medal.
Young girls are only presented with one kind of body, the size zero kind. They don’t see sports stars or even women politicians, or women world leaders as often as they see models. Irish teenagers suffer high levels of mental stress because of body image issues. Girls in particular have problems with how they perceive their body. A survey in 2011 found that Irish teenagers are more sensitive to concerns over body image than in other countries. The media and celebrities were found to be a significant factor impacting the way young people perceive themselves. These are issues that young women raise with The Y Factor, the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s youth initiative, on a weekly basis.
The portrayal of women in Irish media causes body insecurities and can leave young girls assuming that no matter what they achieve, it matters less than the success of their brother. Yet there are wider problems associated with this.
There is a link between discrimination in the media and violence against women that we are hesitant to discuss. In Ireland 52 per cent of women avoid certain areas for fear of being assaulted. We are not saying that any man who looks at half-naked pictures of women is a potential rapist, but that we need to look at how the everyday commodification of women’s bodies by the media can impact the way young people are socialised.
Effortless access to pornographic materials and the general objectification of women distort the views of young men in respect to their attitude toward women and girls. The constant reference to how a successful woman looks sends the message that, whatever a woman achieves, her primary use is to serve a man sexually. This is not a message we want young women, or young men, to pick up from a newspaper or a magazine.
We still need feminism, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is not OK that young women feel insecure in their bodies because of unrealistic media portrayals of women.
We need to ensure that all parts of the media are responsible for promoting the many contributions of women to Irish society.
This means not focusing on what a politician is wearing, but what she is saying. This means showing women’s rugby matches, and giving just as must coverage to all women’s sports. This means not referring to a woman as somebody else’s wife. This means not judging a woman’s success by her husband and children, while judging a man’s success by how much money he makes. This means representing women as the incredible individuals they are, which shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?
Angela Towers is the spokesperson for . She is addressing the agm of National Women’s Council of Ireland tomorrow.
May 29, 2014
The end of poverty?by Thomas Pogge
WASHINGTON As United Nations officials struggle to define the development priorities of the next 15 years, the U.N. Millennium Campaign, the World Bank, and many other organs of the development industry tell us that we are nearing the end of poverty. Yet, well over half of human beings are still suffering serious deprivations of poverty, such as child labor, chronic undernourishment, illiteracy, and lack of access to safe drinking water, shelter, sanitation, electricity, and essential medicines.
In some ways, conditions among humanity’s poorer half have improved over the last 25 years. But the trend depends heavily on the definitions and methods used for measurement.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization recently transformed a steadily rising undernourishment trend into a steadily falling one by introducing an “improved methodology” that counts as undernourished only those whose caloric intake is “inadequate to cover even minimum needs for a sedentary lifestyle” for “over a year.” This definition excludes those who suffer other nutritional deficits (vitamins, proteins, minerals) and those who are not adequately nourished by the sedentary diet because they must do serious physical work in their home or for a living.
The World Bank similarly improved the extreme poverty trend by lowering its international poverty line from $1 per person per day in 1985 dollars to a grotesquely inadequate $1.25 in 2005 dollars.
The morally relevant comparison of existing poverty, in any case, is not with historical benchmarks but with present possibilities: How much of this poverty is really unavoidable today? By this standard, our generation is doing worse than any in human history.
To eliminate severe poverty, the poorer half of humanity would need only 6% of global household income – a shift of just 2.7% in their favor. Yet the global distribution is shifting in the opposite direction: The top 5% of humanity gained 2.9% of global household income between 1988 and 2008, and now capture nearly half.
In the same period, the share of the poorest 30% was compressed from 1.52% to 1.25%, despite all development assistance efforts. The benefit the poor derive from global growth is decimated by the narrowing of their slice of the expanding pie.
One crucial driver of national and global income polarization is regulatory capture, called “money in politics” on the left and “crony capitalism” on the right. Corporate and elite interests capture the basic rules of the economic system (governing investment, taxation, trade, intellectual property, etc), which so profoundly influence the economic distribution. The wealthiest agents have the strongest incentives and also the best opportunities to engage in concerted lobbying, and thus perpetually shift the rules in their own favor.
Involving a massive shift of regulation from the national to the supranational level, globalization has opened up a vast new arena for such lobbying. Its prime targets are officials of powerful states – especially in the United States, where political favors are legally for sale, and which still wields unrivaled power in international negotiations.
For those with lobbying clout, international rulemaking is typically easier to influence than national legislation. There is no democratic counterweight to contend with. Lack of transparency makes it easy to conceal influence. And moral concerns about proposed rules are easily dismissed with the remark that international relations are a jungle in which we cannot afford to endanger ourselves through moral self-restraints.
It is not surprising, then, that the last 30 years have seen the emergence of a dense and influential supranational rule system that favors banks, hedge funds, multinational corporations, and billionaires at the expense of a large majority of the world’s people.
Tax cheating and corruption are rife thanks to a worldwide network of tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, shell companies, and sleazy banks. Poor populations are deprived of their natural resources while their unelected oppressors receive money and weapons to keep themselves in power.
Only affluent countries are still permitted to practice protectionism under rules grandfathered into the World Trade Organization agreements. Strong intellectual property protections are required from all WTO members, disrupting medical provision and food supplies in the developing world.
Weak environmental standards allow the affluent to burden the poor with the byproducts of their massive consumption, and weak labor rights push poor countries into a race to the bottom as they seek foreign investment by offering an underpaid and mistreatable workforce.
Development assistance can be helpful, but it also sustains the status quo by feeding the complacent belief that enough is being done. In any case, aid on its own cannot overcome the powerful headwind generated by a supranational institutional order designed by the rich for the rich.
To raise the income share of the poor, this order must be reformed. Some ideas in this direction are straightforward:
• Require the beneficial owners of all accounts to be known, and their income to be reported to their home country.Only by changing the rules that generate and maintain vast global inequality can we actually realize the proclaimed ambition of our political leaders to end severe poverty by 2030. We must address its root causes, rather than treating its symptoms under the guise of charity.
• Impose a global alternative minimum tax on multinational corporations to undercut their incentive to dodge national taxes.
• Stop recognizing dictators as entitled to sell “their” country’s natural resources, and to incur debts on its behalf.
• Impose a fee on protectionist subsidies both to discourage them and to compensate poor populations for the export opportunities they destroy.
• Curtail the delivery of arms into the developing world.
• Tax greenhouse gas emissions for development.
• Allow pharmaceutical innovators to be rewarded from public funds for the health impact of their product if they agree to sell it at or below manufacturing cost.
• Allow agricultural and green innovators to be rewarded from public funds for the nutritional and ecological impact of their innovation provided they license it for free around the world.
Thomas Pogge is the Director of the Global Justice Program and the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University. He is also a member of UNICEF's Social and Economic Policy Advisory Board.
Melbourne ~ Tuesday 20 May 2014
How do we repair the broken families?
[Read also "Legislation enacted to halt slaying of men on the streets, but for DV-related murder of children & women compassion for the overwhelmingly male killer is the call!!"]
What is the leading contributor to early death and ill health for Victorian women in the prime of their life? Car accidents, perhaps? Breast cancer? Melanoma? No. Here is something that might shock you out of suburban complacency. That leading contributor to death and long-term poor health among women aged 15 to 45 is violence in the home or within an intimate relationship.
Women are bashed and murdered by men whom they trusted and loved. In every suburb in every city. They are abused and intimidated and fear for their lives if they dare to report the crime. Many people fail even to recognise it as a crime. Generation after generation has suffered, but only recently has our community grasped the appalling cost in lives lost or dreadfully damaged.
Here are the facts. The overwhelming number of perpetrators of domestic violence are men. The overwhelming number of victims are women. Tragically, children are often direct targets of rage and frustration in the family environment and too many suffer long-term psychological damage by witnessing parental violence. The contexts of domestic violence differ from one instance to another, but perpetrators take their cues from skewed attitudes they have observed personally or perhaps seen elsewhere in our community about the respective roles of men and women. Their actions stem from wrong-headed presumptions that men are entitled to control, and that women and children are subordinates.
We know the causes and societal contexts of domestic violence but we tend to adopt a defeatist attitude. We must stop casting our eyes down and pretending it is not happening.
There is an element in all this that politicians too readily ignore. Funding. Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge has promised that an extra $4.5 million will be spent to protect women at high risk of domestic violence, but those who assist victims say another $16 million is needed just in this sub-sector alone.
Much more is needed to expand the capacity and geographical reach of programs aimed at changing the behaviour of men. And much more again is needed to fund Victoria's police, who are called to respond to hundreds of domestic violence incidents each week, and to fund the justice system, which is struggling to deal with tens of thousands of applications for family violence intervention orders each year. About one-third of such orders are breached.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has promised that, if Labor wins government in November, he will set up a royal commission on family violence. That is a step forward and is welcomed by The Age, but millions of dollars should not be wasted raking over old ground. Instead, an inquiry should examine the deficiencies in the existing system and how it can be improved to world's best practice.
We need to understand how the best violence-prevention and behavioural-change programs work, and we need governments to fund them properly. We need better co-ordination between the disparate agencies that already deal with domestic violence issues, and we must ensure such services are readily available in Victoria's regional areas as well as in Melbourne.
Attitudes towards women are slowly changing, thanks in part to enlightened men who publicly denounce violence and champion equality in all forms. But as a community we do not do anywhere near enough to prevent family violence and we are not entirely competent dealing with its aftermath. Each of us needs to wake up to the dark secret that is destroying families in Australia. We need to become informed about what can and must be done. We need to be brave and to report violent and threatening behaviour so that we can try to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Governments boast about billions of dollars they might spend on new roads, railways or ports. If they could peel off $1 billion to repair broken families, it would surely make a mountain of difference to our world.
Melbourne ~ Tuesday April 29, 2014
Victorians must speak out to tackle culture of violence against women and childrenBy Natasha Stott Despoja
(Illustration: John Spooner)
Kelly Thompson, Luke Batty, Fiona Warzywoda, Indiana and Savannah – these are names that have dominated the news in recent weeks and months. They are the names of just some of those whose lives have been violently cut short in circumstances we struggle to comprehend.
The confronting nature of their deaths has generated outrage and highlighted the prevalence and severity of violence against women and their children.
These incidents have triggered an outcry and what the chief executive of Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack, has described as "fury" among those working in the sector.
These cases represent the tip of the iceberg.
A woman is killed nearly every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner – often while she is trying to leave the relationship. Most of these murders are the ultimate act in a longer history of domestic violence.
The "retaliatory" murders of children – where the intention is to cause maximum possible pain and harm to the other parent – again usually occur in the context of a history of domestic violence, and are most often perpetrated by fathers or stepfathers.
Most men are not violent. But the vast majority of acts of domestic violence are perpetrated by men against women. Men have to take responsibility.
Figures from the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics show that women are more than three times more likely than men to have experienced violence by an intimate partner since 15 years of age.
The same research highlights that there is significant under-reporting of violence against women, with an estimated 67 per cent of women not contacting police after recent incidents of physical assault by a male.
Other research has shown that more than a third of women who experienced violence by a previous partner said their children had witnessed the violence.
We need to ask what it is – in the messages our society sends to men about masculinity, relationships, and how they should treat women – that makes some feel they can not only be violent towards women and their children, but kill them. Men, above all, need to ask these questions.
These are uncomfortable questions – we do not want to think that in 2014 our society continues to treat women and men differently. But the research tells us that it is attitudes toward gender roles, and power differentials between men and women, that are the most significant factors determining levels of violence against women and their children.
This sickening violence has to stop. But where to start? Or start again, since women have been wrestling with these problems forever, and most particularly since the shelter movement of the end of the last century.
In recent weeks we have seen first the victims blamed, then police, the legal system and governments. Perpetrators, and an examination of what drives their behaviour, are surprisingly absent from the debate.
Violence against women and their children will not stop if we cannot move people beyond the current understanding about what it is and why it happens. We know it exists but often it is thought about as something that happens to other people, in poorer areas or people from other countries.
Jill Meagher's widowed husband Tom recently published an essay which acknowledged the difficulty in mobilising community outrage in a sustained way.
However, there are many things we can do in addition to the powerful 30,000 plus strong walk along a main street of a capital city.
These include daily acts of courage in addressing the culture that allows violence to occur, and confronting and naming the attitudes, beliefs and distorted values that justify, excuse, minimise or hide violence against women and their children.
We must recognise the links between the views, beliefs and attitudes, which demean, degrade and diminish women, and the existence of violence against women and their children.
We can talk to the woman at work who seems to be distressed by the constant calls and text messages from her husband or boyfriend.
We can quietly tell the teenager at the barbecue that the way he talks about girls is inappropriate and disrespectful.
We can refuse to be silent, even at the risk of being considered, or called, “soft”, “man-hating”, “wrong”, (the kind of comments directed at me recently online), a “wowser”, someone who “cannot take a joke”, “politically correct” or “no fun to be around”.
We can speak out against ill-thought campaigns that ignore the suffering and devastation of domestic violence, such as the one launched by Avalon Airport in Victoria last month, which said “Fly domestic without having one”.
We must question magazines and fashion designers that choose to use violence against women to sell. The April edition of Italian Vogue features bashed and bloodied models in couture thus, glamorising injured and even dead women.
Recently, the New Zealand Immigration department barred rap collective Odd Future from entry based on evidence of incitement to violence against a young Australian woman activist.
At a concert in Sydney last year, Tyler the Creator of Odd Future unleashed a tirade of verbal abuse against 24-year-old Talitha Stone, an activist with grassroots organisation Collective Shout which targets corporations, advertisers, marketers and media that objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services.
And what message do songs like Break A Bitch ‘Til I Die, Can You Control Yo Hoe? and Kim (“Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you? Now shut the f--- up and get what’s comin to you”), which condone and even celebrate violence against women in a way that is deeply disturbing, send to impressionable boys and girls?
We should consider our own behaviours and attitudes, and be strong role models for our children, families and friends. Especially our boy children.
We are all responsible for shifting the social norms that blame, excuse, minimise and justify violence against women and their children.
It is early days for the organisation I chair, the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children. We have been established to spur on the community, businesses, and governments in the area of primary prevention: preventing violence before it occurs.
Across our nation, we need to have a mature and assured conversation about men and women, our roles, rights and responsibilities if we are going to make a real and lasting difference in reducing the experience and impact of violence against women and their children in our country.
Natasha Stott Despoja is the Chair of the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children.
Melbourne ~ Sunday April 27, 2014
The brutal price of domestic violenceBy John Elder
There has reportedly been a 40 per cent increase in family violence reports over the past two years.
This weekend, as most of the nation enjoys another public holiday, at least 51 women and 57 children are hiding out in motels across Victoria, on the run from men who claim to love them. Some will remain living there for up to two weeks until a more home-like environment can be provided - unless, of course, they lose their nerve and go back to the devil they know too well.
Another 150 women, and their children, are in secret refuges - 19 across the state, nine of them high-security - having agreed to abide by strict guidelines not to contact other family members or friends until they have resettled their lives elsewhere.
They've been told, right from the start, in gentle but honest terms, that the safe house is a short-term option; that no matter their shocked and depressed state, a lack of resources dictates they make plans for a future they cannot as yet imagine.
Even so, some of these women - who have no friends or family or independent means to call on - have been in these safe houses for months. In some cases, where they can't access government services, even years.
Too many other women and children, who didn't meet the ''high-risk'' criteria that domestic violence services use to allocate resources, are being counselled on the telephone as to how to best navigate a situation that has already turned violent, and may turn deadly. One piece of advice is to ''keep their bags packed but hidden''.
Another is to be aware of the times of day their unpredictable partner in life is prone to do his block. ''We'll ask, what are the key times when the violence escalates,'' says Sheridon Byrne, service delivery co-ordinator at the Women's Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE), a telephone service that gets 13,000 calls a year, 28 per cent of them from women seeking help with domestic violence.
''Every week we have women say they have already called and found no refuges available. They come back to us and we'll say, 'Let's explore what the options are,' and we'll talk about safety planning.''
By this stage, the woman, having already called a crisis service, has been asked a series of questions. And so they begin again: is there a friend or family she and the children can spend a night with? Does your partner know where they live and do you think he would go there? Are there weapons involved? Should she call the police or get an intervention order?
''Sometimes it means, if there is nowhere to go, and she might decide to stay for a period of time while making another plan, we talk about how to stay safe at home,'' Byrne says. ''Talk about having the bag packed, have documents ready, birth certificates. Does he have a GPS on his phone. Can she turn off her GPS so he can't track her?''
Annette Gillespie is CEO of the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service (WDVCS), the main source of referrals to women's refuges in Victoria. Ms Gillespie says that any woman who meets the high-risk criteria - as determined by a set of questions called the Common Risk Assessment Framework, a template used by the Department of Human Services, police and crisis services - will be immediately accommodated, even if it means being placed in a motel.
At high risk means being assaulted within three days of making the call for help, associated threats to kill and evidence of previous assaults. ''We don't have a cap on the women we will help who meet that criteria,'' Gillespie says. ''But as the demand increases … the criteria become tighter. So we move from accommodating women at risk to high risk to extreme risk. Therefore, people who may not have met the higher or extreme criteria won't be the first priority.''
There has reportedly been a 40 per cent increase in family violence reports over the past two years. Victoria Police dealt with more than 60,000 family violence incidents in 2012-13 - including 29 murders, which account for a little less than half of all murders committed in the state. What this means for the WDVCS, and organisations like the Salvation Army and Good Shepherd that run women's refuges, is a spiralling demand for their services.
''We have our own safe house, which can accommodate three families,'' Gillespie says. ''It's full all the time. If we had 10 safe houses, then we'd be able move women directly into … refuge. This is the greatest social epidemic of our time.''
As a holding strategy, the WDVCS has a number of motel rooms across the state booked and paid for three months in advance. ''What is needed,'' Gillespie says, ''is a review of the safe housing that is available … and a response in funding to match demand.''
More than half of all homeless women - living in cars, couch-surfing with their children - came to this desperate position after leaving violence at home and having nowhere to go. Even for a woman at risk of death, and granted priority access, it can take up to two years to get a place on public housing, says Alison Macdonald, policy officer for Domestic Violence Victoria. ''Housing affordability is the key bottlenecking in the system now … the abuse of power and control by their abusers often mean women don't have the means to rent or buy.''
Another bottleneck is the growing number of migrant women, particularly those who come to Australia on a prospective spousal visa, and subjected to sexual servitude. Their abuser - captor, slaver - uses the fact that they sponsored their coming to Australia as a means of maintaining control. Because such women have no access to CentreLink, a health card or public housing, Macdonald says, a woman's refuge is their only option. ''They are incredibly isolated and have no understanding of the legal system.''
There have been instances where migrant women have lived in a refuge for up to two years until their immigration status has changed to the point they could access wider services.
Gillespie of the WDVCS says the issue of migrant women stranded in refuges has become such a strain on resources that ''refuges will refuse to take in a woman in those circumstances because they already have one [already living there long-term]. For us, we might have her in a motel for four to six weeks and then a boarding hostel, which is another level of vulnerability. It's a huge issue.''
This week, representatives from crisis-line operators from across the country are meeting in Melbourne to discuss a variety of issues, with a focus on women from marginalised groups, notably those without permanent residency.
Jade Blakkarly, service strategy manager with Good Shepherd Family Services, which operates three refuges on the Mornington Peninsula - and liaises with police to deal with 1000 family violence incidents a year - recently had a migrant woman and her children occupying one refuge for 18 months. ''That's how long it took to get her a visa and … for her to be able to access services.''
Blakkarly says Good Shepherd will always find a way to help a woman get out of a violent home, even when there's no funding for it. ''It might mean putting her in a motel. Getting beyond that first step is very difficult. Often it can seem easier to go back home and deal with the abuser … because what they are facing otherwise is poverty.''
Last Christmas, the Good Shepherd's funds for helping women had run out. They ran a sponsorship appeal of the sort international charities run for Third World children. ''A gift of $130 could help a woman and her children to stay in a motel instead of on the streets. A gift of $350 could help a women who stays at home to change all the locks on her house. In this way, you could help keep her and her children safe. Or $500 could help a woman forced to move to another part of the state to purchase a phone to stay in touch with her family and friends and be safe.''
That's what it's come to.
Escape from hell into the dark daysShe says to call her Donna. In Italian it means ''woman'' so it's a good name to go by. There was a time when Donna believed in keeping her marriage together for the sake of the children, no matter the beatings and monstering moods of her husband.
One night, with a six-month-old daughter and a four-year-old son lying too quietly in their beds, she talked of divorce. And that's when he tried to kill her.
Somehow Donna survived the night.
The next morning, when she called the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service, Donna had the idea that counselling might turn things around. ''They said to come straight in,'' she says.
She and the children were taken to a safe house; a regular suburban house with high walls.
She was told not to tell anyone where she was. There weren't too many friends to tell, and all her immediate family were overseas.
Donna was from Hong Kong, an overseas student when she met her husband, a professional man. She was told the refuge was short-term but, in fact, three dark months went by. Other women came and went with their kids: young, old, well educated and otherwise, disabled.
Donna remembers a woman who had been married for 50 rowdy years. ''Her grown-up son called on her mobile and said he would disown her if she didn't go home to his father. And that's what she did.''
Melbourne ~ April 23 2014
Family violence epidemicBy Jane Lee, Craig Butt and Nick Toscano
The biggest policy tools to combat family violence - intervention orders and men's behaviour change programs - are failing to prevent women and children from being killed.
The dire warnings from family violence experts come as relatives of murdered Sunshine mother-of-four Fiona Warzywoda accuse Victoria's overwhelmed justice system of failing to protect their family.
Ms Warzywoda, 33, of Melton West, was allegedly stabbed to death by her abusive de facto husband Craig McDermott at a busy Sunshine shopping strip last Wednesday, just hours after taking out a family violence order.
Family members and friends of Fiona Warzywoda at a vigil in the very spot she was allegedly killed by her de facto in Sunshine. (Jason South)
Ms Warzywoda's step-mother, Simone Warzywoda, said the justice system failed their family.
''It's been time and again with domestic violence … the justice system continues to fail women and children.''
The number of people arrested for domestic violence homicides has jumped astonishingly. In 2011-12 there were 13, in 2012-13 there were 45. Police figures obtained by Fairfax Media also show there were 44 family violence-related homicides in 2012-13, claiming the lives of 28 females and 16 males. (The 45 arrests included at least one for a homicide from an earlier year.)
Jocelyn Bignold, chairwoman of the Western Integrated Family Violence Committee, said the deaths of Ms Warzywoda and alleged murder of two young girls at Watsonia on Easter Sunday needed to be a ''catalyst for change''.
''Family violence is preventable. If it was a dangerous rail crossing we'd be fixing it. We've done it with road safety, we've done it with quitting smoking, and family violence is another epidemic in our state that needs funding,'' she said.
While the government committed an extra $16 million to family violence in 2012, services in the west have seen 35 per cent increases in client numbers over the past year, Ms Bignold said.
''It's clear that this issue is not going away. If we are to learn anything from this death, it's that an over-stretched system will struggle to pick up those who are falling through the cracks. Long-term funding and tightening the accountability on violent men are overdue.''
Domestic Violence Resource Centre's Dr Debbie Kirkwood said the police response to family violence had improved over the years, with many more women reporting family violence and applying for intervention orders. But she said many of the people who breached intervention orders were still not charged for doing so, leaving women and children vulnerable.
''Intervention orders are limited in the sense that we still find women can be killed while [they are] in place so they're not providing the level of protection we need. The problem is often breaches of intervention orders aren't effectively responded to.''
Data from Victoria Police reveals major flaws with enforcement of intervention orders, with 820 offenders, mostly men, breaching orders at least three times in the past financial year.
Of these, 200 individuals violated orders more than five times and 15 committed more than 10 separate breaches in one year.
Rodney Vlais, chief executive officer of No to Violence, said there were inconsistent levels of support for victims and perpetrators alike across Victoria.
Police typically only monitored the most high-risk offenders in the community, leaving the rest to under-resourced men's behaviour change programs, he said.
Most magistrates courts in Victoria did not have the power to issue ''counselling orders'' which required men to attend such programs, in a similar way to a community corrections order, Mr Vlais said. Magistrates could make a men's behaviour change program a condition of an intervention order, but the programs are usually not contacted themselves, and police tend not to prosecute those who fail to attend.
''So he can decide not to attend or start the program and then drop out. There are no consequences,'' he said.
Law reforms in 2005 created ''family violence court divisions'' in Heidelberg and Ballarat, which enabled magistrates courts there to have resources to assist perpetrators to understand and co-operate with the process. Despite two evaluations of the pilot since then, no other areas had been added to the reforms.
Police Association secretary and former Homicide Squad detective Ron Iddles conceded there was still a lack of communication and co-ordination between police, government agencies and social services.
He said there was often a community reluctance to intervene in domestic disputes that were spiralling out of control.
''Of all the jobs I've done where a child has lost their lives, in 99 per cent of cases there is a warning sign. Why, as a community or as a friend, have we not done anything about it?'' Mr Iddles said.
The number of ''threat to kill or injure'' offences has also soared in the past decade, making it one of the fastest-growing crimes in the state. Victoria Police crime statistics show 1559 threats to injure and 4893 threats to kill were reported in the 2012-13 financial year.
Melbourne ~ Saturday April 12, 2014
Domestic violence: NSW hits 15-year peakBy Rachel Olding/Reporter
Domestic violence in December reached its highest level in 15 years, bucking a statewide decline in all other major offences.
Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show, on average, 94 domestic violence assaults were reported to police each day.
Annual crime data released on Thursday showed a 1.9 per cent rise in domestic violence related assaults in the past five years.
But it is believed up to half of all incidents go unreported.
The bureau's director, Don Weatherburn, said the problem was far worse in regional and rural NSW, where rates of domestic abuse are up to 11 times those of Sydney. In Walgett the rate of domestic violence is eight times the NSW rate. In Moree it is almost four times and in Bourke it is 11.6 times the NSW rate.
Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas said ''domestic violence is something that we are very focused on, and it's of great concern - particularly in the bush.''
He said a whole-of-government response was the only way to tackle domestic violence.
''The Department of Community Services, health, education and the police are working much closer together than we have in times gone by to try and stop the problem rather than trying to deal with it as purely a law enforcement issue.''
Melbourne ~ October 7, 2007
Killer dads - why they do it
Fathers who murder their children exact the ultimate revenge on an estranged partner
By Karen Kissane
Brothers Jai, 9, Bailey, 2, and Tyler Farquharson, 7.
He is a bottler. He holds in his anger and other emotions. He might seem to be an easy-going, appeasing sort of man but he is what psychologists call "over-controlled", a person whose silent fuming might one day explode into violence.
Add to this a marriage break-up in which he is the spurned partner and a new partner for his wife before he has adjusted to his changed circumstances and the rage can fester into vengeful obsession.
Robert Farquharson. (John Woudstra)
"Obsession deprives people of a sense of proportion to such an extent that, in the end, they can countenance their own death and the death of others they love in pursuit of that obsession," says Professor Paul Mullen, psychiatrist and clinical director of Forensicare, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health.
A man who has become obsessed with revenge against his partner and who is pathologically jealous of her can allow his children to become caught up in his delusions. His feelings about her fidelity can morph into doubts about the paternity of the children.
"Men may become convinced that the children are not theirs, and part of the killing of the children is the acting out of this rage at the (supposed) infidelity, and at being saddled with children who are 'not yours' when in fact they are yours," Mullen says. The killing is also about destroying the whole relationship and the products of that relationship, he says. And it is payback against the woman who has rejected him, the children's mother. "Apart from anything else, he's telling her essentially that she's responsible. This is one of the ways they get back: 'Look at what you've made me do."'
Arthur Phillip Freeman.
This might be part of the answer to the question now being asked about Robert Farquharson: How could he do it?
A Supreme Court jury on October 5, 2007 found that Farquharson deliberately drove his three boys, aged from two to 10, into a dam near Winchelsea on Father's Day 2005. His wife had left him 10 months earlier and had begun a relationship with another man.
Cindy Gambino told the court that her ex-husband had been a good father and was a "softie" who always agreed to do what she wanted over matters such as whether to have another baby.
Yazmina Acar, pictured with her father Ramazan.
The court was also told that Farquharson was angry about the break-up, child-support payments and the fact that his former wife had the better car and a new partner.
One of his oldest friends said that a couple of months before the killings, Farquharson had spoken of an accident involving the children in which they would die, so that his former wife would suffer for the rest of her life. It would happen on a special day such as Father's Day so that she would be tormented every year on the anniversary, he allegedly said.
Farquharson pleaded not guilty. He claimed that he blacked out in a coughing fit and the car veered out of control and into the dam.
Dr Lynne Eccleston, director of the forensic psychology program at Melbourne University, says killing children "is the ultimate harm (angry men) can inflict on the woman that they think has wronged them, for whatever reason.
It's a higher order of revenge, because the woman is left alive to deal with the grief that is his intention." She says such men often have a detailed plan that they perfect over a long period, "working up to the time when they will finally take action".
The killings are often related to relationship breakdown. A man who has pre-existing emotional problems and poor coping skills can also become angry because he feels his rights as a father have been taken away.
Forensic psychologist Professor Bob Montgomery, of the University of the Sunshine Coast, says most men who try to kill their children have distorted thinking as a result of severe depression.
They believe they are failures and that they have failed their children. They see no way out other than suicide and taking the children with them so that they are not left to suffer further. "In most cases, the guy tries to kill himself as well," he says.
Cases such as Farquharson's are much rarer.
"If (a father is) just killing the children and making no attempt on himself, he has a different motivation, like, 'You took my kids away from me well, I'm going to take my kids away from you,"' Montgomery says. "That's a very much smaller group.
They are sad reflections of the view that children are your possessions, your property, rather than people who have their own rights and interests.
"A psychologist who had been treating Farquharson told the court that his depression had seemed to improve. Montgomery says it is common for deeply depressed people who have decided upon suicide or murder to experience a lift in mood because, in their disordered minds, they believe they have a way out of their problems: "Now I know what to do, I don't feel so bad."
Cases such as Farquharson's arouse intense interest because they seem so rare and so unnatural as to be bizarre. In fact, says Mullen, they are not such an unusual form of homicide: "The commonest form of multiple killing is not serial killing, as you would think from watching the telly. It's family slaying the man who kills his partner and his children."
It is also not uncommon for such a killer to have previously been viewed as a good parent.
"When you look at the mothers who do this, you often find they were noted by their friends and neighbours to be particularly caring, assiduous parents who spent more time with their children than other parents did." Ten per cent of all Australian homicides involve children as victims.
If the child is under six, the killer is most likely to be in the child's care network, says Ken Polk, professor of criminology at Melbourne University and co-author with Christine Alder of the book Child Victims of Homicide.
The most typical male killer of children is the batterer who attacks a step-child because he finds the child difficult, partly because he does not have reasonable expectations of the child's behaviour for his or her age.
Biological fathers are much less likely to kill their children, but this does happen in an emotional game in which "the child is a pawn you sacrifice the pawn to get to the main piece, and that's the woman", Polk says.
For every man who goes on to kill, there are many more who carry an angry sense of grievance that makes them want to lash out.
"We get lots of calls from men who are very recently separated and hate the world and are furious at the perceived conspiracy against them," says Danny Blay, manager of No to Violence, the Male Family Violence Prevention Association.
"And we know that women and children are most at risk of violence from their former partner or father during the early stages of an acrimonious separation.
"There are lots of men who, for one reason or another, are in a place where they don't see a way out and are wanting to punish the people who they see as putting them in a predicament, rather than taking at least some responsibility
for their predicament themselves and asking why it is that their partner wants to leave, or why they have been denied access to their children."
At the same time, Blay says, most men who are violent within their family are mostly good people, aside from this aspect of their behaviour.
"They are not psychopaths. They form intimate relationships and have friends, they are engaged at work, members of the footy club."
In Farquharson's case, he confided his thoughts of murder to an old friend who did not believe he was serious and who is now tormented by what happened. What would Blay's advice be to anyone who finds themselves listening to a friend talking this way?
If a man is seething and looking for support, says Blay, accept his distress and express empathy for it. Ask him about his plans.
"Get them to name what's in their heads and what they are going to do." Has he thought about what he will do with the kids this weekend? What are his feelings for his children and what does he want for their futures next week, next month, when they are 30?
"Convey to him that you are really concerned about him, his partner and his children. Let him know that you'd like to help him find a better way out of his situation that there are always better alternatives to violence.
"In talking it through, there is an opportunity for the man to realise that his plans are not just a short-term fix to make him feel better, but they will potentially have long-term consequences on the people he loves, and him."
Blay says that if, in talking to the man, you discover that he has developed a detailed plan to hurt anybody, "I would be ringing the police immediately and trying to contact the people who have been threatened. We must always prioritise the safety of people over any personal allegiance or loyalty we have to our friend, relative or client and, at the same time, we would be doing them an enormous favour (to report them)."
For telephone counselling, contact Men's Referral Service on 1300 766 491. Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service,1800 015 188. Lifeline, 13 11 14.
Robert Farquharson deliberately drove his three sons - Jai, 10, Bailey, 2, and Tyler, 7 - into a dam, killing them on Father's Day 2005. He was on his way back to Winchelsea, near Geelong, and was due to return the children to their mother after an access visit. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Arthur Freeman threw his four-year-old daughter Darcey off the West Gate Bridge to her death on January 29, 2009. It was to be her first day of school and Freeman was returning her after a custody visit.
Ramazan Acar stabbed his two-year-old daughter Yazmina to death and moments later posted a message on Facebook to say he had killed her. There was a court order against Acar accessing his daughter but he convinced the girl's mother he would just take her to the milk bar.
Pakistan ~ May 11, 2014
A huge victoryBy Alefia T. Hussain
Scroll down to also read of Report ranking Pakistan a lowly 147th among 178 countries studied
A political statement no doubt, the Sindh assembly’s landmark law that increases the marriageable age of girls from 16 to 18 is a step forward in so many ways
Late last month, the Sindh assembly passed a landmark law that increases the marriageable age of girls from 16 to 18, seemingly in reaction to the recent Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) ruling that laws setting the minimum age of marriage are un-Islamic.
“It is clearly done in defiance to the CII recommendations… The law is a political statement and a very important one. The Sindh assembly sent out the message that parliament trounces quasi-religious attempts to define legal codes,” says women’s rights activist Afiya Zia.
Moved by the Pakistan People’s Party legislators, Sharmila Farooqi and Dr Sikander Mandhro, and tabled by Women Development Minister Rubina Qaimkhani, the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 criminalises underage marriages. Under the law, any groom who weds a girl under age 18, and parents of such a groom or those facilitating such a marriage will be punished with maximum three years, minimum two years, rigorous imprisonment, and a fine.
It further grants power to issue injunctions prohibiting marriage in contravention of this act.
The offence is cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable. Anyone can file a complaint against child marriage in a court of judicial magistrate. The court will decide the case in no more than 90 days.
The rules of business are in the process of being finalised.
The new Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013 replaces the colonial law dating back to 1929. The rest of the country is still bound by the same 85-year-old law where girls can legally marry at 16 and men at 18, and violators of the law are awarded three-month maximum imprisonment and Rs1,000 fine.
This legislation by the Sindh assembly is a huge victory. Because now hopefully many girls, who call Sindh their home, will not be forced to marry men 30 or so years their senior; they will be able to pursue reading and writing in school; they will become teachers and lawyers and doctors, and have big dreams about life. They will not be slaves of old husbands’ whims.
Also, countless others will renounce repeated pregnancies and obstructed labour due to the undeveloped narrow hips. Many will not bleed to death in childbirth. And by marrying after 18, they will overcome obstacles for self-realisation. Their lives will not be frozen in time.
From domestic violence and marital rape to maternal health issues, the problems associated with child marriage are well-documented. Yet, it is a problem. In fact, part of the problem is that early marriage is not seen as a problem. When a girl turns from a child to a woman in body, as soon as she starts menstruating, the family elders want to fix her in marriage. Her honour and virginity is seen as a problem by her parents and relatives.
It is to change this mindset that laws such as the Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013 passed by the Sindh assembly are important. Because, as Afiya Zia points out, laws are more than rules on paper; they effect change. “The process by which they are framed, advocated, opposed and passed is a very political one. It reveals a lot about society and attitudes. Laws bring attention to the injustices and send the message by the state on who and how it will protect when citizens are in conflict in society,” she says.
Latest figures from the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2012-2013 show that 35.2 per cent of currently married women between 25 and 49 years of age were married before they were 18, and 1.6 per in the age bracket of 15 and 19 were 15 at the time of marriage. Although these figures are horrifying, still they are an improvement over the years, as the number of early age marriages below 15 is declining, experts claim.
It is for this reason that Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson National Commission for the Status of Women, says, “abiding by the 18-year minimum age is a definite possibility”.
But, she stresses that this issue must not be taken in isolation but in combination with girls’ education. “If girls complete secondary education and other opportunities become available, the age of marriage will further move upwards, as is the experience of other developing countries. Eighteen is also the age of political and legal maturity in Pakistan,” she says, continuing that she sees this particular law as giving impetus to a trend that is already occurring.
In a traditional setup like Pakistan, marriage is in many ways a by-product, where women are commodities to be given away in appeasement, particularly in those cultures where it is not contracted by free will. Cases of vani in Punjab, sang chati in Sindh, swara in NWFP, and ljai or khasaniye soor in Balochistan are common knowledge. So, if nothing else, Zia says, this law will at least attempt to compete with what is norm or normal by giving an alternative code of conduct one that says, “the state or province of Sindh doesn’t accept this ‘culture’ on behalf of women citizens”.
Women’s rights experts involved in fieldwork report countless stories of girls who have dreams to study and become career women, but are prematurely forced to become wives and mothers and obedient daughters-in-law. These girls, sometimes from the most conservative settings, argue that if the state extends them protection they would have much to gain, perhaps a protective shield against their local patriarchies.
For instance in the six communities in districts Jamshoro and Khairpur, where Ayesha Khan, a researcher from Karachi at the Collective for Social Science Research, observed that adolescent girls had a very high awareness rate about the importance of CNICs for purposes of voting, accessing BISP, Watan cards, and other benefits of being a citizen and were equally keen to avoid early marriages and childbearing.
Pakistan has now become notorious for passing progressive laws and making forward-looking policies but lagging behind in implementation. Take, the honour killing, sexual harassment and domestic violence laws passed to prevent violence against women. Despite the passing of such women-friendly laws, these crimes remain unabated mostly due to sloppy enforcement and hardly get any woman or child justice in the country.
“Greater awareness among people and also those responsible for implementing is needed; greater monitoring and accountability systems are required,” says Mumtaz.
Ayesha Khan fears corruption in the judicial system, to stop the magistrates from taking cognizance or trying any offense of chid marriage will be one possible loophole in proper implementation of the law. However, “involving the courts at this level, and bypassing the police (as in the case of lodging a complaint of zina now) is an important way to protect against unlawful accusations,” she says.
She further explains that making the offense non-compoundable is also useful, as justice has to be had from the courts and families cannot be pressured into hushing up the case of child marriage, thereby possibly going ahead with it in secret.
This law has to be enforced in conjunction with the Muslim Family Ordinances 1961, which require the registration of marriages at the union council level. Unfortunately this registration practice has not been properly enforced. “If these two laws are implemented together it will be an effective mechanism to protect against child marriage,” Khan adds.
To correct the country’s record of poor law enforcement, much bigger solutions are needed. After, of course, alleviation of poverty and easy access to schools and colleges, a stringent birth registration system and a CNIC requirement to finalise the nikkahnama are a couple of suggestions among more that may guarantee a victory for this law passed by the Sindh assembly.
Nevertheless, this law and its implementation cannot be seen in isolation. The extent of effective implementation of other women protective legislations such as Child Marriages Restraint Act, 1929, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 and Women Protection Act, 2006 will impact this law and vice versa.
The purpose of this law is to give young girls a practical, temporary alternative course, “where their families don’t keep repeating the cyclical trend of marrying them off for lack of alternative,” says Afiya Zia.
One hopes the ripple effects of the child marriage law are felt in other provinces too, that too, very soon.
Meanwhile, the enforcers of this law have a long way to go.
Pakistan ~ May 11, 2014
Mother of all illsBy Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
A recent global report ranks Pakistan 147th in the list of countries conducive for mothers and newborns, calls on the government to act positively
The last week saw people excessively exchanging text messages, uploading statuses on social media and expressing thoughts about the greatness of mothers in general and their own mothers in particular. These activities picked up on the run to the World Mothers’ Day which falls on May 11. The overall objective of this hype was to establish how great it is to be a mother and how unmatchable the experience of motherhood is.
It was about the same time when it was announced that Pakistan is the worst place to be a mother in South Asia. Besides the country was ranked 147th among the 178 countries of the world considered for studies on the state of mothers and children there. This revelation was made at the launch of State Of World Mothers’ (SOWM) on May 6. Overall, Finland was ranked the best place to be a mother for the second straight year and Somalia came in last.
It was also shared though maternal mortality in Pakistan has been cut by almost half, child mortality decreased by a quarter, expected years of schooling increased by 3.3 years and gross national income per capita risen by 270 per cent over the past 15 years, these accomplishments are far less than desired and not comparable to the achievements made by other countries of the region.
It was the 15th annual report released by the organisation. Since 2000, the annual Mothers’ Index has become a reliable international tool to show where mothers and children fare best, and where they face the greatest hardships, using the latest data on health, education, economics and female political participation, says the executive summary of the report. In short, the report identifies root causes for the dismal state of affairs and makes suggestions on how to improve the situation. It also guides the international community and donors to put their money where it is needed the most.
While the report discusses 178 countries, it puts special focus on crisis-hit places and concludes that half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur here. This is something which could have been avoided with timely intervention and action. Conflicts and disasters can change situation of a country within no time and similarly corrective measures can do wonders.
As an example, the report states that “Afghanistan was the worst place to be a mother three years ago, but it is now ranked 146th due to progress in cutting child and maternal death. By contrast, Syria has slumped from 65th place in 2011 to 115th in 2014, after the conflict caused “the collapse of what had been a functioning health system, and threatens to set back progress by a generation.”
The report gives an idea of the existing situation in Syria. Though the intensity is not the same, it may hold true for Pakistani women displaced by conflicts, natural and manmade disasters and sheer lack of maternal health facilities. It is discouraging to read in the report that women in Syria face difficulties in accessing prenatal, delivery and post-natal care, including lack of ambulances, few female hospital staff and frequent checkpoints and roadblocks encountered on the way to hospitals.
For this very reason, they are choosing to deliver by cesarean even if it is not needed medically. By availing this option, they can time the delivery of their babies rather than risk being in labour in an insecure context, with no ambulance, and especially risking a terrifying journey at night.
The challenges, therefore, are tough for the policymakers as service providers in Pakistan as the country has the highest number of people affected by conflict. This has been stated in a research by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) which states that at least 172 million people worldwide were directly affected by con?ict in 2012.
“The overwhelming majority of them (87 per cent) were residents of con?ict zones rather than refugees or IDPs who ?ed from violence, insecurity and fear. Pakistan and Nigeria had the largest numbers of people affected by con?ict 28 million and 19 million respectively,” the report states.
One heartening fact is that at places there have been improvements. For example, Pakistan and Burkina Faso increased the proportion of births attended by a skilled health worker by 20 per cent between 2000 and 2008.
Save the Children has observed that many children are still dying from preventable causes, mothers are giving birth alone at home and children are not staying in school and called upon the federal and provincial governments and civil society to:
i) Ensure that every mother and newborn living in crisis has access to high quality healthcare, including family planning services, and breastfeeding counseling.Dr Saheb Jaan Badar, Director, Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Sindh, says mortalities double during disasters and crises situations. She calls Lady Health Workers (LHWs) and community midwives as the backbone of the health department and lauds the commitment of the government of Sindh to increase their number by 6,000 to cater to the needs of Sindh’s population.
ii) Build the resilience of health systems to minimise the damaging effects of crises on health.
iii) Develop national and local preparedness plans tailored to respond to the specific needs of mothers, children and babies in emergencies.
iv) Ensure adequate financing and coordination to timely respond to mothers and children’s needs in emergencies.
Arshad Mahmood, Director, Advocacy and Child Rights Governance at Save the Children, tells TNS that five indicators were taken into account while preparing the index. These were mental health, under 5 mortality rate, expected years of formal schooling, economic status and political status of women. He says when a girl is educated her children are more likely to be healthy and well-schooled. Similarly, if women have a voice in politics, issues that are important to mothers and their children are more likely to surface on the national agenda and emerge as national priorities.
Arshad says in the post-18th Amendment scenario, a lot needs to be done at the provincial level for improvement in maternal health and well-being of the new born. Only Punjab needs 15,000 community midwives to provide quality service to expecting mothers.
Arshad tells TNS that as per findings of Pakistan Democratic and Health Survey (PDHS), the country will not be able to meet the goal 4 and goal 5 under the MDGs which talk about maternal morbidity and under-5 mortality. He says certain areas of the country need immediate attention. For example, he says, there are on average 260 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births but the figure in Balochistan is 785 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. It is hard to believe but true that there is only one LHW in whole Dera Bugti, he adds.
No doubt the report highlights disturbing facts and refers to alarming figures, but it is yet to bee seen how the government reacts to the situation. The very first manifestation of its resolve would be the budgetary allocation for health this year. At the moment, it stands at paltry 0.6 per cent of country’s GDP.
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