March 8 promises abound to improve women's status & end male violence against females Print E-mail

Toronto -- Thursday March 8 2007

International Women's Day brings pledges to improve status

JAN SLIVA Associated Press

BRUSSELS ­ German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first woman in more than 20 years to chair a European Union summit, marked International Women's Day by calling Thursday for gender equality.

Ms. Merkel, opening a photo exhibition of prominent women, said Europe cannot remain content with the position of women in the society. “Something must change,” she said, noting that women are under-represented in top positions in politics, science and economy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said more needs to be done to close the pay gap between men and women. And while the situation for women has improved in Britain, women in many other countries still are not treated as equals to men.

“Things are not so great ... for all sorts of reasons: cultural, traditional and historic,” he said in London. “There are real problems for women in getting equality and to fulfil their potential in the way they wish to do so.”


People around the world marked International Women's Day by honouring women and pledging to improve their status.

In Bangladesh, men vowed to fight the disfiguring and often deadly practice of attacking women with acid as a means of punishment.

In Mumbai, India, a company launched a new taxi service for women with female cabbies at the wheel, and in Vietnam, men bought their wives and girlfriends bouquets, turning Thursday into the communist country's version of Valentine's Day.

In Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with women legislators.

“I want to take this opportunity to send my regards to you and hope you are all successful in your career and have a happy life,” Mr. Hu said, shaking their hands in the Great Hall of the People.

However, in Iran, women released after being detained for holding a peaceful gathering earlier in the week were warned Thursday not to attend a Women's Day protest outside parliament.

Women in the Islamic republic have been pushing for equal rights and the nullification of a law allowing men in Iran to have four wives.

And in Afghanistan, two million girls have returned to school since the fall of the ultraconservative Taliban regime, but widespread discrimination and domestic violence persist, experts said.

At least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, the UN Development Fund for Women said.

In Kabul, one woman laughed at the idea of women's day.

“No one will bring me flowers. My husband won't even bring me a stone,” said Qamar, 45, who goes by one name, as she recounted her woes and the beatings by her husband. “March 8 is for foreigners because they have good lives. I don't know anything about March 8.”

The United Nations called for an end to pervasive violence against girls and women during armed conflicts and demanded that perpetrators be punished.

“Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of discrimination against women,” said Rachel Mayanja, a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on gender issues. “It is based on social and cultural practices that hold women and girls as subordinate to men.”

In Brussels, where Ms. Merkel became the first woman to host a summit of EU leaders since then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, in 1986, the EU pledged to fight discrimination and domestic violence against women.

Ms. Merkel said women must be treated as equals to men if Europe wants to become the world's most dynamic economy by the end of the decade.

Gender gaps in employment and education are narrowing but the gap in paycheques remains around 15 per cent across the 27-country bloc. Women account for just 32 per cent of managers, 10 per cent of board members and three per cent of CEOs of large companies, the EU said.

Women are more likely to be unemployed than men, said a report by the EU's statistical agency Eurostat compiled from national data gathered between 1998 and 2006.

In Paris, France's presidential candidates pledged greater attention to women's grievances such as child care, especially Socialist Segolene Royal, who has made her gender a key part of her bid to become France's first woman president.

And Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to win the endorsement of one of France's most prominent women politicians, Simone Veil, and name her head of his support team.

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Toronto -- Thursday March 8 2007

UN, EU urge end to violence on International Women's Day

PARVEEN AHMED
Associated Press and Canadian Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh ­ Men in Bangladesh vowed to fight disfiguring acid attacks, as the United Nations and European Union marked International Women's Day on Thursday with calls for an end to violence and discrimination.

In India, a Mumbai company launched a new taxi service for women, with female cabbies at the wheel to make the customers feel safer.

Prices of flowers doubled in Vietnam as men presented bouquets to their girlfriends and wives in the communist country's version of Valentine's Day.

While countries such as Afghanistan reported progress in improving women's access to education and to political office ­ with two million girls returning to school since the fall of the ultraconservative Taliban regime ­ widespread discrimination and domestic violence continue.


Pakistani activists representing different human rights groups carry placards as they march during a demonstration held to mark International Women's Day in Islamabad. (AFP/Getty Images)

The UN Development Fund for Women said at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, with the abuser usually a family member or someone she knows. Rarely is anyone prosecuted or reprimanded.

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean arrived in Afghanistan Thursday in a visit meant to coincide with International Women's Day. Ms. Jean was scheduled to meet with leading Afghan women during her trip. “The women of Afghanistan may face the most unbearable conditions, but they never stop fighting for survival. Of course, we, the rest of the women around the world, took too long to hear the cries of our Afghani sisters, but I am here to tell them that they are no longer alone. And neither are the people of Afghanistan,” Ms. Jean said in a statement.

The UN Security Council marked International Women's Day by calling for an end to pervasive violence against girls and women during armed conflicts and demanding that perpetrators be punished.

“Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of discrimination against women,” said Rachel Mayanja, special adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on gender issues. “It is based on social and cultural practices that hold women and girls as subordinate to men.”

Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women, said the number of countries adopting legislation against violence is growing, but implementation of laws “is often insufficient.”

Ms. Heyzer said 89 countries currently have legislative provisions on domestic violence, 104 countries have made marital rape a crime, 90 countries have provisions against sexual harassment, and 93 states prohibit trafficking of women and men.

Violence against women “is a pandemic that can be stopped ... given the necessary political will and resources,” she said.

The European Union pledged to fight discrimination and domestic violence against women, and to promote women's participation in political life.

“Around the world women continue to suffer horrific domestic violence, discrimination and persecution. Protecting women's rights and empowering them as decision-makers are fundamental principles of the European Union's work across the globe,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

While gender gaps in employment and education are narrowing, the pay gap remains around 15 per cent across the 27-nation EU. Women account for just 32 per cent of managers, 10 per cent of board members and three per cent of CEOs of large companies in the region.

In Bangladesh, male celebrities, athletes and students pledged to fight acid attacks, which generally target women and are carried out by men.

The attacks most often involve flesh-burning acid thrown onto young women's faces or bodies by spurned suitors or angry husbands, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation.

The assaults disfigure, maim or kill dozens of people a year in poverty-ridden Bangladesh.

“We hope that not one more face gets burned by acid ever again,” said the group's executive director, Monira Rahman.

Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed vowed to punish abusers of women and children, and said national development requires the involvement of women and ensuring their rights in the family and society.

The Muslim-majority nation has been ruled by female prime ministers for the past 15 years, but women still suffer from high levels of violence, and poor levels of health, nutrition and education, rights groups say.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that ruling party legislators would conduct a fresh investigation into the military's use of brothels during Second World War . Last week, he triggered outrage across Asia by saying there was no proof that thousands of women had been coerced into prostitution.

Historians say as many as 200,000 women ­ mostly from Korea, China, Southeast Asia and Japan ­ worked in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and ‘40s.