India: Dalit woman dies weeks after gang rape, triggering protest

The 19-year-old victim was gang raped by four men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras town, about 100km from New Delhi.

 

Al Jazeera (29.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/34cR2GZ – A woman died in hospital in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday, weeks after authorities said she was raped by a group of men, triggering protests and opposition criticism over what it said was a failure to protect women.

 

Her case was the latest in a string of gruesome crimes against women in India that have given it the dismal reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be female.

 

One woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018, according to the latest government data released in January.

 

“There is next to no protection for women. Criminals are openly committing crimes,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.

 

The 19-year-old victim, belonging to the Dalit community – formerly known as “untouchables” – was attacked and raped on September 14 at a field near her home in Hathras district, 100km (62-mile) from New Delhi, authorities said.

 

Police have arrested four men in connection with the crime.

 

On Monday, the woman was brought from a hospital in Uttar Pradesh state to New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she died while undergoing treatment, authorities said.

 

About 300 protesters from the Bhim Army, a party championing the rights of Dalits, entered the hospital building and shouted slogans near the mortuary where the woman’s body was kept.

 

“We will take the matter to fast-track court for the faster investigation and collection of evidence,” district authorities in Hathras said in a statement.

 

#Hathras trended on Twitter as social media users expressed outrage at the latest case of gruesome sexual assault.

 

The woman’s home state of Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ranks as the most unsafe state for women in the country.

 

Last December, a 23-year-old Dalit woman was set ablaze by a gang of men as she made her way to a court in Uttar Pradesh to press rape charges.




In conservative Kandahar, new gym creates safe space for Afghan women

Reuters (24.09.2020) – https://reut.rs/3kS9afG – In Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, rights activist Maryam Durani has found a fresh outlet for her decades of advocacy – a new fitness centre for women.

 

Durani, 36, is a fierce campaigner for women’s rights in the conservative stronghold where the Islamist Taliban militant group have major sway and take a conservative stance on the position of women, who mostly wear the burqa in public.

 

She runs a radio station for women, has served on the provincial council and was presented with the International Women of Courage Award by Michelle Obama for in 2012. Last year, Durani switched tack to open a female-only gym, which draws about 50 women attend each day.

 

“The reaction of the ladies was very positive because they needed it,” she said, shortly after working out with a group of clients. “What bothered me was the reaction of the men…who reacted negatively to our club and even insulted me because they thought our club was in opposition to Sharia.”

 

With a troop withdrawal signed between the United States and the Taliban, who have fought a bloody war for 19 years, many women in Afghanistan worry the militant group may exert its influence through formal political channels.

 

When the Taliban ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, they banned education for females and barred women from leaving the house without a male relative.

 

The group says it has changed but many women remain sceptical.

 

“My only concern is about their view of women’s rights and what freedoms and restrictions they will impose on me,” said Durani.

 

For now, her focus is on serving the dozens of women who attend the club, whom she describes as a cross-section of society including housewives and women who work outside the home.

 

“My only wish is to be seen as a human in this society,” she said.




CHINA: Xinjiang government confirms huge birth rate drop but denies forced sterilization of women

By Ivan Watson, Rebecca Wright and Ben Westcott

CNN (21.09.2020) – https://cnn.it/3hPVa4h – Chinese officials have officially acknowledged birth rates in Xinjiang dropped by almost a third in 2018, compared to the previous year, in a letter to CNN in which they also denied reports of forced sterilization and genocide by authorities in the far western region.

 

The Xinjiang government sent CNN the six-page fax in response to questions for an article published in July that documented a campaign of abuse and control by Beijing targeting women from the Uyghur minority, a Muslim ethnic group numbering more than 10 million people. The fax didn’t arrive until September 1, a month after the story was published.

 

These aren’t the first accusations of widespread human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. Up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been placed in mass detention centers in the region, according to the US State Department, where they have allegedly been subject to indoctrination and abuse.

 

Beijing claims that these centers are voluntary and provide vocational training as part of a de-radicalization program in Xinjiang, which saw a spate of violent attacks in recent years.

 

But CNN’s reporting found that some Uyghur women were being forced to use birth control and undergo sterilization as part of a deliberate attempt to push down birth rates among minorities in Xinjiang.

 

The article was based on a report by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation known for his research on Xinjiang, who quoted official Chinese documents showing a surge in the number of sterilizations performed in the region — from fewer than 50 per 100,000 people in 2016 to almost 250 per 100,000 people in 2018.

 

Zenz said that these actions fell under the United Nations definition of “genocide” specifically “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

 

In its response, the Xinjiang government strongly denied the claims of genocide, arguing instead that the Uyghur population has been “growing continuously” during the past decade and that Zenz’s report was not “in line with the real situation in Xinjiang.”

 

According to the government, the population of Xinjiang rose by more than 3 million people, or almost 14%, between 2010 and 2018, with the Uyghur population growing faster than the region’s average rate.

 

“The rights and interests of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities have been fully protected,” the response said. “The so-called ‘genocide’ is pure nonsense.”

 

Birth rate plunges

 

But the government didn’t dispute the rise in sterilizations or the gap in the ratio of new intrauterine devices (IUDs) between Xinjiang and the rest of mainland China. While IUD implants have plunged in China overall, falling to just 21 per 100,000 people in 2018, in Xinjiang they are becoming increasingly common.

 

According to local government statistics, there were almost 1,000 new IUD implants per 100,000 people in Xinjiang in 2018, or 80% of China’s total for that year.

 

The Xinjiang government said in its response that the birth rate in the region had dropped from 15.88 per 1,000 people in 2017 to 10.69 per 1,000 people in 2018. The fax said that the drop was due to “the comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy.”

 

Up until 2015, the Chinese government enforced a “one-child” family planning policy countrywide, which allowed most urban couples no more than one baby. Ethnic minorities, such as the Uyghur people, were typically allowed to have up to three but Xinjiang expert Zenz said that families from these groups often had many more children.

When China officially began the two-child policy in January 2016, Uyghur citizens living in cities were limited to two children for the first time as well — their rural counterparts could still have up to three.

 

The Xinjiang government attributed the sudden drop in population to Beijing’s family planning policies finally being properly implemented in the region after 2017.

 

“In 2018, the number of newborns decreased by approximately 120,000 compared with 2017, of which about 80,000 were because of better implementation of family planning policy in accordance with law, according to estimates by the health and statistics department,” the response to CNN said. The government insisted that those who complied with the family planning policies did so voluntarily.

 

The government attributed the remaining 40,000 fewer babies to increased education and economic development, resulting in fewer children in the region. The Xinjiang government did not include the 2019 birth figures for the region.

 

“As a part of China, Xinjiang implements family planning policies in accordance with national laws and regulations, and has never formulated and implemented family planning policies for a single ethnic minority,” the response said.

 

But Zenz pointed out that changes to the natural birth rate should take place over several years or even a decade, not in the space of 12 to 36 months.

 

In reference to the government’s claims that compliance with the family planning policies were voluntary, Zenz questioned how likely it was that “17 times more women spontaneously wanted to be sterilized.”

 

“Han Chinese academics from Xinjiang have themselves written that the Uyghurs resist any type of contraceptive (and especially sterilization),” he said in a statement to CNN.

 

In their fax, the Xinjiang government also attacked Zenz personally, saying that he was “deliberately fabricating lies” and accused him of being a religious fanatic who believed he was “led by God” to oppose China.

 

Zenz dismissed the Chinese government’s allegations, saying they were “resorting to personal attacks” because they couldn’t disprove his research. “Far more egregious than these personal attacks on me are Beijing’s smears against the Uyghur witnesses,” he said in a statement.

 

Attacks on women

 

The Xinjiang government also zeroed in on claims made by two female Uyghurs quoted in CNN’s article — Zumrat Dawut and Gulbakhar Jalilova.

 

Dawut said she had been forced into sterilization by the local government in Xinjiang when she went to a government office to pay a fine for having one too many children. Dawut also said she had been in a detention center in Xinjiang for about three months from March 2018.

 

In their response, the government said that Dawut had never been inside a voluntary “education and training center,” the name used by the Chinese government for the alleged detention centers, and that she had signed a form agreeing to the procedure known as tubal ligation.

 

In CNN’s article, Jalilova, who is a citizen of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Uyghur, said she was held in a detention center for 15 months after being arrested suddenly and without explanation during a business trip to Xinjiang in May 2017.

 

Jalilova claimed she suffered humiliation and torture while inside the camps and said she was raped by one of the guards.

 

The Xinjiang government confirmed Jalilova’s claims that she had been detained for 15 months from May 2017, alleging she was arrested “on suspicion of aiding terrorist activities.” In August 2018 she was released on bail, after which she returned to Kazakhstan.

 

In their statement, the government denied that Jalilova had been raped or tortured, saying that all of her “rights were fully guaranteed” and the staff who were in her cell could prove it.

 

When asked to respond to the Chinese government’s statement, Jalilova stood by her claims and demanded the Xinjiang authorities provide their proof. “Why don’t they show a video? Why don’t they show a photo during my time in prison showing that I was well fed and not beaten. The cameras were working 24 hours,” she said.

 

“I am a citizen of Kazakhstan, what right did they have to detain me for a year and a half?”




US: More migrant women say they did not consent to surgeries at Ice center

AP review finds no evidence of mass hysterectomies but files show growing allegations of operations women did not fully understand.

 

By Nomaan Merchant

 

The Guardian (18.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3clezJ8 – Sitting across from her lawyer at an immigration detention center in rural Georgia, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez unbuttoned her jail jumpsuit to show the scars on her abdomen. There were three small, circular marks.

 

The 39-year-old woman from Cuba was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts, but a month later, she’s still not sure what procedure she got. After Cardentey repeatedly requested her medical records to find out, Irwin county detention center gave her more than 100 pages showing a diagnosis of cysts but nothing from the day of the surgery.

 

“The only thing they told me was: ‘You’re going to go to sleep and when you wake up, we will have finished,”’ Cardentey said this week in a phone interview.

 

Cardentey kept her hospital bracelet. It has the date, 14 August, and part of the doctor’s name, Dr Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist linked this week to allegations of unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures done on detained immigrant women that jeopardize their ability to have children.

 

An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand.

 

Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said.

 

Amin has performed surgery or other gynecological treatment on at least eight women detained at Irwin county detention center since 2017, including one hysterectomy, said Andrew Free, an immigration and civil rights lawyer working with attorneys to investigate medical treatment at the detention center. Doctors on behalf of the attorneys are examining new records and more women are coming forward to report their treatment by Amin, Free said.

 

“The indication is there’s a systemic lack of truly informed and legally valid consent to perform procedures that could ultimately result – intentionally or unintentionally – in sterilization,” he said.

 

The AP’s review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies as alleged in a widely shared complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center. Dawn Wooten alleged that many detained women were taken to an unnamed gynecologist whom she labeled the “uterus collector” because of how many hysterectomies he performed.

 

The complaint sparked a furious reaction from congressional Democrats and an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. It also evoked comparisons to previous government-sanctioned efforts in the US to sterilize people to supposedly improve society – victims who were disproportionately poor, mentally disabled, American Indian, Black or other people of color. Thirty-three states had forced sterilization programs in the 20th century.

 

But a lawyer who helped file the complaint said she never spoke to any women who had hysterectomies. Priyanka Bhatt, staff attorney at the advocacy group Project South, told the Washington Post that she included the hysterectomy allegations because she wanted to trigger an investigation to determine if they were true. Wooten did not answer questions at a press conference Tuesday, and Project South did not respond to interview requests Thursday on behalf of Bhatt or Wooten.

 

Amin told the Intercept, which first reported Wooten’s complaint, that he has only performed one or two hysterectomies in the past three years. His attorney, Scott Grubman, said in a statement: “We look forward to all of the facts coming out, and are confident that once they do, Dr Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

 

Grubman did not respond to new questions Thursday.

 

Since 2018, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it found records of two referrals for hysterectomies at the jail, which is in Ocilla, Georgia, about 150 miles (240km) from Atlanta.

 

“Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will,” Dr Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps that oversees healthcare in detention, said in a statement.

 

LaSalle Corrections, which operates the jail, said it “strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct”.

 

Women housed at Irwin County detention center who needed a gynecologist were typically taken to Amin, according to medical records provided to the AP by Free and lawyer Alexis Ruiz, who represents Cardentey. Interviews with detainees and their lawyers suggest some women came to fear the doctor.

 

Records reviewed by the AP show one woman was given a psychiatric evaluation the same day she refused to undergo a surgical procedure known as dilation and curettage. Commonly known as a D&C, it removes tissue from the uterus and can be used as a treatment for excessive bleeding. A note written on letterhead from Amin’s office said the woman was concerned.

 

According to a written summary of her psychiatric evaluation, the woman said: “I am nervous about my upcoming procedure.“

 

The summary says she denied needing mental health care and added: “I am worried because I saw someone else after they had surgery and what I saw scared me.“

 

The AP also reviewed records for a woman who was given a hysterectomy. She reported irregular bleeding and was taken to see Amin for a D&C. A lab study of the tissue found signs of early cancer, called carcinoma. Amin’s notes indicate the woman agreed 11 days later to the hysterectomy.

 

Free, who spoke to the woman, said she felt pressured by Amin and “didn’t have the opportunity to say no“ or speak to her family before the procedure.

 

Doctors told the AP that a hysterectomy could have been appropriate due to the carcinoma, though there may have been less intrusive options available.

 

Lawyers for both women asked that their names be withheld for fear of retaliation by immigration authorities.

 

In another case, Pauline Binam, a 30-year-old woman who was brought to the US from Cameroon when she was two, saw Amin after experiencing an irregular menstrual cycle and was told to have a D&C, said her attorney, Van Huynh.

 

When she woke up from the surgery, Huynh said, she was told Amin had removed one of her two fallopian tubes, which connect the uterus to the ovaries and are necessary to conceive a child. Binam’s medical records indicate that the doctor discovered the tube was swollen.

 

“She was shocked and sort of confronted him on that – that she hadn’t given her consent for him to proceed with that,” Huynh said. “The reply that he gave was they were in there anyway and found there was this problem.”

 

While women can potentially still conceive with one intact tube and ovary, doctors who spoke to the AP said removal of the tube was likely unnecessary and should never have happened without Binam’s consent.

 

The doctors also questioned how Amin discovered the swollen tube because performing a D&C would not normally involve exploring a woman’s fallopian tubes.

 

Dr Julie Graves, a family medicine and public health physician in Florida, called the process “absolutely abhorrent”.

 

“It’s established US law that you don’t operate on everything that you find,” she said. “If you’re in a teaching hospital and an attending physician does something like that, it’s a scandal and they are fired.”

 

Binam was on the verge of deportation Wednesday, but Ice delayed it after calls from members of Congress and a request for an emergency stay by her lawyer.

 

Grubman, Amin’s lawyer, said in a statement that the doctor “has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia”.

 

Amin completed medical school in India in 1978 and his residency in gynecology in New Jersey. He has practiced in rural Georgia for at least three decades, according to court filings. State corporate records also show Amin is the executive of a company that manages Irwin County Hospital.

 

In 2013, state and federal investigators sued Amin, the hospital authority of Irwin county and a group of other doctors over allegations they falsely billed Medicare and Medicaid.




Pakistan arrests suspect in highway gang rape case amid protests

One of two suspects arrested amid demonstrations over handling of probe into attack on mother travelling with children.

 

Al Jazeera (13.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3kfZNGp – Pakistani police say they have arrested one of two suspects in the rape of a woman who was dragged from her car and attacked after her car broke down on a desolate highway in central Punjab province.

 

The woman, who police say is in her early 30s, was driving late on Wednesday night outside the eastern city of Lahore with her two children when her vehicle ran out of fuel.

 

She phoned the police for help, but before they arrived, two men took her and her children out of the vehicle at gunpoint and raped her in a field along the highway.

 

The suspects are also accused of stealing cash and jewelry from the woman before fleeing.

 

Chief of the criminal investigation wing of the Punjab police, Atif Nazeer, on Sunday said the arrest of one of the men was made after they tracked phone records and collected forensic evidence from the scene.

 

Nazeer said the suspect denies any involvement in the rape. Local media reported that the suspect turned himself over to police to plead his innocence.

 

The arrest came after protests continued across Pakistan for a second day on Saturday over the handling of an investigation into the assault.

 

Inam Ghani, Inspector General of Punjab province had told reporters on Saturday night that police had identified the two suspects through DNA tracing.

 

“I am hopeful very soon we will reach them and arrest them,” he said.

 

Musarrat Cheema, a spokesperson in the eastern Punjab province, said raids were being conducted to find the culprits.

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office said the protection of women is a first priority and responsibility of the government, adding that “such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilised society”.

 

But protesters are not satisfied, and called for the sacking of the lead police investigator assigned to the case, Omar Sheikh, who has reportedly pointed out what he felt the victim had done wrong.

 

Sheikh is reported to have said the woman should have taken a different, busier, highway, not travelled at night, and made sure her vehicle had enough fuel.

 

He also said she appeared to be under the impression Pakistan was as safe for women as France, “her country of residence”. Requests for comment to the French Embassy in Islamabad went unanswered

 

In Islamabad, several hundred protesters gathered, some waved French flags, and others held signs saying “hang the rapists”.

 

“It’s very simple, these sort of incidents are not very new the issue is that rather than catching the criminals or catching the perpetrators, we always blame the victims,” said Aleena Alvi.

 

“I think the laws have also changed around the rape victims, there was a law of women’s protection act, instead of this act, there has now been no protection that has been given to victims.”

 

Hundreds, mostly women, also gathered in Lahore, Karachi, and the northwestern city of Peshawar. “Shatter the silence, stop the violence,” read one placard in Peshawar.

 

Global rights watchdogs have pointed out that Pakistan has not done enough to stem violence against women, including ensuring perpetrators are held accountable.

 

The attack has especially angered women who say public space in the country was already limited.

 

“And now the police are telling you that you are responsible for your own safety,” said Yamna Rehman at the Islamabad protest, organised by the Women Democratic Front collective.




Belarus’s female revolution: how women rallied against Lukashenko

Protests aimed at toppling autocratic leader have been led by women and show no sign of slowing.

 

By Shaun Walker

The Guardian (12.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bXFJWD – One evening last week, a stylised image of the Belarusian opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was projected on to the wall of a Minsk apartment block.

 

Mocked up to look like the famous Soviet war poster The Motherland Calls, the image created by Anna Redko shows Kolesnikova heroically holding out a torn passport – a reference to her actions on the border with Ukraine on Tuesday when Alexander Lukashenko’s security services tried to deport her.

 

“She decided on a powerful gesture. That’s why she is one of the opposition’s leaders and I’m the press secretary,” Ivan Kravtsov, one of two others with Kolesnikova who did get deported, told journalists in Kyiv the next day.

 

Kolesnikova is now in a KGB prison in Minsk, and her determination not to be forced into exile was the latest impressive act of defiance in a revolutionary moment that has, from the beginning, been led and defined by women. On Saturday afternoon, women holding flowers and posters gathered in Minsk to protest – some were detained by masked men in green uniforms. The Saturday demonstrations have become a regular occurrence before the main Sunday protest in the city centre, where for the past four weekends, more than 100,000 people have assembled.

 

It was a female candidate who rallied support against Lukashenko before last month’s elections. The autocratic leader had jailed or exiled the men who wanted to stand against him, but thinking a woman could not pose a real challenge, he allowed the wife of one of his opponents, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on to the ballot. Along with Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of another candidate who fled Belarus after receiving threats, the three women travelled the country and won support for their simple message of facilitating political change.

 

Lukashenko’s misogynist rhetoric also served as a mobilising force. “The cynicism with which the current president expressed himself about them and their role, it insulted a lot of women,” said Kolesnikova in an interview at her campaign headquarters in central Minsk last month.

 

It was also women who provided the momentum for the protest movement’s rejuvenation after the horrific violence inflicted on demonstrators in the aftermath of Lukashenko declaring an implausible victory.

 

After three evenings of brutality from riot police, 250 women, dressed in white and holding flowers, stood defiantly on a roadside in central Minsk. Police left them untouched and the next day there were multiple rows of flower-waving women throughout the city.

 

In recent weeks, as most of its leaders have been forced out of Belarus, Kolesnikova has become the visible face of the movement, appearing fearless and cheerful despite the odds stacked against the protesters, regularly appearing at rallies until her kidnap-style arrest earlier this week.

 

Last month she said her role had been simply to show people that it was possible to demand political change. She said: “The west, Russia won’t help – we can only help ourselves. In this way it turned out that female faces became a signal for women, and men too, that every person should take responsibility.”