RUSSIA: UN committee sides against Russia in first domestic violence ruling

The Moscow Times (12.04.2019) –– Russia has breached the rights of a Chechen domestic abuse victim, a United Nations women’s rights panel ruled on Friday in what has been called the UN’s first decision on domestic violence in the country.


Domestic violence complaints have skyrocketed since President Vladimir Putin passed a 2017 law decriminalizing first-time abuse where beatings resulted in “minor harm.” Each year, 12,000 women are killed in Russia as a result of domestic violence, according to official numbers.


NGOs submitted a complaint to the UN in 2013 accusing a court in Chechnya of effectively clearing the victim’s husband of attempted murder, instead finding that she had “provoked” him into attacking her with an axe.


Russia violated the victim’s rights as a result, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ruled, “including by failing to uphold her rights as a victim of domestic violence and by directly perpetuating sex-based discrimination and stereotypes in its handling of her case.”


CEDAW ordered Russia to award her “adequate financial compensation.”


Russia must revise its laws to criminalize gender-based violence and investigate thoroughly all allegations of violence against women, CEDAW also said.


The Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (SRJI) Dutch-based NGO has called the ruling in favor of Shema Timagova the UN’s first decision on domestic violence in Russia.


Russia has six months to submit a written response on steps taken in the case.

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SOUTH KOREA: Country will legalize abortion after 66-year ban

By Yoonjung Seo


CNN (11.04.2019) –– South Korea’s 66-year abortion ban must be lifted by end of 2020 the country’s Constitutional Court ruled Thursday, in a major win for pro-choice advocates.


Seven out of nine judges ruled that outlawing abortion was unconstitutional — votes from six judges were needed to overturn the ban.


Lawmakers now have until December 31, 2020 to revise the law. Termination of pregnancy after 20-weeks will remain illegal.


Previously, women who had abortions in South Korea could face up to a year in prison and can be fined up to two million won ($1,780), while doctors or healthcare workers who helped terminate a pregnancy could be jailed for up to two years.


While prosecutions were rare, they were not unheard of.


Three-quarters of women aged 15 to 44 regarded the law as unfair, according to results of a survey released this year by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. Around 20% of respondents said they had had an abortion despite it being illegal.


Recent pressure to decriminalize the practice, however, had seen pushback from conservative and religious groups, some of which have links to US anti-abortion campaigns.


Crime and stigma


When she was 40 years old, Kim Kyung-hee realized she was pregnant. The after-school teacher and her husband already had two daughters and so decided to have an abortion.


In many countries, this would be a simple medical procedure, undertaken with the support of the healthcare system. But in South Korea, Kim was left only with the option of an illegal operation.


While Kim’s abortion took place 12 years ago, she said she is still haunted by the knowledge that she committed a crime.


“I felt guilty for getting rid of a life to begin with, but the fact that it was a crime made it emotionally much more difficult,” Kim said.


Kim said finding a clinic to perform the operation wasn’t particularly difficult. She simply went to a large obstetrician-gynecologist hospital. “After I had confirmation that I was pregnant … I told the doctor I wanted an abortion so we scheduled the date and time,” she said.


Kim said she left the hospital as soon as the operation was over.


“I wasn’t very healthy, so I should have stayed longer to fully recover but I felt that I had to get out,” Kim said. She didn’t tell her mother or siblings about it at the time.


Kim is not alone. According to the Health Ministry, 50,000 women had an abortion in South Korea last year.


That’s down from 168,000 in 2011, according to the official data — but many doctors disputed these figures saying the criminalization of the practice had distorted reporting of it.


They estimated the actual figure could be 10 times higher than that recorded by the government.


Kim believed the law had put an unjust burden on women.


“Pregnancy doesn’t come about by women alone — but to hold only women responsible makes the law very unfair,” she said.


Changing attitudes


In 1953, South Korea criminalized abortion in most circumstances, with exceptions granted to cases involving rape, incest and genetic disability.


But in the following years, the law appeared to contradict other government policies, social norms and technological advances.


In the early 1960s, for example, the government launched a campaign to reduce the number of children per household, in a bid to get the population size under control.


Traditionally, South Korean couples had preferred sons over daughters, as they could carry on the family name, and so would keep having children until they had a boy. The new policy combined with the abortion ban left them with fewer legal options.


Around the same time, however, access to ultrasound technology allowed more people to know the sex of their unborn child. Some parents began aborting female fetuses — illegally. The severe social stigma against unmarried mothers was another factor that led women to seek abortions.


Even recently, women who had a child outside of marriage were often ostracized and cutoff from family support. Many chose to stay at shelters run by the government, religious groups and adoption centers.


Times changing


The Constitutional Court almost legalized abortion in 2012, said Cho Hee-kyoung, a law professor at Seoul’s Hongik University. “The court was actually split. It was four to four and there was no deciding vote because, at the time, one seat was vacant.”


Pressure to reform the law has been growing since then, both domestically and internationally. Pro-choice were emboldened by Ireland’s landslide vote to legalize abortion, in a country where the stringently anti-choice Catholic Church has far more influence.


Current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is a Catholic, appointed six of the current nine Judges on the Constitutional Court. Though Moon has not spoken publicly about this issue, he has been supportive of gender equality and in favor of protecting rights for minorities.


In 2017, more than 235,000 people signed a petition to legalize abortion. In response, the government promised better sex education, more support for single mothers, and to research the issue.


Even some of the churches that oppose the legalization in principle disagree on imposing punishment solely on women.




The case before the Constitutional Court this week began after a doctor filed a petition against the law after he was indicted for carrying out an abortion of a less than three-month-old fetus in 2014.


The doctor claimed that the abortion ban violated his right to pursue happiness, to equality and freedom of occupation.


As ruling for the case approached, both anti- and pro-choice groups took to the streets of Seoul to make their case.


On April 6, about 1,000 anti-abortion protesters gathered in Seoul for a “March for Life,” modeled on the US campaign of the same name. They bore placards with slogans such as “abortion is murder” and “both women and fetuses must be protected.” Last week, Archibishop of Seoul, Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, said in a statement that “the pain for women derives from the situation that pushes them towards an abortion not from the criminal laws.”


Yeom urged society “to focus on saving both women and fetuses rather than only focusing on the legalization of abortion.”


Meanwhile, activist Hong Yeon-ji, who attended a pro-choice rally along with hundreds of women a week before, said the current law was “abused by male partners as it penalizes the women who have the operation and the doctors who perform the operation.”


She said that many doctors who performed illegal abortions were not properly trained and the surgery methods they used had not been updated in years because the act itself was illegal.


At the Korea Womenlink center, one of the largest women’s activist groups in South Korea, where she works, Hong said she had encountered cases of men threatening their partners with being reported to the police for having an abortion, either to hurt them when a relationship broke down or to blackmail them for money.


Last month, South Korea’s own human rights watchdog, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), said that the current law was unconstitutional.


“In a democratic nation, people are not coerced to get pregnant and therefore the rights to terminate pregnancy should be safeguarded too,” the NHRCK said in a statement.


“All couples and individuals should be able to freely decide on the number of children they have and when to have them.”

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EUROPEAN UNION: Europe’s missing women leaders

The Continent is ripe for upheaval.


By Corinna Horst


Politico EU (15.04.2019) – – The European Union has a woman problem. The bloc has never had a female president of the European Commission or European Council. And just two presidents of the European Parliament have been women — Simone Veil, who served from 1979 to 1982, and Nicole Fontaine, from 1999 to 2001. Today, only a little over a third of the institution’s members are women.


The upcoming European Parliament election is an opportunity to change that. As political parties ready for an election whose outcome will shape European policymaking for the next five years, we should be looking across the Atlantic for inspiration on how to galvanize voters and vault more women into office.


The U.S. midterm elections in November saw the highest turnout in a century, with more than half of eligible voters casting ballots. The new U.S. Congress includes a record number of women and first-time congressional representatives; it’s also one of the most diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.


The factors that led to this mass turnout and diverse group — which is largely considered to be a backlash against U.S. President Donald Trump’s divisive brand of politics — exist in Europe too.


The political climate across the bloc is increasingly polarized. Euroskeptics and populists are projected to make steep gains in the May election, and there are increasingly deep fissures between member states and Brussels when it comes to the rule of law and the future of the European project.


The Continent, in other words, is ripe for upheaval.


To be sure, a more diverse European Parliament would disrupt the status quo. The institution has long been governed by the same powerful groups, and is set in its ways. Many are afraid that opening the door too wide would, for example, welcome in people set to undermine pro-European policies.


And of course, women are not necessarily better leaders — consider the controversial legacy of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., or the anti-immigrant rhetoric of France’s Marine Le Pen and German far-right leader Alice Weidel.


Research does show, however, that having more women in political parties makes for a more inclusive and balanced policymaking process. Female leaders tend to be consensus-builders who listen, focus on getting results and work across political aisles.


The U.S. Congress bipartisan women’s caucus was among the most productive in the past years. And it was a group of female lawmakers in the U.S. Congress who, in 2013, started a bipartisan group whose negotiating framework formed the centerpiece to get the federal government to reopen after a government shutdown.


Just as in the private sector, a Parliament that more accurately reflects its constituents will yield better results. If we want people to believe in the European project’s democratic potential and undo a trend of declining turnout among European voters, our election ballots need to reflect the European population more accurately — and that includes helping more women take up seats.


This is in political parties’ own interest. By offering lists that are more diverse, they can connect to a broader range of voters and develop a better feel for the needs of their constituents.


They’ll also have a greater reach when it comes to developing policies that address the needs of the electorates. Successful policies are the result of healthy debate and multiple points of view; homogenous groups have major blind spots.


Changing the status quo will also hinge on European women being willing to step up.


In the U.S., women were galvanized by Hillary Clinton’s loss and the implications of a presidency they saw as undermining crucial freedoms. They realized they had to take action to make sure their voices were heard on the issues that affect their lives most deeply — not only health care and reproductive rights, but also immigration, security and economics.


In Europe, too, women need to be more vocal about what is important to them. There is plenty to worry about: the uncertainty around Brexit; the rise of anti-European, right-wing populism; the unresolved issue of how to tackle migration or reforming the eurozone.


Concerns over these issues have already compelled women to run in the European election — Tina de Meeûs from the Liberal Democrats in Germany, Airis Meier from Estonia’s Reform Party and Valérie Glatigny from Belgium’s Reformist Movement are all good examples of women MEPs who want to make a difference.


To shift the tone of the debate and the way we tackle major issues in Europe, we need more women to follow in their footsteps.


The takeaways are simple: Parties, put more women on the ballot; women, make your voices heard.

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SAUDI ARABIA: ‘Shrouded in secrecy’: Saudi women activists due back in court

Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists are due to appear in court in Riyadh on Wednesday.


By Frank Gardner


BBC (17.04.2019) –– The women were arrested last May and charged with various offences including spying.


They had been campaigning for an end to the country’s male guardianship system and for the right to drive, before the ban was lifted last June.


Since then, horrific details have emerged of their alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Saudi authorities.


On Tuesday, Walid al-Hathloul, the brother of one of the best-known activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, told the BBC his sister was so traumatised by what had happened to her that she wanted to remain in jail, afraid of how her reputation had been unfairly smeared in her absence.

He said that following her arrest Ms Hathloul had been taken to a secret detention facility near the maximum security prison of Dhahban in Jeddah. There, she told her family, she was taken down to a basement and subjected to waterboarding and electrocution.


He named Saud al-Qahtani, a close confidant of the Saudi Crown Prince, as the man who oversaw her torture, allegedly laughing as he threatened to have her raped and murdered.


‘Shrouded in secrecy’


In February a group of British MPs carried out an investigation, supported by a number of international human rights organisations, into the allegations of mistreatment of Ms Hathloul and other female activists. They concluded that the allegations were credible.


In March the UN’s Human Rights Council called for their release and more than 30 countries, including all 28 EU members, signed a statement condemning their prolonged detention.


The Saudi government says the detained women enjoy all the rights afforded to them under Saudi law.


But Mr Hathloul said everything about his sister’s arrest and detention had been shrouded in secrecy and that the entire judicial process lacked transparency. It was not until November 2018, he said, six months after her arrest, that the family even learned what she was accused of.


The accusations, he said, included “applying for a job at the UN and being in contact with human rights organisations”. He added that the prosecution had not produced any evidence to support its allegation of spying.


While Saudi Arabia rejects all criticism of its judicial system, insisting it is based on Sharia (Islamic law), in practice it has always been opaque, with arbitrary judgements often handed down at the whim of a judge.


This case has attracted particularly widespread international condemnation and is seen as further damaging the reputation of Saudi Arabia’s controversial Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS.


Initially courted in the West as an enlightened reformer who reintroduced cinemas and public entertainment to the conservative kingdom, MBS remains under suspicion for his alleged involvement in last October’s murder of the journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi, which his government denies.


Commentators have explained the apparent paradox between the accelerated crackdown on human rights and the crown prince’s simultaneous liberalisation of Saudi society as being the ruling family’s determination to steer reforms at their pace, rather than at the one demanded by peaceful protesters.


This, in a country where all political parties are banned, would be seen as a dangerous precedent.


What next for the activists?


The next stage expected in the trial of Loujain al-Hathloul and her co-defendants is the judge’s response to their defence, which has already been submitted.

Her brother said the family were deeply worried about what would happen next, partly due to the lack of transparency.


He said his sister was bearing up despite everything, but that she was disheartened that the Saudi authorities had so far failed to investigate her complaints of torture.

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KENYA: Who cares about Kenyan women?

Authorities remain silent despite rising public outcry on violence against women


By Audrey Wabwire


HRW (17.04.2019) –– Kenyan media has recently been awash with reports of gruesome killings of women. So far in 2019, dozens of women have reportedly been killed by their partners. Many others have been gravely injured. On International Women’s Day, Kenyan women took to social media and the streets with the hashtag #TotalShutDownKe, demanding that authorities do more to protect them. But instead of being supported, they are being blamed for the crimes against them, and further bullied online.


One of the most prominent cases involves the murder of a 26-year-old university student, Sharon Otieno. Otieno, who was seven months pregnant, is said to have been abducted, raped, and then killed. The personal assistant of a senior politician she was in a relationship with has been arrested for questioning. But instead of mobilizing people to act against the rising scourge of violence against women, her death sparked victim-blaming and a debate narrowly focused on so-called transactional romantic relationships, instead of the terrible crime committed.


But violence continues. Last week, after another university student, Ivy Wangechi, was killed by a man she knew a few days before her 25th birthday, a popular local radio station ran a segment mocking her death. Three days after Ivy’s murder, Peninah Wangechi, 30, was rushed to hospital after she was stabbed 17 times by her husband who had repeatedly threatened to kill her. The police are investigating both incidents, but there is little faith that the cases will lead to justice thanks to Kenya’s dismal record of punishing these types of crimes.


Violence against women is endemic in Kenya. A recent national health survey found that almost half of Kenyan women aged between 15 – 49 say that they have been beaten, harassed, or raped, often by someone they know.


Kenyan women are overcoming social and other barriers to speak out against this violence.


Shortly before Women’s Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that he values the contributions that women make to Kenyan society. But one month after the women’s protest, why hasn’t he sent a strong message to assure women that their lives matter? Kenya’s women cannot wait a day longer for protection – and justice.

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JORDAN: Parliament raises ‘exceptional’ marriage age to 16

The move has been welcomed by women’s rights activists, who hope it is the first step to phasing out the law, which allows child marriage, altogether

By Taylor Luck


The National (09.04.2019) –– Jordan’s parliament has voted to raise the minimum age of marriage in “exceptional” cases from 15 to 16 in a move that has been seen as an important step towards reducing child marriage rates in the country.


The minimum age for marriage in Jordan is 18, however, in some cases, a judge can approve a marriage to a minor if a sharia committee deems it necessary and both parties consent.


On Monday, politicians passed a measure to raise the minimum age for marriage in these exceptional cases from 15 to 16.


Women’s rights activists in Jordan welcomed the move as a first step towards eliminating the exception rule altogether.


“We understand that it does not seem like a big increase, but for us every additional day matters,” Eval Abu Halaweh, director of the Mizan Law Group, a Jordanian NGO that provides legal assistance to vulnerable people, told The National. The organisation consulted with MPs on the change to the law.


In 2017, 13.4 per cent of all marriage contracts issued were for underaged brides, but only 0.4 per cent were for underaged grooms.


By at least reaching 16 before marrying, activists say children will have had the chance to complete Grade 10. A completion certificate is a requirement for teenagers who want to take up vocational training or menial jobs and allows them to take university entrance exams.


Under Jordanian law, underage marriage can only take place if the age difference between the bride and groom does not exceed 15 years, and if the groom can prove they are able to pay a dowry and financially support their wife.


A court committee must also confirm that the groom is not currently married and that the union would not mean the bride would not be forced to drop out of school or stop her studies.


MPs argued that lifting the age of the exception from 15 to 16 will help reduce the overall number of child marriages in Jordan.


“We would be open to keeping the exception in the law if the rate of child marriage was between 1 and 5 per cent,” said Ms Halaweh.


“But with almost 14 per cent of all marriages in Jordan involving minors, this is becoming a standard and not an exception, and we must work gradually to phase it out.”


Jordan’s Iftaa Department, the highest religious authority, however, said in a statement to local press that certain “moral and social necessities” may require families to seek marriage for their daughter before she is 18. They said that getting rid of the law that allows these exceptions could lead to social “corruption” as girls who became pregnant out of wedlock would not be able to wed.


Politicians and community leaders argued that the marriages allow families to save face and prevent so-called honour crimes, when social stigma may force a family to take extreme measures, even going as far as to murder a loved one, to clear their reputation.


In statements to MPs and senators, women’s rights groups urged the government to find additional measures to protect vulnerable minors.


Last week, watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Jordanian politicians to end the “abusive practice” of child marriage and seize the opportunity to enforce the minimum age of 18 without exception.


Jordan has witnessed a surge in child marriages over the past six years, in part due to the influx of 1.2 million Syrian refugees — the highest percentages of child marriages occur in northern governorates where there are large Syrian communities.


Many Syrian refugees come from rural areas where child marriage is more common and their displacement has also driven families to marry their daughters off to “protect their honour” while they are living in vulnerable circumstances.

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