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PAKISTAN: Virginity tests for female rape survivors outlawed by Pakistani court

By Haroon Janjua

 

WUNRN (04.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3jwOSZQ – 6 January 2021, a Pakistani court has outlawed the practice of subjecting female rape survivors to a virginity test in an unprecedented ruling.

 

Lahore’s high court ruled on Monday that the virginity test has no legal basis and “offends the personal dignity of the female victim”.

 

Making the judgment, Justice Ayesha Malik said: “Virginity testing is highly invasive, having no scientific or medical requirement, yet carried out in the name of medical protocols in sexual violence cases.

 

“It is a humiliating practice, which is used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence.”

 

In a 2018 report, the UN said that virginity tests, a medically dubious internal examination of a woman’s hymen, still take place in 20 countries, and can be conducted with or without consent in rape cases or when a woman is accused of a “moral” crime such as premarital sex or running away.

 

Premarital sex remains a crime in Pakistan for men and women and carries a five-year prison sentence.

 

“The verdict is the culmination of a history of activism and built on the hard work that the feminist movement has been engaging in for decades. The test is part of a larger structure of patriarchy that hinges victimhood on women’s characters and perpetuates the myth of the ‘perfect victim’,” Nighat Dad, a lawyer and rights activist told the Guardian.

 

“The barriers in place for women to report cases of rape are insurmountable, but this historic verdict will go a long way in dismantling those barriers,” she said.

 

In October Human Rights Watch said virginity examinations had long been a routine part of criminal proceedings in Pakistan, based on a misogynistic assumption that a woman “habituated to sexual intercourse” is less likely to have been raped. Police and prosecutors have used the results to accuse rape victims of illegal sexual intercourse and to treat them as criminals.

 

Pakistan’s minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari, lauded the judgment, which will apply only in the state of Punjab, on Twitter.

 

Photo credits: Anjum Naveed/AP

 

 





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INDONESIA bans mandatory Islamic ‘hijab’ scarves for schoolgirls 

AFP/ Dawn (06.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3rAuWrY – Indonesia has banned schools from forcing girls to wear Islamic “hijab” headscarves after the case of a Christian pupil pressured to cover up sparked outrage in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

 

The move was applauded Friday by rights activists, who say non-Muslim girls have been forced for years to wear a hijab in conservative parts of the country.

 

State schools across the Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million will face sanctions if they fail to comply with the edict from education minister Nadiem Makarim.

 

On Wednesday he said religious attire was an individual choice, and said schools “cannot make it compulsory”.

 

Schools that violate the rules could see their government funding cut, he added.

 

“The decree is a positive step to protect women’s rights in Indonesia,” said Andreas Harsono, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Jakarta.

 

He said public schools had forced millions of girls and women teachers to wear a hijab, prompting “bullying, intimidation, social pressures — and in some cases, expulsion and forced resignation” if they didn’t.

 

There have been concerns about growing religious intolerance in a nation where nearly 90 percent of the population follows Islam.

 

The headscarf issue grabbed headlines after a Christian student in West Sumatra’s Padang City was pressured to wear a hijab.

 

She refused, and her parents later secretly recorded a meeting with an official who insisted that school rules required all girls to wear a hijab, regardless of their religion.

 

The school later issued an apology after the video went viral.

 

Religious affairs minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas described the Sumatra case as the “tip of the iceberg”.

 

“Religion is not supposed to be a reason for conflict or a justification to act unfairly towards those with different beliefs,” he said.

 

The new regulations will not apply to conservative Aceh province, which follows religious law under a longstanding autonomy deal.

 

Photo credits : AFP





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CHINA: Birth rate push trumps gender equality, with women hit with ‘parenthood penalty’

China’s birth rate is declining so Beijing is encouraging couples to have more children, but employers are worried about extra maternity costs. China still exceeds the global average participation rate for women in the workplace at 60 per cent in 2019, but the rate has been falling since 1990.

 

By Sidney Leng

 

South China Morning Post (09.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2LnTS6k – China’s ongoing battle to boost its population is having a knock-on effect on its efforts to ensure gender equality in the workplace, with female applicants increasingly being told they are unsuitable for roles for “unsubstantiated” reasons, including because the role required overtime work, business trips, driving or even moving books.

 

“These excuses are so unsubstantiated. Overtime and business trips have nothing to do with gender. It’s up to your abilities and tolerance. It can not persuade us at all,” said Helen Tang, who has been battling gender equality while claiming to be the victim of discriminatory practices since 2018.

 

China has been struggling with a declining birth rate in recent years and so is encouraging couples to have more children. But with employers worried about maternity costs, discrimination, at least recently, has been rising, particularly since Beijing officially ended its one-child policy in 2016.

 

While China exceeds the global average participation rate for women in the workplace of 47 per cent with 60 per cent in 2019, the rate has fallen by more than 12 percentage points since 1990, according to the United Nations-backed International Labour Organization.

 

The gap between male and female labour participation rates in China expanded from 11.6 percentage points to 14.8 percentage points between 1990 and 2019, while it has been shrinking in major economies during the same period.

 

“I am puzzled. I don’t understand why a clerk role is only offered to men,” added Tang, who was told male applicants would be prioritised when she called to inquire about the position.

 

Her treatment saw Tang reach out to Workplace Gender Equality Watch, an informal social media group, and discovered that the problem was more prevalent than she first feared. She later volunteered to work for the organisation.

 

Founded in 2014, the group is made up of more than 50 part-time volunteers who regularly highlight on social media hiring practises that they believe are discriminatory. The group also files complaints with relevant authorities and companies, and sometimes provides legal help.

 

“Although China has laws and regulations to protect women’s employment rights, gender discrimination in the workplace is still very serious,” said Ren Zeping, chief economist at the Evergrande Research Institute.

 

“Generally speaking, a smaller labour participation gap between men and women means better protection of women’s employment rights and higher fertility rates.”

 

China ranked 106th behind Hungary last year on the annual gender gap index compiled by the World Economic Forum, having been 61st in 2008. The index considers employment opportunity, education attainment, health and political empowerment.

 

In a survey of more than 66,000 people conducted by recruitment portal Zhaopin last year, overall pay for female workers was 17 per cent lower than male workers, and only 5 per cent of women took management roles compared to 9 per cent of men.

 

Within the Communist Party, less than 30 per cent of members were women in 2018, and less than 27 per cent of party and government leadership roles were taken by women in 2017, according to government data.

 

Last year, Workplace Gender Equality Watch published notices on more than 100 discriminatory job listings on average per month, up from an average of 69 in 2019.

 

Based on submissions via social media, many of the roles involved law firms, public institutions, state-owned construction and engineering firms, as well as schools.

 

The civil service, particularly at the local level, is a hot bed for gender discrimination, according to an analysis of all published jobs from 2017 to 2020 conducted by the group.

The share of roles preferring men accounted for more than 10 per cent of all listings each year of the study, with women preferred for just over 1 per cent of roles last year, up from zero in 2019.

 

Based on official data, the government of Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse in the south of the country, had the most gender discriminatory roles than other provinces, offering 1,449 civil servant roles for men only last year, six times more than for female-only offerings.

 

Workplace Gender Equality Watch also argued that while some government agencies offered the same number of jobs for men and women, there remains discrimination in hiring practices with less qualified men often hired instead of more qualified women.

 

In a study conducted before and after China officially abolished its one-child policy in 2016, three researchers led by He Haoran from Beijing Normal University sent fictitious résumés with varied gender information to real job postings in the three most developed cities to test labour market discrimination against expected motherhood.

 

They found that women, particularly those seen to be within childbearing ages, received fewer responses than before 2016, indicating that women were suffering from a “parenthood penalty” that did not apply to men.

 

Unlike the planned economy era, when state-owned firms built schools and dormitories to take care of employees’ children and provide social services, China today has a large shortage of nurseries and childcare services that has forced some working aged women to leave the workforce.

 

In the Zhaopin survey, close to 60 per cent of women said they had encountered questions about their marriage and maternity status during the hiring process.

 

“For companies, maternity costs are a big consideration … the costs of having children cannot be shared by the society, they can only be shared by firms,” added Tang.

 

“When they take this into consideration, they will reduce job opportunities for women and prefer men more.”

 

By law, China protects equal employment, and in 2019 the government started imposing a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,700) for gender discriminatory job postings.

 

At the end of last year, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security also published a notice banning gender discrimination via online recruitment.

 

But less than a third of women surveyed by Zhaopin believed that the rules could actually improve the work environment for women.

 

Lawsuits against gender discrimination during recruitment, though, are rare. One of the first such cases appeared in Zhejiang province in eastern China in 2014, when a new graduate sued a culinary school for repeatedly declining her applications for a clerk role. She was eventually awarded 2,000 yuan (US$309), which failed to even cover her legal fees.

 

“We are fully aware that recruitment is only the first step. There is more hidden gender discrimination at work, too,” said Tang.

 

“What we can do is to get rid of discrimination in the hiring process first. And hopefully we can have more government oversight in the future.”

Photo Credit: South China Morning Post.





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IRELAND: Ireland to lay bare scandal of baby deaths at Church-run homes

Relatives have alleged the babies at mother and baby homes were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women.

 

Al Jazeera (12.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3i783Zv – One of the Catholic Church’s darkest chapters will be revisited on Tuesday when an Irish inquiry into death rates among newborns at church-run homes for unwed mothers hands down its final report.

 

Relatives have alleged the babies at the mother and baby homes were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women who, like their children, were seen as a stain on Ireland’s image as a devout Catholic nation.

 

The 3,000-page report is due to be published by mid-afternoon following the five-year investigation by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

 

It is expected to reveal that 9,000 children – one in seven – died in the 18 institutions investigated between 1922 and 1998, when the last one closed, according to a leaked version of the report obtained by the Sunday Independent, an Irish newspaper.

 

The institutions, which doubled as orphanages and adoption agencies, were established across Ireland throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

While run by nuns, they received state funding and were also regulated by the state.

 

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday said the report into their history made for difficult reading.

 

“One of the things that hit me was the extent to which this was an enormous societal failure and an enormous societal shame that we have a stolen generation of children who did not get the upbringing they should have,” he told national broadcaster RTE.

 

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin is expected to issue a formal state apology to the victims in the country’s parliament on Wednesday.

 

Tuam ‘chamber of horrors’ prompts investigation

 

Tens of thousands of women, including rape victims, were sent to the homes to give birth.

 

Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.

 

The commission into the institutions was formed in 2014 after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at an institution in Tuam, in the western county of Galway, was uncovered by amateur local historian Catherine Corless.

 

Corless found death certificates confirming that nearly 800 children had died at the site, but there were no burial records.

 

She said she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home.

 

Excavations in 2017 revealed “significant quantities of human remains” in 20 underground chambers in a decommissioned sewage tank on the site’s grounds, the commission said in an interim report.

 

Then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny described the burial site at Tuam as a “chamber of horrors”.

 

The grim revelations have further tarnished the Catholic Church’s reputation in Ireland, which has been shattered in recent years by a series of tragedies that includes abuse at workhouses, forced adoptions of babies born out of wedlock and priests who have sexually assaulted children.

 

During the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018, Pope Francis begged for forgiveness for the scandals.





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IRAN Gov’t approves bill against domestic violence

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs, dedicated the move to ‘worthy and patient Iranian women’ in a tweet.

 

By Maziar Motamedi

 

Al Jazeera (04.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/35dPcqk – The government of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has approved a longstanding bill that aims to better protect women against domestic and other forms of violence.

 

In a meeting on Sunday evening, cabinet ministers greenlit the draft bill, called Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence, which has been in the works since the administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

 

The bill must now be reviewed and approved by the parliament, after which it will be sent to the powerful constitutional vetting body called the Guardian Council, consisting of jurists and religious experts.

 

The most senior woman in Rouhani’s outgoing government hailed the move, which she said was the result of hundreds of hours of work by tens of legal experts, judges, executives and officials.

 

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs, dedicated the 58-article bill to “worthy and patient Iranian women” in a tweet.

 

The legislation completed its lengthy process of review by the judiciary in September 2019.

 

It defines violence as “any behavior inflicted on women due to sexuality, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their body, psyche, personality and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms”.

 

It obligates the judiciary to create offices to support victims of violence and hold educational courses for judges and other judiciary staff.

 

The bill also envisages the formation of a fund by the judiciary to support victims of violence and help imprisoned women, among other things.

 

The state broadcaster is also directed by the legislation to produce more programmes that promote the support of women and the prevention of violence against them as family values.

 

Moreover, the bill sees a role for the ministry of education in holding educational courses for students, teachers and parents, and in better identifying vulnerable students.

 

The ministry of health, on the other hand, is tasked by the draft bill to boost its medical and psychological services to women and train experts in handling women who have fallen victim to violence.

 

Law enforcement and prison organisations are among other entities that will have to increase their efforts as part of the vision laid out in the legislation.

 

In a report published last month, rights group Human Rights Watch said the bill had several positive provisions, including those that engaged different parts of the government and other entities in women’s issues.

 

But the New York-based organisation said the bill “falls short of international standards” as it does not criminalise some forms of gender-based violence, including marital rape and child marriage.

 

The bill was finalised by the government after several high-profile incidents concerning women that took centre stage nationally during the past year.

 

In late May 2020, a 14-year-old girl called Romina Ashrafi was gruesomely beheaded by her father in an apparent case of “honour-killing”. The father was given a nine-year jail sentence.

 

In September, decades-old sexual traumas were unearthed as Iranian women launched their own version of the global #MeToo movement on social media.

 

The movement implicated several high-profile artists and one major company, and led to at least one arrest.


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