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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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POLAND strict anti-abortion law: Near total ban – Thousands of people take to streets

Euronews with AFP, AP (28.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/39tFrqU – New anti-government protests broke out in Polish cities on Wednesday, shortly after the country’s top court confirmed its highly divisive ruling that will further tighten the predominantly Catholic nation’s strict anti-abortion law.

 

The ban on abortions in nearly all circumstances is to come into effect after the law was published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday.

 

Thousands of people gathered outside the court building in Warsaw in the evening, responding to calls for new protests by women’s groups who masterminded weeks of massive demonstrations last year against the initial ruling in October.

 

Protesters later marched through the city centre to the ruling party’s headquarters with signs of the leading “Women’s Strike” group and pro-LGBT rights rainbow flags.

 

Protests were also held in many other cities, under a heavy police presence. More demonstrations are planned for Thursday.

 

Delayed law takes effect

The law, originally passed in October, was subsequently delayed due to widespread protests throughout the country against the measure, which took place amid the coronavirus pandemic and saw clashes between demonstrators and police. No violence was reported at Wednesday’s protests.

 

Poland’s ruling conservative government said on Twitter: “The Constitutional Court presented a written justification of the ruling on the protection of life. In accordance with constitutional requirements, the ruling will be published today in the Official Gazette.”

 

The Constitutional Court, which was reformed by the religious, conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), has banned abortions of fetuses with congenital defects. Termination of pregnancy will now be allowed only if the woman’s health is threatened or if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act, such as rape or incest.

 

Critics argue that it narrows the already tight law to a near total ban of abortions.

 

Poland already had some of the strictest abortion laws in the European Union. Even before the ruling, many Polish women sought abortions in neighbouring Germany or the Czech Republic.

 

An estimated 200,000 abortions are performed illegally or abroad every year, according to feminist organisations.

 

The main opposition Civic Platform party condemned the court’s move Wednesday as “a provocation” by the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS). It is widely seen as having undue influence on the judiciary following reforms it passed affecting the way judges are appointed.

 

Leader Borys Budka attacked the decision on Twitter, accusing Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of PiS and deputy prime minister, of using the ban to “cover up the traces of the government’s defeat in the fight against COVID” and “the failure of the vaccination programme”.

 

Another opposition leader, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, tweeted urging the government to “save the economy, don’t set Poland ablaze.”

 

New law fails to deter activists

The government announcement led to immediate calls for activists to take to the streets in Warsaw and across the country.

 

“We urge everyone to take to the streets…Express your anger as you see fit,” Marta Lempart of the Women’s Strike, the main movement behind the protests, told reporters on Wednesday.

 

“The whole of Poland is mobilising, not just Warsaw, we are ready! When we talk about women’s hell, we can now talk about government hell,” added Klementyna Suchanow, also from the movement.

 

The new law was made in response to a motion from over 100 ruling party lawmakers, whose names have not been made public.

 

The unrest shows growing discontent among many Poles with the right-wing government, which has been criticised by European officials and politicians for eroding democracy.

 

Photo credits : AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski





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Burial of aborted fetuses causes outrage in Italy

Women take legal action over fetus graves marked with mothers’ names in so-called Fields of Angels.

 

By Hannah Roberts

 

POLITICO (15.10.2020) – https://politi.co/2HitsR9 – At the Prima Porta cemetery, hundreds of white wooden crosses mark the burial plots of aborted fetuses. On each cross is written the name of the woman who terminated the pregnancy.

 

Until recently, the existence of the cemetery was unknown to many of the women, who say they consented neither to a burial nor to being named. Now that they do know, more than 100 have come together to pursue legal action demanding those responsible be identified.

 

In Italy, where women still struggle to access abortion four decades after legislation permitting the procedure was passed, the discovery of the burial site has resulted in an outcry. It has also focused attention on dozens of similar sites across Italy — known as “Fields of Angels” and created with the involvement of anti-abortion, ultra-conservative associations.

 

For opponents, such burial grounds stigmatize abortion and undermine the legitimate choices of women at a time when conservative groups globally are attempting to push back reproductive rights won decades ago.

 

The Prima Porta site stands out because it names the women.

 

Its existence came to light earlier this month after Marta Loi made inquiries about what happened to her fetus. Writing on Facebook, she described the “anger and anguish” at discovering a burial plot with her name on it, and that “without my consent, others have buried my child with a cross, a Christian symbol, which does not belong to me.”

 

Silvana Agatone, president and founder of LAIGA, the Italian association for doctors who carry out abortions, told POLITICO that the burials were “the most serious violation of privacy. Many women do not tell relatives or friends about the procedure.”

 

“It is a way of punishing the women by creating a sense of guilt,” she said. “To have a tomb with your name on implies that you are as good as dead.”

 

Monica Cirinnà, a senator in the Italian parliament, told POLITICO: “Every woman who terminates a pregnancy has the right to choose if and how to bury the fetus and according to which ritual. These are deeply personal decisions that cannot be brought into question.”

 

The issue is a reminder of the global pushback against women’s rights, Cirinnà said. “Even today, women’s bodies are battlefields. Attacks on women’s freedom, regarding the choice to become or not to become mothers, are now coming from everywhere, continuously undermined by small, silent but insidious procedures like this one.”

 

Medical objections

 

Although abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, it has been fiercely opposed from the start by an alliance of religious and political conservatives. There are similar situations in many other countries, but campaigners say the extent to which the Catholic Church remains embedded in Italian institutions means it has been particularly effective in frustrating the implementation of abortion rights.

 

The majority of doctors qualified to carry out an abortion refuse to do so on ethical grounds — that’s an average of 69 percent across the country, rising to 80 percent in the south, according to the health ministry. That means access is limited and delays common.

 

Junior doctors often fear their career will be damaged if they don’t join the ranks of objectors, and department heads refuse to hire non-objectors, said Agatone.

 

The rise among Italian doctors of conscientious objectors does not constitute a problem, according to the health ministry, because the number of abortions is falling while the number of objectors remains stable.

 

Elisa Ercoli, president of Differenza Donna, an advocacy group representing 130 of the Prima Porta women, said the Fields of Angels “are emblematic of the obstacles to women exercising their right to an abortion in Italy.”

 

“The level of objectors is so high that the health care guaranteed by law is not accessible,” she said.

 

Most of the women, Ercoli added, had degrading experiences in hospital, with some medical staff refusing to help them even though they were in pain: “These women feel betrayed by the state. There was a total violation of their legal rights and privacy.”

 

According to a 1990 law, women can request the aborted fetus and bury it within 24 hours. But if they don’t, the local health service is responsible for arranging transport and burial. Over the past two decades, Catholic associations have increasingly stepped in, relieving the local health authority of the cost and trouble of burying aborted fetuses.

 

The most prominent group doing this, Difendere la vita con Maria, has 3,000 members and says it has carried out over 200,000 burials. It solicits donations for funding on its website, which says: “For only €20 you can bear the cost of burying an unborn child.”

 

Spokesman Stefano di Battista said the group does not work in Rome at present. But in the cities that it does work, it collects the fetuses, usually once a month, from the hospitals with which it has agreements, before burying them after a short ceremony. The group never identifies the women, he said, adding: “Anonymity is a guiding principle for us. We do not do this practice to battle against abortion rights. We are not interested in crusades. We believe it is at the basis of civilization to bury with dignity and piety the children that never came into the world.”

 

Church ties to the right

 

Catholic associations might be responsible for the Fields of Angels, but they wouldn’t have been able to proceed without political sympathizers at regional and national levels.

 

In 2007 in Lombardy, a center-right/conservative administration introduced new regulations stipulating that all fetuses had to be buried in specific areas within cemeteries. Le Marche and Campania have approved similar laws.

 

Last year, an attempt to introduce similar legislation by the hard-right Brothers of Italy party in Lazio was defeated. The liberal Italian Radicals party condemned it as “psychological violence against women.”

 

“It is in [the political right’s] nature to try to bring back a patriarchal culture, before women’s liberation,” said Ercoli. “But it is not just about political parties, it is a larger cultural discussion. Since 1978 women have been fighting to try to win the actual implementation of the rules.”

 

It is not clear who bears responsibility for the naming of the women at the Prima Porta cemetery. The section where the fetuses are buried contains only those aborted after the 20th week of gestation, when the procedure is permitted only on health grounds, according to Agatone.

 

The hospital involved, San Camillo, said responsibility for transport management and burial lies with Ama, a company that manages cemeteries on behalf of the city of Rome. Ama said in a statement that it had no contact with patients and followed the rules of the health system.

 

Italy’s privacy watchdog has opened an investigation into the burials, and Health Minister Roberto Speranza has been called to speak about the case in parliament.

 

Politicians on the left are pushing for a change in the law. A group of leftist councilors in the Lazio region proposed a new regional law on transport and burial of fetuses, with clear consent required from the woman. The current law is too ambiguous, said Councilor Marta Bonafoni: “It must not leave any space for doubt or uncertainty.”

 

But for some, the cemetery case has merely highlighted the need for more general reform. The obstacles to abortion have been tolerated because it is a woman’s problem, said Ercoli. “After 40 years the struggle is not over. We must be alert and we must be united.”

Photo credit: IPA/Sipa USA.





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Protecting Ecuador’s students from sexual violence

Government should fully implement Inter-American Court ruling.

 

By Elin Martínez

 

HRW (20.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3aTt1rg – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last week ruled against Ecuador in its first ever case on school-related sexual violence in the Americas.

 

In 2001, a public school vice principal in the city of Guayaquil began raping a 14-year-old pupil, Paola Guzmán Albarracín. The abuses continued for over a year, with the knowledge and complicity of school officials. Yet the school did nothing to protect her, and in December 2002, Paola took her life. After her death, Paola’s mother, Pepita Albarracín, filed complaints with the school and the local prosecutor’s office. The judicial proceedings suffered serious delays.

 

Paola’s case is unfortunately not unique: since then, many children and teenagers have suffered sexual violence in Ecuador’s schools, and few receive justice.

 

Eighteen years after Albarracín first sought justice locally, the Inter-American Court has found Ecuador responsible for violating Paola’s rights to life, to study free from sexual violence, and to sexual and reproductive health and bodily autonomy, as well as her family’s right to a fair trial and respect for their moral and psychological integrity. It ruled Ecuador did not comply with its obligations to protect children from sexual violence and prevent and respond to any acts of violence – especially those perpetrated by government officials in state institutions.

 

Human Rights Watch filed an amicus brief before the court, explaining the close relationship between sexual violence against girls and the lack of comprehensive sexuality education. The court recognized that Paola lacked necessary information about her sexual and reproductive health, concluding that the right to adequate sexuality education is an integral part of the right to education. It gave the government one year to guarantee that children are safe from sexual violence in its schools.

 

In a welcome departure from previous governments’ longstanding failure even to recognize this problem, in 2017, President Lenín Moreno committed to zero tolerance for school-related sexual violence. This week, he reaffirmed his government’s commitment and its plan to comply with the court’s ruling.

 

The government should now publish a clear timeline for implementing measures ordered by the court, including by consulting young survivors of sexual violence. Ecuador should also back up this commitment by deploying resources to prevent sexual violence in schools and ensure that all child survivors have the access to justice that Paola’s family was denied.





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Countries need to do more to stop harmful marketing of breast-milk substitutes, says UN

Despite efforts to stop the harmful promotion of breast-milk substitutes, countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information, according to a new UN report released Wednesday.

UN News (27.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Y29KxB –  Titled Marketing of Breast‐milk Substitutes: National Implementation of the International Code – Status report 2020, the study highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast-milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices, findings that take on increased importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network collaborated in the report’s publication.

 

Impact of aggressive marketing

 

“The aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, especially through health professionals that parents trust for nutrition and health advice, is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health worldwide,” says Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

 

“Health care systems must act to boost parent’s confidence in breastfeeding without industry influence so that children don’t miss out on its lifesaving benefits.”

 

WHO and UNICEF encourage women to continue to breastfeed during the pandemic, even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19, as evidence indicate it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding. “The numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus,” the authors find.

 

Of the 194 countries analyzed, 136 have in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. While 44 countries have strengthened their regulations on marketing over the past two years, only 79 countries prohibit the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health facilities, and only 51 have provisions banning the distribution of free or low-cost supplies within the health care system.

 

Further, only 19 countries have banned the sponsorship of professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula and growing up milks marketed for use by infants and children up to 36-months old.

 

Trained healthcare professionals know best

 

WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies be fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until two years of age, or beyond.

 

Babies who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not, the authors stress. Yet, only 41 per cent of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, a rate WHO Member States have committed to increase to at least 50 per cent by 2025.

 

Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, meanwhile hamper community counselling and mother-to-mother support services for breastfeeding – leaving an opening for the breast-milk substitute industry to capitalize on the crisis.

 

“We must, more than ever, step up efforts to ensure that every mother and family receive the guidance and support they need from a trained health care worker to breastfeed their children, right from birth, everywhere,” stressed UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Victor Aguayo.

 

The Code bans all forms of promotion of breast-milk substitutes, including advertising, gifts to health workers and distribution of free samples. Labels cannot make nutritional and health claims or include images that idealize infant formula. Instead, labels must carry messages about the superiority of breastfeeding over formula and the risks of not breastfeeding.


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