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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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HAITI: Lifetime ban for football chief

Players demand end to sexual abuse in sport.

 

HRW (24.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/37kfGqH – Football’s lifetime ban for Haitian soccer federation president Yves Jean-Bart is an important step forward to protect children and young women athletes in sport from sexual abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Federation of Association Football (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA) decision should be followed by swift action to sanction other abusers and their accomplices, criminal prosecutions in Haiti and other jurisdictions, and ongoing therapeutic support for survivors.

 

After reports by The Guardian and Human Rights Watch and pressure from Haitian rights groups Kay Fanm, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA), the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), and others, over the past seven months, FIFA investigated serious allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Jean Bart, also known as “Dadou.” FIFA’s Ethics Committee handed him the maximum punishment in football on Friday, November 20, 2020.

 

“FIFA’s decision is a vindication for all the courageous survivors of abuse and witnesses who came forward to report sexual abuse,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “As Human Rights Watch has documented, they faced personal threats and stigma in society. FIFA’s punishment is an important signal that if you are an abuser in football, your days are numbered.”

 

Jean-Bart had been president of the Haitian Football Federation (Fédération Haïtienne De Football, FHF) since 2000. Following their investigation into evidence of systematic sexual abuse of female players, FIFA’s Ethics Committee found Jean-Bart guilty of “having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused various female players, including minors.” He is now banned from the sport for life in Haiti and internationally, and fined 1 million Swiss francs (approximately US$1.1 million). He can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and has said he will.

 

Survivors of sexual abuse in Haiti told Human Rights Watch that they want justice for abuses by the president but also football sanctions for all officials who aided and knew about abuses in the national football academy.

 

“Playing for Haiti, I gave my heart,” one women’s national team player told Human Rights Watch. “Without us players, you don’t have a game. I am so happy Dadou can’t abuse his power and stop us from achieving our dreams anymore.”

 

Since May, Human Rights Watch has worked together with the international football players’ union FIFPro, who provided lawyers and support for athletes, helped to interview witnesses, and collected evidence of systemic human rights abuses in Haitian football, including confiscation of players’ passports, labor rights abuses, grooming child athletes for sexual exploitation, and threats to kill witnesses and survivors.

 

Jean-Bart has been Haiti’s football federation president since 2000 and was re-elected to a sixth term in February. Jean-Bart has publicly denied all allegations and successfully sought to have a judge in Haiti purportedly “clear” him of all charges and exonerate him. That a judge made this pronouncement the day before Jean-Bart’s lifetime ban is testament to the power he wields in Haiti and the challenge survivors face in taking on Jean-Bart and his allies. In August, Human Rights Watch documented threats and attacks on witnesses and whistleblowers, which could prevent them from coming forward with evidence of abuses.

 

FIFA’s statement signals other sanctions against abusers and officials who knew about or facilitated abuses in the Haiti federation could come soon:

 

“The aforementioned ethics proceedings are part of an extensive investigation concerning Mr Jean-Bart, as well as other officials within the FHF, who were identified as having allegedly been involved (as principals, accomplices or instigators) in acts of systematic sexual abuse against female football players between 2014 and 2020. The proceedings are still pending with respect to other FHF officials.”

 

It is essential for FIFA to discipline others who took part in sexual abuse and to remove them from football, Human Rights Watch said. FIFA needs to ensure ongoing therapeutic and logistical support for players, and enforcement of any bans and fines.

 

“In addition to protecting survivors and witnesses, FIFA should exercise its authority to ban and sanction all officials implicated in sexual abuse or threatening or menacing witnesses during its investigation,” Worden said. “In its best form, football is fun, empowering, and healthy for young people and FIFA should do its part to ensure player safety.”

Photo: Am 14. Mai 2020 halten Frauen vor dem Gerichtshof im haitianischen Croix-des-Bouquets Schilder hoch und fordern Gerechtigkeit während der Anhörung von Yves Jean-Bart, dem Präsidenten des haitianischen Fußballverbands. Wie der Guardian berichtet, haben Betroffene und ihre Familien Jean-Bart des sexuellen Missbrauchs von jungen Spielerinnen im Centre Technique National beschuldigt. © 2020 Associated Press (Dieu Nalio Chery).





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LEBANON: Broken promises on women’s rights

UN review should focus on increased protection against violence, bias.

 

HRW (04.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nfm7BH – Lebanese authorities are falling short of their international legal obligations to protect women and girls from violence and end discrimination against them, Human Rights Watch said today.

 

Human Rights Watch has submitted a report to the United Nations Committee reviewing Lebanon’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is tentatively scheduled for June 2021. The country has not made progress to carry out a number of recommendations from its previous review in 2015, including not creating a unified personal status code that would guarantee equal treatment for all citizens and amending the discriminatory nationality law to ensure that Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men can pass on their citizenship to their children.

 

“Another five years have passed, and Lebanon has done little to end discrimination against women and girls under its international obligations,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon’s authorities should show that they are serious about women’s rights by coming through on long-overdue reforms before they have to answer to the United Nations again for their failures.”

 

Lebanon has not taken any steps to issue an optional civil code or to reform its 15 religion-based personal status laws and the religious courts that apply them. These courts discriminate against women across the religious spectrum and do not guarantee their basic rights, especially in matters such as divorce, property rights, and responsibility for children after divorce.

 

The authorities have also not reformed the nationality law, which prohibits Lebanese women married to foreigners from passing citizenship to their spouses and children, while men who marry foreign nationals can pass on their citizenship. This prohibition affects almost every aspect of the children’s and spouses’ lives, including legal residency and access to work, education, social services, and health care. It leaves some children at risk of statelessness.

 

Legal protections from domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment remain inadequate. In August 2017, Lebanon repealed article 522 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims, but left a loophole with regard to offenses relating to sex with children aged 15 to 17, and sex with virgin girls, with promises of marriage.

 

The current domestic violence law defines domestic violence narrowly and fails to specifically criminalize marital rape. Members of parliament have introduced multiple draft laws since 2017 on sexual harassment, but parliament has yet to take any action. A lack of coordination in the government’s response to sex trafficking continues to put women and girls – especially Syrians living in Lebanon – at risk.

 

Human Rights Watch has documented how women and girls, especially trans women, sex workers, refugees, and asylum seekers, have experienced systemic violence from Lebanese authorities, particularly in detention centers. Trans women have described being placed in men’s cells, being denied food and water, and being coerced to confess. Allegations of sexual violence, including rape, against women in custody are common. As an example, Layal al-Kayaje was arrested on September 21, 2015 for “harming the military’s reputation” after she alleged being raped and tortured by two soldiers in military custody in 2013.

 

Lebanon has consistently failed to properly investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for torture. In 2016, parliament passed legislation creating a national body, the National Preventive Mechanism Against Torture, to monitor and investigate the use of torture, and in 2017 it adopted a new anti-torture law. The body’s five members were named on March 7, 2019, but the government has still not allocated its funding.

 

Lebanon’s economic crisis, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the port explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, has made life worse for marginalized populations, not least for migrant domestic workers, the majority of them women from African and Asian countries. Many have reported increased incidents of abuse by their employers during the lockdown, and at least seven have taken their own lives since March. Migrant domestic workers remain excluded from Lebanon’s labor law protections provided to other workers, and their legal status remains tied to their employer under the kafala (visa sponsorship) system.

 

On October 14, 2020, Lebanon’s State Shura Council, the country’s top administrative court, delivered a sharp blow to migrant domestic workers’ rights when it struck down a new standard unified contract adopted by the Labor Ministry on September 4. The new contract introduced new protections for migrant domestic workers, including vital safeguards against forced labor, and would have been an important first step towards abolishing the abusive kafala system.

 

“For the past year, women from all walks of life have taken to the streets to demand equality and an end to all forms of discrimination,” Majzoub said. “While the authorities have taken some steps, they need to heed calls for systemic change for equality.”

Photo: Lebanese women have long been leaders in the country’s protest movements. Here, women shout slogans and wave the Lebanese flag during a demonstration in down town Beirut on October 19, 2019. © Marwan Naamani/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images.





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Women reportedly subjected to forced gynecological exams in Qatar

Policies criminalize and punish pregnant women outside of wedlock.

 

By Rothna Begum

 

HRW (27.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3egMN1H – On October 2, Qatari authorities removed 13 women from an Australia-bound Qatar Airways flight and subjected them to forced gynecological examinations after a premature baby was found abandoned in a toilet at Doha’s Hamad International Airport according to an Australian news report this week.

 

Airport officials said the infant is “safe” and being cared for in Qatar. The media reported that airport officials said they took action after “medical professionals expressed concern” about the health of the mother and “requested she be located.” But such actions would demonstrate the opposite of respect for women’s health and dignity.

 

The media reports say these women were given no information and did not have an opportunity to provide informed consent. Forced gynecological examinations can amount to sexual assault. Media also reported that authorities removed and examined additional women from the airport and other flights.

 

The Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs said she is expecting a report from Qatari authorities sometime this week.

 

The reported invasion of these women’s privacy is rightfully making headlines. But the circumstances that might have led a woman to leave the baby in the airport bathroom should be too.

 

In Qatar and across the Gulf region, sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalized, meaning a pregnant woman who is not married, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape, may end up facing arrest and prosecution. Hospitals are required to report women pregnant outside of wedlock to the authorities. Abortion is also criminalized with limited exceptions including that women must have their husband’s consent. Low-paid migrant women, like the more than 100,000 migrant domestic workers, in Qatar are disproportionately impacted by such policies.

 

The alleged actions of the Qatari authorities  on October 2 would have failed many women – the unknown woman apparently forced to give birth in an airport toilet, unable to ask for assistance with her labor or on what to do with the baby, and the multiple women reportedly pulled off the plane for examinations.

 

Qatar should prohibit forced gynecological exams and investigate and bring to account any individuals who authorized any demeaning treatment. It should also decriminalize sex outside of wedlock. Authorities should ensure that pregnant people, regardless of their marital status, have access to quality sexual and reproductive health care and choices, including access to contraception, abortion, prenatal care, obstetric care, and adoption services without fearing arrest or prison.

Photo: Airplanes are seen parked at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, June 16, 2017.  © 2017 AP Photo/Malak Harb.





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Colombia sees surge in femicides amid uptick in violence

Femicide Observatory records 86 killings of women and girls in September, the highest monthly total since 2017.

 

By Megan Janetsky

 

Al Jazeera (20.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/34t1USc – Letica Estacio hoped the wave of gender-based violence that surged during the coronavirus lockdown in Colombia would slow after the South American country eased restrictions in early September.

 

But after the five-month lockdown was lifted, femicides – the killing of women due to their gender – surged across the country, data from Colombia’s Femicide Observatory shows.

 

An average of nearly three women a day were killed in Colombia in September, with 86 femicides recorded in the month. It is the highest monthly total researchers have documented since they began tracking the killings in 2017.

 

Watchdogs said the spike in violence against women is a product of compounding long-term ripple effects of the pandemic – a resurgence of armed group violence and economic fallout – that disproportionately affect women.

 

“Every day the conflict gets worse and worse. The narcotrafficking, the killings,” said Estacio, a 52-year-old women rights leader in the western coastal city of Tumaco. “It’s incredibly heavy, and even more so for women.”

 

Surge in gender-based violence

 

At the beginning of the pandemic, countries across the world saw rises in domestic violence as lockdowns restrictions closed women in with their abusers. Latin America, a region which recorded high rates of gender-based violence before the pandemic, felt that even more acutely.

 

Estacio and other leaders in Tumaco, a hub for narcotrafficking and armed conflict, were overwhelmed by an initial surge in domestic violence cases after the country entered a nationwide lockdown in March.

 

But as the state diverted resources from some parts of the country in order to focus on bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control, a patchwork of criminal groups – left-wing fighters, right-wing paramilitaries and narcotrafficking gangs – moved into areas vacated by the government and waged territorial war.

 

“Here, there’s no such thing as law,” Estacio said.

 

As a result, mass killings and similar bloodshed reminiscent of times before the country’s 2016 peace process have jumped country-wide.

 

Sexual and gender-based violence have long been used as tools of war to sow terror in communities. Now, Estefania Rivera Guzman, a researcher at the Observatory, is concerned that the strategic targeting of women could be on the uptick.

 

So far in 2020, the group has registered 445 cases of femicide, up from 431 cases across the same period in 2019. The numbers recorded in September were more than double levels witnessed earlier this year.

 

Since September, women’s rights leaders have also noted another disturbing development: As armed groups clash in rural areas and exploit vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic to increase child recruitment, there has been a spike in the number of women and girls killed by firearms.

 

In recent weeks, one man pleaded guilty to beating and stabbing a woman who rejected his sexual advances, throwing her into the western Cauca River where her body was found floating.

 

Near Tumaco, armed men reportedly stopped and shot up the car of a local women’s and Indigenous rights leader.

 

And in the central town of Segovia, one 14-year-old girl was reportedly killed by a hitman and, a day after being buried, her body was found unearthed and naked in the cemetery.

 

“It’s these acts of violence that are so extreme that they send a message,” Rivera Guzman said. “And the message isn’t just for women, but also for the men who live in the zone, and it’s: Who has the power?”

 

While officials in Segovia said they “reject all violent acts” against women and girls and police say they are investigating the crime, the majority of femicides in the country end in impunity.

 

In Tumaco, Estacio and other observers say women are often too scared to report gender-based violence because men working with armed groups camp outside government offices where women would normally report.

 

Economic distress

 

Meanwhile, the economic fallout caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns has disproportionately affected women, putting them at heightened risk.

 

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Colombia had one of the highest economic gender gaps in Latin America. In recent months, female-dominated industries like tourism and the service sector have taken severe hits.

 

In August, the unemployment rate for women was 21.7 percent, and the unemployment rate for men was 31.4 percent, according to the most recent government data.

 

Estacio said women in her community who would normally support themselves by working informally and selling street food were left with no income, as work dried up amid the lockdown.

 

It has stripped at-risk women of “economic autonomy”, explained Carolina Mosquera, researcher at the Bogota-based think-tank, Sisma Mujer. And with it, their ability to escape from an abusive situation that could escalate to something as extreme as femicide.

 

In one recent case, a woman called the organisation’s domestic abuse helpline, and they worked to get her out of her home where she was being abused by her husband. Hours later, when they called back, she told aid workers she could not leave because she was surviving off her husband’s salary.

 

When they tried to follow up “she simply stopped answering.”

 

“It’s a loss of 10 years of work toward gender equality because women are returning to these patriarchal spaces,” Mosquera said. “It brings us back to this old dynamic of the man as the provider and the woman who cares for the home.”

 

The pandemic left more than 15,000 women in Colombia at extreme risk of femicide, according to the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Science. Similar upticks have been seen in other Latin American countries like Guatemala and Mexico.

 

While local and national governments attempted to respond to the violence, setting up resources like local and national domestic violence attention lines, critics have said it is not enough and that women lack effective judicial resources.

 

Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office, which oversees the protection of human rights, declined to comment, saying that due to lack of state presence caused by the pandemic, they haven’t been able to officially register the femicides.

 

“A line doesn’t guarantee access to justice, to a restitution of their rights. No, a call is just a call.” Mosquera said. “This effort by the government falls short compared to the volume of cases, killings and violence we’ve seen in the pandemic.”

Photo: Women protest against violence against women with a sign reading ‘Sexual violence as a war weapon still exists in Colombia’ in Medellin, Colombia, on June 19, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic [Photo by Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP]


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