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Domestic violence law signals hope for Kuwait’s women

Government should implement legislation, address gaps in protection for victims.

 

By Rothna Begum

 

HRW (29.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nnWZtq – This month, after years of activism, Kuwaiti women’s rights activists won a new law establishing protections against domestic violence. The need for this law was underscored on September 9 when Fatima al-Ajmi, aged 35 and pregnant, was shot repeatedly and killed, reportedly by a family member for marrying a man outside of her family’s community. Her killer had reportedly threatened her before.

 

In 2019, I spoke to nine women in Kuwait who described facing abuse from family members and husbands. They said they were either scared to go to the police or were turned away when they did. One hundred and fifty-five countries have legal protections against domestic violence, but until now, Kuwait had no explicit law setting out protection measures against domestic violence, or even shelters they could go to. Some laws, like article 153 in Kuwait’s Penal Code, even provide men with reduced sentences for killings of women found in the act of adultery.

 

On September 20, Kuwait began catching up to the global norm and issued a new Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, after the National Assembly passed it on August 19. The law creates a national committee – with representatives from different ministries and civil society – to draw up policies to combat and protect women from domestic violence. The committee will also submit recommendations to amend or repeal laws that contradict the new domestic violence law. The new legislation also establishes shelters and a hotline to receive domestic violence complaints, provides counseling and legal assistance for victims, and allows for emergency protection orders (restraining orders) to prevent abusers from contacting their victim.

 

However, the new law has serious gaps. While it provides penalties for violating protection orders, it does not set out penalties for domestic violence as a crime on its own. It also does not include former partners or people engaged in relationships outside of wedlock, including those engaged to be married or in unofficial marriages.

 

As the tragic killing of Fatima al-Ajmi has shown, these long-awaited protections are crucial. Kuwait’s real test will be ensuring implementation of its new law, filling remaining protection gaps, and emphasizing prevention, including by repealing discriminatory laws that leave women exposed to deadly violence.





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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.





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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.





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Zimbabwe makes it illegal for schools to expel pregnant girls

Women’s rights campaigners say new law will help ensure girls have equal rights to an education.

 

By Farai Shawn Matiashe

Thomson Reuters Foundation (25.08.2020) – https://tmsnrt.rs/3hNgYhN – Zimbabwe has made it illegal for schools to expel pupils who get pregnant, a measure women’s rights campaigners said would help tackle gender inequality in the classroom and stop many girls from dropping out of school.

 

A legal amendment announced last week seeks to reinforce a 1999 guideline that was patchily implemented, and comes as school closures due to coronavirus raise fears of a rise in sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies.

 

Many parents of pregnant girls, or the girls themselves, decide to quit schooling due to the pregnancy, and schools do not always do enough to encourage them to stay, officials say.

 

“I’m expecting every parent and guardian and everyone else to understand that every child must be assisted by all of us to go to school,” Cain Mathema, the education minister in charge of schools, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.

 

“Every child whether boy or girl… has a right to go to school in Zimbabwe,” he said.

 

In 2018, 12.5% of the country’s roughly 57,500 school dropouts stopped attending classes due to pregnancy or marriage reasons – almost all of them girls, according to Education Ministry statistics.

 

Priscilla Misihairwabwi-Mushonga, an opposition lawmaker who chairs a parliamentary education committee, said making the previous guidelines into a law with possible sanctions would make the rules more effective and address gender disparities.

 

“In circumstances where the pregnancy was a result of kids of the same age, the boy would not be necessarily expelled from school,” she said.

 

“It was also a double tragedy for the girl… as in most circumstances, it was not a consensual sex but some sort of abuse by some predator older than her. So, she has been traumatised and raped then she is further traumatised by being kicked out of school.”

 

Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, founding director of advocacy group Tag a Life International and leader of a consortium of organizations that pushed for the law, said she feared lockdown measures may have caused a spike in unwanted teen pregnancies.

 

“We are in a dangerous time where children have been out of school for a long time. Most of them are not even attending radio and television lessons,” she said, calling for the government to ensure the new law is enforced.

 

Pregnancy is just one of the reasons that girls in Zimbabwe could fail to return to classes after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, said Sibusisiwe Ndlovu, communications specialist at Plan International Zimbabwe.

 

Poverty and early marriage will also stop some from resuming their studies, she said, welcoming the new legislation as a step in the right direction.

 

“This amendment is crucial in fulfilling the access to education right for all children – especially girls,” Ndlovu said.

 

However, campaigners in the southern African country say girls will still need extra support to continue with their studies even if they keep attending classes while pregnant.

 

“Social support and financial resources are required for girls to fully utilise this window of opportunity,” said Faith Nkala, national director of education nonprofit CAMFED Zimbabwe.

 

“Especially girls from marginalised families, who will need the additional support to remain in school, and to come back after giving birth.”





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Iran’s #MeToo moment: Women’s tweets highlight alleged sexual abuse, rape by prominent figures

By Golnaz Esfandiari

 

RFE/RL (25.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/32EJNGV – For 14 years, former Iranian journalist Sara Omatali kept quiet about the time she says a prominent painter sexually assaulted her.

 

Last week, the U.S.-based educator broke her silence on Twitter, detailing the alleged abuse that took place in the summer of 2006.

 

Omatali is one of many Iranian women who have in recent days taken to social media to tell their stories of sexual harassment and rape, breaking years of silence about an issue that remains taboo and is often swept under the rug in Iran.

 

Omatali said she had decided to interview the painter about an exhibition at the National Museum in Tehran. He insisted that she came to his office first, saying they would go to the exhibition together. After hesitating, she went to his office to find him naked under a brown cloak.

 

He then assaulted her, she said.

 

“He held me tightly, squeezing my body and trying to kiss my lips; I struggled as hard as I could to get rid of him,” she wrote on Twitter.

 

Omatali managed to escape into the street. The painter later came out and acted as if nothing had happened.

 

“He came toward me and said: ‘Shall we?’”

 

“It was as if I had no will of my own. I went,” Omatali said, adding that she still becomes full of “hatred, fear, and helplessness” when she recalls that day.

 

Spotlight on abuse

 

The outpouring of accounts about alleged sexual abuse, rape, and unwanted sexual advances and the number of women who have joined the movement, some anonymously, appears to be unprecedented in Iran, leading to comparisons with the global #metoo movement that has occurred around the world in recent years and putting a spotlight on such abuse.

 

One woman said she was raped by a friend after she visited him at his apartment. She had a glass of wine and woke up the next morning in his bed, naked, she said.

 

Others came forward claiming they had been raped by the same man, accusing him of drugging them beforehand.

 

Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi said on August 25 that the man identified by the initials “KE” had been arrested after several women said they were raped by him.

 

Several others accused a known visual artist, as well as a popular writer, while at least one spoke of past sexual misconduct by a prominent filmmaker.

 

Some named their abusers publicly, others alluded to their identities. Several men also joined the campaign, tweeting about their experience with sexual abuse.

 

Fashion photographer Reihaneh Taravati said she had been sexually harassed by “one of the pioneers of Iranian photography” when she was 19, while artist Leva Zand wrote how her friend had been raped by a man whom she described as a well-known, New York-based, Iranian human rights activist.

 

At least one woman recounted how she sought legal action against her perpetrator that resulted in the punishment of her offender.

 

Several lawyers offered tips and legal advice to Iranian women who face discriminatory Islamic laws enforced following the 1979 Islamic Revolution that often favor men.

 

The global #metoo movement led to the downfall of a number of prominent figures, including the famous Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, who is now in prison in New York.

 

The Iranian #metoo movement, which has resulted at this time in the arrest of one alleged rapist, appears to have empowered abuse survivors who had remained silent for years and, in some cases, blamed themselves for the predatory behavior of their abusers.

 

Omatali told RFE/RL she decided to publicize her alleged sexual harassment after reading some of the anonymous accounts of abuse that have been posted on social media in the past two weeks.

 

“I thought to myself, ‘you’re in the United States and have more freedom and protection than those in Iran to raise the issue publicly, why are you silent?'”

 

“I didn’t find an answer that would satisfy me, and so despite the pressure and anxiety I knew I would face, I decided to write about my experience, hoping that it would be a starting point for the publicizing of similar incidents,” Omatali said.

 

Absence of education

 

She expressed hope that the ongoing campaign will lead to increased awareness among people about the problems of sexual abuse and harassment.

 

“In the absence of systematic education about sexual issues in Iran, this group movement improves the atmosphere for a public discussion and creates a precious opportunity for education,” Omatali said.

 

Sexual abuse is believed to be widespread in Iranian society, where women often complain about being sexually harassed on the streets in the form of catcalling and groping.

 

Many women have also recounted in past days about being sexually assaulted at work while having no choice than to stay in contact with the offender, who is quite often the boss or a colleague.

 

Tehran-based sociologist Saeed Madani told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that in Iran, like other countries, many victims of sexual abuse and rape are reluctant to speak out.

 

“They aren’t usually inclined to seek legal action, therefore the number of cases that are referred to the [authorities] is very limited and those very limited cases are not publicized,” he said.

 

Madani referred to rape figures reported by the media as “the tip of the iceberg,” saying the majority of the cases are not being reported.

 

“One report said that the highest incidents of rape are in Tehran, with about 1,600 sexual crimes being registered annually, but it is estimated that some 80 percent of rape cases are not being reported,” he said.

 

One reason is the taboo surrounding the issue while victim blaming is also preventing women from coming forward.

 

“In a patriarchal society, it is assumed primarily that the woman has done something wrong,” Madani said.

 

Veteran women’s rights advocate Susan Tahmasebi told RFE/RL that the current movement against sexual abuse and rape is likely to encourage more survivors of abuse to seek legal action.

 

“Already we see that the recounting of these stories has brought about change,” Tahmasebi said. “Besides raising awareness among women survivors of rape and sexual assault, sending them the message that they are not to blame and that they will be safe in coming forward.”

 

“It tells men that they can no longer continue their violent behavior against women with full impunity,” she added. “At least in the eyes of the community they will lose face and this has already happened in the case of some high-profile men.”


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