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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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Nowhere to turn for women facing violence in Kashmir

The threat of violence against women is escalating amid coronavirus lockdowns around the globe. But one region that has lived through a military clampdown for nearly a year – Indian-administered Kashmir – could have foretold the surge.

 

By Safina Nabi

 

The New Humanitarian (09.07.2020) – https://bit.ly/3095xcz – Being shut in by government order is nothing new in Kashmir, nor is the resulting spike in gender-based violence, women’s advocates say.

 

The region has seen decades of conflict, militarisation, protests, and violent crackdowns. Kashmir has essentially been on lockdown since August 2019, when India scrapped the region’s semi-autonomous status, bringing the former state of Jammu and Kashmir under direct control of the central government. Authorities imposed a communications blockade and security forces patrolled the streets, shut down public transportation, and closed markets.

 

Though some restrictions continued to ease in early 2020, India-wide coronavirus lockdowns beginning in March extended clampdown conditions in an already militarised region – and kept survivors of domestic violence shut in with their abusers.

 

Cases of domestic violence and general violence against women surged tenfold to more than 3,000 a year during a previous clampdown in 2016 and 2017, according to statistics from the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women, a now-defunct government institution established to protect women and children’s rights and ensure quick prosecutions.

 

Today, Kashmir’s women face both the military lockdown and the pandemic, but there’s little help available for survivors of gender-based violence.

 

There are no domestic violence shelters in Kashmir. Blockades on mobile phone connections are frequently re-imposed, while movement restrictions hamper NGOs from doing their work. And India disbanded the women’s commission last year along with Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood – axing a government body that advocated for survivors of gender-based violence.

 

Locked in with abusers

 

Rafiqa, 39, says the military clampdown and the coronavirus have pushed her to a crisis point with her husband.

 

She spoke to The New Humanitarian on condition that her and her husband’s names be changed to protect her safety.

 

Rafiqa said her husband, Mushtaq, started hitting her a year after they were married, in 2006.

 

“He would often beat me with a leather belt,” she recalled. “Even an argument would lead to serious beating and abuse.”

 

The violence grew more intense after Mushtaq lost his job last August. Rafiqa said he started demanding that she turn over her salary from her government job.

 

“I handed over my salary to him. Now, he was asking me to get money from my father,” she said. “I refused. He picked up a cricket bat and beat me.”

 

Kashmir’s transportation shutdown and a mobile phone blackout that lasted until early 2020 kept Rafiqa from reaching her parents. Finally, she turned to a local religious leader for help.

 

Her husband was persuaded to stop hitting her, but he retaliated by pushing their children to distance themselves from her, Rafiqa said. The children are no longer allowed to sleep near her, or help with the twice-weekly dialysis treatments she has depended on for four years. She remains in her home with her husband.

 

Attorney Vasundhara Masoodi Pathak, who headed the Jammu and Kashmir women’s commission when it was disbanded last year, said she is now flooded with calls from women in need amid the coronavirus lockdowns. She said she rarely received urgent calls directly from women while the commission was operating.

 

Shops have largely stayed closed and security forces still patrol the streets; an overnight curfew is still in effect as COVID-19 cases rise. Military crackdowns on suspected insurgents, as well as escalating border tensions with China in neighbouring Ladakh – formerly a part of Jammu and Kashmir state – have kept the region on edge.

 

“In this lockdown, the tormenting husbands and in-laws have got an opportunity to harass women,” Pathak said. “Working women, who before the lockdown would somehow vent their pain and grievance either with peers, family, or friends, now find it very hard to spare even a jiffy to speak out, as they are under continuous and unwanted surveillance.”

 

Nowhere to turn

 

Since the women’s commission was shut down, victims of domestic violence no longer have a dedicated avenue for reporting abuse. There is only one women’s police station in the entire Kashmir valley, and male officers aren’t trained to handle domestic violence.

 

Unless a woman has severe injuries, most male police officers decline to take such reports, telling victims instead that the assaults are a family matter, said Shah Faisal, state director of the Human Rights Law Network, a collective of Indian lawyers and activists who provide legal support to vulnerable populations.

 

“Since most of the state machinery is engaged to fight COVID-19, there is no quick respite for the victims,” Faisal said. “With [the] women’s commission no more, women have no access to the justice system and are more vulnerable than ever.”

 

Women who have been attacked also lack access to medical facilities, because many out-patient departments in public and private hospitals have closed.

 

The government’s social welfare department reported 16 rape cases and 64 molestations in Jammu and Kashmir during the first month of coronavirus lockdowns, 20 March to 29 April. But Pathak said that government data is almost certainly an undercount, as there has been confusion about how to report gender-based violence during the full military lockdown that followed the region’s August shutdown. The same department reported zero allegations over the six months before the pandemic.

 

Nighat Shafi Pandit, a women’s advocate and chairperson of the Srinagar-based Help Foundation, said that “COVID-19 has impacted women badly.”

 

Nighat, who runs a resource centre for domestic violence survivors, said she never feared venturing out to help during the military lockdown last year, but she has restricted herself to her home during the pandemic.

 

“One cannot meet the need in person and can’t know their needs virtually,” she said. “Even if women complain, we cannot help or reach them because there is no shelter in the entire Kashmir valley where women can take refuge.”

 

With few resources for survivors, women like Sameena, a 29-year-old Kashmir resident, are trying to break the cycle of violence on their own.

 

She said her husband started beating her days after their wedding in September.

 

The abuse continued through the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when she suffered a miscarriage after her husband raped her.

 

She spent two days in an emergency ward before a doctor discharged her early, fearing COVID-19 infections.

 

With nowhere else to turn, she went home to her parents – even though they pushed for the arranged marriage in the first place.

 

“My parents will tell me to compromise, but I have made up my mind” to divorce, Sameena said. “If he can kill our child, he can kill me as well.”





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WORLD: Displaced and stateless women and girls at heightened risk of GBV in the coronavirus pandemic

UNHCR (20.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2XTxKVi – Around the world COVID-19 is taking lives and changing communities but the virus is also inducing massive protection risks for women and girls forced to flee their homes, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Gillian Triggs, warned today.

 

“We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic. They are among those most at-risk. Doors should not be left open for abusers and no help spared for women surviving abuse and violence,” said Triggs.

 

Confinement policies, lockdowns and quarantines adopted across the world as a response to the pandemic have led to restricted movement, reduced community interaction, the closure of services and worsening socio-economic conditions. These factors are significantly exacerbating the risks of intimate partner violence.

 

“Some may end up confined to their shelters and homes, trapped with their abusers without the opportunity to distance themselves or to seek in-person support.”

 

“Others, including those without documentation or those who have lost precarious livelihoods, as a result of the economic devastation that COVID-19 has inflicted, may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families. Within the household, many women are also taking on increased burdens as caregivers.”

 

For survivors of violence and those at-risk, the consequences of COVID-19 also mean limited access to life-saving support, such as psycho-social, health and security services. Imposed mobility restrictions and containment measures make it difficult for women to access help while some services, including safe shelters, have been temporarily suspended, re-purposed or closed.

 

“Globally, our network of UNHCR protection staff are on high alert. Our life-saving programs for women and girls subjected to violence are being adapted where possible. In some locations they are now being managed remotely by social workers with the support of trained community volunteer networks,” said Triggs.

 

Displaced women themselves remain involved at the forefront of the response, informing their communities about the risks of violence and providing information on prevention and protective health measures. They are also supporting survivors to access available, specialized support.

 

UNHCR is also distributing emergency cash assistance to support survivors and women-at-risk. Action is also being coordinated across the humanitarian sector to ensure the risks of sexual and gender-based violence are mitigated throughout all sectoral interventions, including but not limited to the emergency health response.

 

“To preserve lives and secure rights, Governments, together with humanitarian actors, must ensure that rising risks of violence for displaced and stateless women are taken into account in the design of national COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery plans,” said Triggs.

 

This means ensuring critical services for survivors of gender-based violence are designated as essential and are accessible to those forcibly displaced. These include health and security services for survivors, psycho-social support services and safe shelters. Access to justice for survivors must also not be diminished.

 

Given the deteriorating socio-economic conditions now facing many refugee host countries, support from donors will be critically needed to preserve the operations of essential gender-based violence prevention and response services, including those provided by local, women-led organizations.

 

“All women and girls have the right to a life free from all forms of violence. We must stand with displaced and stateless women and girls as we reiterate the Secretary General’s message and urge all governments to put all women and girls’ safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”


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