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International Women's Day report International Women's Day report
by Euro Reporter
2012-03-08 07:51:12
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Helping women take matters into their own hands

Although the vast majority of people who go missing in connection with armed conflict are men, the mothers, wives and other family members they leave behind also suffer enormously and often face severe hardship. On the occasion of International Women's Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling for more action to help these women meet their specific needs and regain dignity and hope, while emphasizing the responsibility of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and provide information for the families. "Women all over the world have shown an extraordinary capacity to overcome hardship and take their fate into their own hands," said Maria-Teresa Garrido Otoya, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war. "Given half a chance, they find novel and effective ways of providing for themselves and their families."

Beyond the anguish of not knowing what happened to their husbands, sons or other relatives, women and girls in these situations typically face daunting practical difficulties. Because in many cases they have lost a breadwinner, they struggle to provide such basic necessities as food for their families and education for their children. "They also face legal and administrative challenges when it comes to such things as claiming their husband's property or their eligibility for public assistance to ease their families' economic hardship," said Ms Garrido Otoya. "In addition, they are often stigmatized in their communities. For example, not knowing whether their spouses are alive or dead, many do not dress or behave like widows. Their communities are unable to understand their behaviour, leaving them with no one to turn to for support."

The ICRC endeavours to provide a whole range of support to address the specific needs of women with missing loved ones. In Libya, families are still approaching the organization on a daily basis in the hope that it can help find out what became of their loved ones. In Iraq, the ICRC helps women whose husbands have gone missing by helping them set up small income-generating activities, like running a shop or working as a hairdresser. In Nepal, the ICRC makes counselling available and helps set up support groups to relieve some of the distress and difficulty that the wives and mothers of missing persons experience. In the support groups, women come together and are able to share their suffering, sometimes even when they and their families were formerly on opposite sides in the conflict.


International Women's Day 2012

A young sexual assault victim stands in a home with her family after they were relocated from a camp with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on March 5, 2012 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Currently the UNHCR is helping hundreds of sexual assault victims and their families through safe houses, counselling and income assistance programs that seek to give the woman and their families a new start in life. Sexual assaults against women have risen to epidemic levels in tent camps where around 500,000 Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake still live in crammed conditions. Violence is up throughout the capital as donor money dries up and Haitians grow increasingly angry with the slow pace of reconstruction. Port-au-Prince's homicide rate has shot up from below 10 per 100,000 in 2007 to more than 60 per 100,000 early this year.


Stand up for feminism on International Women’s Day, lest our hard-fought rights slip away

US conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh apologised to a young woman this week. His apology to law student Sandra Fluke is unusual for a number of reasons, chiefly because shock jocks are rarely called to account for their extreme opinions, but also because of the content of his attack. She had argued (http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/statement-Congress-letterhead-2nd%20hearing.pdf) that contraception continues to be covered by private health insurance as a basic right for women. Referring to Ms Fluke’s strong arguments for the rights of women, Limbaugh described her as a “slut”, who “wants to be paid to have sex”, who “is having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth control pills she needs.” She is “having so much sex,” he said, “it’s amazing she can still walk”. He also suggested she make a sex tape “so taxpayers can see what we’re getting for our money.”

Curiously, contraception has become an issue in the US Republican nomination contest. In a move that Democrats are describing as a “war on women”, conservative Catholic candidate Rick Santorum has come out against all forms of contraception. The Republican pronouncements have given licence to commentators like Limbaugh to use extreme language. We need look no further than Limbaugh’s appalling outbursts to know that the hard fought rights of women are being breached, questioned and devalued across the globe. Women’s basic right to control their own bodies in a first world country is again under question. The fact that women are being vilified for expecting this right should ring alarm bells across the world – a world plagued by significant injustices against women. Daily reports of acid attacks on young women, violence, sex trafficking, rape and countless millions of “lost women” indicate that the war on women is global and dangerous. Now more than ever, we need a revival of feminist values and activism to assert our equitable place in the world.

In our own country it has become acceptable to vilify our first female prime minister with apparent impunity. At an anti-carbon tax rally in March 2011 the Leader of the Opposition was filmed standing near banners reading “Juliar – Bob Brown’s bitch” and “ditch the witch”. Vilification of the prime minister has reached new heights of a prejudice bordering on hatred and misogyny. Meanwhile in countries where women’s rights are minimal, extreme efforts are being made to contain and wind back gains for women. A report by Human Rights Watch notes that Saudi Arabia is not sending a women’s team to the London Olympics. Officials argue that “once women start to exercise, they will shed modest clothing, spend ‘unnecessary’ time out of the house and have increased possibilities for mingling with men.”

As I see it the future of feminism is, unfortunately, very secure because women’s rights are fragile, dependent on unstable foundations, readily diminished by a change of government or leader and dependent on women’s activism. The top five feminist issues from my point of view are the right of women to control their own bodies including through ready access to contraception and abortion; unequal distribution of caring tasks; unequal access to resources; unequal distribution of leadership positions and questionable valuing of alternative models of leadership; and unequal power relations between women and men across the world leading often to violence. Women must again be prepared to fight to achieve and maintain citizenship rights, be prepared to publicly defend and protect our hard-fought rights and, importantly, rise as a global collective in support of oppressed women across the world. If privileged women do not speak out against unspeakable human rights abuses of our global sisters who else will do this? If privileged women do not speak out against the vilification of women like Ms Fluke, we are doomed to secondary status and a normalisation of misogyny.

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