Sunday, March 8, 2015

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Statement of President Barack Obama Commemorating International Women's Day

As half the planet, women make immeasurable contributions to our world. They are entrepreneurs, farmers, educators, scientists, artists, soldiers, mothers, heads of state – the list is endless. Without them, economies would collapse, political systems would deteriorate, and families and communities would fall apart. Yet in too many places, women are treated as second-class citizens. Their abilities are undervalued. And their human rights – the right to learn, to express themselves, to live free from violence, to choose whether and whom to marry – are routinely violated.
This gap between women’s inherent value and how many of them are treated every day is one of the great injustices of our time. On this International Women's Day, we recommit ourselves to closing that gap.
That means supporting girls' education. Right now, 62 million girls worldwide who should be in school aren't. Millions more are at risk of losing their access to education. This week, Michelle and I announced an initiative called "Let Girls Learn," to help dismantle the barriers – economic, political and cultural – that stand in the way of girls who want to learn.
I'm convinced that a world in which women and girls are treated as equal to men and boys is safer, more stable, and more prosperous. Beyond those tangible benefits, this is simply a matter of right and wrong. Women and girls are human beings, full and equal in rights and dignity. They deserve to be treated that way, everywhere, every day. My Administration will continue working to make that vision a reality.

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Afghanistan Marks International Women's Day Amid Rising Rates of Domestic Violence

Afghanistan joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8, with women's advocacy groups using the opportunity to shed greater light on the continued struggle of Afghan women to overcome historic mistreatment, ongoing injustices and institutionalized inequality.
According to Afghan civil society groups, women's involvement in politics and access to health services and education has actually decreased in recent times, despite the immense progress made overall since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported a 15 percent increase in violence against women over the past year.
According to a recent report published by the Afghan Women's Network, over the past 13 years, female participation in politics and access to health and education improved significantly, but the problems have grown in recent months. "Based on the research that we have done, in the past 13 years, there have been good improvements in the areas of decision making in politics and access to services, but these problems have increased in recent months and is considered a serious challenge towards women," network member Sonia Aslami told TOLOnews.
In particular, violence against women has skyrocketed in recent months. The AIHRC has shared data indicating that in 2014, there were 4,873 incidents involving the violation of women's rights documented by the commission. According to AIHRC, the data broke down as follows: 1,468 physical violence incidents; 412 assault incidents; 1,482 verbal incidents; 1,024 incidents of poverty-related violence; and 487 other miscellaneous incidents.
According to the AIHRC, of the total 4,873 incidents, 98 percent of them occurred within the family environment, while the remaining 2 percent occurred on roads, in the work place, in educational intuitions and jails.
"In the recent months, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of violent incidents against women," said Latifa Sultani, an officials of the Women's Section of the AIHRC. "Our demand of the national unity government, on this International Women's Day, is that it address women's problems in the areas of rule of law and governance."
In addition, female leaders have also highlighted harassment, of sexual and non-sexual nature, in work and education environments is a major obstacle to more women seeking education and employment. "One of the major problems faced by women is harassment; harassment in work place and other environments," MP Anar Kali Hunaryar said. "These are problems that have not been addressed."
Despite all the challenges they face, there are many Afghan women blazing new paths and disproving historic prejudices about the strength and capacities of women in Afghan society.
Ilaha is one such woman. She became a saleswoman in Kabul a few years ago, and now supports herself entirely. "It was my wish to be an active woman in society, and every women can do it," she told TOLOnews on Sunday. "I have been able to stand on my feet and every other women can do that as well."
The office of Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah released a statement on Sunday, marking International Women's Day, which said the problems facing women in Afghanistan have not decreased, but rather become more complex. The press release said the primary challenges women face involve security, safety, rights, governance, rule of law and regressive cultural customs.

Afghanistan - 98 % girls deprive of education in Paktika

98 percent girls deprived of education in southeastern Paktika province, according to the provincial director of women affairs of Paktika.
Bibi Hawa Khoshiwal, in an interview with Khaama Presssaid that 98 percent girls in this province are left in dark and currently depriving of education.
Khoshiwal asked that the central government must pay more attention to the issue as it is very serious.
She said that there are schools in Paktika province but local culture, especially in most of the far flung areas, are preventing girls attend the schools or reach to the higher levels of education.
On the eve of 8th march, the International Women Day, she said “There is still violation against women in Paktika”, adding that “last year 21 cases of violation against women were recorded with them.”
About the welfare organizations who are working to empower women and bring positive changes in their lives in Afghanistan she said ”Some of the welfare organizations still make pretext that because of the insecurity they can not apply projects in Paktika”.
She added “Now the security situation has gotten better and they should come and apply projects for women”

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.
"There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences," said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.
"Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that's why we've got to do all we can to stop it," she said.
Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.
Stunting means children don't grow as tall as they would otherwise, and it can also affect a child's brain development. Stunted children are more at risk of disease, don't do as well in school and stunted mothers can also give birth to stunted children.
UNICEF is working with the Pakistani government to improve sanitation by doing things like encouraging people to wash their hands more often. They're also working with communities to help them build toilets so they don't have to use the bathroom in a field or elsewhere.
Building more toilets is also vital for empowering women and girls and keeping them in school, Gupta said. If women have to walk long distances to find a private place to relieve themselves, they are more vulnerable and exposed to attack. They're also less likely to go to school if there are no toilets.
"Having toilets is a big advantage to girls," she said.

Pakistan - ASWJ Given Protection

The ruling party leadership used proscribed outfits to muster support during the Islamabad protests last year. ASWJ marched from Lal Masjid to Islamabad Press Club in August, in support for the Nawaz government. The PML-N’s members were present on the stage and thanked AWSJ for supporting their government. The protection to the AWSJ is political and still continues. A news report reads, “The Islamabad police on Friday agreed to provide security to the mosques and other institutions affiliated with the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and its office bearers”. Why is a banned outfit being provided protection? Why is the state itself the first one to break its own promises? 
ASWJ, formerly banned as Sipah-e-Sahaba, has been at the forefront on sectarian violence for decades. The outfit was protesting against the ban and the assassinations of top leadership in Islamabad. They have said that they would like to “peacefully coexist.” But it is simply a matter of too little too late.
About 25 per cent of 643 madrassas in the districts of Hyderabad division, with an estimated 50,000 students, have been closed for failing to fulfil the registration requirement under the NAP. The ASWJ has especially faced damages. It has 42 mosques and 10 madrassas in six districts within the Hyderabad division. Two of their madrassas have been sealed by the police in Jamshoro and Dadu. Last month, a case was registered in two separate police stations of Islamabad against ASWJ leader Maulana Ahmed Ludhianwi along with more than 200 of his colleagues. The cases were registered for spreading religious hatred, intervening in government activities and violating the Amplifier Act.
If the state continues to protect them, other groups will just take the law into their own hands with target killings and assassinations. The people of Pakistan, especially minority groups have been living in fear, it is now time that the perpetrators face some of this insecurity as well. Banned organisations cannot be tolerated just because they have changed their name. After decades of killing and hate speech, the ASWJ cannot expect to coexist as though the past is all water under the bridge.

Unfinished domestic violence in Pakistan

Evidence shows most men make excuses, calling temporary anger and verbal abuse normal while shrugging off the seriousness of financial control as punishment
In the shadows behind the curtains,in the murky depths of despair and in the black of night, domestic violence continues to ruin lives in Pakistan.Inside the disturbed minds of those who commit these crimes they are not desperate to escape. Those who have the power to prevent and/or punish this violence through religion, law or custom openly or tacitly approve it. For every high-profile case, more victims die shrouded in silence and countless others endure the daily torture of not knowing when it will happen again. In the emptiness of abuse all alone, frozen in fear, victims stand in the cold dark alleys of torture and violence for the sake of their lives and children. The question is: when will they feel safe?

Far too often we as spectators fail to see it. Even worse, we turn a blind eye. It is time to shine a light on domestic violence.This remains a national tragedy for a country that purports to be civilised, tolerant and safe, or at least what politicians and leaders of the country claim to be the case.By placing domestic violence atop the national agenda they can expose and erase the dark underside of home life while helping victims find the warmth and optimism they deserve. But change will require recognition of the extent of the damage by those who behave as though it is still the dark ages.

Gender-based violence has recently been emerging as a pervasive national issue. Existing statistics suggests that profound physical and psychological sequelae are endemic following intimate partner violence. The presentation of domestic violence in our country is culture specific. A new lexicon, prompted by the expansion of psychological analysis, describes particular threats to women, including dowry deaths, honour murder and disproportional exposure to HIV/AIDS as well as globally generic perils including abuse, battering, marital rape and murder.

The relevant statistics are truly alarming. According to the statistics of violence against women contained in a report to parliament by the ministry of law, justice and human rights, there were 860 ‘honour’ killings (mostly women), 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases of rape/gang rape and 268 incidents of sexual assault/harassment. That is just the official toll. Less than half of abuse is reported.

These are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives; these are the people who live next to you. These are real people and they are horrifying numbers. Behind the veneer of social respectability across all demographics, women are suffering from physical, psychological, manipulative and controlling behaviour by dangerous, sick men. It emanates from a mind-set that blames the victim and tolerates disrespect for those who are of another gender, background, lifestyle or are simply powerless. It does not stop there; children are even being assaulted, traumatised and used as weapons in the middle of this social pathology. Change will require challenging the culture of saying nothing. Change will mean recasting many of the myths about what a significant minority of men regard as being mard (macho): rugged,powerful, dominant and the breadwinner, able to apply double standards to being faithful, fearless and allowed to embrace loss of control and physical violence as a birth right.

When interviewed, most women who had been abused felt it was a private matter or feared retribution. Most live in fear of being tracked down by their abuser. True, more women today are economically independent and most know there are services out there to help if partners become abusive but only few take the risk of speaking out and refuse to be demeaned. But fewer still make the flight to safety or use the support of courts and the police to remain in their own homes. There must be more protection of whistle-blowers who lift the veil of secrecy. For how long will the fear of social ostracism or economic desolation dissuade women in particular not to report their dire situations?

While still fragmentary, data reveals strengthening associations between domestic violence and mental health. Depression, stress-related syndromes, anxiety, drug dependency and suicide are consequences observed in theshort-term context of violence in women’s lives. Sadly, though, many women develop long-term mental illnesses, often driven by a husband’s jealousy linked to low self-esteem. They try to destroy the confidence of a victim to the point where she feels like a prisoner dependent on the captor.In these cases, early signs of abuse are even harder to identify. The process can be so insidious that sometimes women are murdered without having endured a single act of physical violence up to that point.Change will require the courage of society to stop allowing men to make excuses along the lines of“it will not happen again; they were stressed and now they are sorry”. No, they are committing criminal acts and they should be punished.

Evidence shows most men make excuses, calling temporary anger and verbal abuse normal while shrugging off the seriousness of financial control as punishment. Women in our society, particularly from poor families, are prone to regard domestic violence and abusive behaviour by husbands as the norm too. Many men have grown up in families that functioned peacefully yet many remain deeply affected.The spread of cyber bullying and trolling on social media only makes the task harder when it comes to showing young boys, who soon grow into men, that disagreements can be settled peacefully and personality clashes need not become abusive. This intergenerational problem remains, despite some changed attitudes on the role of aggression in marital conflicts. The fact is that the children of families that endured domestic violence are more likely to offend as adults.Society needs to tackle these long grained infected cultural legacies and domestic abuse because there is a common link: disrespectful attitudes towards women.

There are some glimmers of hope.Emerging social, legal, medical and educational strategies, often culture specific, can offer novel local models to promote social change, beginning with raising the status of women. The ubiquity, gravity and variability of domestic violence across the culture compel that additional efforts should be made by parliamentarians and leaders of the country to promote the recognition, intervention and prevention of domestic violence that are both locally specific and nationallyinstructive.

There is a long way to go before the abuse and the killing are wiped out. That is why it is critical that advocates such as civil society champions and local governments work even harder with mental health professionals to find better domestic violence strategies.Can we count on our policy makers to do just that?