Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai has called for gender equality in her native Pakistan, urging women and girls there to struggle for their rights through education.
Malala, 19, made her appeal in an interview with RFE/RL on March 7, ahead of UN-designated International Women's Day.
She said girls and women were particularly hurt by armed conflicts and poverty, as well as sexual violence and underage marriages.
"Cultural taboos are also bitterly affecting girls," she added, "and that’s because the society is not giving equal status to girls and boys."
Malala survived a 2012 assassination attempt by fundamentalist Taliban fighters in Pakistan's Swat Valley that followed threats over the then-14-year-old's blogging and other high-profile activities to promote girls' education. She became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate in 2014.
Malala said men should ensure education for their daughters and sisters and "give them the right to take their own decisions for themselves."
She also called on women and girls to "keep confidence in themselves."
"You have lots of talent and skills that can prove helpful for our country," Malala said. "If we want to progress, then you should come forward."
But she insisted that improvement would only come through education.
“Only our struggle through pen can take us forward, she insisted. “This is the biggest jihad we can do.”
The Global Campaign For Education says more than 60 percent of the 5 million or so primary-school-aged children who don't attend school in Pakistan are women.
Malala now lives in Birmingham, England.
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed deep grief and sorrow over the martyrdom of soldiers in attacks on Pakistani posts on Afghan border and clash with terrorists in Swabi. “These coward attacks cannot deter our nation and its soldiers from an all-out war against the terrorists, their facilitators and sponsors,” he added.
PPP Chairman said that terrorism targeted his mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and civilians and soldiers to impose dark pre-Islamic Arab traditions on the people through the barrel of gun and bombs. “But we stand united as a Pakistani nation and each martyr is giving fillip to our fighting spirit,” he added.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed sympathies and solidarity with the families of martyrs and prayed to Almighty Allah to grant eternal peace to the departed souls.
By Jane Sloane
In 2014, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, pledged to end child marriage, committing to enact a tougher law that included severe punishment for child marriage, development of a national action plan to end child marriage under age 15 by 2021, and an end to all marriage before age 18 by 2041. Since then, no national action plan has emerged, and the Bangladesh Parliament passed the law, despite protests by rights groups, on February 27.
Against this backdrop is the work The Asia Foundation is leading in Bangladesh, which includes addressing challenges that prevent women from becoming politically and economically empowered. Women currently occupy 20 percent of seats in the Bangladesh Parliament (in what are mostly unelected, reserved seats). In March 2016, The Asia Foundation released a survey on “Bangladesh’s Democracy: According to its People.” A large majority of Bangladeshis who responded to this survey (62%) said Parliament should have only or mostly male representatives, an opinion shared by both men (69%) and women (55%). The most commonly given reasons relate to perceptions that men are intellectually superior to women (men know more, more intelligent, understand politics, better educated). Although the majority say the National Parliament should have only or mostly male representatives, a strong majority (71%) support reserved seats for women. Countering these attitudes and beliefs is critical, as is advancing policies and laws designed to increase women’s participation as voters and candidates. With the next parliamentary elections due by early January 2019, shifting power and resources in support of women’s voice and participation is crucial.
Supporting women’s leadership in the labor force is also critical. For instance, Bangladesh is the 10th largest tea producing country in the world and has 172 tea gardens with over 140,000 workers, 75 percent of whom are women, although few occupy leadership roles. These workers earn very little, suffer poor nutrition, and lack the knowledge and ability to exercise their rights. The Asia Foundation is working to increase understanding about labor rights and responsibilities among the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, the only labor union representing tea workers, tea garden owners, and government representatives through training and other awareness-raising forums. I had the opportunity to travel to northern Bangladesh to meet with imams (Muslim religious leaders) and imams’ wives who are committed to ending violence against women. In discussions with imams’ wives and other women from the communities, they shared stories of women wanting to earn an income, such as being able to access funds to support small enterprises managed from their homes, or to make garments or produce for a business or company. An example: providing sewing machines, seeds, and poultry and linking this work directly to markets. Many of these women are looking for opportunities to work from home and on their land, but need access to buyers and markets, and in this way, they will have the income to support their children’s education and health as well as their own needs. The women spoke of being conscious of local community attitudes—neighbors will criticize their engagement outside the home and husbands may get angry if their wives seek to work, so the outreach we are supporting to husbands is essential.
The Asia Foundation has also been supporting district-based Women Chambers of Commerce, including women entrepreneurs seeking to use technology for online buyer platforms, and a mobile network as a peer-to-peer system for advice and support. These Chambers of Commerce are a key network supporting women to start and sustain their own businesses, and they are also working to get banks to lend to women without collateral, so that women have the opportunity to access capital. Members of these chambers work across Bangladesh to increase women’s engagement in the economic sphere from the current level of 34 percent participation. One story that inspired me was that of a woman who dreamed of returning to get a college education. At home, every time she talked about it her husband got angry and humiliated her in a myriad of ways. Then, an imam who had participated in one of our programs began calling at their home and having a series of quiet conversations with her husband. Slowly the woman noticed a change in her husband as he became less physically and verbally violent. Finally, he agreed that she could return to study and later he would speak proudly of the fact that she had returned to college. Now upon graduation, she is planning to secure employment that will support her family as well as help her to reach her own potential.
“This is the change that is possible with such interventions,” the woman said. There are still so many challenges that women face to realizing their rights and achieving their full potential, but there is also great hope, energy, and activism and I look forward to continuing to advance women’s right and gender equality in this coming year.
By Julie Bindel
Gujarat, a state in western India, once was known as the world’s dairy capital. But today it is the place to go to rent a womb.
Gujarat is the site of almost half of India’s surrogacy market and is known by its critics, of which I am one, as a giant “baby factory.” I traveled to Gujarat last year to investigate the surrogacy market, arriving only days after the Indian government ordered fertility clinics to stop surrogate-embryo transfers for those without Indian passports.
Posing as an infertile woman desperate for a baby, I visited clinics, claiming to have a husband with an Indian passport. The five clinics I visited offered surrogacy, and a representative in each clinic told me business would suffer as a result of the government directive. No one mentioned my age (I am 54) or asked any questions about my husband or our family life. It would appear that in the world of designer babies, it is money that talks.
The clinics I visited ranged from state-of-the-art buildings in middle-class residential areas to shabby, filthy places with no air conditioning and only very basic facilities. In each of the clinics, I paid a consultation fee of around 20 pounds and filled out a form about my history of infertility. I was informed that to access surrogacy services, I would need to produce my husband’s passport and our marriage certificate.
The first surrogate baby was delivered in India in 1994. Before the recent government directive was issued, surrogacy had been legal in India since 2002. Since that year, commercial surrogacy in the country has expanded massively and is now a gigantic industry.
By 2012, at least 3,000 clinics in India offered surrogacy services. Annually, surrogacy is a $2.3 billion industry across India. Before the government directive, roughly 10,000 foreign couples visited the country for reproductive services each year. In the United States, the surrogacy market totals about $6.5 billion, but surrogacy in the U.S. is five times more expensive than in India.
Dr. Nayana Patel is the face of the Indian surrogacy movement. She is the founder of the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, Gujarat, where more than 1,000 surrogate babies have been born. Last year, Patel opened the world’s first multimillion-dollar “baby factory” (the Akanksha clinic) and is lauded—by media sources, commissioning parents and pro-surrogacy organizations—as the woman who brings joy to countless childless couples. There are currently 75 surrogate mothers on the books of the Akanksha clinic, with around 50 pregnant at a time.
Once the embryo-plantation process begins, Patel’s surrogates are kept in a gated hostel close to the Akanksha clinic, where they eat, sleep and are monitored on a daily basis. The women are detained there, which is a serious infringement of their human rights, according to Sheela Saravanan of the Department of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine at the University of Goettingen in Germany.
“They are overfed, restricted in movements, not allowed to go up and down the stairs and not given codes for the elevators,” Saravanan said. “They aren’t supposed to do normal household work, and they are just supposed to lie around watching TV for those 10 months, and they are not allowed to meet their family or children. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It is poverty that is motivating them to do it, and it is inhuman.”
The women are told when and what to eat and drink and are not allowed to have sex, ride bicycles or take any exercise without permission. The women are prevented from using painkillers but are required to take products to help achieve pregnancy. These include Lupron, estrogen and progesterone, all of which can have damaging side effects. The women usually are impregnated with several embryos to increase the chances of pregnancy, and they can be forced to undergo selective abortion of one or more fetuses if multiple pregnancies occur.
Prior to traveling to Gujarat, I contacted Dr. Patel by email, respectfully requesting an interview with her for an article on surrogacy. Patel replied: “Dear Julie. Very sorry. We would not like it. So please do not come. Due to Festival [Diwali] we are closed. Also, we do not want to do any article.” I assumed Patel had read other articles of mine in which I criticized her surrogacy practices. Until recently, Patel had enjoyed almost universally positive coverage, including a 2007 television interview by Oprah Winfrey.
Surrogates in India usually are paid between $6,000 and $8,000, but they may not be able to keep the whole amount. Brokers—those who travel to villages and destitute urban areas to find potential surrogates—often take a substantial cut for themselves. IVF clinics are popping up in smaller cities and towns, focusing on poor, desperate women.
The Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR) has a membership of 600 and protects the business interests of its members, but the streamline on the ISAR website could lead people to believe it is an altruistic service. It reads: “Making Assisted Reproduction Easily Available to Needy Infertile Couples.”
In her report on the government directive, journalist Vidhi Doshi—who supports Patel’s work—described how she visited the hostel to ask the surrogates how they viewed the restrictions on foreign surrogacy. “I’ve heard surrogacy is going to stop,” one woman told Doshi. “But we are all praying that this place stays open. All of us here support Dr. Nayana.”
I asked Doshi whether she was critical of the surrogacy industry. “India’s biggest problem isn’t surrogacy,” Doshi said. “It’s the vast inequality of wealth between the richest and poorest people of the country. The women I met at Dr. Patel’s clinic in Anand were not forced or coerced to come there; they came because they saw it as the only way to feed and educate their own children.”
Doshi said that if commercial surrogacy were forbidden, there soon would be an unregulated black market in place of the legal version. She feared conditions would be unhygienic, doctors would be substandard and the surrogate women would be paid less.
But the evidence contradicts Doshi’s arguments. Where there are lucrative markets, illegal, unregulated versions often appear. Despite commercial surrogacy being legal in India, organized criminal networks can still operate.
Saravanan of the University of Goettingen was originally from India, and she is passionately opposed to the surrogacy industry. I met her at a feminist conference in Paris earlier this year.
“This market is built on global injustice and global inequalities,” Saravanan said, describing her field research on women serving as surrogates in India.
“In one case the parents arrived 20 days after the birth and this woman [the surrogate] was looking after this child. She was breastfeeding the child, she had named the child after her daughter, so you can imagine the attachment she had to that baby,” Saravanan said. “After 20 days, these parents came from abroad, took the baby and walked out. They didn’t even want to meet her; even the money was handed over through some[one] else.”
During my clinic visits doctors told me that the surrogates often can earn extra money by breastfeeding the babies if the commissioning parents have not arrived in time for the birth. I can only imagine the additional heartache this would cause a woman who has carried a child for nine months and then bonds intimately with the child before being required to give it up.
As far as Saravanan is concerned, detaining the surrogates in a gated hostel is a serious infringement of the women’s human rights. “They are overfed, restricted in movements, not allowed to go up and down the stairs and not given codes for the elevators,” says Saravanan. “They aren’t supposed to do normal household work, and they are just supposed to lie around watching TV for those 10 months, and they are not allowed to meet their family or children. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It is poverty that is motivating them to do it, and it is inhuman.”
Surrogacy is marketed as altruistic rather than commercial, and the poster-girl image of the happy and healthy white American woman lending her womb to help childless couples is pervasive and persuasive. Gay men who use surrogacy to have their own children present it as a human rights issue, but having children is not a right, and I am far more concerned with the human rights of the women exploited through surrogacy.
In the U.S., 20 percent of the surrogate babies born each year are carried by military wives. I was recently contacted by such a woman in Pennsylvania who told me that she had been offered “a lot of money” to carry a child for a couple from a nearby state where commercial surrogacy is illegal. “But I only ever saw half of the money,” Sandra [not her real name] told me, “because he was born with a minor defect. I was blamed for not delivering the perfect baby, despite the fact I had cared for myself and for him all the way through the pregnancy. It took a year of my life, and left me depressed and with my own health problems,” said Sandra, clearly distressed. “I would warn any woman about doing [surrogacy], because it is far harder than the agencies make out.”
Sandra told me about a woman she met online who had been a surrogate several years earlier. “She told me her life had been ruined by the experience,” Sandra said. “And that she dreamed of her baby all the time. What broke my heart was that she did not even know if she had given birth to a girl or boy. They took the baby away before she was allowed to even catch a glimpse of her own child.”
The surrogacy industry sits at the interface between patriarchy and über-capitalism, in which it is morally and legally acceptable to sell or rent women’s body parts. A number of countries in Europe and elsewhere now are outlawing surrogacy as a commercial practice, and the feminist campaign to end womb trafficking is growing in strength. But surrogacy is built on class and race differences and is thriving in places like India precisely because of the massive division between the West and developing countries. We need to eliminate, not regulate, surrogacy.
''Famous author Diane Mariechild quotes, “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.''
Every year on 8th of March, International Women’s Day is celebrated as worldwide event to honour women’s accomplishments from political to social achievements and thus raising voice for gender equality. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8. This day is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women’s organisations and other civil rights institutions to praise women for being role models despite hurdles and societal pressures.
It’s not known when this day originated but its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. A year later, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the US on February 28, in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.
In 1910, a woman called Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day.
She suggested that every country should praise women on one day every year to push for their demands. A conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and International Women’s Day was formed. In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on this date ever since.
The day was recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration. The theme for IWD 2017 is “Be bold for change” thus encouraging people to step up and take ground breaking action to help drive gender equality.
The original aim of this day is to achieve full gender equality for women around the world which has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men. To highlight the importance of this day, women across the world come together to force the world to recognise these inequalities, while also celebrating the achievements of women who have overcome these barriers. International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. It sounds comical that on every women’s day, men are found saying that there is no day for us but its wrong perception as International Men’s Day is celebrated on 19th of November every year in around 60 countries of the world. The objective of this day is to celebrate the achievements and contributions of men in society and improving gender relations.
The idea of this year theme is to consider how to accelerate the UN 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal number 5 which suggests, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and number 4 of SDGs to, “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. This year UN Secretary General António Guterres in his message on International Women’s day said, “Let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. ” The South Asia is the least gender sensitive region in the world.
It is the only region in the world where men outnumber women. In Pakistan, women do face many challenges but with passage of time trends are changing and their services are acknowledged. Generally Western media portrays Pakistani women as victim of Karo Kari, Hadood ordinance, Qasas and marriage to the Quran but with induction of laws on honour killing and awareness in women for their rights, the ratio of such incidents have gone done. Working women is the one of the classes facing major problems in Pakistan including harassment, prejudice and less salary packages but despite that time is changing gradually and women are now highly appreciated for their roles not only in domestic chores but globally also. In Pakistan there is a need to educate women as alone educating a girl suggests one is contouring a whole generation.
There is a need to create awareness among them on their rights in family laws, social justice, women and child health and other vital women rights which can provide them secure and better living even as sole bread earner of family. Though many women are part of politics and decision making processes but worldwide it is witnessed that women are not part of peace processes between conflicted countries.
The words of Margaret Thatcher truly reflects this scenario that, “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country”. Therefore, your women need appreciation, care, support, affection and salutation for every duty they perform in any capacity as it will not boost their energy but their contribution towards better society will increase manifolds. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.
#WomensDay - International Women’s Day: Pakistan’s ‘invisible’ female workers celebrate new legal status
Zehra Khan has much to celebrate on International Women’s Day. It is exactly four months since members of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) in Sindh province, Pakistan – of which Khan is secretary general – finally received legal recognition.
The province’s chief minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, signed a policy that means the region’s estimated 5 million home-based workers – the majority of whom are women – can register as workers and access benefits.
“It was an important day not only for the history of the labour movement in Sindh and Pakistan, but also for south Asia,” says Khan, whose federation has more than 4,500 members.
“Once they are legally accepted as workers, they can be registered with the government-run social security institution, [and] be part of [the] workers’ welfare board to enjoy benefits like health, education and housing, as well as those offered after retirement,” she adds.
Almost 80% of an estimated 12 million Pakistani home-based workers are women. As well as unpaid domestic work, the women often spend up to 10 hours a day making garments, footwear, sports goods, and arts and crafts behind closed doors. Their work is often invisible to the rest of the world, despite having propped up the country’s informal economy for so long. “They are left to negotiate with the middlemen. Many often get deprived of payment or chastised if they demand better wages,” says Khan.
The new government policy, however, brings hope that this kind of exploitation will soon come to an end. Once registered as workers, the women will be able to demand a basic level of pay as set out in the Minimum Wages Act of 2015.
Khan and the federation have been lobbying to improve the rights of female workers for years.
The HBWWF, part-funded by the international women’s fund Mama Cash, was born out of informal meetings with female home-based workers organised by Khan back in 2001. By 2005, the small group had grown into the federation, empowering women to recognise their valuable contribution to society and the importance of collective bargaining.
The women put pressure on the local government to improve local services, such as fixing the sewage system and having the rubbish collected from their narrow alleys. They asked the water board for a water supply, and demanded that domestic violence be addressed.
Eventually, they began to focus on their own rights as workers and lobbying for the new nationwide policy began.
“We carried out extensive consultations with other labour and trade unions within Pakistan,” recalls Khan.
Most of the time was spent sitting in the offices of the parliamentarians and politicians, cajoling them to give a few minutes of their time to read through their policy and understand what they were saying.
“We would wait with bated breath and a sinking feeling as our file got buried under the hundreds of others that needed the chief minister’s immediate attention,” says Khan.
After the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010, when provinces were given greater autonomy, Sindh formed a provincial taskforce in 2013 to tweak the national policy and make it more province-specific, and sent it to the chief executive for approval. “It’s neither gender- nor women-focused – our focus is class, and should be seen through the lens of a labour movement,” says Khan.
The government of Sindh has indeed taken a historic first step among the four provinces of Pakistan, bringing home-based workers into the legal net.
According to a recent study, “The Burden of Mental Disorders in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 1990-2013,” was conducted by an independent global health research center at Washington University. The Eastern Mediterranean Region – which consists of nations in the Middle East and North Africa including Pakistan and Afghanistan – were witnessing an increase in chronic disorders, including mental illness.
Regarding Pakistan it says, mental disorders account for more than four per cent of the total disease burden in Pakistan. However, women suffer a higher mental health burden.
“Women in Pakistan lost nearly 1.2 million total DALYs to depression, compared to men’s more than 495,000 DALYs in 2013. Anxiety exhibits a similar gender divide with women in the country losing over 376,700 total DALYs to anxiety while men lost approximately 212,000 DALYs”. Dr Anwar Rafay, an epidemiologist and co-author of this study suggested that the situation was alarming. “Mental health disorders are taking an alarming toll on people in Pakistan and throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region. Women – often in the prime of their lives – are losing years of good health to depression, anxiety, and other disorders,” he said. “This is unacceptable and must be addressed by governments, public health experts, and citizens.”
This study is based on findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, US. With more than 2,000 collaborators in over 125 countries, GBD is considered to be the largest and most comprehensive effort measuring epidemiological levels and trends worldwide It supports previous findings which have identified a strong link between ongoing war and unrest with citizens of Eastern Mediterranean countries developing mental illness. For example, Palestine – which has seen regular conflict and military intervention for over 50 years — has the highest burden of mental health disorders in the region with depressive disorders accounting for 1,392 DALYs per 100,000 people in 2013.
The study underscores that the stigma surrounding depression compounds the challenges of mental illness in the region. Stigma, the study said, may cause people suffering with these disorders to remain quiet, leading to underreporting of cases across all income levels. Pakistani scientists discover 30 new genes causing mental retardation Additionally, recent data shows that resources allocated to the screening and treatment of mental health services are insufficient to meet the region’s needs.
The paper, published in the journal PLOSONE, also finds that chronic mental health disorders are greater in high-income countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. This is consistent with the global trend which suggests mental illness grows with increased living standards. However, this trend may simply reflect the fact that people with greater incomes have more stable lives and can tend to mental health needs. People coping with the instability caused by conflict or poverty place a higher priority on basic survival and physical well-being.