While $700 billion a year is spent on military budgets worldwide, less than $20 billion is spent on the essentials of life — accessible clean water, health, sanitation and basic education. [includes rush transcript]
In Africa, women and girls grow 80 percent of the food consumed there. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 25 percent of the population — and up to 90 percent of the native people — have no access to safe drinking water.
And in the United States, the most powerful country in the world, the major candidates for president this year are four white males.
Today is International Women’s Day, and women around the world are planning work stoppages to demonstrate their own value. Some of the planned activities include a rural women’s strike in Burkina Faso, demanding money for birth certificates and identity cards that women can’t afford. Noon work stoppages are planned for Catalua, Spain and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Domestic workers will strike in Port-of-Spain and Trinidad and Tobago.
In Ireland, women held a mobile parliament outside the House of Representatives last May calling for March 8th to become a paid holiday for Irish women. They also made citizens’ arrests of members of Parliament and charged them with "pimping off women’s unwaged and low-waged work."
Today will also be the kickoff for a series of women’s marches this year. The marches will culminate in a world rally at the United Nations in New York on October 17.
Today, we are joined by women from around the world who are fighting for women’s equality in their communities. They are here in New York for a series of meetings at the United Nations to evaluate the state of women’s rights five years after thousands of women activists came together at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Meanwhile, three weeks ago, thousands of Jordanians urged their country’s lawmakers to stiffen the lenient penalties handed down to murderers who claim the family’s honor was at stake.
The demonstrations marked the loudest outcry yet against what is known as "honor crimes." At least twenty Jordanian women are killed each year for simply talking to a man, dating or having sex outside of marriage. Being raped is also seen as disgracing the family, as is refusing an arranged marriage or leaving an abusive husband.
Jordanian law gives short sentences to those who kill their female relatives under these circumstances, with sentences usually ranging from three months to one year. The issue is highlighted in a documentary airing on HBO today called Crimes of Honor.
- Global Women’s Strike, put together by Margaretta D’Arcy of the International Wages for Housework Campaign. The song "Wages Due" was written by Boo Watson and performed by Sandy Oppitow. E-mail: Global Women’s Strike.
- June Zeitlin, from the Women’s Environment and Development Organization in the US (WEDO). Call: 212.973.0325. E-mail: Women’s Environment and Development Organization
- Chief Bisi Ogunleye, from Nigeria. She is the founder and national coordinator of the Country Women Association of Nigeria, a rural women’s self-help organization.
- Maryse Fontus, Africa Staff Attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. Call: 212.514.5534.
- Doreen Mukwena, National Director of the African Media Women in Zimbabwe. E-mail: African Media Women in Zimbabwe.
- Fareeha Zafar, from the group Shirkat Gah ("Coming Together") in Pakistan. E-mail: Shirkat Gah.
- Rana Husseini, writer for the Jordan Times, Jordan’s English language newspaper. She is an award-winning journalist whose crusade against honor crimes has received the support of Jordan’s royal family.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! on this International Women’s Day special. I’m Amy Goodman.
Today women around the world are planning work stoppages to demonstrate their own value. Some of the planned activities include a rural women’s strike in Burkina Faso, demanding money for birth certificates and identity cards that women can’t afford. Noon work stoppages are planned for Catalonia, Spain and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Domestic workers will strike in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. In Ireland, women are holding a mobile parliament outside the House of Representatives. They did this last May, calling for March 8th to become a paid holiday for Irish women. They also made citizen’s arrests of members of Parliament and charged them with pimping off women’s unwaged and low-wage work.
Today, we’ll start the program with a piece that was put together by Margaretta D’Arcy, who is with the International Wages for Housework Campaign in Ireland. She did this for the Women’s International News Gathering Service.
UNIDENTIFIED: The global economy is founded on the work women do, not only in sweatshops and on the land with little or no pay, but also the work of giving birth to, caring for and nurturing, as well as educating, the entire working class in every county.
UNIDENTIFIED: [singing] If we women were paid for what we do, I’ll tell you one thing that’s true, that’s true. We wouldn’t be free, but I’m telling you there’d be a lot of wages due.
KAY MURPHY: I’m Kay Murphy, and I want all women to strike for a change for a new millennium that values all women’s work and all women’s lives. The sooner, the better.
UNIDENTIFIED: Raising the children.
UNIDENTIFIED: Domestic work, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED: I know.
UNIDENTIFIED: Grocery shopping.
UNIDENTIFIED: Women do two-thirds of the world’s work. Women earn five percent of the world’s income.
UNIDENTIFIED: [singing] Now, what do you think would happen, if we women went on strike? There’d be no breakfast in the morning, there’d be no screw at night. There’d be no nurses treating you, be no waitresses serving you...
UNIDENTIFIED: ...how the work force is changing, and it’s changing to minorities and women, so you’re going to have to do something to correct the other inequities, which is inequities in childcare.
JEWELLE GOMEZ: This is Jewelle Gomez. All women strike for change, March 8th, year 2000, be there.
DOROTHY ALLISON: It’s a good idea. This is Dorothy Allison,
UNIDENTIFIED: I hope it’s going to make you want to go on strike for change.
UNIDENTIFIED: Talk about it to your neighbors, families and friends, so we can all join and make it into a global strike on International Women’s Day. Be visible, be heard. Wednesday, March 8, 2000.
UNIDENTIFIED: Consider all of the labor that you do that you don’t get paid for. Make an invoice of all of this unwaged labor. Send it to your government on March 8th of the year 2000.
UNIDENTIFIED: [singing] Now, what do you think would happen if we women went on strike? There’d be no breakfast in the morning...
Put together by Margaretta D’Arcy of the International Wages for Housework Campaign in Ireland for the Women’s International News Gathering Service, know as WINGS.
UNIDENTIFIED: [singing] ...it’ll be alright. And there’d be no mothers nursing you, there’d be no wives awaiting on you, there’d be no daughters pleasing you. It’ll be alright. Well, there’d be a lot of wages due for every time we smile, just in order to get a tip or two to make it almost worthwhile. And there’d be a lot of wages due for every time we’re raped. There’d be a lot of wages due for each time that we escaped. Well, if women were paid for all we do, just think what it would mean for me and you, we’d have some power and some money too. Now, ain’t it amazing what wages do?
And you’re listening to Democracy Now!, here on Pacifica Radio.
While several hundred billion dollars a year are spent on military budgets worldwide, less than $20 billion is spent on the essentials of life: accessible clean water, health, sanitation and basic education. In Africa, women and girls grow 80 percent of the food consumed there. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a quarter of the population and up to 90 percent of the native people have no access to safe drinking water. And in the United States, here, the most powerful country in the world, the major candidates for president for this year, 2000, are four white males.
Today, we are joined by women from around the world who are fighting for women’s equality in their communities. They’re here in New York for a series of meetings at the United Nations to evaluate the state of women’s rights, five years after tens of thousands of women activists gathered in Beijing, China for the UN World Conference on Women.
It’s interesting, one of the women who had gathered for this conference, Jocelyn Dow, who we’ve had on, who’s with the Red Thread Collective and chair of WEDO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, said earlier today that she thinks women around the world should get a chance to vote in the US presidential election, because the US president determines so much of what happens in the world today.
Well, we’re joined by June Zeitlin, who is the executive director of WEDO, Women’s Environment Development Organization. And June, I got a chance to see you yesterday, leading a panel of women from around the world, looking at the state of the world, since Beijing five year ago. And one of the things you addressed was the US presidential election, putting it in a global context about the issues of parity and where are the women in elections here, as well as other places.
Thanks. Yesterday was a panel of women’s organizations who had prepared reports parallel to what the governments were doing on the progress that they had made since Beijing, and at WEDO, we coordinated a report that many US women’s organizations contributed to, monitoring how our government has complied with the commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action.
And there are two areas that I highlighted. One was the area of political participation, where women make up the majority of voters in this country, but, as was noted, all of the major candidates running for office are male, and women have had a very difficult time in this country getting elected. In fact, the US ranks quite far down in the list of countries, in terms of representation of women in its legislatures. In the Congress, women represent approximately 13 percent, and in the Senate, only nine percent. While women have done better in state legislatures, we’re still less than a quarter. In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action called for women comprising at least 30 percent of elected bodies, and we have a long way to go on that.
But I think women in the US, while we have to work for changing the structural barriers to elections, particularly campaign finance reform, there’s something we can do right away, starting today, on International Women’s Day, and that is, demand that at least 50 percent of women appointed by presidents, governors, mayors and other executive officials make women half of their cabinet, half of their top-level appointments.
The Clinton-Gore administration has appointed more women to its cabinet than any other administration, and particularly in positions such as Secretary of State and Attorney General, where we have the first women occupying those offices, and that’s the kind of commitment of translating words into action that we’d like to see in states and cities all over this country.
What about in other places in the world? In Brazil, there are — they’ve passed a law that requires a certain number of women to be in the parliament.
A number of countries have passed laws, either at the parliamentary level or in their political parties, requiring that at least 30 percent, and some cases higher than that, have women represented. And this is — setting these kinds of goals and targets has been the single most effective mechanism for increasing the level of women’s participation in elected office. It has really been the only way to get a critical mass.
In the north, in the Scandinavian countries, which began this process a number of years ago, they were really the first. In Sweden, women are more than 40 percent, and in Norway, over 35 percent. But in countries like South Africa, which began their transition to democracy much more recently, the political parties require that 30 percent of the people elected be women, and they now have over 30 percent of women in the parliament. And countries like Brazil and India have adopted these targets at local elections, and there, too, woman are achieving a critical mass.
Well, June Zeitlin, we may not have a presidential candidate amongst us here in the United States, but we do have a chief. We’re joined by Chief Bisi Ogunleye. She is Nigerian and founder of, the national coordinator of Country Women Association of Nigeria, which is a rural women’s self-help organization, which operates in twenty-five states of Nigeria and has something like 120,000 members. She’s also founder and president of the Network of African Rural Women’s Associations.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Chief Bisi.
CHIEF BISI OGUNLEYE:
Thank you very much.
If you were standing last night, either in Texas or perhaps in New York or maybe Tennessee, where the various candidates were giving their speeches after Super Tuesday, what would you be addressing as the major issues that we confront in the world today?
CHIEF BISI OGUNLEYE:
Thank you very much. The major problem that is confronting everybody in the world today is poverty eradication. Poverty is a serious problem. Talking about women going into power, if they have no money, they cannot be part of the power we are talking about.
Before, we always think and talk of poverty in the South, but get out to the New York streets today. You will agree with me that the poverty virus is spreading all over the place. And it has just started.
This is the time the American government should come up with people-centered poverty eradication program. I am not talking of welfare program. We must agree that everybody, women in particular, is entitled to own property and earning a living wage in this country. If the rich people refuse to share the wealth, believe me, the poor are very ready, especially the poor women, are ready and generous to share the poverty with everybody in the world. You may never know, I agree, they will share it with us.
Chief Bisi, what role do you think — for example, in your case, how did you end up becoming chief?
CHIEF BISI OGUNLEYE:
I became a chief. My father was a chief, and he was blessed with so many children, men and women, that before he died, he tried to educate everybody, and he said that whoever is the most senior after his death should be made the chief. That is how I inherited the chieftaincy, because I was the most senior child when my father died.
And what responsibilities does it mean you have?
CHIEF BISI OGUNLEYE:
It’s a lot of responsibilities, like be the president of your little community and have to see to the welfare of the people and plan the program that will make everybody comfortable. And that is why I’m very interested, because that is what I do for my community, and they like most, that everybody has equal rights to own and share what we have in the community.
You may have money. Money cannot speak for you. Money does not love. Sometimes, if you have money and you don’t know how to share it with the people, the people will isolate you, and you will be miserable. This is why, as a chief, I know what it means for all of us to own what we have and share it together, and that’s what I want the world to be.
Well, it is exhilarating to hear a leader speaking the way you do, and perhaps maybe Al Gore or George W. Bush — perhaps they’re listening, I don’t know — and they can take a few words from your script.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! on this International Women’s Day special. And I also want to say that during the breaks, when we bring you music, this music is being brought to you by a group of women, Women Black Activists and Independents, they’ve named that, for the Pacifica station here in New York, WBAI. Stay with us.
You are listening to Pacific Radio’s Democracy Now!, this Women’s International Day special. I’m Amy Goodman, and thank you very much to our friends playing the drums, a group of women drummers here in the studios of Pacifica station WBAI.
We are joined by a roundtable of women from around the world. We’ll be going to Jordan to speak with a journalist who is crusading against the killing of women, who are killed for what are known as crimes of honor. We’ll also be going to Pakistan, as well as to Zimbabwe, and right here in the United States.
As we talk about the issue of parity, I wanted to turn now to Fareeha Zafar, who is from the group Shirkat Gah, which means “coming together,” in Pakistan.
Yeah, that’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!
As you look at our elections in the United States, at the top level, we see only men who are running for president right now. How does this compare to Pakistan? Actually, the latest news is a previous prime minister, right, went on trial today, and he is charging the current prime minister with building a sham case against him.
Thank you. Well, Pakistan is a very interesting case, because we’ve had a woman prime minister, not only once, but she’s had two terms in Pakistan. So although we are a very patriarchal society, we do have the distinction of being the first Muslim country to have a woman prime minister. Currently, she’s out of the country, and because there are cases against her, she is unable to return home.
On the other hand, I think in the case of the United States, it does seem that you’re still a long way from having a woman at the top. And we cannot really compare the two situations, because, otherwise, the gender level, the status of women is much better in this country.
In Pakistan, we are still struggling for some of our basic rights. Currently, as you are aware, the constitution is suspended; we have a military government. But again, there is an interesting paradox, because, whereas the previous democratic government, the prime mister who is under trial, Nawaz Sharif, was not really bringing women into the mainstream, into the political arena — there were very few women pre-October 1999 in the cabinet, there were very few women in the government — since the military coup, we find that there are more women in the cabinet, there are women in all the provincial, as well as at the federal level, in the cabinet. There are women ambassadors. Women are being placed on advisory boards and committees. Women are participating in the task force. So there seems to be a much more favorable climate for women.
Of course, we are assessing the situation carefully, but we have to work within, you know, the given situation, and women have to, in fact, find space for themselves, no matter who is there at the top.
You’ve been involved in assessing your country five years after the Beijing Women’s Conference, Fareeha Zafar. Yesterday, you made a presentation at the United Nations of a shadow report for the women of Pakistan, and that’s what women from around the world were doing, looking at how far their countries are away from full equality. And what do you think are the areas where, in Pakistan, women have made the most gains, but also where they’re farthest away?
Well, I think the most gains have really been in the high level of awareness of women’s issues which today you find in Pakistan. There has been very little mainstreaming of gender issues. There is talk about it. Even we find the men are now using very gender-sensitive language. But it’s still very much at the level of policies. There is very little implementation of programs.
We have a national plan of action, which emerged out of the Beijing Platform of Action, but the action plan has yet to be operationalized, although the process does seem to have started again very recently.
We also find that women have made gains in the sense that particularly the women working in the NGOs are now being called upon by government to act as experts on committees. There are three women in the national delegation right now to this preparatory committee meeting at the UN from Pakistan. All are in fact from the NGO sector, but they are here as experts and not really representing their NGOs.
And for people who aren’t familiar with that term, NGO, in this international community in New York, we forget — here, it’s sort of called nonprofits, but the non-governmental organizations.
Right. But I think the major problem for women in Pakistan, there are three which we identified in our shadow report. One is globalization, increasing globalization, and I think we have to be very careful that the impact of globalization at the international level on women has been to raise the poverty levels. Poverty has arisen in Pakistan from 30 percent in the ’80s, to over 40 percent during the ’90s. And as we are all aware, and my sister from Africa has already stated, that the majority of the women are poor; I mean, the majority below the poverty line are women.
So when we look at the elections here in the United States, what we would like to see is a differential — study of the differential impact of globalization in other countries of the world. And certainly the impact of globalization in the third world in the developing countries is very negative, and there are very few positive gains for women.
We also find that because of increasing poverty as a result of globalization, there is increasing violence, and that is our second priority area. Because violence is generated from poverty, it is generated also from the social cultural environment. You have heard of honor killings in Pakistan, and since it was referred to in the African context, we are hoping that, even today, the government may have made some kind of a positive statement regarding honor killings, and we are trying to move for some kind of legislation against honor killings.
What do you mean by “honor killings”?
Well, honor killings are women who are killed in the name of honor; of disobeying, let us say, the cultural values; if they are perceived to have defied the socio-cultural norms, which would include going out and marrying somebody of their own choice, against the family’s wishes; of being suspected perhaps of some kind of relationship, illicit relationship with men; of maybe even moving out into the public sphere without the permission of the family and the patriarchal head of the family. So it has a very broad definition. This connotation of honor killings is very broad.
But we’re hoping that at least there should be — no judgment should be pronounced which legalizes or which states that, yes, an honor killing is justified in any part of the country. And we’re hoping for a very positive statement from the government today. It might already have come, but I haven’t been able to get any feedback from Pakistan in the morning so far.
The other area which affects women in Pakistan is the lack of political participation. As I said, although we’ve had a woman prime minister and she’s had two terms, but there are very few women who are leaders in political parties, there are very few women in parliament. Right now, of course, parliament is suspended. But we do find also that women at the administrative level, especially at the higher levels, we have less than three — five percent women represented at higher administrative posts.
And the relationship between globalization, lack of political participation and violence, this negative sort of combination of the three factors we find is really continuing to keep the status of women at a low level in the country. But despite that, despite the setbacks, despite the obstacles, in the last five years since the Beijing conference, we find that there is a greater awareness, there is more empowerment of women. People — women are much more vocal about and aware about their issues. And there is greater collaboration amongst organizations on women’s issues.
I want to continue this issue of honor killings, Fareeha Zafar of Shirkat Gah, coming together in Pakistan, and also take this issue to Jordan. Three weeks ago, thousands of Jordanians urged their country’s lawmakers to stiffen the lenient penalties handed down to murderers who claimed the family’s honor was at stake. The demonstrations marked the loudest outcry yet against what’s known as honor crimes.
At least twenty Jordanian women are killed each year for simply talking to a man, dating or having sex outside of marriage. Being raped is also seen as disgracing the family, as is refusing an arranged marriage or leaving an abusive husband. Jordanian law gives to those who commit their female relatives under these circumstances, with sentences usually ranging from three months to one year.
And tonight on HBO, there’s going to be a documentary that plays called Crimes of Honor. And we go to Amman right now to speak with Rana Husseini, who is one of the people featured in this documentary, but first a clip from Crimes of Honor.
NARRATOR: Day breaks in Jordan with a call to the faithful. But one girl feels forsaken, far from home.
RANIA: I’m lost in the desert. I don’t know where it begins or where it ends. I don’t know what to do or to whom I can turn. I’ve done a very stupid thing: I ran away from home. I know my family believes I’ve brought them shame. Please help to reach them and read them this letter. Please, save me.
NARRATOR: Her name was Rania. She ran away for love. The price was her life.
An excerpt of the documentary that is being aired on HBO tonight called Crimes of Honor. And we’re joined by Rana Husseini, who is a writer for the Jordan Times, Jordan’s English-Language Newspaper. She has led a crusade against honor crimes and has received the support of Jordan’s royal family.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rana Husseini
Hi. How are you doing?
Very good. Can you tell us right now what the state of awareness is in Jordan around the issue?
I think, as you said, you mentioned earlier, that there was a strong march, the strongest so far. I think that many things have been taking place in Jordan, and of course the latest was the march, which also pushed many newspapers and columnists and editors to start writing more about this issue and showing the injustices that’s being inflicted on women.
Also, this issue has been talked about in the past, and, as you said, there’s support from the royal family, which is very important. Of course, you will face opposition at one point in time — you will face opposition at one point in time, but, all in all, the situation is improving, and there’s more awareness about this issue.
I understand — is it true that there were more men than women at the rally and that Prince Ali, the brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and Prince Ghazi, the King’s cousin were there?
Yeah, yeah. The show-up — yeah, the show-up was more tribal men showing their dismay of what’s going on, and also it was led by Prince Ali and Prince Ghazi.
Yet twice before, Jordan’s all-male lower house of parliament has turned down attempts to amend the law.
Yeah, I think the parliament — the deputies were — did not understand clearly the government’s motives behind this change, and many were distracted, you know, from the real truth. But we are hoping now, with the march and with all the publicity that’s going on, that the deputies will get a clearer look and understanding of the real motive behind our march, which is to call for the cancellation of one of two articles that gives leniency to criminals in Jordan for crimes of honor and to explain to them that this is discrimination against women, and it violates our Islamic Sharia, which in no way applauds these killings. Islam is very clear, you have to have four adults, four witnesses to a case of an adultery, and even if it’s proven, it’s not the individual who takes the life of a female individual, but rather, a ruler. So, this is what we’re trying to show them.
Also, what irritated the deputies was their belief that this move is coming from the West and that it’s a Western plot aimed at destroying our Jordanian morals and women and society. So now we are trying to lobby to inform them and to explain to them our point of view, and we hope that in the next joint session, which is going to be in May, that things will turn around.
I think it’s interesting, a connection to the United States, one of the cases that became known here was a young Jordanian woman who fell in love with a Palestinian engineer. The young man proposed to her but the woman’s father forbade the marriage, because the man was Palestinian and didn’t make enough money. The father then gathered fourteen members of the family and said that they were going to have her killed. They came — she tried to apply for asylum in the United States, but ultimately the United Stated denied that asylum.
Yeah, I heard the story.
Well, I want to ask our guest, Fareeha Zafar, if in Pakistan there is this level of consciousness that there is in Jordan right now, with thousands of people marching.
Well, the level of consciousness is there, because over the last few years there have been a number of cases where women have married of their own choice or left the home simply to be more in control of their own lives, all of which fall within the very broad definition of dishonoring the family. In fact, there has been a concerted movement in Pakistan at different levels against honor killings.
This has been taken up by various human rights organizations. It has been taken up by other women’s organizations, particularly the broad platform of the Women’s Action Forum, which bring all women’s organizations together at the level of activism, in the sense of bringing out demonstrations out on the street. It has also been taken up by the organization that I’m representing here, which is Shirkat Gah, which is looking, in fact, at comparative analysis of the Islamic Sharia and what are the cultural practices in the different parts, and in fact identifying that there is nothing in the Sharia in support of honor killings, and, in fact, whenever we talk to the men and to the patriarchal heads of families and tribes and the feudal elements in society, the whole notion of honor killings is stated to be against our cultural traditions and norms.
So, the attempt in Pakistan is both at the level of research, at the level of creating awareness, as well as activism out on the streets. But a great deal of work is being done in terms of lobbying with the government, with the judiciary, with the legislators, and now, of course, with the military government and their civilian counterparts, because we feel that this needs — a multifaceted approach has to be developed in order for honor killings to be outlawed.
Well, I want to thank you very much, Fareeha Zafar, for joining us from Pakistan, the group Shirkat Gah, and also to our guest on the phone from Amman, Rana Husseini, award-winning journalist from the Jordan Times, leading a crusade against honor crimes. And that movie tonight called Honor Crimes — Crimes of Honor, will be aired on Cinemax, a part of HBO, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about women’s reproductive rights, particularly focusing on Africa, and talk about the role of the media as a powerful force in elevating women around the world. We’ll be joined by a former journalist from Zimbabwe. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we take our break with women drummers.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Our International Women’s Day special, women around the world marching for equality and striking on this day.
This news from Kuwait: Kuwaiti women activists marked International Women’s Day today by filing a court case against the interior minister and parliament speaker, demanding full political rights. For some forty years, Kuwaiti women, seen as the most liberal in the Muslim Gulf Arab region, have campaigned for equal rights with men, allowing them to vote and stand in elections. Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state with an elected parliament, but women, half of all Kuwaitis, are not allowed to take part. Parliament in November narrowly rejected a draft law granting women full political rights.
We’re joined now by Maryse Fontus. She is the Africa staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and she and a group of women from around the world are going to be holding a panel today at the United Nations on the issue of reproductive rights around the world.
Can you tell us what you see are the most critical issues right now that you are working on?
Yes, first of all, let me start by explaining a little bit what are reproductive rights, because it seems to me that there may be a misconception about what exactly “reproductive,” the term, means. Reproductive rights are the rights of people, but more particularly women, because they are the ones who bear children, to decide the number, spacing and timing of their children.
This means what? This means specifically, concretely, access to contraception. It means specifically being able to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. It means also that if the contraception you are using has failed, or if you have been raped, or if you have been a victim of incest, or if you have a specific health condition, that you be able to have access to legal abortions. It also means that you be able to bring children into the world safely, so we’re talking about maternal mortality, safe motherhood.
But it’s broader than that. It really means that in order to be able to make these decisions about how many children to have and when to have children, we also look at the role of women in marriage. We look at the access of women to education, access of women to credit, everything that can empower a woman to make these decisions.
So, talk specifically about what you’ll be raising today, looking at —- well, this is a huge question, because we’re talking about the whole continent of Africa, which is a bit ridiculous, but -—
Well, actually, I focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and I focus on fourteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, seven Francophone countries and seven Anglophone countries. And we have recently published two major reports on the laws and policies. Specifically, we look at — we are an organization, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, dedicated to promoting the reproductive rights of women, but we look specifically at laws and policies that affect the reproductive rights of women. And so, what the panel will be about today, from 1:00 to 3:00 at the UN, is the gains and the losses since Beijing.
Well, talk specifically about some of the countries you’ve been looking at.
Specifically, in the countries that we have looked at with regards to reproductive rights, I must say that it’s — the situation — the trend is fairly positive and very encouraging in the sub-Saharan African countries that we have looked at.
As I said, we looked at fourteen countries —- seven Francophone, seven Anglophone. So we looked at Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, on the Anglophone side; and for the Francophone side, we looked at Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Chad, Cameroon -—
Can you give us an example of —
— and Burkina Faso.
— a particular state, a particular country, and where they have progressed, where you feel the laws are helping women?
Right. Well, we’ve looked at, for example, laws against rape. And in the past few years, the laws against rape in a couple of countries, for example, in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, have — the definition of rape has changed to become more inclusive of acts other than specific sexual penetration of a woman. So, the definition is more gender-neutral and also includes acts other than penetration of a penis into a vagina. So, for example, anal penetration would also be considered as rape.
We’ve also looked at the abortion laws, and the one that stands out is the abortion law in South Africa, which is very liberal and allows abortion for a woman, no questions asked, up to the twelfth week.
There have been also laws that have been adopted in a couple of countries that have to do with domestic violence, South Africa being one of them. Mauritius is another one of them. And we regard that as also a very positive development.
In a couple of countries, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, they have adopted laws also against sexual harassment in the workplace.
And finally, when we look at what we consider harmful traditional practices, one of them being female genital circumcision or female genital mutilation, a number of countries have adopted laws against this practice.
And we’re talking to Maryse Fontus, who is Africa staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.
One of the ways that change happens, especially when you don’t have a lot of women in the parliaments or governments of countries, is through just pressure from the grassroots and also from the media.
We have with us Doreen Mukwena who is National Director of the African Media Women in Zimbabwe.
Doreen, can you talk about the power of the media and what role you see that it plays?
Thank you, Amy. The media is very critical. It’s noticed already in the Beijing Platform of Action that it is one of the factors that hinder women’s advancement, in that the media is strong in putting issues on the agenda. And if women are excluded, if women’s voices, opinions are excluded in the media, it really means that their opinions are also excluded in the national debates or in the global debates that take place in affecting their decisions. Hence, the media is also critical in influencing perspectives and opinions, is a lobbying mechanism with — in the national institutions, with governments, with national associations. So, being critical in that manner, the involvement of women should also be very high within the media.
So, how does the Zimbabwean press respond to your pressure? What exactly do you do?
The focus of our organization is to monitor the portrayal of women in the media and also to seek ways of correcting the portrayal of women in the media. We are also making interventions in projecting women’s voices, creating opportunities, like you have done this morning, creating an opportunity that women’s voices, women’s opinions, be projected in the national media, so that their voices, their opinions are taken into consideration when decisions that affect them are made.
Are there many Zimbabwean women reporters?
Yes, there are many Zimbabwean women reporters both in the electronic and in the print media and who are focusing on women’s issues. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage for women to be looking specifically to women’s issues in seeking gender balance within the media, because it disadvantages them. The media environment has always been a male domain, and it’s structured to look down, is its way, on focusing on women’s issues. So those are some of the contentions that they are meeting.
But all the same, the media in Zimbabwe has kind of been very responsive. Though we are not talking about the media jungle that we have here in the United States of America, but we are talking about, you know, a few media houses that we can specifically target and focus on, countable, like we only have one broadcasting institution in Zimbabwe, which is state-owned, and hence, it’s easy for us to be targeting just one institution and engaging them in dialogue on the specific issues of interest to us.
By the way, UNESCO Director-General Matsuura has called on the world media to ensure that women journalists have editorial control of the news on International Women’s Day, and I hope it extends beyond just International Women’s Day.
And we have this news in an address smuggled out of Burma: to mark International Women’s Day today, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says her countrywomen bear the brunt of economic and political hardship in the military state. Suu Kyi said in a videotaped statement made available to news organizations in Bangkok, Thailand, “Our political problems are such that there are now many political prisoners in Burma. When men are taken prisoners, it is the womenfolk who are left to struggle.” Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful struggle for democracy in Burma, which she still wages.
I think it’s very interesting that in Beijing, that the media was taken on as a major issue and that when the shadow reports are being done, that the media is one of the areas that are looked at, as well. Here, I think, in the United States, the media tries to remove itself and say you have no right to influence us, when, of course, the people who run the media are reflections of society.
I wanted to ask you, June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, who presented the shadow report in the United States — we are used to hearing reports on developing countries around the world, but not about human rights in the United States — what you see the role of the media is here and how women’s groups can use the media in facilitating progress.
I think it’s a very important question here, because the media helps to shape so much public opinion. And while women are better represented in the media today than they were previously, there are still few instances of women being in leadership and decision-making positions. And what’s even more important or equally important is bringing a gender perspective, a different lens, to bring women’s experiences into the newsroom, into broadcasting and into looking at issues.
And I, too, would hope that women would bring this not just on one day, but every day of the year, because women often experience issues, such as poverty or violence, differently than men, and if only men are reporting on it, the public views this through a male lens. And I think particularly when we’re talking about poverty, women do bear the brunt of this, not just in other countries of the world, but in the United States, too, as they struggle to work and provide for their children. And often, when we talk about poverty, it’s, as we say in the law biz, a reasonable man, and I think we have to view it from the lens of women and their families.
You raised yesterday, in a presentation at the United Nations, the issue of the US not being signatories to some of the key treaties internationally. I don’t think the US government likes to be put into an international context or held accountable.
Yeah, this is a really key demand of women in the United States. We view the United Nations as a very important forum for advancing women’s equality all over the world, and the US has been shameful in its failure to pay its dues, and even when a compromise was reached to finally pay their dues, it was a compromise reached on the backs of women and in hindering the exercise of reproductive rights and reproductive health worldwide.
In terms of human rights treaties, again, the US is out of step with the rest of the world, despite our claim to leadership in this arena. The US is one of two countries in the world — Somalia being the other — that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and one of only a handful of nations that has not ratified the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. And I think there is no greater act that the US government could take in respect and honoring women on International Women’s Day than for the Senate to ratify this convention. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s likely to happen.
We’re talking on this International Women’s Day with women from around the globe about the critical issues that women face today. We were speaking with a representative who’s at the United Nations right now in this PrepCom that is taking place for — on women’s issues, looking at Beijing Plus One — Plus Five, Fareeha Zafar, about the issue of globalization. And I was wondering, in Pakistan, how people perceived the Battle in Seattle, and if they saw that as a battle against globalization that served people in Pakistan.
Well, I think there were mixed feelings regarding it. Initially, I think there was a lot of excitement that finally, you know, the women — the people have come out in Seattle, but then I think some of the issues that were being addressed were perhaps those which were not that relevant for our part of the world.
And I think the other thing that I would like to say is, regarding globalization, that if the gap — the income gaps are growing both in the United States, in the developed countries, as well as in the developing countries, and without some kind of reduction in the income gaps, in the poverty levels, women’s equality or gender equality, which we are all looking, for is not going to be easy to attain. So we have to look at the whole notion of gender equality in an unequal world and move for greater equality at all levels: economic, political, as well as gender equality.
If people in the United States want to get involved in the assessment of the state of this country when it comes to women, how — where can the get information? I was going to recommend one place just on the web, going to the PeaceNet’s homepage, www.igc.org. One of the things they’re doing today is showing you the protests, global protests, the women’s strike, the global women’s strike all over the world, and what’s taking place. Where would each of you recommend?
Well, I would certainly encourage you to contact WEDO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. You can reach us by phone at (212) 973-0325, or on email, it’s wedo(at)igc.org, and our website is www.wedo.org.
And Maryse Fontus of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy?
Well, you can contact the center’s website. The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy has a website, which gives information about laws and policies around the world.
I guess you can just put the name of the organization in, and then you’ll find the website. OK, and does your organization in Pakistan have any kind of website?
I’m afraid I don’t have the website address, but I can give the email contact, which would be for Shirkat Gah, shirkatgah(at)cyber.net.pk.
And we’ll have all of this on our website at pacific.org and democracynow.org. Finally, Doreen Mukwena of Africa Media Women in Zimbabwe?
We do not have a website yet, but our email address is famwz(at)samara.co.zw.
Well, we’ll put that on our website, as well, and I want to thank you all for being with us for the celebration of International Women’s Day, and I also want to thank Women Black Activist and Independent, the women drummers who are in the studio with us, as well as Frieda Werden of WINGS, the Women’s International News Gathering Service.
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