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AWID Resource Net Friday File
AWID - http://www.awid.org/
Friday January 5, 2007

How Did Women Fare in 2006?

A Look at Some of the Women's Rghts Developments of 2006.

By Kathambi Kinoti - AWID

Last year saw large and small gains and setbacks for the rights and status
of women all over the world. Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made history
when she became the first woman in Africa to be elected head of state.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who says that she is a technocrat who happens to be a
woman, pays special attention to women, children and societal needs.
According to her, the biggest achievement of her government so far is that
it has put the country's financial house in order.

The socialist democrat Michelle Bachelet also made it a first for Chile
when she was voted in as President of the country. France moved a step
closer to getting a woman leader at the helm when Segolene Royal was
nominated to run for President on her party's ticket.

Several other women became heads of their governments. Jamaica and South
Korea got their first ever female Prime Ministers; Portia Simpson Miller
and Han Myeong Sook respectively.

In Swaziland, whose annual reed dance has otherwise made the country's
culture infamous, Constance Simelane was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, a
post that has previously only been held by men. Swaziland's constitution was
amended last year to guarantee women equal rights. The country's commercial
capital Manzini was the scene of protests against violence directed towards
men by women. Such cases are however rare and social analysts say that
'Swazi men were less concerned by random acts of violence by women against
men than the evolution of women's role in society.

In Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, for the first time women were
allowed to vote and stand for elections. One woman succeeded in securing a
seat in the United Arab Emirates polls. No Kuwaiti woman was elected to
office in the elections that were held in June, but the poll was still
significant for women. Candidates for office whether women or men- had
no choice but to address women's issues in their campaigns. It also served
as a learning experience for the inexperienced women candidates who were
often up against seasoned male political opponents.

There were a number of judicial and legislative developments all over the
world last year. Nepal's Supreme Court ruled against a law that allowed men
to divorce their infertile wives. The same court banned the kamlari system
by which poor parents sell their young daughters as indentured labourers to
other families. India, Georgia and Zimbabwe enacted legislation against
domestic violence. Kenya's Parliament passed a progressive law against
sexual offences while Togo's Parliament enacted a comprehensive law against
sexual harassment. 

Pakistan's Hudood ordinances, which are based on Sharia law came under
scrutiny during 2006. The country has two parallel systems of law, one
based on Sharia and the other on the laws of its former colonial master,
England. President Pervez Musharraf sought to make amendments to the laws
governing rape to remove the influence of Hudood law which among other
things provides that a woman alleging rape should produce four male
witnesses to corroborate her story or risk prosecution for adultery. Under
Pakistan's other system of law, the requirements to prove rape are not as
stringent. Due to the opposing influence of conservative forces, the
proposed reforms did not materialize and rape remains an offence punishable
under Hudood.  However President Musharraf released without bail several
women held in Pakistan's prisons most of whom were facing charges under the
Hudood ordinances.

There were also significant developments in the area of women's sexual and
reproductive rights. Colombia's highest court ruled that abortion be
permissible when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or health, in cases
of rape, and in cases where the foetus has alformations incompatible with
life outside the womb. In contrast, Nicaragua's legislature voted
overwhelmingly to ban all abortions no matter what the circumstances
surrounding conception. In the United States there were legislative attempts to
undermine the landmark decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, which allowed
women the choice to terminate pregnancies. South Dakota's state legislature
voted to ban all abortions, except those performed to save a pregnant
woman's life. However, the state's voters did not agree and voted against a
ban on all abortions.

In the area of women's health, the World Health Organization declared
women's health a priority. African health ministers also pledged to make
women's health a primary concern, although the proof of their intention
will be in the implementation of policies that promote women's health.
After watching a documentary on obstetric fistulae, Senegal's President
Abdoulaye Wade pledged that his government would offer free treatment to
obstetric fistula patients. Female genital mutilation and early childbirth,
facilitated by early marriages are major contributors to obstetric fistulae
in women. President Wade also said that he would engineer a constitutional
ban on forced and early marriages.

Conflict situations around the world exacerbated women's rights violations.
In Iraq, women's rights suffered setbacks. A study showed that women were far
better off during Saddam Hussein's reign than they were under the current regime.
Iraqi women are said to have enjoyed greater rights under Saddam Hussein
than under the current regime.
 
These rights extended to education, labour, marriage and divorce rights. The
 new constitution erodes these rights. [4]In Darfur, there was an escalation of
sexual and other violence against women. The international community
continued to delay getting involved to the extent needed; 2006 saw the
perpetuation and increase of women's rights violations as a result of the
conflict in Darfur.

The UN moved closer to establishing a separate women's agency to deal with
women's rights and gender equality issues. The much respected UN Special
Envoy on HIV/AIDS Stephen Lewis lent his considerable voice to calls for a
separate, adequately resourced and more powerful agency for women to
amalgamate and expand the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW),
the UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the aspects of other UN agencies that
deal with women's rights. Kofi Annan, the immediate former UN Secretary
General declared that it was time a woman took up the mantle of heading the
international body.

Women lost a valued Afghanistani women's rights defender, Safi Amijan who
was assassinated as she left her home for work as her province's women's
department head. It is suggested that she may have been targeted by Taliban
militants due to their opposition to women's
involvement in politics and education.

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