Reduced Inequalities: 160 Babies, Children Rescued in Latest Nigerian ‘Baby Factory’ Raid #sdgs #globalgoals

The victims have all been relocated to government-approved homes.

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More than 160 children were rescued from a Nigerian “baby factory” and two illegal orphanages this week, according to a report by the BBC. It was one of the largest raids in recent history.

“The children and teenagers rescued from the baby factory were placed at Government Approved Homes for Care and Protection,” the Lagos State government said in a statement.

But the war on human trafficking is far from being won.

Baby factories are a recurring problem in Nigeria, where it is not uncommon for unmarried pregnant women to be lured to a location with the promise of healthcare only to be imprisoned and have their baby stolen. In other instances, women are kidnapped, raped, and forced to become pregnant.

The children are then “sold for adoption, used for child labour, trafficked to Europe for prostitution or killed for ritual purposes,” according to the BBC report.

Some of the babies and children rescued had been sexually abused, said Agboola Dabiri, the Commissioner for Youths and Social Development in Lagos State, in a statement.

The Commissioner also noted that of the 163 children rescued in total, 100 were girls and 62 were boys.

More than 4.8 million people worldwide are victims of forced sexual exploitation, or sex trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. It’s also estimated that one in three trafficking victims are children below the age of 18.

Women & Girls: 12 Times Women Nevertheless Persisted in 2017 #globalgoals #sdgs #pressforprogress #timeisnow

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From the Women’s March to national protests, women this year were a force to be reckoned with.

Millions of women around the world set the tone for 2017 when they marched in support of gender equality and women’s rights this January.

And though the Women’s March may have been the first major protest for women’s rights this year, it certainly wasn’t the last. Far from losing steam throughout the year, women worldwide stood up and spoke out for equality.

Here are 12 times that women, nevertheless persisted in 2017.


1/Women’s March

On Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump officially became the 45th President of the United States, millions of women — from Washington, D.C., to London, to Nairobi — took to the streets to protest for gender equality. Women showed up to protest against healthcare policies that restrict women’s access to healthcare, the gender wage gap, and Trump’s controversial campaign statements.


2/Women in India Say #IWillGoOut

Women across India marched on Jan. 21 too, but for a very specific reason.

After multiple women were allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore, India, thousands of women took to the streets to march for their right to feel safe when out in public, CNN reported. The movement also gained traction on social media with the hashtag #IWillGoOut.


3/Sen. Elizabeth Warren Is Silenced on the Senate Floor

In February, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Sen. Mitch McConnell as she attempted to deliver a speech criticizing Jeff Sessions, then the nominee for Attorney General, and to read a letter from Coretta Scott King, civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., the New York Times reported. McConnell cut off Warren’s speech, citing a rarely used rule, according to the Washington Post, later defending his move saying that Warren “had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

His criticism of her became 2017’s battle cry for women around the world fighting for their rights.


4/Women Wear White for Suffrage

Democratic congresswomen wore white as a quiet show of solidarity during President Trump’s address to Congress in February.

“We wear white to unite against any attempts by the Trump administration to roll back the incredible progress women have made in the last century,” Rep. Lois Frankel said.


5/Venezuelan Women March Against Repression

Tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in May. Clad in white in support of President Nicolás Maduro’s opposition, women marched against the government’s repression and what they consider Maduro’s dictatorship.


6/International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a day designated to celebrate women’s achievements, but this March, women around the world decided to go on strike to show the world exactly how important women’s contributions to economics, politics, and society are.

7/Quinceañeras in Texas’s Capital

Fifteen teenage girls in beaded, lace Quinceañera gowns stood on the steps of the capitol building in Austin, Texas.

But the young women weren’t celebrating their Quinceañera, instead they were protesting a Senate Bill that reverses Austin’s status as a sanctuary city and allows law enforcement officers to enter local jails to question immigrants and deport undocumented immigrants.


8/Handmaids at Courthouses

Dozens of women dressed as characters from the Hulu TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale,” inspired by Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same title, stationed themselves at courthouses in Texas, Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., and New York. Throughout May and June, women donned red cloaks to protest bills that restricted women’s access to healthcare and family planning methods like abortion, the New York Times reported.


9/Women Bridge Gaps to March for Peace

In October, thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women dressed in white marched from Israel’s southern Negev region to a “peace tent” by the edge of the Jordan River to “wage peace” instead of war.

“We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we will stop the next war,” Marilyn Smadja, a founder of the movement, said.

10/Dia de los Muertos March Against Femicide

Hundreds of women wore traditional face paint on Dia de los Muertos, but unconventionally carried signs protesting rampant violence against women as they marched through the streets of Mexico’s capital.

More than 2,000 women were victims of femicide in Mexico last year, Reuters reported, killed simply because of their gender.


11/Me Too 

After the New York Times published an investigative report exposing decades of sexual misconduct by film producer Harvey Weinstein, thousands of people marched in Los Angeles, California to support victims of sexual harassment and assault, the Guardian reported.


12/International Day to End Violence Against Women 

In November, thousands of women around the world turned out to recognize the International Day to End Violence Against Women, the Voice of America reported. From Brazil to Turkey, women took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence in all its forms.

Women And Girls: 7 Feminist Laws Iceland Has That the World Needs #feminist #feminism #globalgoals #sdgs

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By a lot of measures, Iceland is the best place to be a woman. Iceland starts gender equality lessons in preschool. The country has not just one, but three, laws protecting women at work. Sick of media, treating women as sex objects? That doesn’t fly in Iceland, where a law bans gender discriminatory advertising. Plus, the country was the first to ban strip clubs for feminist reasons.

Overall, the Nordic country has a near perfect score on the gender-equality scale. For eight years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report ranked Iceland No. 1 on its list of countries actively closing gaps in gender equality. In 2009, Iceland became the first country to completely close the gender gap in education and health. And in 2016, Iceland was 87% of the way to closing the gender gap in all sectors.

 

Clearly, Iceland is leading the way, so what are the policies and standards in place that the rest of the world is looking up to?

Here are seven laws and standard practices that support women’s rights, and penalize gender discrimination.

1. Women’s Equality Is Literally Protected by Law 

The Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men is the reason gender equality is a hallmark of Icelandic culture. The law, established in 2000, was revamped in 2008 with the overarching goal of reaching equal rights through all paradigms of society. This law includes information on gender equality for government and businesses to follow.

Within the law there are nine defined areas of gender discrimination. It identifies differences between indirect and direct gender discrimination, acknowledges gaps in wages, and recognizes that gender-based violence is detrimental to society.

The law draws out a roadmap to achieving gender equality, even including language on changing negative gender stereotypes. Within the law are 35 articles outlining specific policies on everything from outlawing gender discrimination in schoolbooks and the workplace to buying goods and services.

2. ‘Equal Pay For Equal Work’ Is Mandatory, Almost

When Icelanders found out it would be another 122 years before they closed the gender pay gap at the current rate, that was unacceptable. Lawmakers took action, announcing on International Women’s Day that Iceland would require companies to prove they pay employees equal rates for equal work, or pay the fine.

Parliament is expected to pass the bill becoming the first country to make gender wage discrimination illegal. After passing, the government expects the law to roll into effect by 2020 in an effort to close the gender wage gap.

Currently women make between 14-18% less than men. But the country is soon to ending the last bit of gender inequality in the workplace.

“We want to break down the last of the gender barriers in the workplace,” said Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland’s social affairs and equality minister. “History has shown that if you want progress, you need to enforce it.”

3. Companies’ Boards Must Include At Least 40% Women

 

After the shocking corruption and financial collapse in 2009, the government made an effort to include more women in seats of power to reduce corruption. They also prosecuted those responsible for the financial crisis, unlike in the US.

Article 15 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men states that no public company board or government council or committee may have less than 40% gender equality.

The law also states that any company with more than 25 employees must have a gender equality program in place, which will review goals every three years.

 4. Best Parental Leave Policy in the World 

Iceland has the best maternity/paternity policy in the world. The official law, created in 2000, is known as the Icelandic Act on Maternity/Paternity and Parental Leave. The law itself was amended in 2006 increasing parental leave from six to nine months. The government covers parental leave for birth, adoption, and foster care for all employees in Iceland, even those who are self-employed paying 80% of earned salary to new parents. Parents split the time of leave equally to ensure children grow up with equal care from both parents, and workplaces are balanced. The policy is truly the gold standard of parental care.

5. From Preschool to College, Kids Learn Gender Equality Matters  

After kids grow up with equal time from parents, gender equality lessons don’t stop. Article 23 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men mandates that gender equality must be taught in schools throughout all levels of education.

That means from early education through university, which is free, all sports, classes, and forms of schooling must include and practice gender equality. Iceland has no time for sexist books or assignments either.

The law states: “educational materials and textbooks shall be designed in such a way as not to discriminate against either sex.” So you would never see an assignment, like the school in Utah, which forced girls to go on dates with male classmates, telling girls to “keep it to yourself” if they feel fat.

6. Paying For Sex Is Illegal. Stripclubs Are Illegal. Prostitutes Are Victims. 

Paying for sex is illegal in Iceland. It has been for decades. The difference, however, is in 2007 the government amended the law arguing that most people who turn to soliciting sex have no other option or were coerced by others.

So instead of penalizing victims of poor circumstances who are often forced into prostitution, the law places criminalization on those who pay for sex, and third parties involved.

The country also banned stripclubs in 2009 for feminist reasoning. The revised law states no business may profit from nudity of employees. The law passed with full support in parliament.

“It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold,” said Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir who proposed the ban on strip clubs.

This applies to public advertising too. No ad may belittle any gender or go against the country’s fierce mission to achieve gender equality.

7. There Is a Magical ‘Ministry of Gender Equality’ 

Ironically, the caveat to achieving gender equality for Nordic countries is taking it for granted.

“Our biggest challenge is taking equality for granted. We relax too much. We think everything is done for good. This worries me,” said Gro Bruntland, Norway’s first female prime minister.

Fortunately, in Iceland, there’s a ministry to complacency on gender equality.  The ministry of gender equality, as in Harry Potter, is magic. But unlike the fictional novel, this ministry is real.

The country created agency to check and balance progress on advancing equality as part of a revisions to the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men. The agency includes a three part council which includes the Equal Status Council, the Complaints Committee, and a new Centre for Gender Equality.

Together these agencies research, advertise, advocate, and check laws on gender equality. Their goal is to create a legal, cultural, historical, social and psychosocial approach to gender equality.

Women And Girls: Why Women Need Health Funding Now More Than Ever #GlobalGoals #SDGs #2030Now #SheDecides

Every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, her life, and her future. #SheDecides

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Access to affordable, quality healthcare is a fundamental human right. Yet around the world, hundreds of thousands of women and girls die each year from a lack of access to healthcare, particularly a lack of access to reproductive healthcare.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 800 women and girls die every single day of pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. The overwhelming majority of these maternal deaths happen in developing countries, and many are preventable.

When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he reinstated the Mexico City Policy (also known as the “Global Gag Rule”) restricting healthcare funding and making it even harder for women and girls to access adequate reproductive healthcare in developing countries that rely on US foreign aid. In response, the Dutch government launched SheDecides — a global initiative that calls on governments, businesses, and private citizens to step up and fill the funding gap to safeguard women’s health.

What is the Global Gag Rule?

Over the last 34 years, the Global Gag Rule has been alternately suspended by Democratic administrations and reinstated by Republican ones, and millions of people have suffered in the process.

The original policy, established in 1984, prohibits NGOs from receiving US foreign aid funding — from the State Department and the US Administration for International Development (USAID) — if they perform abortions, provide information about abortions, refer patients to other services for abortions, or even advocate for policies that support access to abortion.

This affects medical services offered through clinics run by NGOs, particularly in low-income countries and rural areas where such clinics may be the only form of healthcare available to communities.

How Is Trump’s Global Gag Rule Worse Than Previous Administrations’?

President Trump not only revived the original policy, but expanded its scope.

To be clear, US federal funding generally cannot be used to fund abortion services either within the US or overseas — and this has been the case since the 70s — even when the Global Gag Rule has been suspended.

The Global Gag Rule was last enforced under President George W. Bush’s administration and, as in previous administrations that used the policy, only applied to US family planning funds provided by the State Department and the US Administration for International Development (USAID) — about $575 million. Under the Trump administration, the Global Gag Rule’s restrictions have been extended to all US global health assistance (roughly $8.8 billion), affecting programs that provide HIV/AIDS support, maternal and child healthcare, and prevention and treatment for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

This greatly impacts healthcare providers in countries like Kenya, where NGOs operate 15% of clinics, and Nigeria — where 70% of contraceptives were provided by the UN Population Fund, from which Trump has withdrawn US funding, and 25% were provided by USAID in 2015.

What Is SheDecides?

SheDecides is not about changing or influencing domestic policies, it’s about governments, businesses, and individuals stepping up to support these healthcare programs in developing countries in the sudden, devastating absence of US funding support.

It’s also not about abortion.

Above all, SheDecides is about making sure girls and women around the world have access to vital reproductive and sexual healthcare and that they are treated as people with the power and agency to decide what to do with their own bodies.

And that’s about more than just abortion — it’s about access to contraceptives and testing that help prevent HIV/AIDS, obstetric care that improves maternal and infant survival rates, it’s about keeping girls in school.

“Evidence shows that by blocking funding to the world’s largest NGO providers of modern contraception, unintended pregnancies and abortions go up,” Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice-president of Marie Stopes International, an NGO that provides contraceptives and safe abortions through clinics in 37 countries, said in a statement. “As a result, women and girls are less likely to complete their education, have a career, or pursue their dreams for the future.”

Every girl and every woman has the right to decide if, when, and with whom she wants to have children.

Why Do Women Need Access to Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare?

Hundreds of women die every day from complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth, but access to prenatal and postpartum healthcare can save the lives of both mothers and children.

According to the UN Population Fund, “214 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods.” Many of these women lack access to safe contraceptives — which can help prevent sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS — while others lack the information about such resources.

A lack of information, reinforced by gender discriminatory norms, can strip girls and women over the power they should have over their own bodies, putting them at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, early marriage, and unsafe abortion.

To date, SheDecides has raised around $400 million, contributed by governments — including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Norway, and Sweden — as well as organizations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and individual donors.

The funds are being managed by Rutgers, a Netherlands-based sexual and reproductive health rights NGO, and will be distributed to organizations impacted by the Global Gag Rule so that they can keep their clinics open and provide necessary sexual and reproductive health services without restrictions.

Women And Girls: 12 Badass Women Who Changed the Course of Human History #TimeIsNow #PressForProgress #WomensDay #WomensHistoryMonth

Women’s History Month is almost over, but these women’s legacies live on.

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As the month of March comes to a close, so too does Women’s History Month — an annual celebration of women’s accomplishments and stories. The past month has seen important strides made toward equality for and by women everywhere.

On March 8 — International Women’s Day — more than 5 million people took to the streets of major cities around the world in the largest-ever ‘feminist protest.’ Later, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, one of the worst countries for women in the world, announced that he believed women were “absolutely equal” to men.

Major companies also joined in, with McDonalds flipping their arches from an “M” to a “W” for women and Barbie creating dolls in the image of powerful women from history.

As the month comes to a close, there is still much work to be done — whether that’s electing more women to office, ensuring gender pay parity, or getting rid of laws that discriminate against women around the world.

And we can look to history for inspiration as we continue to wage these battles.

In honour of the end of Women’s History Month, we are  highlighting some of the powerful, inspiring women who changed the world for the better:

1/ Amelia Earhart

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The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart made aviation history — and then disappeared into thin air. While the controversy over where, when, and how Earhart disappeared when she attempted to circumnavigate the globe in 1937 is still a topic of conversation, Earhart’s feats as a pioneer for female pilots should not be forgotten.

In 1932, Earhart completed a 15-hour flight from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Derry, Ireland — becoming just the second-person to complete such a trip, and overcoming “fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling” along the way, according to reports published at the time. Her flight set the stage for other female pilots, including Anny Divya, who recently became the youngest-ever woman to pilot a Boeing 777.

2/ Althea Gibson

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Well before Venus and Serena Williams dominated the courts, there was Althea Neale Gibson. Gibson was the first African American to play tennis at Wimbledon, the world’s oldest tennis tournament, which she did in 1950. She would later go on to become the first black woman to play in the PGA Tour, breaking a second color barrier in professional golf.

On and off the court, the multi-sport athlete never cowed to external pressure, once telling reporters, “I am not afraid of any of these players,” in advance of a major tennis match.

3/ Dolores Huerta

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A living legend, Dolores Huerta has organized for labor rights, especially in Latino communities, since the 1950s, and is famous for coining the phrase, “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) Her labor activism began with farmworkers in Stockton, California, where she led the Agricultural Workers Association before co-founding the National Farmworkers Association, which was renamed United Farm Workers in 1966.

In her years as an activist, Huerta has fought for voting rights, higher wages, and better working conditions for low-income workers. Even in her old age, she’s become a powerful voice for the voiceless as an activist, speaker, and icon.

4/ Valentina Tereshkova

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Most people have probably heard of the first man on the moon: Neil Armstrong. But what about the first woman in space?

That would be Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1963 spent just under three days in space, orbiting earth 48 times. Tereshkova was born to poor, farm-working parents, but would ultimately be honored with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union as well as win a United Nations Gold Medal of Peace, according to Space.com.

5/ Marie Curie

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The first-ever female winner of the Nobel Prize, Marie Curie discovered the elements of polonium and radium, coined the term “radioactivity,” and was the winner of numerous academic and scientific distinctions over the course of her distinguished career.

A noted humanitarian, Curie also used her scientific discoveries to help deliver life-saving electromagnetic radiation techniques to French hospitals during World War I. During that time, she opened a training program at the Radium Institute that helped get other women involved in the response effort during the war, according to IEEE.

6/ Sandra Day O’Connor

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The “notorious RBG” (Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) might not be where she is today were it not for the groundwork laid by Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the US Supreme Court.

O’Connor graduated high school at age 16, and later studied at Stanford University — where she graduated near the top of her class. She was nominated to the US Supreme Court in 1981 by US President Ronald Reagan and served until 2006, a quarter of a century later. In her time on the bench, O’Connor served as the swing vote on major cases, including Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, when she voted that men should be allowed to attend nursing schools.

7/ Margaret Bourke-White

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Known for her deeply moving portraits, Margaret Bourke-White was the first female documentary photographer to be credited for working with the US Army — paving the way for later generations of female war photojournalists that included Vietnam War photographers Dickie Chapelle and Catherine Leroy. Working alongside US military units in World War II for Life Magazine, Bourke-White did not just capture scenes from the war, but also brought to light the atrocities committed by Nazis at concentration camps in Germany. 

8/ Berta Cáceres

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An environmental activist in Honduras, activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her own home in an ongoing battle being waged between environmentalists and land developers in Central America. Cáceres, who was 45 when she was killed, dedicated her life to fighting for the protection of the Gualcarque River, a critical food and water resource for the indigenous Lenca population that was threatened by damming, mining, and logging projects.

Cáceres founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh), which is now led by her daughter Bertha Zuñiga — who has also faced armed threats for her environmental activism. Cáceres was one of more than 120 activists killed in Honduras since a right-wing coup toppled democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

9/ Lilly Ledbetter

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Between 1990 and 2015, the gender wage gap between men and women in the United States decreased by more than 50% — from 36 cents to the dollar to 17 cents to the dollar. And while there is still work to be done to bring that gap all the way down to zero (by some estimates it could take more than 170 years globally to close the gender gap), women today can, at least in part, thank the activism of Lilly Ledbetter for the strides made in the past decades.

Ledbetter is the namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. Her landmark gender discrimination case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., was overturned in 2007 because she had filed it more than 180 days after her initial employment. The Ledbetter Act revised this law, amending the 180-day requirement and making it easier for women to file gender discrimination cases and receive the restitution they deserve.

10/ Madeleine Albright

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One of America’s most revered immigrants, having fled Czechoslovakia after it was occupied by the Nazis, Madeleine Albright was the first-ever female US Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, Albright sought to broker peace in the Middle East, strengthen US relations with China and Vietnam, and also made history by meeting with then-leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.

Her leadership paved the way for not one, but two female secretaries of state in the years since she relinquished the post in 2001 — Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.

11/ Margaret Sanger

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The mother of the modern day movement for birth control, Margaret Sanger’s contributions to reproductive rights are notable for more reasons than one. Sanger’s own mother died during childbirth, after having brought 11 children into the world — a death that, according to American National Biography, Sanger attributed to a combination of multiple child births and poverty.

After leaving the suburbs for New York City in the early 1990s, Sanger went on to write columns for The Woman Rebel and New York Call about female sexuality and rights, and in 1914 was the first to use the term “birth control” in her pamphlet “The Woman Rebel.” Later in life, she founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which provided more than 180 million family planning services around the world in 2016, according to its website.

12/ Jane Addams

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An advocate for the working poor, Jane Addams fought to end pernicious child labor in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming just the second woman and first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. Addams opened Chicago’s Hull-House in 1889 as a haven for thousands of Chicagoans that also offered resources from kindergarten classes to an art gallery to an employment bureau.

Throughout her career, she was also the first woman to earn an honorary degree from Yale, which she was given for her charity work, and waged an ultimately unsuccessful anti-war campaign in the lead-up to World War I.

 

Women And Girls: Indian Brothel Owners Get Life Sentence for Child Sex Trafficking for First Time Ever #GlobalGoals #SDGs #PressForProgress

Fewer than 40% of trafficking cases end in conviction.

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By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, March 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two Indian brothel owners have been jailed for life for the trafficking, rape and sexual abuse of children, an unprecedented sentence in a country where fewer than two in five trafficking cases ends in a conviction.

Prosecutor Sunil Kumar said Pancho Singh and his wife Chhaya Devi, who ran the brothel in Gaya in the eastern state of Bihar, were found guilty on evidence from “brave survivors” and given the maximum punishment under existing anti-trafficking laws.

The court in Gaya heard testimonies from four of nine girls who were rescued from the brothel during a police raid in 2015.

“In most cases, once the girls are rescued, they go home and never come back to testify,” Kumar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“But here, some of the girls came back and described in detail the horrors they had been through. They told the court about forced abortions, the rapes and how some girls had even committed suicide.”

Among them was a teenager from Howrah in West Bengal state who was kidnapped at the age of 11 and forced to have sex with at least 20 men a day for the three years, he said.

The teenager, who won a bravery award in 2017 for spotting one of the two traffickers at a railway station which helped lead to his arrest, was among those who testified in court.

The court awarded compensation of 450,000 Indian rupees ($7,000) to each of the four victims who testified in recognition of their bravery in coming forward and 300,000 rupees ($4,600) to the other survivors.

Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to non-governmental organisations.

According to Indian government data, less than half of the more than 8,000 human trafficking cases reported in 2016 were filed in court by the police and the conviction rate in cases that did go to trial was 28 percent.

The 2017 Trafficking in Persons report by the U.S. State Department stated that victim identification and protection in India is “inadequate and inconsistent”.

Campaigners welcomed Tuesday’s verdict, saying it should encourage other victims to come forward.

“It is heartening to see that more and more survivors of trafficking are coming forward in their fight for justice leading to more convictions,” said Adrian Phillips, legal head of the anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care.

Good Health & Well-Being: Why It’s Critical That Women Lead the Fight Against Neglected Tropical Diseases #GlobalGoals #SDGs #2030Now

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by these potentially devastating diseases.

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There is a group of diseases which affect 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, even though we already know how to treat or prevent them.

They’re collectively known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

These diseases are devastating. They cause disability and death. They also have a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Women catch NTDs more and they suffer the physical effects more — especially during pregnancy and childbirth. And yet women are often less able to access medical help.

One of these NTDs, schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever, or bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms that can infect the urinary tract or the intestines.

For women, urogenital schistosomiasis is a common gynaecological condition in Africa and a consequence of having the schistosomiasis infection. This is significant because it can cause pregnancy complications, and leads to an increased risk of HIV transmission. It costs less than 25p to treat a girl for schistosomiasis and prevent this condition.

Women in the affected communities are the ones who have to clean and cook, working with contaminated water. They are often taken out of education to care for sick family members, younger children, and to look after the household. All of these factors result in women and girls being disempowered, stuck in a cycle of poverty and disease with no voice, exposing them further to NTDs and their consequences.

Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases  is a dedicated coalition of partners who are committed to ending these diseases of poverty, and are working to ensure that no one, including women and girls, is left behind.

As well as experiencing the burden of NTDs, women are also playing an increasingly crucial role in the ongoing fight against them.

Zanzibar is already showing the invaluable role that women can play in communities to combat NTDs.

Dr. Fatma M. Kabole, Zanzibar’s minister of health, shared how women are increasingly playing the vital role of community drug distributors.

“We give them the capacity to do their work,” Kabole said. “So just by doing the mass drug administration [providing the community with medicines] which happens here twice a year, it gives them that confidence.” 

Kabole said the aim is to provide the communities with awareness, and they have very good success stories in the communities with people now understanding that the tablets do help them.

“Women feel left out sometimes,” she continued. “So when you train them and say we are helping our own communities, they love the work that they are doing. And if you see the way they mingle with the children, and with the community, that keeps me going really.” 

One of the women working as a community drug distributor in the country is Tamasha, who was chosen by her community’s leader for the role and has been a part of the project in her community right from the start.

“The people cooperate very well, they’re very happy to be with me,” she said. “They know that I’m a good person. I know I’m helping my community. People are getting well, so I’m happy doing this.” 

And, as well as empowering women in the community, the drug distribution programmes are helping women suffering from the diseases.

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Mtumwa Juma is one of these. Juma has lymphatic filariasis (LF), otherwise known as elephantiasis. It’s a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes. It targets the body’s lymphatic system, and can cause severe disfigurement, pain, and disability.

People who suffer from LF often lose their livelihoods because they are unable to work, and they can also experience knock-on psychological effects such as depression and anxiety.

“After getting the medicines from the government my life is good, I’m not worried anymore,” said Juma. 

Thanks to the treatment, Juma is healthy enough to cook chapati, to sell them, and raise money to support her children.

“I’m just a normal person, like any other people so that makes me happy,” she added. 

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in April last year, in areas where community directed distribution (CDD) was introduced, “an increasing number of women attended meetings, spoke out, and were then selected as community implementers.”

“Over time, women also became more outspoken, participated more actively, and demanded to be assigned responsibilities,” it added. 

As well as reaching women, these programmes are also creating the opportunity to educate children, to help them change their behaviour to reduce the risk of contracting NTDs.

According to Faiza, one of the community workers who helps educate children, they “become very good ambassadors.”

“They take the message to the parent, and the parent at least learns something from the children,” she explained.

For Kabole, and for Zanzibar, the work has been invaluable.

“I understand that my people are living in a very, very difficult situation,” she said. “But now the diseases have been reduced a lot. At least these people can enjoy life like any other people in the world.”

Last year, the UK made a commitment to protect 200 million people from NTDs, leading the way in putting an end to these devastating diseases.

In the run-up to the Commonwealth Summit, to be held in London in April, we’re asking the UK government whether they’re still on track for this commitment, and whether they will recommit to transforming the lives of these 200 million people at the summit.

 

Women And Girls: Child Marriage Remains Rampant in Nigeria – But Some Girls Are Taking Action #TimeIsNow #PressForProgress #SDGs #GlobalGoals

Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa.

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By Chika Oduah

KADUNA, NIGERIA — In a village in northern Nigeria, teen wives gather on mats spread out in the dirt just outside the chief imam’s home. They talk about their initial reactions to getting married.

“I had no interest in it at the time. I was just doing my own thing. Marriage was not on my mind until when God wished it was time,” says 16-year-old Fadilah Bello. She’s the boldest of them, talking freely and coaxing on the others.

“Well, of course you would be nervous or scared. You cry on your way to your new home because you are leaving your parents and you don’t know where you will be taken to,” said Sahura Misbahu. She got married three years ago. She thinks she’s 15; she doesn’t know her husband’s age.

“Had it been I had a choice, they should have given me a year to graduate from school but since this was what the parents wanted, I had no other choice,” says the 15-year-old chief imam’s daughter, Aisha Ahmed.

Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund. The practice is most prevalent in the predominantly Muslim north where conservative Islamic groups staunchly resist efforts to criminalize child marriage. Most girls accept whether they want to or not, but times are changing.

“We are seeing more and more girls running away from child marriages,” says Hajia Rabi Salisu, the founder of Arrida Relief Foundation and owner of a children’s home in Kaduna.

She and other activists want states in the north to criminalize marriage before the age of 18. A prominent activist, Salisu says her advocacy has put her at loggerheads with Muslim groups and she regularly receives death threats.

“I sleep in a different home almost every night because my life is at stake simply for trying to protect the lives of children,” she told VOA.

FELLOW RUNAWAYS

Rahmatu Ibrahim and Naja’atu Abdullahi, both 14, didn’t know each other few months ago. But their similar circumstances brought them to Salisu’s children’s home.

“I was being forced into an arranged marriage,” said Rahmatu. “That was why I ran away. I don’t love him and I don’t know him. I had never seen him before. A date was set and a day [before] the wedding, I ran away.”

Naja’atu, whose parents watched her leave, wants to focus on her education.

VOA met Sumayya Musa in another village in Kaduna State. A sprightly 18-year-old student, she has defied the expectations placed on her by the community.

“My father wanted me to get married when I was 13, but my mother said no, because she was in support of my decision to further my education,” she says. “People here in this village laugh at me because I am not yet married. They gossip and sometimes I used to cry. But the moment I remember the advantage of my studies, I stop crying.”

Nigerian lawmakers have been debating marriage customs for decades. The federal 2003 Child Rights Act mandates that both parties be at least 18 to marry, but it’s left for states to ratify the act and most of the states in northern Nigeria have not.

Muslim rights groups have been meeting with northern state lawmakers to express their concerns. Some activists propose a minimum age requirement of 15, but the idea offends Awwal Tesleem Shittu, a member of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria.

He says that according to Islam, a girl’s readiness for marriage cannot be determined by her age.

“A girl of 13 years old, if she is not physically okay, maybe she doesn’t have a sound mind, she could not comprehend, she could not differentiate between right and wrong, she is not fit for marriage. She is not ripe for marriage,” he says. “A girl of nine years, if she is sound, she is physically okay, she can go in, because in Islam there is no barrier to that.”

The Quran specifies that girls can marry once they reach maturity, which some conservative scholars define as puberty, while other Muslim communities and scholars accept 18 as the age of maturity.

SENATOR’S BRIDE TRIGGERED MOVEMENT

The #ChildNotBride hashtag began trending in Nigeria in 2013 after a senator and former governor, Ahmad Sani Yerima, was accused of marrying a 13-year-old. Yerima denied the accusation but declined to reveal the age of the girl in question. Yerima also supported a legal amendment to consider any married girl, regardless of age, an adult before the law.

The 2014 case of a 14-year-old girl in Kano who admitted to killing her 35-year-old husband with rat poison again brought child marriage under scrutiny. Police said the girl’s father forced her to wed. The murder charges were eventually dropped.

Rights activists say it is poverty, not religion, that drives parents to marry off their young daughters.

“They just want to take these girls off their hands as fast as possible,” said activist Mustapha Wakil, who notes that economically disadvantaged parents have been accepting unusually low dowries – as little as 3,000 naira, the equivalent of $8. Parents used to demand at least 40,000 naira, or $112.

Wakil is campaigning for his state of Yobe in northern Nigeria to pass the federal Child Rights Act because he says the current state statutes on marriage are confusing, in particular clauses differentiating betrothal and consummation.

In a village outside the Kaduna state capital, 14-year-old Basira Bello, is preparing for her wedding. She’s a shy one, but she managed to say that she’s excited because all of her friends are already married.

Soon, she’ll marry Salihu Amiru, about 20 years her senior.

“I do not want men to be looking at her and if I allow her to continue with school, men will be looking at her as she walks to school or even the men in the class. I can’t allow that,” he said.

He wants to have children as quickly as possible; he’s hoping to have many daughters.

As for the runaways, Rahmatu and Naja’atu, they just want to hold on to their childhoods a little while longer. They are attending school and hope their families will one day forgive them for running away.

Women And Girls: In Uganda, Unmarried Women Are Fighting to Keep Their Homes #TimeIsNow #PressForProgress #SDGs #WomensHistoryMonth

Women’s rights to land are often undermined by patriarchal customs.

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By Amy Fallon

Kampala, UGANDA – After almost two decades living with a man nearly twice her age, who first got her pregnant when she was 15, Jane Zamukunda finally had one small comfort: a nice home that she felt was hers.

Her partner and father of her three children had bought a piece of land in the Nansana suburb of Kampala, where they built a house together. It was comfortable by most standards, with furniture and a TV. But most important to Zamukunda, now 28, was the fact that she had a key to the house: unusual in a country where it’s rare for a woman to own property.

“That was what I aspired to, to have a house for my children,” said Zamukunda, who works as a tailor.

Then one day in 2015, Zamukunda returned from work to find her home completely empty.

“[My partner] basically cleaned out the whole house,” she said.

Different variations of this scene play out every day across Uganda, where both official legislation and cultural laws deny women their full rights to own, inherit and control the use of land and property. Women make up more than 70 percent of the country’s agricultural workforce, but less than 20 percent of women own land in their own right.

The equal property rights afforded to women by law are often overruled by traditional customs. In a 2016 survey, respondents who were asked about 14 “serious” justice problems affecting Ugandans put land as the No. 1 issue.

A month after Zamukunda’s husband disappeared, during which time she and her children slept on the floor of their empty home, a group of men carrying padlocks confronted her and told her the house had been sold to them.

“They threatened to cut me up if I even went back to the house, so I had to run,” Zamukunda said. She took refuge in her brother’s one-bedroom house, about 10km (6.2 miles) away in Kawempe slum.

When Zamukunda went to local leaders for help, they told her, “Your man was right to sell, after all, you’re not even married.” She then went to the police who told her they would search for and arrest her partner. She has heard nothing from them – or him – since.

‘CULTURAL LAWS ARE INGRAINED SO DEEP’

Desperate to keep the home she had spent 10 years sharing with her partner, Zamukunda sought help from Barefoot Law, a Ugandan nonprofit social enterprise offering free legal guidance. Zamukunda said she feels she knows more about the law than many women, but Maureen Nuwamanya, a legal officer at Barefoot Law, said that even if Ugandan women are aware of their rights, that doesn’t guarantee those rights will be recognized.

“Cultural laws are ingrained so deep” that land disputes affect Ugandan women “regardless of the fact that you know your rights,” Nuwamanya said. “It’s a patriarchal society.”

Barefoot Law advised Zamukunda that, among other things, the men who evicted her had taken advantage of the fact that cohabitation isn’t recognized by law.

If a couple lives and buys property or land together without getting married and then separates, the woman usually has no claim to that property or land.

But even if women are married to their partners, their rights to land ownership and inheritance are often undermined by customary laws built on “dominant patriarchal mindsets [and] practices,” said Isaac Ssemakadde, CEO of human rights group Legal Brains Trust.

Most land tribunals consist entirely of men, who often discriminate against women when it comes to cases of property ownership. And women are also often disadvantaged by illiteracy, making it hard for them to fight for their rights, said Regina Bafaki, executive director of NGO Action for Development.

Bafaki receives daily queries from women over land conflicts and said her organization is one of several that offers property rights training for women. But home duties mean women often don’t have time to attend.

“I also think the other challenge is more or less lack of political will to support women in acquiring land,” Bafaki said.

A government spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

LONG-RUNNING LAND BATTLES

In Uganda, where women have protested over land rights in long-running disputes, there has been recent criticism from human rights groups, the church and the public over government plans to amend the constitution to allow it to take private land for projects.

Winfred Ngabiirwe, the executive director of NGO Global Rights Alert, said the amendment, if passed, would result in “legalized land grabbing,” adding that women would be most affected. “Land is for feeding, it’s employment, [children] go to school because mothers sell crops,” she said.

With help from Barefoot Legal, Zamukunda has won the battle for her property, at least for now. The organization referred her to the office of the district commissioner, who halted the eviction. Representatives from Barefoot Legal also accompanied her to meet with her neighbors and local leaders to explain that she would be moving back in and any issues should be directed to her lawyers. Zamukunda and her children were finally able to return to their home. She cut the padlocks off the door herself.

Zamukunda said she has not seen or heard from her former partner or the strangers who tried to evict her since the dispute began. She knows there is a chance they could reappear, but said if they do, “I have help.”

But more importantly, Zamukunda wants all women in Uganda to know their property rights and get help to fight for them.

“I saw a case on the news that is exactly like mine, so I’m not the only one affected,” she said. “I want other women to be empowered.”

Now she wants the government to make sure what happened to her won’t happen to other women. She wants the government to look at recognizing property rights between cohabiting couples.

Good Health/Well-Being: South Africa Pushes to Combat HIV Among Women With Sugar Daddies #TimeIsNow #PressForProgress #SDGs

More than 10% of young women in South Africa are HIV positive.

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By Amy Fallon

JOHANNESBURG, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Before 20-year-old Lebogang Motsumi even had sex with her first “blesser” – or sugar daddy – a successful, married, company boss more than twice her age, he handed her a wad of cash.

He was soon making regular deposits into her bank account, paying her rent and taking her out in exchange for sex, which the young single mother readily accepted as she had a three-month-old baby to feed.

“It’s a confidence boost at the time but when you’re alone and you’re thinking about this, you feel very disgusted. This man is old enough to be your dad,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I would bathe and I would really scrub myself because I just wanted whatever smell to get out of my body.”

Experts are grappling for ways to reduce relationships like these, which are fuelling new HIV infections in South Africa, home to 7 million HIV positive people – the highest number in the world, according to the U.N. agency for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

But “blessing” – where wealthy, older men spend lavishly on younger women – has become a symbol of prestige for teenage girls trapped in a toxic cycle of poverty and ignorance, amid record unemployment and stark inequalities in South Africa.

The term emerged when girls and women started tagging #blessed on Instagram and Facebook posts showing their expensive clothes and shoes, paid for by men dubbed blessers.

“There is actually a group of women who are happy to be called ‘blessees’, who own it, who are at the mercy of this person that can provide them with money for as long as they’re willing to comply,” said Karabo Sitto, a Johannesburg academic.

More than 10 percent of young women in South Africa are HIV positive, compared to 4 percent of young men, UNAIDS says.

“Women often do not have the power to negotiate safe sex in these relationships, especially as some men offer more money for sex without a condom,” said Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, head of Embrace Dignity, a charity that supports women who sell sex.

HONEST

Although new HIV infections have fallen, almost 40 percent of the 270,000 people infected in 2016 were young women aged between 15 and 24, South Africa said last year, amid a push to roll out pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to at risk adolescents.

As the daily medication almost eradicates the risk of infection, South Africa is one of several countries on the continent conducting trials to assess how it could help protect people who have difficulty negotiating condom use.

About a third of teenage girls in South Africa have had a partner at least five years older than them, a 2012 government survey found.

“Reducing age-disparate sex is key to slowing HIV rates in young women,” said Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, a partnership between five research institutions.

But South Africa’s youth population is booming, along with poverty and unemployment rates, increasing the vulnerability of adolescent girls, who are already disadvantaged by high levels of violence, rape and harmful traditions like child marriage.

“Money is always a factor in relationships,” said a Facebook page for blessing. “This is just an upfront and honest way of dating for our modern times.”

South Africa launched the She Conquers campaign in 2016 to decrease new HIV infections, pregnancies and violence towards young women and girls and help them stay in school.

“Government can promote programmes that relate to gender equity and to empower women,” said Foster Mohale, a health ministry spokesman.

“But ultimately, society needs to respond to social and moral issues.”

CHANGE

Some are calling for greater efforts to reach out to blessers, often married men with multiple sexual partners.

“These men are driving HIV transmission, and compounding an already massive public healthcare problem,” Hermina Manjekana Dyeshana, a health expert with Right to Care, a local HIV charity, said in a statement.

“Very few know their HIV status and many opt not to be tested at all. Those who are recently infected with HIV have extremely high viral loads. Tragically, they are not entering the health system to get support or treatment.”

In Motsumi’s case, it was a blesser who persuaded her to stop having transactional sex. After he gave her a lecture over breakfast, she deleted all her sugar daddies’ numbers, changed hers, and gave away everything they had bought her.

“He just started telling me how smart I am and how I could go far in life and how he would never marry someone like me because of my values and morals,” she said.

“He gave me a lot of money and he was like, ‘this is the last time I’m seeing you. Go do something useful’.”

Today Motsumi, who is HIV positive, gives talks to other young people about the disease.

“It was difficult because I was used to always being able to call someone and I’ve got money. But I was determined to be the change that I want to see,” she said.