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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law Shelved – Backgrounder

A different approach. Photo: Russel Higgs/flickr

Promising news from Uganda: the parliament has adjourned without debating a controversial bill that would have mandated life prison for homosexual acts and the death penalty for ‘aggravated’ cases. The move to wipe the draft laws from the agenda came amid mounting pressure from governments and citizens around the world. Bills not completed in the old parliament must be resubmitted to be considered. The fight isn’t over yet, but last week’s developments may prove to be a critical milestone for gay rights in Africa.

We have offered regular coverage of this issue:

  • You Can Run – Or You Can Hide recounts the assassination of gay rights campaigner David Kato Kisule and how homophobia in Uganda has grown even stronger in the wake of the murder.
  • Many western media outlets and human rights groups have failed to provide a proper context for understanding this new wave of homophobia. Gay Rights (and Wrongs) in Africa analyzes the complex cultural and political factors that underpin anti-gay fervor. » More

International Women’s Day Centenary, 1911-2011

Only one in a growing number of proud women. photo: DVIDSHUB/flickr

Today, 8 March 2011, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. This year, nearly 1,500 mass rallies, business conferences, government activities, networking events, craft markets, theater performances, fashion parades, parties, and more around the globe will celebrate 100 years of women’s achievements.

In these 100 years, both women and their International Women’s Day (IWD) have come a long way. The IWD was commemorated for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, following its establishment during the Socialist International meeting the prior year. More than one million women and men attended rallies on that first commemoration. In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

Today, the IWD is celebrated as a national holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. In other countries, the IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. In most countries, however, the IWD is simply the day for women to celebrate themselves and their achievements. Today, a global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more.

Most major events taking place at this year’s International Women’s Day Centenary are listed either on the official IWD website, or on the Women for Women International website. These are thus also the best places to find the IWD events taking place closest to where you are. Furthermore, the IWD is commemorated by the United Nations which continues to run themes on political and human rights, and gender equality, to create social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide. Its official theme for today’s International Women’s Day is Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.

From their mouths to God’s ear.

For a wealth of background information and analysis on this issue, see our Digital Library holdings under the keywords “women” and “ women’s rights”.

Sacrificing the Women of Afghanistan

But what about the women of Afghanistan? photo: Marius Arnesen/flickr

“If someone is sentenced to death, they must be killed with a gun, and photographing the execution is forbidden.” So goes one of the directives handed down by Taliban leader Mullah Omar in an effort to avoid images that might cause a rift between the movement and supporters. It was part of a 69-point document, published in May 2009, which formed a new PR strategy designed to recast the insurgency around local liberation rather than violent fundamentalism.

Western moves toward ‘reconciliation’ and withdrawal suggest that the strategy has helped to maintain the narrative of a war that ‘cannot be won’. Much of the recent media focus has been on abuses perpetrated by the coalition and its partners: the Wikileaks revelations, charges against British forces, and unlawful killings by the Pakistani military. These have contributed to the collapse in international public support – with 63 percent and 58 percent of UK and US populations now opposing the war.

Politically, the criteria for withdrawal has been narrowed. British Prime Minister Cameron said that he could “sum it up in two words…national security: clearing al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, damaging them in Pakistan. We don’t have some dreamy ideas about this mission.” President Obama now supports efforts to “open the door to the Taliban” and has backed Afghan President Karzai’s move to form a reconciliation ‘high peace council’ and invite the Taliban into parliament. As one western diplomat explained: “We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made.”

But who, specifically, will be making the sacrifice? Last week, a UAE-owned television station provided an emphatic answer – if indeed it was ever doubted – by smuggling out what is believed to be the first verified recording of the Taliban stoning a woman. The grainy but horrifying images of a hooded victim kneeling before her executioners – after she was accused of “being seen with a man” – are testament to the reality of life for women in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, under an ideological movement that also kills women who go to school, work or participate in the political process (along with the men who support them).

The reality of what is at stake is illustrated in the story of Robina Jalalai, one of Afghanistan’s first two female Olympic athletes, who now trains “in the stadium where the Taliban used to play football with women’s heads.”

» More

Keyword in Focus: Gay Rights

Gay rights are human rights, photo: William Murphy/flickr

In the wake of an Ugandan newspaper publishing the names and pictures of the country’s “top homosexuals” recently (with an appalling banner reading ‘Hang them’ on the cover), gay rights across the world and particularly in Africa have become a topic of discussion once more. As many Ugandan homosexuals said in response to the publishing of what can only be described as a ‘hit list’, the situation had been much calmer and more stable prior to the publishing of this article and in the years before homosexuality had become a religiously and politically charged issue on the continent.

With well-documented involvement from western, especially American evangelical groups in stigmatizing and condemning homosexuality openly and vociferously, the space for maneuver for many African gays has become suffocatingly narrow. They are trapped between traditional norms that do not approve of homosexuality; attitudes that had simply lain dormant or been overlooked until recently, and a religiously conservative movement that has systematically stoked intolerance and hatred against gays.

Will the situation for the LGBT community only get worse or are we witnessing a mix of setbacks and progress worldwide, with true human rights respected in some places, while a wave of intolerance and prejudice hits others?

We hold an excellent set of resources on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in the ISN Digital Library. Feel free to explore and let us know what you found particularly interesting. Here are some highlights:

  • An ETC paper on the LGBT community as an ‘easy target’
  • A News Article on the position of gays and lesbians in the military

Plus a host of excellent Links and Organizations.

Damaging Education

Waiting for a decent education, photo: TheAdvocacyProject/flickr

According to a report by the Kenyan Teachers Service Commission (TSC), up to 12,600 girls were sexually abused by teachers over a five-year period from 2003 to 2007. Most of the victims were aged between 12 and 15; and in some cases, teachers abused as many as 20 girls before they were reported.

As a result, a total of 600 teachers were fired in 2009, and this year so far the number totals 550. In addition, the survey, done jointly with the non-profit Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), found that 633 teachers were charged with sexual abuse in the five years covered by the study. The report went on to state that these numbers probably only represented the tip of the iceberg, as most cases went unreported.

Failure to report cases of sexual abuse to the police or the TSC was often attributed to either the fear of stigmatization, or the collusion between teaching staff and the officials investigating the abuse. In some cases, education officials even collaborated with the offenders. In addition, many parents did not want to involve the notoriously corrupt police out of fear of repercussions. » More

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