Gender equality, rights on agenda on International Women’s Day

Yazidi's women attend a ceremony at Lilash Temple to commemorate the death of women who were killed by Islamic State militants, during the International Women Day, in Shikhan north of Iraq March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) – Campaigners for gender equality marked International Women’s Day on Friday with protests, discussion panels and walkouts as well as celebrations.

In one of the first protests of the day, several hundred women gathered in central Madrid around midnight to bang pots and pans and demand more rights for women in a society they say is still dominated by men.

Gender inequality has become a deeply divisive issue in Spain ahead of its April 28 parliamentary election. A new far-right party, Vox, which opinion polls show winning seats, has called for the scrapping of a landmark law on gender violence.

One of Spain’s largest unions, UGT, said an estimated six million people walked out of their jobs for at least two hours in a strike to demand equal pay and rights for women, which it said mobilized more people than a similar action a year ago.

The government said it would not provide estimates on the rate of participation.

Tens of thousands of women, mostly students, crammed streets and squares in central Madrid, chanting and carrying placards saying: “Liberty, Equality, Friendship” and “The way I dress does not change the respect I deserve!”

“From reactionary forces to certain political speeches, many people are trying to demonize feminism while it has always been a fight for equality,” said Ana Sanz, 36, dressed in a red overcoat and white bonnet similar to the uniforms seen in the dystopian novel and TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Earlier about 200 female cyclists took part in another protest in Madrid against gender violence and patriarchy, many wearing purple – a symbolic color used by women’s rights activists.

Activists attend a rally for gender equality and against violence towards women on the International Women's Day in Kiev, Ukraine March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Activists attend a rally for gender equality and against violence towards women on the International Women’s Day in Kiev, Ukraine March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

“HONK FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!”

Women also took to the streets of Athens, Berlin and Kiev demanding equality and an end to violence against women. In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, hundreds called for the release of Syrian women in jail.

In Paris, demonstrators from Amnesty International gathered outside Saudi Arabia’s embassy to wave placards that read “Honk for women’s rights” and calling for the release of jailed women activists, including those who campaigned for the right to drive in the deeply conservative kingdom.

At a ceremony at the Elysee Palace, President Emmanuel Macron handed the first women’s rights prize dedicated to the late French minister and abortion campaigner Simone Veil to Cameroonian rights activist Aissa Doumara in recognition of her campaign against forced marriages.

In London, Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, joined singer Annie Lennox, model Adwoa Aboah, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and others in a panel discussion about issues affecting women today.

The session, which touched upon gender equality and the obstacles women face, was convened by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, an organization of which Meghan was announced vice-president on Friday.

In Russia, where International Women’s Day has been an important festival since Communist times, flowers and congratulatory messages decorated public spaces across the country.

(Reporting by Sabela Ojea and Raul Cadenas in Madrid, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London, Johnny Cotton in Paris and Reuters Television in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: U.N.

Women wearing traditional clothes walk past North Korean soldiers after an opening ceremony for a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a U.N. human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of independent experts said.

“The main issue is first of all the lack of information. We have no access to a large part of laws, elements and information on national machinery,” Nicole Ameline, panel member, told Reuters. “We have asked a lot of questions.”

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programs were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available for victims, the panel said.

It said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women. North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

“We have called on the government to be very, very attentive to the situation of food and nutrition. Because we consider that it is a basic need and that the government has to invest and to assume its responsibilities in this field,” Ameline said.

“Unfortunately I am not sure that the situation will improve very quickly.”

The report found that penalties for rape in North Korea were not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which also often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

This has led to reducing the punishment for forcing “a woman in a subordinate position” to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years, the report said.

It said women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, are reported to be sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of “illegal border crossing”, and may be exposed to further violations of their rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)

 

Women worldwide rally for equality, and against Trump in U.S.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to supporters during the 'Day Without a Woman' on International Women's Day at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Joseph Ax and Lisa Fernandez

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Women protested around the world on Wednesday for equal rights and in the United States against President Donald Trump, with many Americans skipping work or boycotting stores to demand economic fairness on International Women’s Day.

American women seized upon the momentum of the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, once again denouncing his policies on abortion and healthcare.

Dubbed “A Day Without a Woman” in the United States, the nationwide events were modeled in part after pro-immigrant demonstrations on Feb. 16, the latest in a series of anti-Trump protests since his Nov. 8 election.

By having women, who make up 47 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, flex their economic muscle, organizers hope to call attention to the gender pay gap, access to reproductive health services, and Trump’s actions that have restricted abortion overseas.

Debra Sands, 37, a middle school teacher, joined thousands of women at New York City’s Central Park after her students convinced her to attend.

“This past year’s election made me realize that voting in November isn’t enough,” Sands said.

New York police reported 13 arrests at the protest in midtown Manhattan. Details on the possible charges were not immediately available.

In San Francisco, where about 1,500 people gathered, Christine Bussenius, 37, said she and her female colleagues at Grey Advertising convinced their all-male managers to give them the day off and participate in the rally.

“We were nervous,” she admitted. “But the men stepped up to fill in the void.”

Rallies were held in numerous U.S. cities, including Washington, where demonstrators gathered at the U.S. Labor Department.

Female staffers at Fusion Media Group’s Gizmodo declared they were striking for the day.

At least three U.S. school districts, in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, closed because of staff shortages after teachers requested the day off.

Nearly 1,000 women converged outside Los Angeles City Hall, many of them critical of the Republican-backed healthcare bill that would strip women’s health and abortion provider Planned Parenthood of funding.

“It’s terrifying. It’s anti-woman,” said Kassia Krozsur, 53, a finance professional.

About 200 gathered in Atlanta, where signs read “We are sisters” and “Stop Trump.”

“If we want to change what is going on, we need to turn anger into action. People need to run for local office,” organizer Rebekah Joy said.

An activist attends a demonstration outside the White House as part of "A Day Without a Woman" strike on International Women's Day in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

An activist attends a demonstration outside the White House as part of “A Day Without a Woman” strike on International Women’s Day in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

RALLIES AROUND THE WORLD

Events large and small were held in cities around the world.

Across the Texas border, women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, painted crosses on lamp posts in solemn remembrance of the hundreds of women who have gone missing or were murdered there in recent years.

In Tbilisi, Georgia, women performed “Glass Ceiling,” simulating being trapped by the barely visible barrier that stands between women and workplace equality.

They banged drums in Kiev, Ukraine, and played soccer in Nairobi, Kenya. In Sanaa, capital of war-torn Yemen, women dressed in niqabs, the all-black garments that cover the entire body except for an opening over their eyes, held up a sign reading, “You keep silent while our children die!”

Not all American women, however, were on board with the call for a women’s strike, with some critics citing the vagueness of the movement’s aims and the disruption of work stoppages.

Trump, whose 11-year-old comments about grabbing and kissing women against their will surfaced during the campaign, took to his Twitter account early on Wednesday to cite International Women’s Day and the “critical role” of women around the world.

“I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy,” the Republican president tweeted.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Gina Cherelus in New York, Letitia Stein in St. Petersburg, Florida, Ben Gruber in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Lisa Fernandez in San Francisco; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Diane Craft)

Israel’s women combat soldiers on frontline of battle for equality

A female Israeli soldier from the Haraam artillery battalion takes part in a training session in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defence technique, at a military base in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias

By Yuval Ben-David

ISRAELI MILITARY BASE, Golan Heights(Reuters) – Not far from the Syrian border, two Israeli soldiers – a man and a woman – faced off in a training session of Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique.

“I want you to be aggressive, give him the fight of his life,” physical education officer Lotem Stapleton urged the woman, a soldier in the Haraam artillery battalion, the Israeli military’s longest-running mixed-gender combat battalion.

As the world marks International Women’s Day on Wednesday, whose theme this year focuses on “women in the changing world of work”, the Israeli military says it is ahead of the curve in providing combat roles for female soldiers.

At an army base – which under military censorship rules could not be identified – in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Stapleton shouted encouragement at a pack of 13 soldiers who confronted a stream of “enemy combatants” in a training circuit.

“Today, 85 percent of (combat) positions are open to women. We are also talking about opening more and more positions,” Stapleton said.

The Haraam battalion began accepting women in 2000. Overall, female soldiers now make up 7 percent of the fighting ranks in the Israeli military, where men and women are conscripted at the age of 18.

Men serve for three years and women for two. Israel’s Arab citizens and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community are largely exempted from military service.

“I think that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is very advanced by giving women equal opportunities,” Lieutenant-Colonel Oshrat Bachar, an adviser to the office of the chief of staff on gender issues, told Reuters at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

“I believe that we are much more advanced than other armies in the world because (service) is mandatory and of course because we believe in equal rights,” she said.

Rachel Fenta, a female combatant in the Haraam battalion, said she spent a year sitting at a desk before she became determined to join a fighting unit.

“I wanted to test my limits,” she said.

Matan Paull, a commanding officer in the battalion, said female combatants were generally more creative and mentally flexible than their male counterparts. But he said the women tended to get injured more easily.

Mai Ofir, another female member of the unit, would agree.

“Our bodies aren’t built the same,” she said. “But just as a guy can shoot a rocket, so can a woman.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

President Obama Says Non-Christian President Is OK

President Obama spoke to a group in New Delhi and said that it would be perfectly fine for the United States to not have a Christian President.

“In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. Still, as you may know, my faith has at times been questioned — by people who don’t know me — or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing,” Obama said, according to ABC News.  “Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear.”

The President was speaking to the group about the religious divisions in India that have been causing an increase in violence.  Christians in India have been demanding the government take action against Hindu extremists that torched or vandalized churches and committed personal attacks on Christians.

Obama also addressed the country’s current struggles with gender equality.

“I’m surrounded by smart women,” Obama said. “Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the street, or ride the bus — and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity.”

International persecution watchdog Open Doors ranks India 21st in countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.