Why India’s acclaim for protecting reproductive rights rings hollow #Vaw #Womenrights


STEPHANIE NOLEN

KAMRORA, INDIA — The Globe and Mail

Noni Raja was married in 2004 at the age of 20, then gave birth to a son a year later. After having two more children – a girl and a boy – Ms. Raja did something unexpected. She caught a bus into Mahoba, the nearest town, and presented herself at the hospital for a tubal ligation. She spent a couple of hours recovering, took the bus home and informed her startled in-laws that she had had “the operation.” (Simon de Trey-White For The Globe and Mail)

Noni Raja did just what she was supposed to do. She married when she was 20, in 2004, and gave birth to a son a year later. In 2006, she had a daughter. And a year after that brought the second son she needed to fulfill her obligations in the eyes of her in-laws, farmers with a tiny plot in this hardscrabble hamlet in the Indian heartland.

Then Noni Raja did something rather less expected. She got up one day, caught a bus into Mahoba, the nearest town, and presented herself at the hospital for a tubal ligation.

She spent a couple of hours recovering, took the bus home and informed her startled in-laws that she had had “the operation.”

Years later, her mother-in-law is still affronted. “I didn’t like it,” Kiran Devi says as the two women sit in the spring sun on their front stoop. “She went against our wishes.”

At the time, Ms. Raja wanted the best for the children she already had, which meant ensuring there would be no more.

Being surgically sterilized seems an extreme form of contraception for such a young woman, but India’s approach to family planning left her with no other choice.

Even worse, her defiance would come back to haunt her.

India began grappling with the magnitude of its population even before it became independent in 1947; it was labelled a crisis in the 1970s when the government of Indira Gandhi carried out mandatory sterilizations, en masse.

But since those dark days, the country has emerged as a leader in the field, adopting the language of “reproductive health and rights.”

That means, in the words of the World Health Organization, that India is committed to ensuring its people have “the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so” – and that their decision be “free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

This official position – which contrasts starkly with China’s strict one-child policy – has won India international plaudits; last year, it was invited to co-chair a prestigious international summit on family planning held in London, and feted for its progressive approach.

Yet spend some time talking to women in Kamrora – and dozens of villages like it in the “Hindi belt,” the poor states that span India’s middle bulge and are home to about 450 million people – and you learn something that never came up at the meeting in Britain: The policy this country has on paper is markedly different than what happens in real life.

The reality is harsh and repressive and targets the most marginalized, often the lowest-caste, women. It is also far from effective in areas with the highest birth rates, paradoxically driving the rate up and making poverty worse in the process.

Beijing has been widely criticized for limiting families to only one child, but India has adopted many aspects of its policy. With 1.2 billion people and on course to overtake China as the planet’s most populous country in about a decade, India is taking steps many consider nearly as harsh – but cloaking them in the far more benign-sounding “two-child norm.”

And despite all the government rhetoric about how its citizens have choices and condoms are brought right to village doorsteps, the truth is that, in the northern half of the country, the Indian health service consistently delivers only one form of contraception in the rural areas, where 70 per cent of the population lives.

That is tubal ligation, often performed at “camps,” where dozens of women are sterilized in a day; more than half of them are 25 or younger, and they are often illiterate and unclear about what the surgery means.

Unlike many women, Noni Raja knew exactly what she was doing when she got on the bus to the city: She has been trained in family planning, which she is charge of delivering in Kamrora, and is responsible for distributing a government-funded supply of condoms and oral contraceptives. It is the only access to birth control people here have, as most cannot afford a trip to the city. Yet, in a situation typical of India’s badly managed social schemes, it has been two years since Ms. Raja last received anything to dole out. Today, her kit contains one desiccated packet of prophylactics and an expired pregnancy test.

So, when a village woman confides that her in-laws have given her permission to stop having babies, Ms. Raja knows that the only option is sterilization. To make sure that she promotes it, the government pays her $3 for each woman she brings in – and, if she does not deliver as many as the government expects, she stands to lose the only wage-paying job in Kamrora, other than breaking stones in the quarry.

Ms. Raja is the best-educated woman in the village – she finished 10th grade before her health-worker training – but she says with a sigh that it’s sometimes hard to explain the surgery to her neighbours. Research from the Centre for Health and Social Justice in Delhi shows that state governments aggressively target women from the poorest aboriginal and Dalit (once known as “untouchable”) communities.

Those who undergo the operation may not understand what is being done, but they know that there can be severe consequences if they do not comply with the two-child norm.

“We’re on the track to be just like China,” says Leena Uppal, an earnest activist who co-ordinates the National Coalition Against Two-Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies. “It’s entirely coercive – for the women, for the health worker, who will lose her job if she doesn’t bring in enough people. The whole focus is on closing off wombs, of making sure these women don’t have any more babies.”

China’s one-child campaign, adopted in 1979, forced women to have abortions if they conceived again without state approval, or fined couples heavily, especially in urban areas. India’s policy involves no such direct punishments, but its impact can be harsh in a place such as Kamrora.

Parents with more than two children are denied access to everything from a subsidy for babies delivered in hospital and school bursaries to the right to run for political office. A law now being considered would deny them access to subsidized food – a tactic The Times of India, the country’s largest newspaper, recently reported, favourably, on its front page.

The problem, says Abhijit Das, an obstetrician who runs the Centre for Health and Social Justice, is that, while the government’s policy has changed since Mrs. Gandhi’s era, when the rural poor were seen as strangling the country’s chances of progress, its mindset has not. There is a genuine commitment to ending poverty and a sincere desire to see families better able to care for their children. Yet officials based in air-conditioned offices in the capital still believe that ignorant rural poor people are dragging the country down by mindlessly having babies, and simply do not know what is best.

“The construction of the population problem is a middle-class creation,” Dr. Das says, “and it has caste and class distinctions: The ‘wrong’ people are the ones who have eight kids.”

In this, India is not unlike the West, where there is public debate about the higher birth rate of “welfare moms,” aboriginal people and immigrants. The idea is entrenched, and it results in policy entirely disconnected from the reality of life in a place such as Kamrora, where families have many good reasons for having more than two children.

First, mortality rates remain high – children, as Ms. Raja will tell you starkly, die here. Almost one in 10 do not live to see their fifth birthday. Subsistence agriculture remains the only employment option, so the young are needed to work in the fields and later, in the absence of any real social-welfare net, to care for their parents in old age.

And couples have children because there is no way not to have them: Those unwilling to undergo sterilization – newlyweds, for example – have access to no other form of birth control.

The two-child norm flies in the face of the idea of “reproductive rights,” Ms. Uppal notes. “What is a more basic right than deciding how many children to have – and when to have them?”

It also punishes women when the decision is not really theirs to make. Ms. Raja’s family expected her to have a third child, but when she did, she became ineligible for a central government allowance to provide extra food while pregnant and breastfeeding (a policy supposedly aimed at poor, Dalit women like her). As well, she lost the right to run for the local council, and her daughter was disqualified from a bursary program designed to boost girls’ education.

The policy is enforced by local-level officials, often haphazardly. As part of her health-worker job, Ms. Raja has succeeded in obtaining the bursary for having a baby in a maternity centre for a number of women with more than two children, even though it is theoretically denied. At the same time, she says, other women in Kamrora have been denied a state bonus for mothers who have daughters – a measure designed to discourage sex-selective abortion, an especially grim side effect of the two-child policy. The desire for sons, to carry on a family name and inherit land and assets, is so strong that families may abort girls to get the two boys they want and stay within the limit.

India already has one of the world’s more sharply skewed sex ratios. As in China, millions of women are “missing” from the normal population balance. And yet the mandarins in charge of its population policy reject any comparison with China.

“There is no grounds to call [Indian policy] repressive,” says S.K. Sikdar, who heads the family-planning division at the national Ministry of Health in Delhi. “We learned our lesson [in the 1970s]. … This isn’t a population issue any more; it’s a mother-and-child health intervention.”

Energetic and driven, Dr. Sikdar insists that “we don’t have a two-child norm.” He says that the only message to women from government is about the benefit of having children later and at least two years apart.

“Our only intervention is to give people free access to [child] spacing. … I know our women are quite happy with what they have,” he says, adding that the government has had great success in delivering condoms and oral contraceptives directly to rural doorsteps – that kit of Ms. Raja should be replenished every month.

Many of the more punitive policies in place today have been set by state governments, but the two-child norm also applies to a number of benefits, such as nutritional support for pregnant women, that come from the national government. Dr. Sikdar acknowledges this, but he says that “low-performing states” (the poorest ones with highest fertility) are exempt.

That news has not reached Kamrora – or dozens of other areas where poor women, often Dalit, are denied access to school meals, clean-water schemes, the female-child bonus and the maternity-home payment because they have more than two children. All state family-planning programs are run on money from the central government.

A.R. Nanda, who was once in charge of population policy for India and established its family planning department, says that not only is there a two-child policy, it was explicitly borrowed from China: “The idea of withholding benefits comes from

China … ‘If China can do it.’”

After taking its hard line in 1979, China saw its population growth fall sharply, and many in the Indian government were impressed. But they failed to grasp the basics of population science, Mr. Nanda says: “The highest drop in Chinese population came before the one-child policy; it came from equitable access to education, health care, including family planning, and a rise in income” following the communist revolution. From 1952 to 1979, China’s fertility rate was more than cut in half, falling to 2.75 children per woman from 6.5.

“If you want to emulate, emulate the positive,” Mr. Nanda says. “We ought to focus on equity.”

In the 1990s, he oversaw the adoption of a rights-based approach – only to see it quickly and quietly usurped by politicians who still believed that the key was to move fast and stop the “backward classes” from breeding.

India’s population is rising, but because of what demographers call “momentum growth.” Sixty per cent of Indians are of reproducing age. Even if tomorrow India attained “replacement level” fertility – if people had only enough children to replace themselves when they died – the country’s overall population would keep growing because the number of people being born will exceed those dying for several decades.

Despite alarms raised regularly in the media, fertility rates are, in fact, falling, and have been for two decades. In 21 Indian states and territories – including all of the more prosperous south – average fertility is at or below replacement level of 2.1 children per couple. The problem would take care of itself, says Dr. Das of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, if people in the high-fertility areas had access to jobs, education and, in the short term, condoms, birth-control pills and intrauterine devices.

Sterilization actually pushes population growth, he notes. “The largest amount of reproduction now is young women having their first and second children; sterilization does nothing to change this.

“The message [from government] is, ‘Have your children quickly and terminate your reproduction.’ When you give that message, you speed up the rate of delivery and you speed up momentum.” You wind up with even more reproducing adults.

When India’s policy was overhauled after Mrs. Gandhi, eliminating government-set targets for contraception and sterilization was seen as key to being less repressive.

But bureaucrats and health officials did little more than change their terminology.

“Targets and camps are back with a vengeance,” according to Mr. Nanda, saying he has seen officials who meet their targets handsomely rewarded by, for example, having a government car at their disposal.

In 2011, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh, announced a drive to sterilize 750,000 people a year. Those who underwent the surgery or brought in new recruits were entered to win prizes, including washing machines, DVD players, gun licences and a Nano, the ultra-low-cost Indian car.

Often sterilizations are done at breathtaking speed, with a doctor performing as many as 35 a day; rates of failure and complications are much higher than the international norm.

Dr. Sikdar, as chief of national policy, says the camps are supposed to take place in medical facilities, and organizers of those that don’t face criminal prosecution. But last year in Kaparfora in the state of Bihar, a doctor sterilized 53 women lying on benches in a school without electricity, and charges have yet to be laid.

Research by Dr. Das’s centre consistently finds that it is women from the poorest communities, usually aboriginal people and those at the bottom of the caste system, who are targeted when a region needs to reach its quota. They may have no idea that the procedure is permanent, he says.

Navin Kumar, the health information officer who supervises Kamrora, says the state government gave him a target (for the 875,000 residents of Mahoba district) last year of 4,100 women and 400 men.

And yet, Dr. Sikdar insists: “We do not give targets – we have … ‘estimated levels of achievement’ … It’s a management tool. A doctor has to make a plan based on numbers.”

If local officials, such as Mr. Kumar, are being told otherwise, and health workers, such as Ms. Raja, are pushed to meet quotas, he says, it’s a local aberration: A district politician may be keen to boost his reputation and “if, in his over-enthusiasm, he does something …”

Anjali Sen, director for South Asia with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, says India’s policy was drafted with the best of intentions, but she does not buy Dr. Sikdar’s claim that there are no targets. State family-planning budgets come from Delhi, she explains, and “cash incentives are tacit acceptance [of targets] from the central government.”

Ms. Uppal, the activist, says national officials could easily make sure the system is target-free: “They’re the cops.”

Dr. Sikdar says India is launching a new incentive program under which 860,000 health workers such as Ms. Raja will be paid $10 for every woman persuaded to delay her first child for two years after marriage, and another $10 if she waits two years before having a second.

Left unexplained is just how the women are supposed to avoid getting pregnant.

Certainly no one is relying on husbands to sort it out. During the Indira Gandhi era, most sterilizations were performed on men – there was no way to do a tubal ligation without invasive surgery, and female doctors, whom women patients prefer, were rare.

Vasectomies are still less complicated, but 95 per cent of the operations are now on women. Mr. Kumar says Mahoba district achieved 80 per cent of its target for women last year – but sterilized none of the 400 men.

There is a widespread belief, rarely challenged by doctors, that sterilization weakens a man and “robs him of his powers,” as women in Kamrora say.

All of the government outreach about family planning – all the home visits and chat circles Ms. Raja organizes – focus on women. But ask the women if they actually make the decisions about children and birth control, and they burst into laughter.

Even Dr. Sikdar acknowledges the problem – he oversees a $20-million program that distributes free condoms to women who have “no control over fertility.”

Or as Ms. Uppal puts it: “These completely disempowered women take condoms home to their husbands as if somehow they are going to be able to convince them to use them.”

Dr. Das says the service delivery will not change as long as policy springs from a belief that the “wrong” people are having children.

“Our development priority is not to reduce family size, it’s to raise income. We’re not ashamed of the inequalities, of low education attainment, of poverty – why are we ashamed of population growth?”

Noni Raja has thought a lot about choices, and who gets to make them. Two years after her bold decision to have a tubal ligation, she received a brutal reminder of her place in the family hierarchy.

In 2008, her younger son died at the age of 1 from pneumonia that the local health centre failed to treat. She lost her bold, chattering boy – and something else. Her in-laws were unwilling to accept a daughter-in-law they felt had failed in her most important responsibility.

So they scraped together a small fortune, and took Ms. Raja to Jhansi, a city about eight hours away by bus, where they paid a surgeon to reverse her tubal ligation – a rare and complicated surgery.

The operation went badly. “I nearly bled to death,” Ms. Raja recalls flatly. But she came home and, two years later, produced that mandatory second son. Her place in the family was once more secure.

Today, that last baby is everyone’s mop-haired pet; mother and grandmother compete over whose lap he will lounge in.

Ms. Devi is defensive – but unrepentant about the extreme lengths they went to in the quest for another boy. “All the neighbours said it was not done, to have only one son,” she explains. “We were under pressure.”

 

Denial of abortion is “torture,” says United Nations report #Vaw #reproductiverights


report recently presented to the United Nations (PDF link) says that a denial of abortion can be considered torture, in line with actual methods of female torture such as female genital mutilation.

ultrasoundThe report by Juan E. Méndez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is cited as a report “on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Méndez, a visiting professor at American University’s law school, makes some bold statements in Section B, entitled “Reproductive rights violations.” His assertions show just how far the quest for abortion has come in the world – to a point where the torture of a baby ripped from the womb and sucked away and thrown into a medical incinerator is considered a human right that spares someone else from torture.

Section 46 of his report notes:

International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.  Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings;   involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services  such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations; female genital mutilation[.]

To compare involuntary sterilization and female genital mutilation – permanent methods of actual torture – with the denial of a “right” to take another life is tragic. In fact, it doesn’t actually line up with the U.N.’s own statements.

The U.N.’s Committee against Torture defines torture in its Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and it actually reads more like a pro-life statement in its language:

Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Recognizing that those rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person …

The U.N. then goes on to define what torture is:

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Clearly the U.N.’s version of torture doesn’t seem to allow for the killing of a baby in utero, but Méndez does. Though many current exceptions to abortion laws note that “mental suffering” is justification for that exception and include it as a health reason to have an abortion, the comparison of who suffers more, a woman who carries a baby to term and gives the baby up for adoption or the one who lives forever with the reality of choosing to kill her baby, cannot adequately be evaluated by one man making a report to the United Nations.

While it would be wrong to assume that a woman carrying a child she is not prepared to raise would not be painful, it is also wrong to call it torture. Torture would be punishing her for the pregnancy or forcing her to raise a child she isn’t prepared to raise. However, the real torture is inflicted on the baby in her womb, who will be sucked out and discarded if that abortion happens.

Méndez goes on to note that:

For many rape survivors, access to a safe abortion procedure is made virtually impossible by a maze of administrative hurdles, and by official negligence and obstruction. In the landmark decision of K.N.L.H. v. Peru, the Human Rights Committee deemed the denial of a therapeutic abortion a violation of the individual’s right to be free from ill- treatment. In the case of P. and S. v. Poland, ECHR stated that “the general stigma attached to abortion and to sexual violence …, caus[ed] much distress and suffering, both physically and mentally.”

It’s unquestionable that a rape survivor who gets pregnant (notably, this is about 1% of all rape victims, so not a majority of those seeking abortions, though a valid minority) needs great care. The tragedy inflicted on her must be handled well, but the torture has come from the rapist, not from the denial of taking another life. Our torment should never allow us the right to kill another. A culture that seeks to nurture and care for victims of torture needs to put its focus on caring for the victim, giving resources, and providing many other solutions that will help heal the tragedy by giving a woman lasting comfort to the effect that she has helped to redeem a tragedy, not to create another.

Méndez is insistent that denial of abortion is torture, though, for all cases. He says in section 50:

The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. On numerous occasions United Nations bodies have expressed concern about the denial of or conditional access to post-abortion care. often for the impermissible purposes of punishment or to elicit confession.  The Human Rights Committee explicitly stated that breaches of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include forced abortion, as well as denial of access to safe abortions to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape and raised concerns about obstacles to abortion where it is legal.

Here forced abortions are presented as on par with denial of abortion. But the fact is, they are not. A forced abortion takes a life, and the denial of abortion saves one. A forced abortion can never be undone. A woman is subjected to the horror of having her body violated (possibly a second time, if she was a victim of rape), and knowing life has been taken from her. Denying someone a right to have a life taken is not torture; it’s a basic human right for the unborn life.

By all accounts, Méndez would consider the North Dakota legislature torturers for deciding that life begins at conception. He would consider Kansas and Arkansas as inflicting torture for passing laws that protect life. However, denying abortion isn’t torture, because the motive isn’t torment; the motive isn’t to make someone suffer, but to prevent the suffering of the baby destroyed and of the mother, who will have to live with it.

The extra tragedy in this culture of death is that we have walked forward into the past, where we justify death as a merciful thing, when truly it brings destruction. Méndez has stretched the definitions to a point that distorts them and, in the process, manages to reduce the true suffering of victims of such horrific crimes as female genital mutilation to the level of carrying a living baby to term. Protecting life can never be equated with killing it.

 

 

Global thematic campaign on Gender and Reproductive Justice #Vaw


Gender 'tag cloud'

 

People’s Health Movement

 

8th March, 2013

 

 

 

At the People’s Health Assembly 3 held in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2012, People’s Health Movement committed to build a campaign on gender issues through initiating separate circle on the Global thematic campaign on Genders within the PHM right to health campaign. Through the online correspondence in these last few months, a general view of expanding the gender circle has emerged, especially regarding specific themes of gender, equity, and violence, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Reproductive Justice.

 

Why a Global thematic campaign on Gender

 

We, at PHM believe that Health Rights including Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights must be located within a perspective that recognizes social determinants of health, and universal health entitlements/access to healthcare. The framework should address the oppressive structures of neo-liberal globalization, capitalism, poverty, patriarchy, privatization of essential services, imperialism, militarization, fundamentalisms, heteronormativity, racism, casteism and ableism, which not only exacerbate poor physical, sexual, reproductive and emotional health for women and young girls but also disadvantage them in accessing health-care.

 

We are only too aware of how gender oppression is intricately linked to other systems of oppression and PHM’s agenda should be to make a conscious effort to create space and visibility for some such concerns that can often be observed to be marginalized even within progressive, rights movements. While they assume different forms in different contexts and social realities, issues of ability/disability, sexuality, health in the context of conflict, state sponsored coercive population policies, gender based violence, non-coercive access to contraception and abortion, and especially the rights of sex workers, transgender, HIV positive individuals in relation to all the above are sparsely raised on the public health platforms and health movements across the world.

 

There is a cyclical relation between violence and ill-health; both influence each other, yet gender based violence is rarely addressed as a human rights or public health issue. That violence takes varied forms and that gendered notions make certain peoples particular targets is a question of political violence that a movement like PHM needs to urgently address.

 

Historically, as we know that women’s ability to make choices and exercise autonomy in matters of sexuality and reproduction has been conditioned and constrained by economic, political, religious and cultural patterns, responding to a model of prescriptive ‘normality’ and disallowing any kind of behavior which deviates from this. The relegation of women’s health to maternity and family planning on the one hand and the concerted attack on women’s reproductive and sexual rights on the other are serious violations of women’s autonomy, personhood, dignity and human rights.

 

Throughout the world, society, law and cultural norms have repressed any behaviour that could challenge this prescriptive reproductive role of women. Reproduction itself becomes a site of coercion and social inequality, being regulated by morality, class, caste, race hierarchies and community. It is the same ideas of gender roles, relations and sexual division of labour that result in coercive structures for women, and further marginalize several persons who go against the existing heteronormativity.

 

As an object of policy, sexuality and sexual rights have generally been considered as an ‘unimportant’ and secondary issue. Women’s movements have also only gradually given space to these debates. That sexual rights for all are essential for better physical, mental and emotional health is a perspective that needs a much stronger acknowledgement and activism by both the state and social movements.

 

Within the health care systems, health professionals need to be sensitised in order to address all forms of violence and discrimination on the basis of gender within the private as well as public spheres. Health rights can be enjoyed by all and accessed at all times only if the rights of those who occupy low rungs in the gender hierarchy have secured rights in all spheres.

 

PHM is well-placed to address components of policy advocacy, capacity building, knowledge creation and health systems engagement within this umbrella framework.  The need is for us to foreground this perspectives in our strategies. We can hold capacity building and advocacy initiatives for SRHR, violence There is a need to conceptualize the campaigns/circles in a way that we understand the common systems of oppressions and gender hierarchies and are able to equally visiblize and address concerns of all those who are marginalized, exploited and discriminated against on the basis of their gender identities and sexual behaviour.

 

The thematic Circle will Insert all these concerns within the People’s health movement by- informing the PHM mandate and the campaign for Health For All and vis-à-vis gender. PHM will provide a platform for women across the world to articulate the above concerns as well as to share and learn from each other the creative struggles waged by people, especially by women, against injustice and inequality.

 

 

 

PHM global has already been engaged with many networks such as WGNRR, IWHM, ARROW, SAMA, WISH to name a few. We would like to welcome and invite networks/organisations, coalitions to join and collaborate with us on this initiative. Together we can strategise for a better world that is founded on social justice, non-discrimination and equal opportunity for all people.

 

contact:  <sarojinipr@gmail.com>

 

 

 

March 3-International Sex Workers Rights Day- demand for decriminalisation of Sex work #Vaw #Womenrights


March 3, 2013,  Kamayani Bali Mahabal

The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002): “We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sexworkers [Female,Male,Transgender], we proposed to observe 3rd March as THE SEX WORKERS RIGHTS DAY.

Durbar seeks to build a world where all marginalized communities live in an environment of respect, rights and dignity. Durbar hopes for a new social order where there is no discrimination by class, caste, gender or occupation and all individuals communities live in peace and harmony as global citizens.The Durbar MissionDurbar’s shared mission is to enhance a process of social and political change with an objective to establish, promote and strengthen the rights, dignity, social status, and improvement of the quality of life of all sex worker communities. Durbar wishes to integrate the sex workers movement with the broader global movement to establish rights of all marginalized communities in the globe through.
Improvement of image and self-esteem of marginalized communities.Influencing existing norms, policies and practices, operating at all levels in the society and out the nation state.Empowering communities through a process of collectivisation and capacity building and Addressing power relations within the trade and outside. Durbar is also Building Formal and informal alliances with individuals, groups, institutions and movements..

Research has demonstrated that the criminalization of sex work is associated with violence against sex workers, decreased access to health care, barriers to reporting human rights abuses, and disempowerment in condom negotiation (whether a sex worker’s wishes regarding condom use are respected). Governments should recognize and address the relationship between laws criminalizing sex work and the human rights violations that result from these laws.

Affirmation and defense of the rights of sex workers as an integral part of our work to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.   International Sex Workers Rights Day isn’t just about securing the rights of sex workers; it’s about securing human rights.

Sex work is criminalized either through direct prohibitions on selling sexual services for money or through laws tha tprohibit solicitation of sex, living off of the earnings of sexwork, brothel-keeping, or procuring sexual services.Inaddition, sex workers are frequently prosecuted for non-
criminal offenses—often municipal-level administrative offenses—such as loitering, vagrancy, and impeding the flow of traffic. By reducing the freedom of sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients, organize for fair treatment, and publicly advocate for their rights, criminalization and aggressive policing have been shown to increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks.
Decriminalization is an issue of gender equality and sexual rights.Laws against sex work intrude into private sexual behaviors and constitute a form of state control over the bodies of women and transgender women, who make up a large majority of sex workers worldwide.like state controls over reproductive rights and limits on abortion, criminal laws prohibiting sex work attempt to legislate morality without regard for bodily autonomy. Decriminalizing sex work is a step in the direction of recognizing the right of all people to privacy and freedom from undue state control over sex and sexual expression.
Decriminalization refers to the removal of all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work, including laws targeting clients and brothel owners. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards. Decriminalizing sex work allows workers to access financial services like bank accounts and insurance and other financial services.
Moreover,decriminalization means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence.To effectively protect the health and rights of sex workers,governments must remove all criminal laws regulating sex work, including laws that criminalize the purchase of sex. Systems that maintain criminal penalties for clients who purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers at risk. Rather than ending demand for sex work, penalties on clients force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations, which increases the risk of violence and limits the power of the sex workers in the transaction.When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are empowered to realize their right to work safely, and to use the justice system to s eek redress for abuses and discrimination.Even if sex work is decriminalized, the prostitution of minors and human trafficking can and should remain criminal acts.
Criminal laws contribute to social marginalization not only through the imposition of legal penalties on sex workers prosecuted for specific acts,
but also through the assignment of criminal status to all sex workers,regardless of any particular arrest, charge, or prosecution.This sweeping
condemnation leads to widespread discrimination, stigma, and illtreatment in social institutions and services, by health providers, police,
and the general public. Decriminalization removes one source of stigma,the criminal label that serves to validate mistreatment or social exclusion.

In India, Sex workers are unhappy with Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations which, according to them, equate human trafficking with sex work and define prostitution as exploitation.The proposed Section 370 in the ordinance seeks to include prostitution as a form of exploitation. If this is accepted, it would criminalize sex workers since it does not differentiate between coercive prostitution and prostitution. Neither does it talk about the exploitation of prostitution.

For decades we have been demanding decriminalization of sex work, dignity of labour for sex workers and protection from exploitation by various sections of the society, including clients, goons and police.Terming prostitution ‘exploitation’ contradicts the Supreme Court which upheld the rights of women employed in sex work while observing that Article 21 grants them a right to live with dignity.

It also goes against the commitment made by India, which is a signatory and has ratified the UN Protocol on human trafficking in 2011.

According to this, Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.Instead of protection of sex workers, the ordinance will make them more vulnerable to exploitation and snatch away their livelihood.The inclusion of voluntary and consenting sex work into the definition of exploitation has angered sex workers.It will be a big setback to our struggle to get recognition of sex work as work, social protection for sex workers and assuring them workers’ rights.

The first pan-India survey of female sex workers was done  in 2011 under the aegis of Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization, Sangli, was conducted by Rohini Sahni and V Kalyan Shakar of the Department of Economics, University of Pune. This unique survey documents the lived realities of sex workers; delves into the complex details of their day-to-day interactions; the stigma and marginalization they experience and attempts to understand the challenges they face as well as their complex responses. The survey pools together a large national level sample of 3000 unorganized sex workers from 14 states. The women who participated in the survey are from various geographies, ages, family backgrounds, languages, sites of operation, migratory patterns, incomes and cultures.

The videos below

 

ECHR -Judgment on teenage pregnancy due to #Rape and denial of #abortion #Vaw


European Court of Human Rights: Judgment in the case P. and S. v. Poland announced today

 

Oct 31, 2012

European Court of Human Rights announced its judgment today in the case P. and S. v. Poland. Federation for Women and Family Planning and its lawyers have been involved in the case from the very beginning.

It is a case of a teenage girl who was pregnant as a result of rape. Despite the fact that there was a relevant document issued by the prosecutor, she had been denied legal abortion in several hospitals. As a result she had to undergo the procedure in a hospital located 500 kilometers from her place of residence. Besides that, her right to confidentiality of medical information was breached, which resulted in severe harassment by pro-life and Catholic activists. The girl was also separated from her mother and placed in a juvenile shelter.

The Court determined violations of Article 8, (right to respect for private and family life) as regards the determination of access to lawful abortion in respect of both applicants (by six votes to one) and as regards the disclosure of the applicants’ personal data (unanimously);  Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) in respect of P., and a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of P.

The court held that Poland was to pay P. 30,000 euros (EUR) and S. EUR 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 16,000 to both applicants in respect of costs and expenses.

Read the judgment in full here: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/fra-press/pages/search.aspx?i=003-4140612-4882633

 

#India- Justice AP Shah expert Groups Report on #Privacy #Planning Commission #mustread


pic ocurtsey – The Hindu

With the initiation of national programmes like Unique Identification number,  (UID)
NATGRID, CCTNS, RSYB, DNA profiling, Reproductive Rights of Women, Privileged
communications and brain mapping, most of which will be implemented through ICT
platforms, and increased collection of citizen information by the government, concerns
have emerged on their impact on the privacy of persons. Information is, for instance,
beginning to be collected on a regular basis through statutory requirements and through egovernance projects. This information ranges from data related to: health, travel, taxes,
religion, education, financial status, employment, disability, living situation, welfare
status, citizenship status, marriage status, crime record etc. At the moment there is no
overarching policy speaking to the collection of information by the government. This has
led to ambiguity over who is allowed to collect data, what data can be collected, what are
the rights of the individual, and how the right to privacy will be protected The extent of
personal information being held by various service providers, and especially the enhanced
potential for convergence that digitization carries with it is a matter that raises issues
about privacy.
II. Global data flows, today, are no longer the result of a file transfer that was
initiated by an individual’s action for point-to-point transfer over 30 years ago. As soon
as a transaction is initiated on the Internet, multiple data flows take place simultaneously,
via phenomena such as web 2.0, online social networking, search engine, and cloud
computing. This has led to ubiquity of data transfers over the Internet, and enhanced
economic importance of data processing, with direct involvement of individuals in transborder data flows

. While this is exposing individuals to more privacy risks, it is also challenging businesses which are collecting the data directly entered by users, or through
their actions without their knowledge, – e.g. web surfing, e-banking or e-commerce – and
correlating the same through more advanced analytic tools to generate economic value
out of data. The latter are accountable for data collection and its use, since data has
become one of the drivers of the knowledge based society which is becoming even more
critical to business than capital and labor. The private sector on the other hand, uses
personal data to create new demands and build relationships for generating revenue from
their services. The individuals are putting out their data on the web in return for useful
services at almost no cost. But in this changed paradigm, private sector and the civil
society have to build legal regimes and practices which are transparent and which inspire
trust among individuals, and enhance their ability to control access to their data, even as
economic value is generated out of such data collection and processing for all players. In
order to understand these concerns and identify interventions for effectively addressing
these issues, a brainstorming session on privacy-related issues was held in the Planning
Commission under the chairmanship of Justice A P Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi
High Court. The meeting was presided over by Dr. Ashwani Kumar, MOS (Planning,
S&T and MoES) and attended by representatives from industry, civil society NGOs,
voluntary organizations and government departments.
III. During the meeting it was decided to constitute a small Group of Experts to
identify key privacy issues and prepare a paper to facilitate authoring of the Privacy bill
while keeping in view the international landscape of privacy laws, global data flows and
predominant privacy concerns with rapid technological advancements. Accordingly a
Group of Experts was constituted under the chairpersonship of Justice A P Shah. The 4
constitution and the terms of reference of the group is at Annex 1. The Group held several
meetings to understand global privacy developments and challenges and to discuss
privacy concerns relevant to India. The Group was divided into two sub-groups – one for
reviewing privacy regimes around the world with a view to understand prevalent best
practices relating to privacy regulation and the other for reviewing existing legislation and
bills to identify prevalent privacy concerns in India. However, the committee did not
“make an in-depth analysis of various programs being implemented by GOI from the
point of view of their impact on privacy.” This report, which is a result of the work of
both sub-groups, proposes a detailed framework that serves as the conceptual foundation
for the Privacy Act for India.
IV. This report proposes five salient features of such a framework:
1. Technological Neutrality and Interoperability with International Standards:

The
Group agreed that any proposed framework for privacy legislation must be
technologically neutral and interoperable with international standards. Specifically,
the Privacy Act should not make any reference to specific technologies and must be
generic enough such that the principles and enforcement mechanisms remain
adaptable to changes in society, the marketplace, technology, and the government. To
do this it is important to closely harmonise the right to privacy with multiple
international regimes, create trust and facilitate co-operation between national and
international stakeholders and provide equal and adequate levels of protection to data
processed inside India as well as outside it. In doing so, the framework should
recognise that data has economic value, and that global data flows generate value for
the individual as data creator, and for businesses that collect and process such data.
Thus, one of the focuses of the framework should be on inspiring the trust of global
clients and their end users, without compromising the interests of domestic customers
in enhancing their privacy protection.
2. Multi-Dimensional Privacy:

This report recognises the right to privacy in its
multiple dimensions. A framework on the right to privacy in India must include
privacy-related concerns around data protection on the internet and challenges
emerging therefrom, appropriate protection from unauthorised interception, audio and
video surveillance, use of personal identifiers, bodily privacy including DNA as well
as physical privacy, which are crucial in establishing a national ethos for privacy
protection, though the specific forms such protection will take must remain flexible to
address new and emerging concerns.
3. Horizontal Applicability:

The Group agreed that any proposed privacy legislation
must apply both to the government as well as to the private sector. Given that the
international trend is towards a set of unified norms governing both the private and
public sector, and both sectors process large amounts of data in India, it is imperative
to bring both within the purview of the proposed legislation.
4. Conformity with Privacy Principles:

This report recommends nine fundamental
Privacy Principles to form the bedrock of the proposed Privacy Act in India. These
principles, drawn from best practices internationally, and adapted suitably to an Indian
context, are intended to provide the baseline level of privacy protection to all
individual data subjects. The fundamental philosophy underlining the principles is the
need to hold the data controller accountable for the collection, processing and use to
which the data is put thereby ensuring that the privacy of the data subject is
guaranteed.
5. Co-Regulatory Enforcement Regime: This report recommends the establishment of
the office of the Privacy Commissioner, both at the central and regional levels. The
Privacy Commissioners shall be the primary authority for enforcement of the
provisions of the Act. However, rather than prescribe a pure top-down approach to
enforcement, this report recommends a system of co-regulation, with equal emphasis
on Self-Regulating Organisations (SROs) being vested with the responsibility of
autonomously ensuring compliance with the Act, subject to regular oversight by the
Privacy Commissioners. The SROs, apart from possessing industry-specific
knowledge, will also be better placed to create awareness about the right to privacy
and explaining the sensitivities of privacy protection both within industry as well as to
the public in respective sectors. This recommendation of a co-regulatory regime will
not derogate from the powers of courts which will be available as a forum of last
resort in case of persistent and unresolved violations of the Privacy Act.

DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT HERE

 

After Chhattisgarh its Bihar- illegal hysterectomy on 14-yr-olds #VAW # Reproductiverights


 

In Bihar,

illegal hysterectomy — an operation to remove the uterus.

Numerous cases of forced surgeries came to light in Samastipur district following a probe by district magistrate Kundan Kumar. The victims were sometimes girls as young as 12 to 14-year-olds.

There were a number of fake cases too, and in some of them, the operation was shown to have been conducted on men.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/8/09_08_12-metro10.jpg

“It is not only a case of fraud but a gross violation of medical ethics,” said Kumar, who held a health camp as part of the probe. At the camp, ultrasound tests were conducted on over 3,000 women.

The report, which was finalised on Wednesday, indicts 16 nursing homes in Samastipur, all of which have been issued a showcause notice. The matter also found resonance in the state assembly, where the opposition put the Nitish Kumar government on the mat.

The probe was held when the insurance company, ICICI Lombard, raised an alarm after receiving a bill of a whopping Rs. 17 crore from the 16 nursing homes. A claim of Rs. 10,000 can be made for a single hysterectomy.

“At the camp, we received many complaints that the surgeries were forced,” Kumar said. “Private nursing homes even scared women with prognosis of grave medical complications, like cancer, if the uteruses were not removed.”

State labour minister Janardan Singh Sigriwal — whose department is the nodal agency for the scheme — insisted that  there has been no irregularity. It was decided that the call attention committee of the assembly will probe the matte

 

 

Say ” No” TO ABORTION BAN in Turkey #VAW # Reproductive rights


TO THE POLICIES OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY THAT TARGET GENDER EQUALITY, WOMEN’S BODIES, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, AND SEXUALITY, OUR RESPONSE IS A RESOUNDING “NO!”

We demand that the process to ban abortion be ceased IMMEDIATELY!

Banning abortion or further limiting the duration and conditions under which it can be performed;

  • Violates women’s human right to health and life!
  • Violates women’s human right to make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health and rights!
  • Constitutes yet another manifestation of the conservative politics that does not view women as equal individuals!

Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements in the last week of May 2012 have revealed that plans to ban abortion have been underway for some time now. Experience from the global arena illustrates that this lethal attempt, which has no scientific backing, will not reduce abortion rates; instead it will only lead to unsafe abortions and increase maternal mortality.

ABORTION IS NOT MURDER, BUT BANNING ABORTION IS!

FREELY CHOSEN SAFE ABORTION IS A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIFE; IT CANNOT BE RESTRICTED, IT CANNOT BE BANNED!

According to data from the World Health Organization, tens of thousands of women across the world die every year as a result of unsafe abortions. In Turkey, establishing the legal grounds for women to end unwanted pregnancies on demand has contributed to the decrease in maternal mortality, which dropped from 250 to 28 in every 100,000 live births from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. There is no data indicating that abortion is on the rise in Turkey; on the contrary, while 18 pregnancies out of 100 ended in abortion in 1993, this ratio was down to 10 percent in 2008. In an era where 26 countries have taken steps to remove obstacles that hinder access to abortion between 1994 and 2011, efforts to ban or restrict it in Turkey are unacceptable. Restricting the right to access safe abortion services and making them available only when required by medical conditions or instances of rape works to marginalize women’s fundamental bodily and sexual rights, and reduces the enjoyment of this right to circumstances of necessity.

We object to risking women’s rights to health and life by restricting or banning abortion instead of encouraging free, easily accessible, high quality birth control methods. Abortion is not only a freedom of choice, but a vital social right. The right to abortion that is on demand, free-of-charge, accessible, safe, and legal, is also a right to life. Forcing women to take life-threatening risks is nothing short of murder.

THE RIGHT TO SAFE ABORTION IS AN INDIVISIBLE PART OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR BODILY AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS!

Women’s right to sexual and reproductive health includes having control over their own bodies and access to safe abortion; limiting these rights is an open violation of fundamental human rights and women’s human rights. In accordance with its domestic legislation and the international conventions it is party to, Turkey is under obligation to provide adequate, comprehensive, and accessible sexual and reproductive health services. In Turkey, child marriages, forced marriages, women’s murders, rapes, and morality-based repression mechanisms have all become normalized. The responsibility for birth control has been left primarily to women. However, in a country where contraceptives are not easily accessible, withdrawal is the most prevalent form of birth control, female employment rates continue to drop and female poverty is rapidly increasing, restricting or banning women’s right to on demand pregnancy termination is an act of blatant discrimination that will push women to seek unsafe abortions.

WE REJECT THE ATTACKS ON HUMAN RIGHTS THROUGH MILITARIST AND DISCRIMINATORY DISCOURSES AND PRACTICES!

By saying “Every abortion is an Uludere,” PM Erdogan equated women’s enjoyment of their bodily rights with killing people in a bombardment attack. This is a discriminatory and militarist statement that calls to question the human rights of both Kurds and women, whereas the primary responsibility of any state should be to ensure its citizens lead a decent life, and to guarantee equal rights and freedoms to all.

According to Article 16.1.e of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women-to which Turkey is a proud signatory-women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.” The current governmental initiative to ban abortion is simply another manifestation of the ongoing misogynist mentality that ignores women’s right to make decisions on matters that concern their bodies, sees women’s primary reason for existence as the continuation of the species, and constructs neoliberal population policies based on women’s bodies.

A decision to ban abortion will constitute an open violation of the right to life for millions of women, and the right to live with dignity for men, women, and children alike.

We, the undersigned organizations, demand that the process initiated to ban abortion and the politics of the Prime Minister and the Government of Turkey that target women’s bodies be ceased IMMEDIATELY!!

Sign the PETITION HERE

Facebook Censorship – Abortion Rights


On Decemeber 30, 2011 , Facebook removed the profile picture of Rebecca Gomperts, which was text with information about how women can do abortions safely by themselves. Dr Gomperts is a well-known abortion rights activist and the Director of Women on Waves. Women on Waves is a charitable organization focused on women’s health and human rights.

Its mission is to protect maternal health by preventing unsafe abortions. Women on Waves sails a ship to countries where abortion is illegal. On board the ship the medical staff provides sexual education and healthcare services.

With the ship, early medical abortions (up to 6 1/2 weeks of pregnancy) can be provided safely, professionally and legally. Applicability of national penal legislation, and thus also of abortion law, extends only to territorial waters; outside that 12-mile radius it is thus Dutch law that applies on board a ship under the Dutch flag, which means that all our activities are legal.

Women on Waves’ efforts serve to draw much-needed public attention to the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe, illegal abortion. To date, the ship has sailed to Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Women on Waves also supported the launch of safe abortion hotlines in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (for more information see http://www.womenonwaves.org)

In 2005 it founded Women on Web, a telemedicine abortion service that provides medical abortions to women in countries where there is no access to safe abortion (www.womenonweb.org)

By removing the profile picture, Facebook is in gross violation of Article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human rights. Facebook has a social responsibility to guarantee human rights. Dr. Gomperts reposted the screenshot of the Facebook censorship message with the picture. She called upon all Facebook users that support abortion rights to repost the message on their page.

The picture is  actually a sticker  designed to provide information on how women can safely induce an abortion using a medicine called Misoprostol. The text is based on information and research from the World Health Organisation. So it is really quite safe.

The English-language text says that to induce a safe abortion women should buy 12 Misoprostol tablets at a pharmacy. They are advised to say the drugs are intended for ‘their granny who has arthritis.’ When the tablets are taken a few hours apart they will induce labour accompanied by abdominal cramps and vaginal bleeding eventually leading to a miscarriage after about 10 hours. Diarrhoea is the most common side-effect. In case of a high fever and severe pain women are advised to see a doctor, who should be told the patient suffered a miscarriage.

Legally unassailable


Women on Waves says the removal of the photograph is in violation of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which specifically mentions ‘the right to … seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media’ – and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, media and privacy lawyer Quinten Kroes says this not entirely true:

“Women on Waves refers to very basic human rights, such as the freedom of expression. These fundamental rights are primarily intended as protection from government interference, which is not what this is about. Facebook has not removed the profile photograph as a result of pressure from any government, but on its own initiative. From that perspective, Facebook could argue its own freedom of expression was at stake here. Facebook cannot be made to spread ideas the company does not support.”

Mr Kroes says Facebook’s legal right to remove the text is based on its’ extensive and legally unassailable terms of use: “They will undoubtedly include articles granting Facebook the right to remove specific texts because the texts violate certain norms or prompted complaints from other users.”

Dr. Gomperts reposted the screenshot of the facebook censorship message with the picture and called upon other facebook users to repost the image, which was done by hundreds of facebook users. However this picture was removed again and Gomperts was blocked from using her facebook account for 2 days. After receiving inquiries by journalist, facebook send an email to apologize and acknowledged that the picture did not violate any facebook users regulations.

Then Facebook apologised and restored the profile pic


The P.R. flap is reminiscent of what happened when Apple launched Siri late last year. Customers complained that they couldn’t search for abortion clinics using the software, which was widely reported in the media and blogs. Apple attributed the bug to a kink in the software, not any sort of corporate-wide abortion bias.

Do you think Facebook handled this situation appropriately?