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International News Edited by Farhat Bokhari 
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  • Violence Against Women: A Public Health Emergency
    Violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions, but its human cost often remains invisible. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. The abuser is usually someone known to the victim. In 2002, the Council of Europe declared violence against women a public health emergency and a major cause of death and disability for women 16 to 44 years of age. A World Bank report estimated that violence against women was as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health, than traffic accidents and malaria combined. A 2003 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion in direct medical and health care services and almost $1.8 billion in productivity losses. For the most part, the human cost of gender-based violence is invisible. Fear and shame continue to prevent many women from speaking out, and data collected is often insufficient and inconsistent. Even in countries that enjoy relative peace and prosperity, many women are living in a constant state of insecurity.
    Violence against women occurs in all regions and countries and much of it is invisible. Police in countries around the world say that many rape victims do not report the crime. Often, countries reporting the incidence of violence are the ones doing the most to counter it. In the Dominican Republic, reports indicate that in cases of violence against women, the aggressors are partners or former partners of the victims in 40-68% of the cases. In Georgia, it has been reported that 50% of families experience some form of domestic violence. In India, statistics indicate that 14 wives are murdered by their husbands’ family every day. According to a 2002 report by the World Health Organization, studies in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the US have shown that 40-70% of women who have been murdered were killed by their intimate partners, usually in the context of an abusive relationship. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in the United Kingdom 40% of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. A study in Sweden found that 70% of women had experienced some form of violence or sexual harassment. Statistics from the Netherlands show that about 200,000 women are subjected to violence each year by their intimate partners. It has been reported that 6 in 10 women in Botswana are victims of domestic violence, while in Moldova, 31 % of girls and young women (ages 16-19) are reported to have experienced sexual violence. Source: UNIFEM, 20.11.05. E-mail: leigh.pasqual@undp.org
  • 1 in 6 Women Suffer Domestic Abuse
    1 in 6 women worldwide suffers domestic violence - some battered during pregnancy - yet many remain silent about the assaults, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. In its first global study, the WHO also said physically- or sexually-abused women were more likely to suffer longer-term health problems, including distress and suicide attempts. The UN agency called for changing behaviour through education programs and training more health workers and police to investigate signs of mistreatment. "Women are more at risk from violence involving people they know at home than from strangers in the street. There is a feeling that the home is a safe haven and that pregnancy is a very protected period, but that is not the case," WHO's director-general Lee Jong-Wook said. "Domestic violence remains largely hidden." The Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women study is based on interviews with more than 24,000 women in 10 countries, ranging from Japan and Thailand to Ethiopia and Peru. It paints a harrowing picture of broken bones, bruises, burns, cracked skulls, dislocated jaws, rape and fear. Husbands or intimate partners are the main perpetrators. "Every 18 seconds, somewhere, a woman suffers violence or maltreatment ... We must put an end to this shameful practice," said Spain's Health Minister Elena Salgado, current president of WHO's annual health assembly. Domestic violence can be sparked by dinner being late, not finishing the housework on time, disobeying or refusing to have sex, the report said. In many cases women agree that a man is justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances. In terms of symptoms - pain, dizziness, mental distress, miscarriages - the findings across the 15 urban and rural settings were "remarkably consistent", according to Claudia Garcia-Moreno, the study's coordinator. "Whether you are a cosmopolitan woman in Sao Paulo, Brazil or Japan, or a rural woman in Ethiopia or Peru, the association between violence and poor health remains," she told reporters. "The striking thing we found is the degree that this violence still remains hidden. Between one-fifth and two-thirds of women interviewed had never spoken before to anyone of the experience of their partner's violence," she added. This sense of helplessness was "a torture in itself". Other countries covered in the 7-year study, issued to coincide with the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, included Samoa, Bangladesh, Namibia, Tanzania and Serbia and Montenegro. Between 4-12% cent of women who had been pregnant reported being beaten during pregnancy - more than 90% by the father of the unborn child, according to the report. "Most of the violence that pregnant women were experiencing is a continuation of the violence going on before," said Lori Heise, a member of the core research team from the Washington-based group PATH. Source: Reuters, 15.11.05.
    Website: www.who.int/gender/violence
  • Over 40 Million Living With AIDS
    Having to pay for HIV care increases the risk of treatment failure, a study by a leading aid agency says. The research by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) found that nearly half of people on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in Nigeria did not receive sufficient doses due to lack of funds. MSF studied 122 patients in Lagos who had enrolled for MSF treatment after previously having to pay for care. It found that those on the free programme received treatment consistently, as opposed to those that had to pay for treatment.
    It recommended that greater efforts need to be made to enable developing countries to provide free treatment, as well as improve their health infrastructure so that drugs can be delivered to the people who need them. The Nigerian government is insisting that public hospital patients pay for at least part of their own HIV care, including drugs and monitoring. To pay for their care, 39% of respondents reported borrowing or begging, while one in five said they had been forced to sell property. Dr Jens Wenkel, of MSF, said the patients who had taken insufficient drugs were at risk: These patients are more vulnerable to AIDS-related infections such as pneumonia or TB. So forcing people to pay, and thereby risking treatment interruptions, can make this life-prolonging treatment less effective. Paying for HIV treatment is not uncommon. Other African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo also charge patients. Yusef Azad, the National AIDS Trust's Director of Policy, said: "We still have a long way to go to reach the goal of universal access to treatment by 2010. The provision of free treatment is also a vital aspect of HIV prevention as people have little incentive to test if they cannot afford life saving treatment." Source: BBC News, 11.12.05. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk
  • AIDS Transmission Linked to Violence Against Women

    As the world commemorated December 1 as World AIDS Day, the 2005 theme, “Keep the Promise,” exhorts us to fulfill promises made by the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session and its Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. The Declaration recognized many factors that perpetuate HIV/AIDS, including violence against women. The promises made in the Declaration included that by 2005 governments would develop and implement “national strategies for women’s empowerment” and support the elimination of “all forms of violence against women and girls.” But, have these promises been kept? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly one in three women will be coerced into sex or assaulted in her lifetime. The UNAIDS Epidemic Report 2005 indicates that between one third and one half of women in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Namibia and Thailand said they had been physically or sexually assaulted by their partners. WHO also reports that at least 10% of women will be raped by an intimate partner. In Sub-Saharan Africa, as much as 48% of women report their first sexual experience was coerced. Rape is also a weapon of war. Today, the UN estimates that 175,000 women raped during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide are HIV positive. Much of this violence is enabled by disempowering societal norms, perpetuated by governments that lack capacity or will to implement protective legislation. Clearly much more will need to be done to keep the promises of 2001. An illustrative example of the link between violence against women and HIV/AIDS is a recent study in South Africa found that women who were physically assaulted by their intimate partners were 48% more likely to become HIV-infected than those who were not. When you think about the number of women who are abused around the world, their increased risk of HIV is enormous indeed. Worldwide, women make up almost half of all people living with HIV/AIDS, and married women are at highest risk—even when faithful to their husbands. In Sub-Saharan Africa the proportion is even higher, yet nine out of ten Africans go without lifesaving drugs. In East Asia the percentage of women with HIV increased by 56% between 2002 and 2004. These sick women are teachers, food producers, caregivers. Without them, entire generations will face even worse poverty and disease burdens.

    That 2001 Declaration made another promise: by 2005, to reduce by 25% HIV/AIDS prevalence in the most affected countries. Another broken promise, since only one out of five people has access to prevention services. But with political will and adequate resources, prevention can be successful. Last week’s UNAIDS report indicates that intensive efforts to promote safer behaviors, including the use of condoms, have reduced HIV rates in countries like Zimbabwe. Determined efforts at protecting women’s rights and changing behaviors that put them at risk can work too. One approach is enacting legal protections, such as guaranteeing property rights and prosecuting for domestic violence. One study found that enforcement of property rights in India was protective against domestic violence. And UNAIDS has lauded efforts like Botswana’s law to give married women increased access to their families’ resources. In June President Bush announced his Women’s Justice and Empowerment in Africa Initiative, which would support through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief legal systems that do justice for women. While this proposal is promising, it is proceeding at a snail’s pace. It should be rapidly assigned to a US agency and implemented so that its success may be tested. The US can and should use its influence to encourage commitment to protecting women and reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS by advocating for women’s rights legislation to be incorporated into every national AIDS strategy. The US must also ensure that programs to treat women like those in Rwanda are fully funded through mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It is only by combining legal empowerment of women with attention to their health care needs that the women’s HIV/AIDS epidemic can be addressed. This World AIDS Day offers an opportunity to consider these broken promises, and to begin a new chapter in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. If we take seriously its twin epidemic—violence against women—we can make great strides in human rights, global health, and simple integrity. We made the promises. Now it’s time to keep them.
    Source: Global AIDS Alliance. Email: lschechtman@globalaidsalliance.org

  • Who Apology Over Missed AIDS Target

    The head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) HIV/AIDS programme has apologised for its failure to meet a global target for the treatment of HIV. It had aimed to get three million people in poor countries on HIV drugs by the end of this year, but the WHO admits that target will be missed. When the WHO announced in June 2005 that only one million of the three million people it had hoped to have on drugs were receiving them, it became apparent that the ambition would not be fulfilled. In an interview with the BBC, the head of the programme, Jim Yong-Kim has said sorry. "All we can do is apologise. I think we have to just admit we've not done enough and we started way too late." However, Dr Kim says despite missing the target, the programme has not been a failure.
    "Before Three by Five, there was not an emphasis on saving lives," he said. Many leaders in the world were saying we just have to forget about this generation of people who are infected, we're really thinking about the next generation. So something has happened that's extraordinary." Anti-retrovirals (ARVs), greatly improve the quality of life and life expectancy for people infected with HIV, but the most optimistic estimates suggest only one in 10 Africans and one in seven Asians are currently getting the treatment they need. According to UN figures out last week over 40 million people worldwide are now infected with the HIV virus. Source: BBC News, 25.11.05.  Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk

  • 90 Million Girls Still Missing School
    New figures indicate that the UN has fallen well short of its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of getting as many girls educated as boys. It is estimated that 46 countries may feel to attain this goal. The UN children's fund, Unicef, says that out of the 115 million children around the world not getting any primary school education, 90 million of these are girls. Outdated sexual stereotypes, poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict are blamed for the failure to achieve this goal. Many girls are denied schooling because cultural traditions define a female's place as in the home, and social pressure is exerted for them to marry early, sometimes as young as the age of 10, the UN says. Male privilege and entitlement (ensure) that when educational opportunities are limited, boys will take available classroom space. "Education of children, especially girls, is the cornerstone to national progress," said Unicef Executive Director, Ann Veneman said in a statement. "It leads to greater economic productivity, reduced infant and maternal mortality, and a greater likelihood that the next generation of children will go to school." Many of the countries highlighted in the report are in sub-Saharan Africa, but Turkey, which recently began accession talks to the EU, was also listed. The problem is worst in the rural east and south-east of Turkey, and poor areas of the big cities, where children are often used for seasonal work.
    A high-profile campaign by Unicef backed by the Turkish government has helped to close the gap to just under 6 per cent on average. In some areas, volunteers have been going door-to-door encouraging families to give their daughters an education. However, more than half a million Turkish girls are still kept out of school. Source: BBC News, 25.11.05. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk
  • Poverty Kills 12 Million Under 5s Annually
    United Nations Population Fund country representative, Deji Popoola has said over 12 million children in developing countries under the age of five die annually because of poverty. Opening the second Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) Annual General Meeting, Popoola said poverty remained the biggest killer and cause of ill health as people could not afford to access health care and social amenities. "Every year in developing countries, 12.2 million children under the age of five die, most of them from causes that could have been prevented. They die because they are poor," he said. Popoola said the gap between the rich and poor had continued to widen, systematically pushing down the poverty ladder. He said while life expectancy in Zambia was 50 years, people in developed countries could live up to 82 years, almost twice as long. Popoola said poverty still remained the main reason babies were not vaccinated, and why clean water and sanitation are not provided. "It is the underlying cause of reduced life expectancy, handicap, disability and starvation," he said. Popoola also said with 70% cent of the world's poor being women, they were more susceptible to HIV infection. Source: The Post reported in Push Journal, 5.12.05, via IPPF News. Website: www.ippf.org
  • 9 Deteriorating Conflict Situations
    Nine conflict situations around the world deteriorated in November 2005, according to the new issue of CrisisWatch. In Ethiopia, opposition protests over the results of the May parliamentary elections provoked a massive crackdown by security forces with at least 46 deaths and thousands of arrests. Tensions also rose between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as both countries deployed high concentrations of troops to their disputed border, risking a return to war. In Azerbaijan, parliamentary elections on 6 November failed to meet international standards and provoked street protests. Suspected Islamist militants intensified attacks on the judiciary in Bangladesh. In Jordan, three coordinated suicide bomb attacks at Western hotels killed 60. The situations also deteriorated in Chad, Sierra Leone, Turkey and Uganda. Three conflict situations improved in November 2005. Nepal's Maoist rebels announced their acceptance of multi-party democracy and renounced violence against civilians in a landmark deal with seven political parties. For December 2005, CrisisWatch identifies Iraq and Ethiopia/Eritrea as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. Source: CrisisWatch, 1.12.05. www.crisisgroup.org
  • AIDS Activists Face Repression & Abuse
    AIDS activists around the world face frequent government repression and abuse and need substantially increased support and
    protections, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) on World AIDS Day. "The few success stories we have in the global fight against AIDS are the result of the heroic efforts of courageous individuals mobilizing impoverished, marginalized, and stigmatized populations to action," said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at HRW.  "But AIDS activists and outreach workers are often harassed or even jailed by their governments for simply standing up and speaking out about AIDS, and the international donor community is doing too little to protect them." HRW has documented numerous cases of AIDS activists and NGOs being harassed, intimidated, or jailed for their work.  In China, government officials have jailed activists seeking to expose government complicity in a tainted blood scandal that infected millions of impoverished people with HIV in the 1990s.  In India and Bangladesh, outreach workers delivering services to sex workers, to men who have sex with men, and to other hidden populations, have faced widespread police harassment and violence. In Uganda, activists protesting the government's recent turn toward moralistic "abstinence-until-marriage" programs face intimidation from officials and accusations of immorality.  In the Philippines, police routinely arrest women and accuse them of prostitution for simply carrying condoms.  In Russia, the parliament is considering legislation that would tighten government control over Russian and foreign NGOs, threatening vital outreach and education programs for injecting drug users and sex workers. Activists have encountered government violence for doing nothing but demonstrating peacefully for access to health care.  This year in Queenstown, South Africa, police fired rubber bullets and teargas at members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) who were protesting the slow progress of the government's antiretroviral treatment program. HRW has called for a full investigation into this incident. "Bitter experience has shown that repressing civil society only fuels AIDS epidemics," said Amon.  "Where repression rules the day, AIDS wins."  Since 2002, HRW has honored six individuals or organizations for their courageous work defending the rights of people living with or affected by AIDS. Source: HRW, 1.12.05. Website: www.hrw.org

  • US Condom Funds Limited for AIDS Prevention
    An Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator directive that took effect from October 2005 provides guidelines on how federal funding for international HIV/AIDS programmes that work to prevent sexual transmission of HIV must be used and would increase the amount of US funding countries spend on programmes that promote abstinence and fidelity. The document was provided to a Baltimore newspaper, the Sun by an unnamed federal AIDS official who thought that US international HIV prevention efforts would be hindered by the new policy. According to the document, which outlines how fiscal year 2006 money should be spent, "66 per cent of resources dedicated to prevention of HIV from sexual transmission must be used for activities that promote abstinence before marriage and fidelity." Under the guidelines, at least half of total prevention funding must be spent on sexual transmission initiatives, with the remainder going toward programmes that prevent HIV transmission from mother to child or through the blood supply. Many countries last year spent much more than half of their total prevention budgets on sexual transmission programmes, meaning that the policy change will increase funding for abstinence programmes while "implicitly set[ting] tighter limits on spending for condoms," according to the Sun. The 2005 budget included $295 million for international HIV prevention programmes, and that amount likely will be increased in 2006. Deputy US Global AIDS Coordinator, Mark Dybul said the decree aims to make HIV programmes adhere to legal requirements of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which call for at least one-third of overall prevention funding to be spent on abstinence programmes. Dybul said that the directive is a "guidance" and is not inflexible, adding that the decision would correct an inequality. The unnamed official that provided the report said that agency officials are treating the policy change as a rigid order. Source: Kaiser Network, 12.12.05, via IPPF News. Website: www.ippf.org
  • Call to Accelerate Distribution of Female Condom
    As World AIDS Day approached, leaders of the YWCA across Africa came together to call on national governments and international donors to accelerate distribution of the female condom to women in developing countries: "The global AIDS pandemic is rapidly evolving into a pandemic for women, and we urgently need female controlled prevention methods that are accessible
    to women in the fight against AIDS. The World YWCA is issuing a direct appeal to national health ministries, foreign aid agencies and international NGOs. We call on these entities to sign agreements in 2006 that will commit them to purchasing a minimum of 180 million of the second-generation female condom for annual global distribution. We also call on governments to ensure that the female condom is marketed to women in local communities and promoted as an effective method to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. We demand this level of commitment because research has shown that the coordinated purchase of 180 million female condoms will immediately drive down their cost by more than two-thirds -- to 22 cents. This is still a high cost
    for many of the world's women who earn less than $1 per day, but it will make female condoms more accessible to the millions of women who live every day of their lives at risk of HIV infection. Women and girls need access to the full range of HIV preventive tools
    available. But last year, national governments and international donors made only 12 million female condoms available for worldwide distribution while they distributed between six and nine billion male condoms. Three male condoms were purchased for every man on earth, but only one female condom for every 250 women. This is a gross disparity that must be addressed. Accelerated female condom distribution and education is essential. HIV infection rates among women are rising disproportionately to men in every region of the world, and young women and girls account for 76% of infections among African youth. And when AIDS affects women, it affects entire families and communities, tearing apart social safety nets and fueling instability and conflict.

    There are now more than 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa, many of whom drop out of school, struggle for daily survival and are subject to exploitation and abuse. Clearly the future of Africa and developing nations is tied to what we do for women -- and to what we enable women to do for themselves. Female condoms remain the only tool for HIV prevention that women can initiate and control. Research in South Africa and Brazil has shown that female condom use -- even at current low levels -- can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in public health spending. And a new second-generation female condom is being made that will allow dramatic reductions in price according to the quantities purchased. What is needed to achieve affordable global access to the female condom is the will and commitment of national health ministries and international donors. When women receive the female condom and are educated on its use, it becomes an item they demand. And women can often negotiate the use of female condoms in situations where use of the male condom is difficult or not possible due to personal or cultural constraints. As experienced advocates for women's health worldwide, we believe that grassroots demand for the female condom will grow as more women use it. And to help create this demand, we are pleased to announce that the maker of the second-generation female condom -- the Female Health Company -- has agreed to provide thousands of free female condoms for HIV education programs conducted by YWCAs around the world. Representatives of the YWCA are calling for the accelerated purchase of 180 million female condoms per year and accompanying education and community distribution. We bring our demand to world attention in advance of World AIDS Day. All prevention methods have their place, and people make choices based on the realities of their lives. Abstinence, faithfulness in marriage and male condoms all are valid prevention methods. However, the female condom provides an opportunity for women to actively take part in the discussion on condom use, and it enables women to be in a position where they can offer to protect themselves, rather than waiting to be protected. Access to the full range of HIV prevention tools is essential if we are to protect women, men, and children from AIDS. It is time to demand equal protection. Source: YWCA, 20.11.05.
    Website: www.prnewswire.com

  •  UN Grants for 24 Projects to End Violence Against Women
    The United Nations Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women will grant US$1.8 million to 24 groups in developing countries who are working to end gender-based violence in their communities. The announcement was made on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which falls on November 25th each year. The Trust Fund is a unique multi-lateral mechanism established by the UN General Assembly in 1996 and administered by UNIFEM. Grants are awarded by a committee comprised of representatives of UN agencies and international NGOs. Grants this year went to initiatives that focused on ensuring that national policies and laws to end violence against women were being implemented. "Great strides have been made in setting policies and legal frameworks - the challenge now is to ensure implementation," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM. "The effective strategies supported by the Trust Fund are key to lives free of violence for women and girls. These must now be scaled up to become standard practice everywhere," she added. Community leaders, traditional authorities, and health and legal service providers will be trained to advocate on and apply new laws to address gender-based violence in Tanzania, Cambodia and southern Nigeria; a regional programme in Central America will analyse domestic violence legislation in 7 countries to monitor its interpretation in court from a human rights perspective; a network of Afro-Brazilian women will advocate in Brazil against social and institutional racism that is impeding implementation of end violence legislation and posing obstacles to women accessing justice;
    The response of law enforcement and judicial bodies to cases of violence against women will be enhanced through extensive training of police forces throughout Papua New Guinea; through the creation of female-friendly police and legal procedures in Bhutan; and through sensitizing medical experts on the impact of their reporting during sexual violence court case proceedings in Pakistan;
     Various government and nongovernmental bodies that respond to gender-based violence in Colombia, and Dominica, will be brought together to develop a better integrated, multi-sectoral approach to providing services for victims and implementing appropriate legislation and policies; in Macedonia, a similar integrated approach will be developed, targeted particularly at the civil justice system, while in Tajikistan unified efforts will tackle specific end violence provisions in state legislation; A coalition of NGOs in Mali will work with parliamentarians to pass legislation to ban female genital excision; and in Swaziland data on sexual violence will be collected and analysed to support the passing of a sexual offences bill that is pending in parliament; This year's grant cycle also included an 'HIV/AIDS window' for proposals that targeted the linkage between gender-based violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
     Source: UNIFEM, 21.11.05. Website: www.unifem.org
  • Health Aid: 'Failing the Poor'
    Health programmes aimed at helping the poorest people in developing countries are more likely to benefit the wealthier groups in their society, according to a study by the World Bank into the impact of such schemes across 20 nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The report found health programmes "usually end up reaching people in better-off groups more frequently. It said this was the case in both private and public sector schemes.  "The richest 20% of the population received more, or as much as, of the government's subsidised maternal and child healthcare (MCH) services as the poorest 20%," said the report. It said this was case across almost all of the 20 countries surveyed. "This report shows there's a huge difference between just thinking you're reaching the poor with beneficial healthcare services, and actually succeeding," said the report's co-author Davidson Gwatkin. The study was sponsored by the Dutch and Swedish governments and the Gates Foundation, the charity of Microsoft boss Bill Gates. It did however find exceptions to the rule, such as a Mexican scheme which helps poor families pay for their medical care and school attendance for their children. In this programme, 60 per cent of the benefits went to the poorest 20% of the country's population. Source: BBC News, 7.12.05. 


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