Saturday, 9 May 2015

Is Hillary Clinton vulnerable on women's rights?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul suggested Sunday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won't be able to make a credible argument that she promotes women's rights because the foundation run by her family has accepted donations from foreign countries where women are treated poorly.
"She's taken money from countries that abuse the rights of women. In Saudi Arabia, a woman was raped by seven men. The woman was then publically whipped. And then she was arrested for being in a car with an unmarried man. I think we should be boycotting that activity, not encouraging it. And it looks really bad for the case of defending women's rights, if you're accepting money," Paul said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
He also cited a donation from Brunei, "where they stone women to death for adultery."
"It's going to be hard for her to say she's for women's rights, when she's accepting money from sort of stone-age sort of regimes that really abuse the rights of women," he said.
Clinton is expected to announce Sunday that she is running for president. Paul jumped into the race last week, becoming the second official candidate on the GOP side.
The Clinton Foundation accepts donations from foreign governments, although it imposed restrictions on raising new money from those sources in 2009 to avoid any conflicts of interest while Clinton was secretary of state. They restarted the practice in 2013 and have argued amid criticism that the foundation is a philanthropy and has strong transparency practices.
That's what Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, argued when she defended Clinton in a separate interview on "Face the Nation."
"I think that those contributions to the foundation are open for everyone to look at," she said. "I think she's answered this. She talked about that this was the foundation. I think you've seen other foundations take similar contributions. But the point of it is that I don't think anyone can quite match her record for promoting women's rights all across the world. And if they want to go on that claim and have that argument, I'll say she wins."
Host Bob Schieffer asked Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to explain why the foundation accepting donations from foreign government is any different from candidates and the groups that support them taking money from sources that won't always be disclosed to the public.
"The differences is all those other entities, super PACs, parties, individual candidates, they can't take money from kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco and Oman and Yemen. And that's what Hilary Clinton did. And so she's going to have to account for this money," Priebus said.
"The point is, if we stick to the facts, and that's where we want to be, then we're going to be able to make the case to the American people that she has a product that isn't worth buying," Priebus added.
He also said the question of accepting money from foreign governments makes it all the more important that the emails she kept on a private server be available to the public.
"She's going to be under even more scrutiny about where she got the money from, if she used her position as Secretary of State," he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the State Department is currently reviewing the emails that Clinton has handed over to the department, and will take "a couple" more months to go through them.
"We will release all the emails that are appropriate based on classification. We're obviously looking through them to determine that no classified information is inadvertently released. But those emails will be released at the appropriate moment," Kerry said.
He added that he has asked the State Department's Inspector General to examine the entire department's email management system to ensure the procedures in place are appropriate.
"And as for myself, I deal with a state dot gov address and all of my emails are being secured by the State Department," Kerry added.


Friday, 8 May 2015

The distance travelled: Beijing, Hillary, and women's rights

Hillary Rodham Clinton will need to listen to listen to the voices of women working at grassroots on the frontline, and be prepared to use her power, should she win, to defend the human rights defenders.
So Hillary is running again. And the campaign against her has also taken off, with her gender and her record on women’s rights part of the story. How far will Clinton go this time in positioning herself as a champion of women?
On the morning of Hillary Clinton’s low key announcement that she is running for President for the second time, potential Republican rival Senator Rand Paul weighed in with a CNN interview, managing to patronise her as a woman in the same breath as saying it would be wrong to patronise her. He said it would be ‘sexist’ to suggest that Clinton deserves not to be treated aggressively in the political fight ‘because she’s only a woman’.
Clinton herself avoided a gender-based strategy in her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination but this time, she is building it into her campaign. An ‘America’s Grandmother’ theme has emerged to improve Clinton’s appeal to voters and the campaign is prioritising women and young people, emphasising the chance to make history by putting the first woman President in the White House and leading on policies such as equal pay and paid leave as part of her broader programme on improving the incomes of workers and reducing inequality.
In the years since her earlier Presidential bid failed and Clinton became the world’s most powerful diplomat as Obama’s Secretary of State, she felt able to be more vocal on gender. She launched the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review initiative, making the empowerment of women one of the objectives of US diplomatic missions abroad. The Clinton Foundation, which Hillary runs with husband Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea, recently launched the ‘No Ceilings’ project, an initiative to inspire and advance the full participation of women and girls around the world, and in a recent television interview marking twenty years since the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing she said: ‘In the 21st century, the biggest piece of unfinished businessis the full rights of women and girls and that’s what we should be focused on.’ 
The Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, attended by more 30,000 activists, was a landmark breakthrough for women’s rights, and Clinton’s part in it cannot be underestimated. She was First Lady, not an elected official, but nevertheless her speech proclaiming ‘women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights’ was electrifying, not just for what she said but for the fact that there was someone with real influence in the White House prepared to say it.
The speech put the moral and legal force of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the service of women. Running for the nomination and possibly being a candidate, and even elected President next year, once again places Clinton, and progress on women’s rights, in a historic position at a time when real political will could make all the difference.
Since Beijing, while the UN itself has devoted more attention to the status and conditions of women and some progress has been made, there have also been alarming developments. Violence against women has become an undeniable and widespread universal reality, and speaking out against it no longer a taboo, as it once was.  Everything from rape as a weapon of war to sex trafficking to female genital mutilation (FGM) are far better understood, acknowledged and addressed in public discourse and policy.
But even in the midst of progress at this level, the tide of violence has continued to rise and a special brand of violence has come to the fore: violenceagainst women and girls who defend human rights such as Malala Yousafzai - now a Noble Peace laureate - and Salwa Bugaighis, a Libyan lawyer who played a key part in the Arab Spring and who was murdered in her own home last year as Libya descended into jihadist conflict. 
The challenge is no longer simply to promote women’s rights themselves. There is an additional struggle: to fight the backlash and protect the women who defend all human rights. Whether it is because of the rise of religious fundamentalism, the spread of criminal networks, the land grabs of corporations or the inertia, resistance or weakness of governments, women who promote human rights have very little protection from the powers and forces they challenge, and as a result their own lives are often at risk. Even when not in mortal danger, such women are regularly and extensively targeted around the world through judicial harassment, travel bans, threats, smears and detention as evidence gathered by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development shows.
A new front has opened up: the defence of women human rights defenders which is to be the subject of the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s biennial conference in the Netherlands April 24-26.
As with so much in the political sphere, the struggle for progress at the highest levels hinges on language and ideas. As a new concept, ‘human rights defenders’ first gained currency in a UN resolution in 1998, then in 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution specifically on protecting womenhuman rights defenders. The resolution was a breakthrough but was a hotly contested matter with difficult negotiations about the final wording on several flanks. The resolution expressed the UN’s ‘grave concern’ about the risks and violations that women human rights defenders faced. But initial drafts contained contentious references to issues including matters of sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights and sexuality that were later dropped in the final text. Key points that would have strengthened the text were excluded as a result of opposition voiced by a number of states from Africa, Asia and the Vatican.  
When the resolution was adopted four global rights organisations issued astatement saying: ‘It is deeply regrettable that this last minute consensus came at the expense of a crucial paragraph containing language calling on states to condemn all forms of violence against women and women human rights defenders, and to refrain from invoking any customs, tradition or religious consideration to avoid obligations related to the elimination of violence against women.’
The focus now is on implementation. Nicole Bjerler of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York said: ‘The resolution urges states to put in place gender-specific laws and policies for the protection of women human rights defenders and to ensure that defenders themselves are involved in the design and implementation of these measures,’ adding that ‘effective implementation of such measures by states will be key to enabling women human rights defenders to carry out their important and legitimate work.’
This week's Nobel Women’s Initiative conference is designed to move from international resolution to action, building support for women human rights defenders and developing strategies for real progress on the ground through looking in detail at case studies from different regions around the world.  Topics include digital and internet security, funding, media training, climate change and the protection of natural resources and the environment, and the monitoring and documenting of specific threats against women.
The conference is an essential move in keeping up the pressure to make governments and other agencies take action, not just make resolutions. The issue could so easily slip off the agenda otherwise. The Nobel Women's Initiative have pointed out that recent studies, echoed by findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, demonstrate that women environmental activists and women protecting land against mining and other resource developments are often facing the highest level of risk, and that 'to date, governments are doing very little to address their specific needs.'
 At the recent meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, a Political Declaration was issued that failed to include a reference to women human rights defenders. Lydia Alpizar, Executive Director of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, did not less it pass unremarked in herspeech. 'A vital prerequisite for the continuity of the achievements and the future progress of our work is the integrated protection and prevention of violence against women human rights defenders in all our diversity,’ she said. ‘It is a shame that all language on defenders was removed from the Political Declaration.'
Alpizar added: ‘This is the moment; there are important opportunities before us. This is the moment when we must have all resources needed - the political commitment and the action - to achieve real transformations.’
With Hillary Clinton declaring her candidacy for the Democratic nomination on a gender-inflected programme, the distance travelled from Beijing is considerable. The possibility of having a woman with power in the White House who at least has a track record in women’s rights, and who could yet have the political commitment, is a historic opportunity.
The Nobel Women’s Initiative is providing the route through for the voices of women at the grass roots and in the frontline to be raised and amplified. Hillary Clinton will need to do more than campaign, but to listen to them and be prepared to use her power, should she win, to defend the human rights defenders.
 Marion Bowman will be reporting for 50.50 from the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on the defence of women human rights defenders, 24-26 April. Read more articles by participants and speakers attendingconference.  Read previous years' coverage.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

China Frees Detained Women’s-Rights Activists

BEIJING—Chinese authorities released the five women’s-rights activists whose detentions last month sparked an international outcry and stoked fears that the Communist Party planned to expand political controls.
Police notified families Monday night that the five activist—Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Zheng Churan—would be set free, said Wang Qiushi, a lawyer representing Ms. Wei. Mr. Wang said around 1 a.m. on Tuesday that all had returned to their families.
Liang Xiaojun, another of the activists’ lawyer, said the five had been released on China’s equivalent of bail, meaning they would be subject to police surveillance and could still be vulnerable to criminal charges for up to a year.
“They are not completely free. At any time in the next year, the police could take them away again,” Mr. Liang said.
“The releases are a profound relief, and they make clear that public pressure from inside and outside China can change the government’s position,” said Sophie Richardson, the director of Asia advocacy at Human Rights Watch. Still, she added, the women shouldn’t have been detained in the first place.
The detention came as the Communist Party pursued an aggressive campaign against independent political activities, detaining or jailing dozens of lawyers, activists and others. But even against that background, the detentions baffled many inside China. Gender equality has been a central plank in the Communist Party’s platform since its inception, with Mao famously declaring that “women hold up half the sky.”
Activists note that the country recently has made progress on women’s issues, with a landmark law on domestic violence scheduled to come out later this year.
The last time a Chinese regime arrested women for feminist activity was in 1913, according to feminist Chinese historians, when then-President Yuan Shikai attempted to crush a nascent women’s suffrage movement.
Prosecutors faced a deadline Monday to either charge or release the five women, who were detained while planning a multicity campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation timed to coincide with International Women’s Day.
Mr. Wang, the lawyer for Ms. Wei, said earlier that police had requested that prosecutors charge the five with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Mr. Wang said police had opened investigations into some of the activists’ prior campaigns.
Beijing police and prosecutors didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Haidian District Detention Center, where the women had been held, declined to comment, saying it would only answer questions posed in person by relatives.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Friday calling for the release of the women, a few days after his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, called their detention “inexcusable” in a post on Twitter. Mr. Kerry said the U.S. supported the efforts of the activists to fight sexual harassment, adding, “Chinese authorities should also support them, not silence them.”
At a daily news briefing Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had complained to the U.S. over the comments made by U.S. leaders, and urged the U.S. to “stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs.”
On Saturday, relatives released a public letter asking the government to release the women. “Given our country’s outstanding historical tradition, the social reality of sexual harassment, and the relevant laws and regulations, we firmly believe that the thoughts and actions of our five relatives did not in any way violate national policy or laws,” the letter read.
Human rights and civil society experts noted that the detained activists had been successful in drawing attention to women’s issues with eye-catching campaigns, such as one in 2012 where they “occupied” men’s toilets to highlight insufficient facilities for women. The women also had worked with foreign organizations—something the Communist Party increasingly finds suspicious.
China’s authorities “want gender equality to be something they control,” said Lu Jun,director of the Beijing Yirenping Center, an antidiscrimination nonprofit that employed Ms. Li, one of the detained activists. “They don’t want civil society to have anything to do with it.”
Government pressure has cast a chill over many women’s-rights activities in recent weeks. Nonprofit groups associated with the detained women have had their offices searched by police, while a number of lectures and activities have either been canceled or altered, women’s-rights campaigners say.
Rehearsals for a production of “Our Vaginas, Ourselves,” a play about female empowerment based on the “Vagina Monologues” by American playwright Eve Ensler, have been put on hold as the cast searches for a new space to meet, according to one of the show’s creators, who said she had been among a group of activists who had been briefly detained along with the five but quickly let go.
“Right now it’s not clear if we’ll be able to put on any shows in Beijing this year,” she said.
Mr. Lu said all of Yirenping’s gender-related programs had been temporarily suspended as the group waited to see what happened to the women.
Even after their release, it remained unclear what long-term effect the recent pressure would have on the women’s-rights movement.
“For some people, there will definitely be a chilling effect,” said Feng Yuan, a veteran women’s-rights campaigner, but for many young people, perceived suppression could serve as “a rallying point.”
For one 24-year-old activist, the detentions served as an awakening. She said she saw police bring home one of the detained activists, Ms. Zheng, only to take her away again. The sight left her speechless, she said.
After Chinese authorities began searching for associates of the detained activists, she found herself moving from apartment to apartment. “I got a call from someone and just ran,” she said.
Being on the run hasn’t kept her from continuing her activism. She joined four other activists in Guangzhou to don masks of the detained women and take photos around the city as part of a campaign to focus attention on them.
“I’m so happy I’m crying,” she said on hearing that Ms. Zheng had been released. Still, she said, they might keep the masks around, “just for fun.”
—Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.
Write to Josh Chin at


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

So far so good? Not for women’s rights

While women in Zimbabwe have enjoyed freedom from colonialism oppression, women’s conditions have changed little despite progressive legislation such as the 1982 Legal Age of Majority Act where women enjoy equal status as adults in society and the Domestic Violence Act of 2006 and others.

Political developments in Zimbabwe’s demographic and social shifts regarding the position and condition of women over the past 35 years need examining and documenting.
Having legally achieved their equal rights, re-enforced by the Constitution of 2013, Zimbabwean women are now demanding equality for all citizens, and that these rights become a lived reality for all. Women are now highly visible. Women hold senior positions in government: for 10 years we had a female Vice President, Dr. Joice Mujuru, the President of the Senate is Edna Madzongwe, and there are a number of female government ministers and members of Parliament.
The private sector has its own crop of powerful female CEOs and managing directors: Divine Ndhlukula, Florence Ziumbe, Eve Gadzikwa, Lydia Tanyanyiwa, Dr Charity Jinya, just to name a few. In the non-profit sector, the same applies; leading NGOs are headed by women, Irene Petras, Netty Musanhu, Jenni Williams, Jestina Mukoko and Rindai Chipfunde –Vava.
Girls are tops
At the end of 2014, girls out-scored the boys academically in high school examinations, and there is almost 50% gender parity at the University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology. However, the socio economic, political and cultural conditions of women are getting worse.
The social norms that discriminate against women in Zimbabwe are becoming entrenched because of the economic decline and the suffering that ordinary Zimbabweans are experiencing. During difficult periods in Zimbabwe, women generally suffer considerably more than their male counterparts. In addition to the everyday pressures that all Zimbabweans have, women are further burdened with domestic responsiblities, taking care of the young, sick and the elderly and looking after the household. When there is no water, it is mainly the women who are out with buckets and containers, and finding firewood when the power goes out. This is ongoing 35 years after Independence, and yet those in the corridors of power say “so far so good”.
The past 35 years is a manifestation of underlying frustrations. Social and political restrictions, coupled with high rates of unemployment and costs of living, have made it increasingly difficult for Zimbabwean women to sustain themselves and their families, pushing them to leave the country in large numbers to find jobs in places such as South Africa, Botswana, UK, USA, Australia and many other countries.
Cross-border abuse
These women suffer untold abuses crossing borders, including rape, in order to make a living. It is not uncommon to come across talented Zimbabwean women in almost all sectors of employment in Africa and beyond. The cost to Zimbabwe for losing its human capital adds up to billions of dollars a year.
Many Zimbabwean families are kept going by the remittances from their family members living in the Diaspora. For example, research by First National Bank (FNB) in South Africa revealed that an estimated 1.9 million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa send an average R6.7 billion (about US $740 million) a year to Zimbabwe. The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa could have far reaching effects for Zimbabwean families. How will they survive if their family members are killed or forced to return home? What are they returning to? Will they say so far so good?
Zimbabwean women are an accelerating force for development, as manifested in their behaviour and desire to improve their lives. Their sheer resilence is to be commended, but this is not recognised as discrimination is entrenched: behind closed doors, patriarchal family codes rule.
With women’s rights education and the changing socio-economic factors, women have changed both positively and negatively in the last 35 years - they have become powerful, independent, adventurous, self-confident, and happy. At the same time they have become ballsy, unyielding and hard. But not without cost.
More violence
Domestic violence against women is increasingly rife amongst Zimbabweans: although the counter argument that men are being beaten by their wives too is inevitably raised, this is massively more a problem for women than it is for men. Women continue to be abused. despite the Constitution that states under Section 80 that every woman has full and equal dignity of the person to man. Women have the same rights as men, all laws customs,traditions and cultural practices that go against the rights of women are void.
The issue of women's rights becomes a major topic in political campaigns during the elections. Recognising the key role that women voters - younger women in particular - play in the election, politicians go beyond slogans that emphasise high cultural and religious value placed on women as wives and mothers, and specifically address the demands voiced by women's rights activists.
However, as soon as politicians have been voted into positions, their engagement with women and addressing their issues are relegated to the bottom of the pile or they simply disappear. Research carried out by RAU in 2014 shows that women have a general interest in participating in politics, and there has been a steady increase in their numbers since 1980; however, young women have lost interest in politics, particularly elections, as they do not see it making any significant changes in their lives.
No trust
In a soon to be released study by RAU, women have indicated that they do not trust their MPs because they feel used, the politicans are only active during the campaign periods and they are nowhere to be seen until the next election is looming.
As we celebrate 35 years of indpendence from colonial rule, let us be mindful that although great strides have been made to uplift women, several giant steps have taken us backwards. The women who were part of the movement in the 1980s say that we are still fighting the same battles they did back then because of these backward steps. Let us use the Constitution to our advantage and ensure that all legislation is aligned and adhered to, so that 35 years from now, the women’s movement will not be addressing the same issues their great grandmothers did: let them say, with regards to gender equality and the upholding of women’s rights, so far so good.


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Don't Abort Women's Rights

I write to commend Minister Lisa Hanna's speaking to a difficult but realistically urgent matter. This is leadership.
Obviously, affirming the urgency of women's reproductive rights is neither politically expedient nor point-accumulating in general. I am tired of meeting poor Jamaican sisters who do not have access to professional advice concerning the pros and cons of the challenging decision to abort or not.
It seems pretty clear to me that many persons will misunderstand her call, simply because they do not understand the depth of this necessity. Who knows, for example, that within a legal framework, pregnant girls and women can receive professional advice without the stigma and discrimination that currently prevails? Who knows that medical personnel who are so qualified are not at liberty to advise a pregnant client regarding the full gamut of her reproductive rights? Who knows that under the current dispensation, it is mere guesswork regarding the true statistical data concerning abortions?
It is my hope that we will not be satisfied with the continued botched back-door abortions that often lead to complications and even death.
We are a country that loves our women and we place a premium on the office of motherhood. Should we not protect our women and mothers by doing all in our power to protect women's rights to equality and non-discrimination? Who would disagree with our country making the progressive decision to protect the right to life and the right to health? Would anyone really stand in the way of reforming the current law, so that the right to liberty and the security of the person may be truly affirmed in accordance with the values Jamaica shares within the community of nations?
Minister Hanna, you have made a timely call. Hopefully it will receive more than the often emotive responses.
It is so sad to see how archaic pieces of legislation have been used only to serve the purpose of intellectual discussions, religious quarrels, and political ball games. Meanwhile, hundreds of poverty-stricken Jamaican women suffer the indignity and threat of life-threatening procedures/practices as a result of these oppressive laws.
Even if they are going to be drilled with biblical quotations in the midst of their confusion, should they not be facilitated with a comprehensive approach in an effort to empower them with information?
Imagine with me a context in which a fellow Jamaican citizen is faced with the challenging decision of doing an abortion. She is a member of some religious community. She is ridden with guilt. However, nursing advisers, medical personnel, and her pastor all agree that she must be approached in a non-judgemental way. She is presented with the pros and cons of such a procedure. She is assured of her capacity to make her own authentic and respect-deserving decision. Wow! Pardon me here, forgot I am in Jamaica.
Parliament must move with haste to arrest the risks of maternal morbidity and mortality as a result of our unwise clutching on to these antiquated remains which have long been discarded by their masters of origin.
We have had years of talking, debating, sermonising, and politicking. What next? We need leadership! We need our political servants of the people to act in the interest of our country. Jamaica needs you, the primary protectors of human rights, to lead the way for our girls and women. Will you?
P.S.: By the way, Minister Hanna, I still loved you in the bathing suit. Next time, please ditch the T-shirt.
- Fr Sean Major-Campbell is an Anglican priest. Email feedback and


Monday, 4 May 2015

Cecily Strong Tackles Hillary Clinton, Women's Rights, & More in Funny Speech at WHCD 2015 (Video)

Cecily Strong takes the podium at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner held at the Washington Hilton on Saturday (April 25) in Washington, D.C.
The 31-year-old Saturday Night Live castmember made jokes for more than 20 minutes about everything from President Obama to Fox News.
When speaking about the Secret Service, she said, “The only law enforcement agency that actually gets in trouble if a black guy gets shot.”
“It feels so weird to be up here,” Cecily also said. “Since I’m only a comedian, I’m not going to try and tell you how to do politics. That would be like you guys telling me what to do with my body. I mean, can you even imagine? Crazy.”
Watch Cecily Strong‘s entire WHCD speech below!

Read more: