Reflections on Our Countries – April 2016

May 5, 2016

5 May, 2016


Every month RESURJ members will collectively share and reflect on some news highlights affecting sexual and reproductive, environmental and economic justice from the different regions and countries we work in… Brazil – Egypt – India – Lebanon – Mexico – Nigeria – Pakistan – Philippines – UK

Brazil: When Impeaching a President Becomes a Feminist Issue

In the voting that approved the opening of the impeachment procedure against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the crowd of aging white men who make up the National Congress showed what our representative democracy is made of. Instead of voting on whether or not Rousseff committed a crime of responsibility, the majority of lower house deputies voted yes to impeachment in the name of God, (their own) family and nostalgia for the dictatorship. The horror show of April 18th included displays of disregard for the secularity of the State, discrimination against LGBTI people and families, and a shout out to the chief-torturer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime. Amidst so many antidemocratic affronts, sexism was as present as always: it was there in the less than 10% of women representatives; it was in the patronizing pro-impeachment signs that read “Bye bye, darling” referring to the president; it was there in the booing directed at a representative who was absent in the session due to being on maternity leave.

If there was any doubt regarding the patriarchy’s insistence on harassing women in politics, mainstream media made sure to reinforce the message. The day after the lower house impeachment voting, a powerful weekly conservative magazine devoted a headline to the “beautiful, demure and housewife” Marcela Temer, wife of Vice-President Michel Temer, and potential first lady. The laudatory tone of the piece contrasts with the profiles made about President Rousseff describing her as bossy, aggressive and prone to “uncontrolled outbreaks”, according to a recent cover of another major magazine. The feminist reaction of Brazilian women on social media came as a call to remind us all that Marcela Temer can be whatever she wants to be, but the patriarchy will not determine which women are acceptable in politics or anywhere else.

Egypt: People Taking to the Streets again While Sexuality Issues Return to the Backburner

Egypt witnessed massive unrest this month. Hundreds took to the street twice – once on April 15 and the second time on April 25 – to protest the transfer of the sovereignty of two islands in the Red Sea – Tiran and Sanafir – to Saudi Arabia, while the Egyptian government claimed it was merely returning what always belonged to the Kingdom. Protests of this magnitude have not taken place in Egypt since the military forcibly removed elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi from power in the summer of 2013. Since then, the regime has passed a draconian protest law and has led a crackdown against all forms of peaceful protest, mostly targeting activists believed to be behind the January 2011 revolution, and sentenced them all to harsh prison terms. Whether or not this will have any effect on the regime’s authoritarian policies is yet to be seen. And while the past few months had witnessed protests led by doctors against police brutality, this month journalists took to the streets to protest the targeting, arrest and detention of dozens of journalists while covering the April 25 demonstrations, which were met with a heavy security response.

In the meantime, the crackdown against homosexuality has continued, with a misdemeanor court sentencing 11 men for allegedly inciting debauchery – 3 of the men were sentenced to 12 years while the rest were given terms of between 3-9 years. While homosexuality is not explicitly criminalized in Egyptian penal code, prosecutors have in the past used debauchery and immortality charges to indict men who have sex with men. In 2014, another court had also sentenced a group of men to prison terms ranging from 8 to 12 years.

India: Government Cracks Down on Civil Society as it Continues to Fight Marital Rape Battles

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, has published a legal analysis arguing that India’s Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) – which regulates foreign funding to certain individuals, associations and companies – is not in conformity with international law. This is particularly important because of the civil society crackdown by the Modi government, by suspending licenses for them to operate and making it harder for Non Profit organizations to re-apply for the FCRA certificate, accusing them of being anti-national and promoting ‘western’ development agendas. The government is exercising discretionary judgement in deciding which organizations are eligible for funding, in an attempt to shut down civil society voices that raise uncomfortable questions on the government’s violation of human rights and environmental protection agreements.

On the other hand, the FCRA currently bans political parties from receiving funds from any foreign source, however the government has proposed amendments that cleverly allow it to work around the same. It would also apply retrospectively, since 2010 when the law was originally passed. In 2014, the Delhi high court had found that both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress (Congress) Party violated the FCRA by accepting donations from the London-based multinational, Vedanta. The judgement is being appealed before the Supreme Court; in the meantime, a public interest litigation has been filed by Prashant Bhushan seeking disclosure of foreign funds received by political parties.

On another front, the Delhi High Court has agreed to revisit a second petition refiled by the Human Rights Law Network on behalf of a woman, Reema Gaur, on the grounds of discrimination against married women. The new case challenges the government’s stand against criminalizing rape within a marriage, since rape committed by a stranger is criminalized. The government responded by asking for an extension, and the case is now tabled for May.

Lebanon: Politically Backed Sex Trafficking Rings while Government Continues to Deal with Garbage Crisis

At the end of March 2016, the Lebanese police dismantled a sex trafficking ring that had been operating for years in the coastal region of Maameltein, a few minutes north of the capital Beirut. The women’s testimonies unveil horrifying accounts of repetitive rapes, torture, coercion into sex work, and forced abortions. Most of them are young Syrian women, and their number has increased since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. That a sex trafficking ring goes undercover for so long could only indicate political backing and corruption, as some Lebanese activists and politicians recognize.

Meanwhile, Beirut is suffocating under the nauseating garbage smell and the proliferation of mosquitoes and flies, as the garbage is being moved from temporary dumps to short-term landfills. The emergency plan concocted by the Lebanese cabinet last month involved assigning landfills in poorer Beiruti suburbs, such as Bourj Hammoud and Khaldeh. The Minister of Environment’s claim that the smell and flies were due to the spring heat was met with scorn and derision, and activists came up with DIY (Do it Yourself) solutions to fight the unsanitary situation on their blogs and Facebook pages. With the municipality elections coming up next month, Lebanese sectarian leaders have a lot to worry about given their failed attempts at covering up corruption and malfunctioning of the state. A new grassroots campaign called Beirut Madinati (Beirut My City) is proposing an intersectional electoral program that promises the improvement of livelihood and well-being in the country’s capital. The coalition’s Trudeauesque list of candidates has pushed the Future movement, the party that has overwhelmingly taken over Beirut’s parliamentary seats in the past decade, to propose a mixed sectarian list and campaign for the upcoming elections.

Mexico: Failed Investigation into Student Deaths Leads to Disappointment Amidst Feminist Mobilization Against Violence

The international group of independent experts sent to Mexico to support and give technical assistance to the government for the investigation of the September 2014 disappearance of 43 students issued their final report on April 2nd, not because they solved the case, but because our government has been shutting them out and didn’t agree to extend their mandate. The atmosphere was already tense as there was a smear campaign directed towards one of the experts (of course, a woman). The government refused to give them access to the military so they were not able to dig deeper. They made two reports with lessons learnt, actions to take to improve the response in such cases. The group was commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, in the Congress they are passing a law that will allow military personnel to ‘raid’ semi-government institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission which houses civilian complaints against the military, when they deem necessary.

Also during this month in Mexico, feminists, mostly young, sent out a call to have a national social mobilization to raise awareness and denounce the increasing macho violence that we (women) are experiencing. Entitled the Purple Spring, the date set for the national mobilization was April 24th. This demonstration was one of the biggest protests for women’s rights in the history of Mexico with 42 cities from across the country participating. Close to 15 thousand people rallied to demand justice in Mexico City alone. Before the demonstration, a hash-tag campaign was launched inviting all to share their first story of abuse #MiPrimerAcoso (#MyFirstHarrasment). Women were sharing very painful stories, and it became a trending topic on Twitter, which is very sad, but a very good eye-opener.

Nigeria: HIV and AIDS Commitments and the 2016 Nigerian Budget

As part of the events leading up to the adoption of the SDGs by Heads of State, Nigeria co-convened a side event on accelerating progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic. During this meeting, President Mohammadu Buhari, made the commitment to increase domestic resources for scaling -up Nigeria’s AIDS response. These same commitments have been echoed by the Minister for Health, Professor Adewole in different fora. The Minister has consistently said that Nigeria will eliminate vertical transmission of HIV by 2019; procure all the HIV testing kits needed to test 90% of Nigerians and also treat all Nigerian’s who test positive. Related to the promises on tackling HIV and AIDS, he also pledged that the Ministry would also provide the counterpart funding need for procurement of contraceptive commodities and immunization vaccines. As a usual trend amongst politicians, most promises are not kept.

Given the commitment made by the administration, it would have been expected that the 2016 budget, which was recently represented to the Nigerian National Assembly, would have significant financial allocations for health issues. It is ironic that in Nigeria, which hosted African governments when they committed to allocate 15% of their national budgets to health (2001 Abuja Declaration), has never met this commitment. Nigeria’s budget allocation for health has over the years ranged between 5%-6%. Sadly in 2016 the health allocation is only 4.64%, which is less than the 6% allocated for 2015. Furthermore, within this allocation, the funds available for the HIV and AIDS response is inadequate and many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) including the National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS are very concerned. At a time when external donor funding from United States and United Kingdom is being withdrawn, we are all wondering how President Buhari and the health minister intend on ending the AIDS epidemic.

Pakistan: Climate Change in Pakistan’s Sindh Province and the Impact on Women’s SRHR:

Dramatic changes in climate have brought repeated natural disasters to Pakistan and in particular to the traditionally arid province of Sindh. Along with resulting in a number of negative health and economic outcomes including the loss of 2.5 million acres of agricultural land and the displacement of 1.5 million people, the cycles of flash floods and droughts have been particularly harmful for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, a new study conducted by the Sindh Community Foundation (SCF) with support from Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) found. In a province which already has very high rates of morbidity and mortality indicators associated with maternal and infant health, largely as a result of poor health and education infrastructure and high rates of poverty, the natural disasters have heightened the overall rates of maternal and infant death and malnutrition. During the 2010 flash floods, up to 40 percent of health facilities were impacted and an estimated 400 women were going into labor daily without adequate healthcare, access to clean water or Emergency Obstetric Care (EMOC) service availability.

Women living in refugee camps also lacked mobility, privacy and were more vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. While few cases of sexual assault were officially reported, women and girls interviewed cited feeling “insecure and psychologically fearful“. A significant area of concern in emergency responses has been the lack of focus on SRHR services in the essential relief packages offered by aid and environmental organizations. Moreover, the lack of SRHR integration in the National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy both during the emergency and rehabilitation phases is indicative of the lack of priority being given to women’s SRHR. The study is entitled: ‘Understanding climate change, impact on women’s reproductive health: Post-disaster interventions in Sindh’.

Philippines: Sexual Violence, Climate Change and Poverty are All Contentious Issues at Upcoming Elections

Rodrigo Duterte, a Presidential candidate, thinks rape is funny. During a campaign rally while retelling the story of the Australian Missionary who was raped and killed in a hostage crisis in Davao City in 1989, he remarked that the Mayor should have been first (to touch the victim), as she looked like ‘a beautiful American actress’. Worse, he even dismissed the assertion of his own daughter, in her attempt to qualify her father’s statement, that she herself was raped.

His remarks have caused an outcry from women’s human rights advocates all over the country, calling on Filipino voters to take a stand against normalizing the rape culture by not voting for him and making women’s rights a moral compass in their votes. Women’s human rights groups filed a case against Détente with the Gender Ombudsman of the Commission on Human Rights for violating the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710), the Philippine’s national policy on women’s human rights.

Women’s issues, particularly gender violence and discrimination, have shadowed the upcoming national elections on May 9. Two out of the five Presidential candidates are women, only one declares herself a women’s rights’ advocate and only one out of the five vice presidential candidates is a feminist human rights lawyer, Leni Robredo.

As elections approach, the government will also need to address climate change impact on farmers suffering the loss of their crops. The government knew in early 2014 that El Niño and La Niña would hit the country. Despite that, the El Niño response plan was only approved in December 2015. Hunger and desperation drove the farmers to set up a barricade in Kidapawan City in the last week of March. Had they been given the rations, and provided the support and capacity to adapt to El Niño long before it hit them, the bloody dispersal in Kidapawan City and the subsequent imprisonment of rallying farmers, including elderly women, could have been avoided. An investigation has been launched into the violent dispersal.

UKWhen the Panama Papers Leak Becomes a Housing and Affordability Crisis

The Panama Papers data leak confirmed what many tax justice activists and feminists had been shouting from the rooftops for many years – that the UK, through the city of London and the UK’s overseas territories, is at the heart of tax avoidance globally. This is clear in the 32,682 UK based ‘intermediaries’ for Mossack Fonseca, the company at the center of the scandal, and the 110,000 Mossack Fonseca’s clients hosted in the British Virgin Islands. When the investigation came to light, David Cameron UK Prime Minister was forced to explain his links to his late father’s offshore company, where it is believed the Cameron’s family fortune was made, and was questioned over the UK government’s weak and hypocritical attempts to address tax avoidance. An interesting link has been made between the UK’s housing and affordability crisis and the details revealed in the Panama leak. The billions of pounds of money from offshore tax havens used to buy property in London, including by the president of the UAE who has secretly built the biggest offshore property empire in the UK, could certainly exasperate an already significant problem with affordable and accessible housing in London particularly…. gentrification on a whole new scale. Further links to the UK’s housing crisis and what is revealed in the Panama leak could be drawn between the broken land market in the UK, including the high price of land, and the fact that it is emerging that a lot of land is owned through offshore tax havens. For example Global Witness recently revealed that an area the three times the size of Greater London in the UK is owned through offshore tax haven