Afghan Women Must be Included in Reconciliation Process
Dr. Sima Samar, who had just traveled from Afghanistan, testified before two Subcommittees of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Senators Barbara Boxer and Bob Casey this week and warned that Afghan women must be included in the reconciliation and reintegration process. She stated that the "reconciliation and reintegration cannot be successful without women's rights and human rights being guaranteed and women being included in all aspects of the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The process must be transparent in order to gain the public support of the Afghan people."
The Feminist Majority Foundation has initiated a campaign to underscore this demand. "We are alarmed the Afghan government did not include any women at the recent London conference on reconciliation," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Dr. Samar and Rachel Reid of Human Rights Watch both emphasized that Afghan women's rights and lives can not be traded away in any "peace" process.
The FMF applauded Senator Boxer's summarizing of the main points of the hearing: for reconciliation to succeed there must be "A commitment that the recently promulgated Afghan Violence Against Women Act will be enforced and that women would be guaranteed access to education, health care, employment, and political participation as well as a guarantee to constitutional rights." Boxer emphasized that "this is the moment" - the critical time - for women-s voices to be heard" as they develop the reconciliation/reintegration process.
"We are very encouraged," said Smeal that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released right before the hearing an updated Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. The updated strategy includes "initiatives focused on women's security, women's leadership in the public and private sector; women's access to judicial institutions, education, and health services" as well as employment. The strategy "recognizes women as agents of change and their importance to our civilian stabilization plan."
Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, who presented strong testimony before the subcommittees on the importance of Afghan women and girls, said, "It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if half of its population is left behind." Moreover she emphasized that "violence against women and girls in Afghanistan cannot be explained away as cultural or private; it is criminal and must be addressed as such."
Rachel Reid, a researcher from Human Rights Watch, who has lived in Afghanistan for the past three years, had also traveled from Afghanistan for the hearing. She presented a report to the subcommittee that included results of a series of interviews with Afghan women in Kabul and in districts where insurgents are strong. She concluded the interviews revealed that Afghan women want peace but "are concerned about the potential consequences of deals with insurgents for their basic rights…even those who are barely able to exercise these rights today." "Most women describe what could be considered 'non-negotiables'. These include access to education access to health care, freedom to work; freedom to participate in political life; and maintaining the constitutional protection of these rights. Many of the women expressed frustration that there is little transparency about the government's reintegration and reconciliation plans. They are well aware that initiatives and policies are currently being drawn up that will have enormous impact on them, but they have not been kept informed, let alone consulted."
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .