Afghan Human Rights Office Opens in Herat; Gender Advocacy, Security Needed
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, led by former women's affairs minister Dr Sima Samar, opened its Herat office today—the first beyond Kabul. Among those attending the inauguration ceremony were Herat Gov. Ismail Khan and UN and government officials. The Associated Press reported that after the ceremony, an Afghan journalist working for a US government-supported radio station was arrested, beaten, and then released. The Commission is expected to investigate the case. The warlord Khan is notorious for stifling political dissent and independent media throughout the province while imposing Taliban-like restrictions on women and girls.
International donors this week answered a call Monday from Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani requesting $2.25 billion in foreign aid for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Friday. Pledging $2 billion, the countries reiterated their commitment to assist in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The US exceeded its earlier pledges with a promise of $820 million, while Japan and the European Union agreed to give $500 million over the next two and a half years and $432 million until 2005, respectively, according to Reuters. Afghan officials said $1.7 billion would go towards infrastructure redevelopment and other areas targeted for funding would include boosting security and combating the re-burgeoning opium industry.
The stream of foreign aid entering Afghanistan suggests that much work remains to be done. Last November, the US, Japan, and Saudi Arabia pledged aid to resume construction of the critical Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway. Earlier this year, Japan donated US$35 million toward an UN-supported disarmament program, reported the Associated Press. Last week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced $60 million to print textbooks and rebuild schools throughout Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, progress remains slow. A report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) entitled “Afghanistan: Women and Reconstruction” argues that sustainable improvements will require an institutional and cultural overhaul, “mainstreaming gender issues in the development process as a whole,” stated the organization’s press release. ICG Senior Analyst in Afghanistan, Vikram Parekh stated, “…many women activists operate in a difficult environment and some report being threatened. ICG has consistently argued for the extension of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the capital and this is just as important in this context, so that Afghan women activist can operate effectively.”
Meanwhile, 15 women remain imprisoned in Kabul’s jail—mostly on charges of petty crimes, such as adultery or refusal to marry with parental consent. Last November, in celebration of Ramadan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai granted amnesty to 20 women jailed in Kabul.
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. . . .