Top Saudi Arabian religious officials have begun to endorse a clear distinction between the innocent meddling of the sexes and sinful behavior in recent weeks.
For decades, agents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, (religious police) have enforced a strict separation of the sexes in Saudi Arabia. This policy has circumscribed the lives of women and girls and in some instances has resulted in tragic deaths.
In 2002, the religious police stopped girls from leaving their burning school because they were not wearing strict Islamic dress. The police also stopped men who tried to rescue the girls, warning, “It is sinful to approach them.” Several girls died.
Now, it seems, this was all a mistake. Religious officials have declared thatprohibitions against the mixing of the sexes in public places come from conservative tribal customs not the rules of sharia.
This sort of confusion is nothing new, nor is it unique to Islam or Saudi Arabia. Religion has long been used as a way to reinforce ethnic and cultural traditions that limit the rights of women and girls, including the right to inheritance and access to education, healthcare and decent work. Religion has also been used to justify harmful cultural practices such as FGM and child marriage.
It is to be hoped that religious leaders throughout the world will continue on this path of making honest distinctions between true religious law and discriminatory practices against women and girls that have their roots in custom and tradition.
I am currently the Co-chair of the NGO Committee on UNICEF – Working Group on Girls. One of our members is conducting a study on Girls’ Rights as part of her doctoral work at the University of Galway.
“Are you a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 years who is attending the upcoming 54th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2010? If so, then you are eligible to participate in an exciting study on girls’ rights at CSW54!
The study is titled, “What does it mean to be a girl with ‘rights’? A conversation with UN CSW girl delegates about how they understand and experience rights in their everyday lives.” The purpose of this research is to speak with girls about what rights mean to them and to explore how having rights impacts girls’ everyday lives.
To join the study:
– You must be attending CSW54,
– Be between the ages of 12-18 years, and
– Of course, be a girl!
Each participant is expected to attend 3 research sessions during CSW54 including:
– Peer-to-peer interview (where girls in the study interview one another),
– Focus group with all the girls in the study, and
– Individual interview.
Participation is voluntary and any information collected during the sessions will be kept strictly confidential and anonymous. A maximum of ten girls will be selected for this research.
Today the United Nations marked World AIDS Day by highlighting the connection between human rights promotion and successful efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an urgent end to discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. “I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response, including travel restrictions against people living with HIV,” said Mr. Ban. “Successful AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them.”
We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected,” said the Secretary-General. “On this World AIDS Day, let us uphold the human rights of all people living with HIV, people at risk of infection, and children and families affected by the epidemic.
Progress in reversing the AIDS epidemic in some countries is outpaced by new infections on a global scale making AIDS one of the leading causes of premature death worldwide. For every two people who begin treatment, five become newly infected with HIV. Women and girls have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.
Worldwide, women constitute half of all people living with HIV/AIDS.
Globally and in every region, more adult women (15 years or older) than ever before are now living with HIV.
Women are at least twice as likely to acquire HIV from men during sexual intercourse than vice versa.
Only 20% of young women aged 15 to 24 correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission.
In low- and middle-income countries, only one-third of pregnant women are currently offered services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 59% of all people living with HIV/AIDS. Among young people aged 15-24, the HIV prevalence rate for young women is almost three times higher than the rate among young men.
For this reason, laws that criminalize HIV transmission, such as the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill before the Ugandan legislature, can result in disproportionate prosecution of women and girls because more women are tested as part of pre- or ante-natal medical care and therefore know their HIV status. Women’s and girl’s inability to safely negotiate condom use or disclosure to partners who might have been the source of their infection is not recognized in this bill as defenses against criminal penalties. Women who transmit HIV to their infants after birth via breast milk would also be subject to criminal prosecution.
The punitive approach of this bill is likely to make people shy away from requesting testing or treatment. Experience has shown that programs that emphasize prevention and reduce stigma are far more effective in combating HIV/AIDS and are better for women and girls.
The United Nations hosted a special event at its New York Headquarters yesterday for the victims and survivors of human trafficking, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issuing a broad-based call to action for States to tackle the root causes and ensure swift justice against the perpetrators.
“Our fight against human trafficking is guided by three Ps: prevention, protection and prosecution,” he said in an opening address at the event at which four survivors bore living witness with accounts of their own horrific plight, including a girl who was abducted at age 14 by Ugandan rebels and kept as a sex slave for eight years.
“We must also empower victims. They need support systems, information and education. They need viable ways to earn a living. They also need criminal justice systems to pursue traffickers, and subject them to serious penalties. Conviction rates in most countries are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem. But when States help victims, the victims can help States break up trafficking networks.”
Mr. Ban cited a litany of abhorrent practices, including debt bondage, forced labor, torture, organ removal, sexual exploitation and slavery-like conditions. “Human trafficking injures, traumatizes and kills individuals. It devastates families and threatens global security,” he declared of a worldwide industry that generates billions of dollars in profit at the expense of millions of victims.
“Human trafficking touches on many issues, from health and human rights to development and peace and security. Our response must be equally broad, and must tackle this challenge at its roots,” he added, noting that the global economic crisis is making the problem worse as jobs and food get scarcer and rising social exclusion makes minorities and women especially vulnerable.
Survivors of human trafficking who addressed the event included Charlotte Awino, abducted at age 14 by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda and kept as a sex slave for eight years; Buddhi Gurung from Nepal, trafficked for labor to Iraq to work on a United States military base; Kika Cerpa from Venezuela, forced into prostitution by a man she thought of as her boyfriend; and Rachel Lloyd, an activist who survived commercial sexual exploitation as a teenager and started a New York organization to aid girls victimized by sex traffickers.
Today in the world, there are more slaves than when slavery was legal. There are an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking that live in every major city across the world. Contemplating this, we see a picture of suffering on a magnitude too staggering to comprehend.
Human trafficking is a $10 billion+ growth industry with conservative estimates ranging from 700,000 to 2 million people – primarily women and children – trafficked into prostitution and slavery annually.
Human trafficking is the third largest criminal business worldwide, after trafficking in drugs and weapons.
For traffickers it has been a high profit, low risk enterprise. Laws against trafficking in persons do not exist or are not enforced in many countries.
The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls.
In 30% of the countries that provide information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.
Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose office organized the Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking Special Event, stressed that persisting economic disparities, conflict and discrimination, particularly against women and migrants, continue to push those least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape.
There will always be some individuals who will not be stopped from buying sex by such legislation, but the experience of Sweden and Norway has shown that most are deterred by the risk of such penalties as having their name printed in the newspaper, having their car impounded, having to do community service or having to attend educational sessions on human trafficking.
What can you do?
There are many things that you can do to stop the demand for trafficking in women and children.
Educate others about the implications of buying sex, frequenting “gentlemen’s clubs,” patronizing porn sites on the Internet, etc.
Promote the passage of anti-trafficking laws that follow the Swedish model of punishing those who buy sex.
Participate in awareness-raising groups that make known the situation of human trafficking in your country or region.
Pray daily for an end to human trafficking.
Speak out against the sexualization and commoditization of women and children in the media and on the Internet.
Prostitution is not illegal in Rhode Island, nor is it regulated. Only street prostitution is prohibited.
This has created a favorable climate for sex related businesses. Massage parlors, strip clubs, and “spas” have proliferated as well as sex trafficking and sex slavery.
Recently, girls under the age of eighteen were discovered dancing in strip clubs in the State and right now according to Rhode Island law, that’s not illegal.
State Rep. Joanne Giannini is currently working on a bill to prohibit minors from working in strip clubs. She blames legalized prostitution for creating the atmosphere where such a thing could happen in the first place.
If Ms. Giannini really wants to change the climate; reduce the number of sex clubs, fight human trafficking and protect girls and boys, I would suggest that she go for the jugular and sponsor a bill that makes paying for sex illegal. Stop the demand! It has worked well elsewhere and I the think Rhode Islanders will appreciate the change in climate.
In September of 1995 the United Nations convened the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The official name of the Conference was “The Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace”. 189 governments participated in the conference and more than 5,000 representatives from 2,100 non-governmental organizations.
The outcome document of this conference known as The Platform for Action set out a number of actions that were to lead to fundamental changes in the lives of women and girls. Section L of the document focuses on the girl child and contains nine strategic objectives with corresponding actions that were to be taken by governments and civil society.
The objectives are:
Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child.
Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls.
Promote and protect the rights of the girl-child and increase awareness of her needs and potential.
Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training.
Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition.
Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work.
Eradicate violence against the girl-child.
Promote the girl-child’s awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl-child.
In 2010 the United Nations will review progress on Beijing. An important part of this Beijing +15 review will be to ask how and in what ways girls are better off or worse off than they were in 1995.
As an NGO representative at the UN working on girls’ issues I am interested in what you think, especially if you are a girl.
Can you cite one success and one failure regarding any or all of these objectives? Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas.