GJC Weekly News Roundup

 Wednesday, Turkey detained eleven human rights defenders near Istanbul. The activists were attending a workshop on protecting the work of human rights groups when Turkish police arrested them on the baseless suspicion of belonging to an “armed terrorist organization,” and they are still in custody. Two are leaders of Amnesty International Turkey.

Friday, the Financial Times explored Brexit’s impact on women. The British government drew attention last month because of the lack of women on their negotiating team (two of the twelve negotiators at the initial meeting were women), but concerns extend beyond that. Laws on women’s rights might change with Brexit, particularly if Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This could remove decades of progressive decisions on issues including equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination laws.

Saturday, in an article about the Afghan province Ghor, The New York Times described what happens when the law provides no protection for women. Ghor’s weak rule of law and their marriage customs leave women vulnerable. There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in the past year—with many more going unreported—and zero suspects in these 118 cases have been arrested. Extreme stories of women being abducted, shot, stoned to death and more have emerged from the province in recent years. Law officials say they have to balance justice with security when sharing borders with violent, Taliban-occupied territories.

Monday, Oregon’s legislature passed one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive rights legislation in the country. The Reproductive Health Equity Act requires health insurance to cover, at no cost to patients, a number of reproductive health services such as abortion, contraception and prenatal and postnatal care. Religious employers can opt out of covering abortion and contraception. It also reaffirms Oregon citizens’ rights to an abortion, protecting them from possible changes in federal law. The bill will now go to Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who is supportive of reproductive rights.

Tuesday, in retaliation against the United States’ Global Gag Rule, Sweden’s development agency announced it will no longer give funding for sexual and reproductive health services to organizations that follow the Gag Rule. Sweden is also allocating new funds to organizations that agree to not follow the Gag Rule.

Wednesday, Buddhists protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. The envoy is on an information-gathering trip in the Rakhine state to investigate security forces’ human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The protestors said Yanghee Lee, who is leading the envoy, is too “one-sided.” Earlier this summer, Lee recommended a special UN mission to investigate the problems in Rakhine, which the Human Rights Council approved; however, Myanmar wouldn’t allow the mission members to enter the country.

Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is re-examining the college sexual assault policies instituted under Title IX during the Obama administration. She is meeting with victims of sexual assault, men accused of assault, and higher education officials. Obama’s policies sparked a backlash from some who believed the policies and investigations went too far in ignoring the rights of the accused.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, an appeals court ruled that abortion law in Northern Ireland should be determined by a legislature, not by courts or local government. It ruled against a change in law to allow abortions in cases of rape or fatal fetal abnormality. Abortion restrictions are stricter in Northern Ireland than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom; it is legal only if there is a serious risk to the mother’s health or life. Abortion rights advocates are hoping the case will proceed to the Supreme Court. The same day, the UK government passed legislation allowing women in Northern Ireland to have abortions for free in England under the National Health Service.

Thursday, the state prosecutor’s office charged Antonio Benavides, the former head of Venezuela’s National Guard, with human rights violations. He was removed from his post last week and reassigned to a position as head of Venezuela’s Capital District government after a video of his troops shooting handguns at protestors was released. The office also said they had evidence that his forces used “excessive force” against demonstrators, tortured protestors, issued raids without warrants, and more. Anti-government protests have swelled in recent months, pushing for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro and demanding general elections.

Monday, the New York Times reported that while the Trump administration has not followed through on policies that help women and families, states have. Experts say that states have been increasingly active on these policies, which have widespread support, because of the slow pace of policymaking in Congress. Recent state legislation includes paid family leave and breast-feeding breaks and lactation rooms in the workplace.

Wednesday, aid groups protested Australia’s decrease in foreign aid spending on family planning and urged the government to compensate for the family planning aid void left by the Trump administration’s Global Gag Rule. Their recently released overseas development assistance budget shows that aid funding for family planning went from AU$46.4m in 2013-2014 to $23.7m in 2015-2016.

Photo credit: Diliff (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

U.S. Continues to Prioritize Anti-Abortion Policy Over The Wellbeing of Women

By Marie Wilken

The United States recently rejected a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on violence against women because it contained language calling for access to abortion in countries where it is legal. This is yet another example of the Trump administration using international aid and laws to limit access to abortion around the world. Like the Global Gag Rule, this rejection ignores that in addition to infringing on reproductive rights, these actions have many negative ramifications that are unrelated to abortion.

After a resolution aimed at eliminating violence and discrimination against women, introduced by Canada, was adopted by consensus, the United States dissociated from the consensus because of a sentence about abortion.  While abortion was not a primary focus of the resolution, it stated that all women should have access to “comprehensive sexual and health-care services” including “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” U.S. First Secretary to the U.N. in Geneva Jason Mack delivered a statement saying that the U.S. agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution but cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

This is not a singular action; its motivations and effects parallel other Trump administration policies. Congress’s new health care bill defunds Planned Parenthood—a policy that, though driven by anti-abortion sentiment, will have a much broader impact on women’s health care. This year President Trump reinstated and greatly expanded the Global Gag Rule. The administration refuses to fund international aid even loosely related to abortion, and its rejection of the UN resolution suggests it is adopting a similar approach toward international law. Because of the Gag Rule, organizations are afraid to even reference abortion out of fear of losing their U.S. funding. There is now fear that the same chilling effect to mentions of abortion and other reproductive rights will spread to international law. The Global Gag Rule, health care bill, and rejection of the UN resolution not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but all also deny women unrelated services and protections.

The United States’ resistance to international reproductive rights is dangerous. By denying women around the world safe and accessible abortion, it risks the lives of women and girls. Approximately 830 women die from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes per day. U.S. policy forces some of the world’s poorest women to choose between giving birth to a child they cannot afford to care for and seeking an unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using contraception, mostly due to the limited reproductive health services available.  The administration’s policies are also dangerous because of the message they send the international community about abortion and U.S. ideals. Abortion is a reproductive right, and reproductive rights are an essential aspect of women’s rights—but Mack’s statement separated abortion from other rights and reproductive health services and demonized it. He wielded United States influence over international norms to push them backwards, away from progress toward equal protection of rights.

Because of one sentence on abortion, the United States obstructed the entire resolution. In addition to attacking women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. missed its opportunity to show commitment to improving the lives women through preventing violence and eliminating discrimination. By doing so, the Trump administration reaffirmed its willingness to sacrifice women’s rights, health care, and even lives.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year’s theme was “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence.” The UN held a panel discussion at Headquarters in New York, and Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement, writing, “Rape and sexual violence in conflict are tactics of terrorism and war, used strategically to humiliate, degrade and destroy, and often to pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

Monday, Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the Canadian government on police abuse of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan. Their investigation found patterns of physical assault, sexual harassment, neglect of domestic violence reports, and inappropriate body and strip searches.

Monday, France elected a record number of women to Parliament. Of the 577 newly elected representatives, 223 are women (compared to 155 elected in the last election). This brings France from 64th to 17th in the world rankings of women in parliaments. The increase is due to President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party prioritizing women on their candidate list.

Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that while the lack of Republican women in Congress is often attributed to the Democratic Party’s focus on women’s rights and a stronger political pipeline for Democratic women, it could also be influenced by money. In the Democratic Party, unlike in the Republican Party, female donors give disproportionately to female candidates. This allows female Democratic candidates to raise as much money as their male counterparts, which is not true for female Republican candidates. Only 26 of the 104 women in Congress are Republican.

Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against anti-abortion protestors who stand outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens. The suit seeks to prohibit protestors blocking entrance into the clinic, threatening patients, or protesting within 16 feet of the clinic.

Canada’s New Foreign Aid Policy Recognizes the Ripple Effect of Women’s Rights

By Marie Wilken

On Friday, Canada’s Ministry of International Development released its Feminist International Assistance Policy, which refocuses Canada’s foreign aid on combatting gender inequality. Its unprecedented focus on gender sends a clear message about Canada’s dedication to women’s rights, and the policy will have a broader impact. The policy is an acknowledgement of the effect women’s rights have on poverty reduction, peace-building, and other humanitarian goals. While not the first country to create gender-based foreign aid policies, Canada provides a good example for and sharp contrast to countries like the United States, which—far from building foreign aid policy around feminist principles—has withdrawn funding from international women’s organizations through its Global Gag Rule.

With its new policy, 15% of Canadian foreign aid will be used for gender equality programs within five years, compared to the 2% dedicated to gender equality programs during 2015-2016. It requires all government projects to integrate a women’s empowerment and gender equality component, and existing programs and partners must involve local women in the decision-making and implementation of projects. As part of its international assistance policy, Canada announced the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program. The program will allocate $113 million (USD) over five years to support local women’s organizations in developing countries that are working to advance the rights of women and girls. These measures will make Canada the single largest contributor of bilateral funding to women’s rights organizations. (These policies have drawn some criticism, however, because they do not allocate new money to international aid and instead reallocate existing funds.)

Canada clearly considered the ripple effect of gender equality when forming their foreign assistance policy. Their press release highlights their motivation: “Canada believes that society is more prosperous, peaceful, secure and united when women’s rights are respected and women are valued and empowered in their communities.” And the research supports this. Many have acknowledged that investing in women and girls brings positive socioeconomic effects. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found a strong and broad correlation between gender equality and human development. A UN Women report proved that gender equality programming amplified the effects of humanitarian action, improved access to and outcomes in education, increased access to food security, and more. Similarly, a University of Connecticut Economic & Social Rights Empowerment Initiative discovered a correlation between gender equality and economic and social rights fulfillment.

This policy builds on Canada’s previous commitments to international women’s rights. Canada promised $14.9 million (USD) to family planning services at the She Decides Conference in Brussels this year, and in response to the U.S. Global Gag Rule, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put $483 million (USD) toward reproductive health rights and services. Other countries have adopted similar measures: the Netherlands created a large fund for women’s rights in 2008, and a couple years ago, Sweden applied a feminist approach to its entire foreign policy agenda.

Not all countries, however, have followed suit. Canada’s initiative starkly contrasts with the United States’ recent policies. While Canada has reinforced its commitment to reproductive rights and increased its funding for women’s groups abroad, the U.S. Global Gag Rule has restricted its aid to women’s groups by withholding funding from projects that provide abortion information or services.

Canada’s policy is exemplary not only because of its expected positive impact but also because of its reframing of gender issues. With this shift in the way humanitarian aid is delivered, Canada shows that gender equality and women’s rights are not just “women’s issues” that benefit only women; they are critical socioeconomic and security factors that benefit all of society.

Photo credit: Development Canada

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Executive Director of the U.N. Population Fund Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin died. He worked to ensure access to family planning for all. “Family planning is not a privilege but a right. Yet, too many women — and men — are denied this human right,” Osotimehin said.

Tuesday, Devex reported on how the Global Gag Rule has affected conflict-affected populations. In Colombia, a non-profit called Profamilia has provided reproductive health services and education like workshops on gender-based violence to vulnerable towns since 1964. In January, it chose not to comply with the expanded Global Gag Rule, and it lost $1.2 million of USAID funding, $1.5 million for a maternal mortality program, and $300,000 for a Zika prevention program.

Tuesday, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. While the exact reason for her arrest is unknown, Amnesty International believes it relates to her women’s rights activism. In 2014, she was arrested and held for 73 days for trying to drive a car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, the Trump administration suggested the possibility of a U.S. exit from the United Nations Human Rights Council. In her first address to the UNHRC and in an op-ed in The Washington Post, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley argued that the council exhibits anti-Israel bias and ignores the human rights violations of its members.

Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the country needs to be more aggressive in combatting terrorism, “and if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.” May proposed making it easier to deport foreign terrorist suspects and to “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects” against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute in court.

Wednesday, The New Yorker explained how the Global Gag Rule affects Africa by targeting women in some of the world’s poorest countries. The United States provides more international health assistance than any other country, and in these regions, there are too few health centers to provide specific services like abortion. The Gag Rule also complicates treatment of women with H.I.V. and AIDS because providers cannot even raise the question of abortion to a woman who’s infected, which will result in more infected children and less money to treat them with.

Photo Credit: U.K. Department for International Development Flickr CC-BY-2.0

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, women gathered outside of the capitol in Hartford, Connecticut as the marches and protests against the Trump administration continued. Women came promoting women’s rights and addressed lawmakers that they were unhappy with the lack of equal rights.

Tuesday, reproductive rights activists protested the new vote to defund Planned Parenthood nationwide. Many protesters and Planned Parenthood supporters site the importance of the organization, which offers not only abortions, but also mammograms, pap smears and contraceptives, all of which are essential to women’s reproductive health.

Tuesday, an interesting article was posted on the importance of essential maternity care and the need for insurance companies to provide women with post-natal medical coverage. It criticizes the new healthcare plan that Republicans are pushing for, as it allows state governments to “waive such essential coverage” which “threatens the small but significant gains made for vulnerable women in the years since Obamacare became law.”

Women’s Rights and Right Wing Politics

In recent years, right-wing populism has been spreading across Europe and the United States. The US, France, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands have seen a surge in public support for right-wing parties. Ranging from fascist groups like Golden Dawn in Greece to parties attempting to soften their image to gain more followers like the Front National in France, rightist ideologies have squeezed their way into mainstream politics. What does this represent for women’s rights and reproductive rights? A challenge.

Typically, right-wing parties are politically conservative, support traditional women’s roles and family structures. Most do not speak out for gay rights or women’s rights and do not favor a progressive feminist agenda, which includes equal pay and supporting family planning organizations. Furthermore, right-wing leaders have also spoken out against access to abortion and reproductive rights. Sound familiar?

When it comes to human rights and women’s rights, the US, Canada and many European countries are leading the conversation and promoting activism. With the Trump Administration and prominent right-wing groups gaining more power and influence in Europe, this conversation may become severely limited. Many family planning organizations and health clinics rely on federal funding to remain open and provide health services. Organizations that also provide women with abortions are often targeted and threatened with the withdrawal of funding. Such actions and restrictions do not result in a decreased number of abortions, but result in harming women who need abortions and can only get them outside of a doctor’s office, often in a non-sterile environment with limited access to proper medical tools.

Two of the leading right-wing parties in Europe, both of which are led by women, are the Front National and Alternative for Germany. Both leaders, Marine Le Pen and Frauke Petry, during their campaigns and interviews have spoken out against access to abortion and gay rights. They have also promoted the return to traditional family values, where a nuclear family is the ideal. The Front National in France does not support abortion or progressive women’s rights. Alternative for Germany promotes similar ideas, as well as a strong anti-immigrant sentiment.  Similar ideas have found support in President Trump’s administration and across the United States. What is it exactly that these political party and leaders support? While Trump’s administration and President Trump himself claim to be great supporters of women and say they are supporters of paid maternity leave and maternity benefits, people argue that his claims are not reflected in the laws he passes and the bills he signs. Furthermore, Trump introduced the expanded Global Gag Rule that will cut funding to foreign family planning organizations that rely on US money. This includes many organizations in developing countries, where such organizations are the sole source of birth control and safe abortions.

Although social activism is bright and promising, with many joining women’s rights and human rights movements across the globe, it is important to make sure that these political shifts and the resulting sentiments do not become normalized in our societies. Whether it is through more organized protest, the work of human and women’s rights organizations or liberals running for office, unity and perseverance are more important than ever. 

Donald Trump picture courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Marine Le Pen picture courtesy of Antoine Bayet

Frauke Petry picture courtesy of Harald Bischoff

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, here’s a good list of the main provision of the new Republican Health Care Bill. Some of the changes include allowing insurers to charge older adults more than younger adults for the same coverage and Medicaid cuts amounting to $880 billion over the next 10 years. 

Thursday, the Global Gag Rule is negatively affecting women in India where abortion is considered a woman’s right. The Gag Rule could negatively impact India’s sovereignty and put women in danger if access to healthcare is limited. People are arguing that abortion cannot be separated from women’s healthcare, as it should come together as one package in order to protect women.

Thursday, Hillary Clinton speaks out against the “troubling ideas” regarding women and healthcare that have been spreading because of the current administration and President Trump. In her speech, she mentioned that women’s issues should not be considered minor and criticized the efforts to repeal ACA.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, President Trump is vowing to drastically cut finding for aid programs in developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID. The money slashed from aid programs will be transferred to national security programs. The cut in funding will also affect programs and offices that promote women’s rights and foreign assistance.

Tuesday, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women has approved Saudi Arabia as a new member of the Commission for the 2018-2022 term. While it received the lowest number of votes when considering a new member, it is still enough to pass the majority threshold. This led to an outrage among human rights activists who say that Saudi Arabian laws repress women. Some, however, see it as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to reform its laws and for people working to promote women’s rights to find support from leading international organizations.

Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus gave its approval to a more conservative version of ACA, giving the Republicans another opportunity to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act. One of the latest proposals allows “states to obtain waivers from federal mandates that insurers cover certain “essential health benefits,” like emergency services, maternity care, and mental health and substance abuse services, which many Republicans argue have driven up premiums.” As for reproductive healthcare, the article does not mention any new developments, which is not to say that the new healthcare plan will have the same benefits as Obamacare.

Wednesday, the US is expected to announce revised global gag rule implementation guidelines, which can potentially lead to slashing of approximately $8 billion in U.S. international health assistance. As many global healthcare organizations, including those that offer abortions, rely on US funding, the new guidelines will negatively affect the ability to provide crucial healthcare to women in need. However, there is not guarantee that all NGOs will comply with the new guidelines.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Tuesday, researchers asked what helps to establish a democratic society? According to a study published by the European Journal of Political Research, it is increased women’s rights that helps a country become more democratic. When women have access to political and social rights and representation, it aids democratic development and helps a country transition from an authoritarian regime.

Wednesday, despite the recent elections in the Netherlands, the “She Decides” fund for family planning is still receiving support from the new leadership and expects support to continue on a national level and international level. Recently, Iceland and Slovenia have joined the campaign and have promised to contribute a total of $190,000. Still, there is a long way to go before the fund reaches its $600 million annual goal to support organizations that will no longer receive financial support from the U.S. due to the expanded Global Gag rule.

Thursday, following the U.S. airstrike against a Syrian air force base on April 7, President Trump was met with both support and criticism. The question that concerns the critics is whether the airstrike is legal by international law standards and whether it constitutes an act of aggression. There are only two justifications for the use of force under international law and Trump’s strike does not meet either criterion.

Thursday, President Trump signed legislation that will cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services. This measure nullifies a rule that was put in place by President Obama that barred states and local governments from cutting funding for family planning services. While President Trump’s decision has been met with approval from conservatives, there is widespread opposition. Human rights and women’s rights activists worry of the repercussions of the lack of funding for women’s healthcare.

Friday, following the inauguration of President Trump, women across the nation have united to oppose and fight back against new rules and regulations imposed by the Trump administration. Female activists are attempting to maintain the progress that has been made with the Obama administration and encourage more women to join the mobilization against the new President through protest and democratic ideals.

Global Justice Center at the Women's Strike

Global Justice Center at the Planned Parenthood Protest

President Trump Expands Gag Rule Far Beyond Reagan or Bush

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— January 24 2017

[NEW YORK] –  Yesterday, Donald Trump re-instated the Global Gag Rule, as every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has done since taking office. Unlike his predecessors, Trump far expanded the reach of the Gag Rule.