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International News Archive
June 07 - June 13, 2000


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This page contains news for the period June 07, 2000 through June 13, 2000.



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Monday, June 12, 2000

African region debates bill on widows rights

A story released today by Vanguard Daily reports that a bill seeking to outlaw the infringement on the

fundamental rights of widows in Enugu State (Lagos) has been submitted to the State House of Assembly.

Known as the prohibition of infringement on a widow's fundamental rights bill, it is being sponsored by Assemblyman Uche Anya, (Oji River Constituency), on behalf of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Enugu chapter.

The bill will make it unlawful for anybody to compel a widow to drink the water used in washing her husband's corpse, sleep alone in a room in which the husband's corpse is laid, or in any other room.

It will also prevent anybody from compelling a widow to vacate her matrimonial home on the ground that she had no male child or no child at all.

Other provisions of the bill are that a widow should not be compelled to shave the hair on her head or any other part of her body, go into another marriage with a relative of her husband, or sit naked on the floor.

She should also not be forced to wail at intervals or remain in seclusion for any period of time after the death of her husband.


Saturday, June 10, 2000

UN women's conference agreement silent on rights for 'nontraditional families'

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that delegates from 180 countries reached agreement this morning on a new U.N. plan to accelerate progress toward women's equality after an all-night debate over abortion, sexual rights and other key issues.

"It was absolutely worth it,'' said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, a special adviser on the advancement of women. ``I feel that all those millions of women who are looking at us are totally vindicated, and they have something to grasp to assist them for their battles for equality.''

The new document reaffirms the 150-page platform for action adopted at a landmark 1995 U.N. women's conference. That document called for more rights for nontraditional families without spelling out who those families are. Today's agreement moves forward with tougher measures to combat domestic violence and trafficking in women, but did not give further detail to the rights of unmarried families as some delegations wanted.

But attempts to move beyond Beijing on proposed references to sexual rights and sexual orientation were dropped from the final text by delegates meeting in committee.

Delegates agreed on strong planks calling for prosecution of all forms of domestic violence, now including marital rape. The traditional practices of forced marriage and honor killings are addressed for the first time in an international consensus document, with the draft text calling for laws to eradicate these human rights violations.

Many of the issues that stalled negotiations here also dominated the Beijing conference -- sexual rights, sexual orientation, abortion, sex education for adolescents and family values.

After a lengthy fight in Beijing, references to sexual orientation -- which the Vatican and several Islamic and Catholic countries vehemently oppose -- were dropped from the platform.

Several organizations issued a joint statement registering disappointment with the final document but reaffirming their commitment to work for implementation of the Beijing platform.


Thursday, June 9, 2000

Concerns raised over treatment of widows in Africa

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that women's rights activists at a UN women's conference have raised concerns over the treatment of many widows in Africa.

The story says that in Tanzania, at least 500 widows were stoned to death or otherwise killed as suspected witches over the past year, women's activists say, while in parts of Nigeria widows are not allowed to wash for an entire year after their husband's death to prove they did not kill him.

These are just two examples of the harrowing plight of widows denounced by grass-roots groups at a panel Thursday on the myths and realities of widowhood.

Women in Africa and south Asia face a kind of "social death'' when their husbands die: They are disinherited, rejected, even raped or killed, according to activists at the U.N. women's conference.

"At a time when they are most vulnerable, in the shock of losing their husbands, they are systematically hounded from their homes, robbed of their household possessions, and forced into destitution by male relatives, usually on the husband's side,'' said Margaret Owen of Empowering Widows in Development, a London-based group that tries to create networks of widows to improve their status.

In Bangladesh, for example, only 25 percent of widows actually receive any share of their husband's estate, said Owen, the author of a study on widowhood across the world.

In certain areas of Africa, the widows themselves are seen as part of their husband's inheritance, said Eleonor Nwadinobi, president of the Nigeria-based Widows Development Organization.

"Widows have no succession rights to their husband's property because they are chattels to be inherited along with land and household property by the deceased's brother,'' said Nwadinobi, describing the results of case studies in southeastern Nigeria.

In some cases, even the custody of a widow's children is transferred to her husband's family, said Joanna Foster, regional coordinator of the Zimbabwe-based Women in Law and Development in Africa.

In Nigeria, a widow may be forced to sit on the floor -- at times half naked -- for 28 days, said Nwadinobi. She will then be forced to wear black clothes for a year and not allowed to bathe. After that time, women are brought to a river to be purified and their clothes are burned.

Widows have been left off the agenda at this week's U.N. General Assembly special session to accelerate progress toward women's equality, attended by ministers from more 180 countries, advocates said Thursday.

"Widows are noticeable only by their absence'' from the 150-page platform for action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing, and from the final document that will emerge from this week's follow-up session, Owen said.

"There is a silence about the number of women who are murdered because they are widows,'' she said.

The lack of attention means there are few statistics relating to widowhood, but the numbers appear to be increasing as AIDS and wars sweep through Africa, activists said.

"In a number of countries in South Asia and Africa, in particular those affected by the AIDS pandemic or armed conflict and ethnic cleansing, as many as 70 percent of all adult women may be widows,'' Owen said.

Nontraditional families included in discussions at U.N. women's conference

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that delegates at a U.N. women's conference are working to resolve issues that have divided them, including rights for nontraditional families.

Negotiators met into the wee hours Thursday to try to finish a final document before the deadline, set for midnight tonight. They reported some progress but were still far from consensus on many of the same reproductive and sexual health issues that dominated the landmark 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing.

Voicing concern that the document produced by this gathering might retreat from the ambitious 150-page platform adopted in Beijing, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made an unusual plea to the delegates from 180 countries Thursday.

"The secretary-general urges all member states to work together in a spirit of cooperation to ensure that the gains made by women in Beijing five years ago are consolidated, protected and advanced further,'' U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Echoing Annan's call for a "forward-looking'' document, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the special U.N. General Assembly session that the meeting ``and obliges us to chart a path that will lead to ever-more rapid progress in the new century.''

The story says that many Western nations have crossed swords with the Vatican and a handful of Islamic and Catholic countries -- including Libya, Algeria, Iran, Sudan and Nicaragua -- over parts of the agenda.

The Vatican and a number of conservative countries object to the Beijing platform's reference to nontraditional families, which they view as an implied blessing of homosexual unions, single parents and couples living together out of wedlock.

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing activists have accused the Vatican and the handful of Islamic and Catholic countries of blocking consensus on the final document.


Wednesday, June 7, 2000

Divorce rate up in Iran

A story published today by arabia.com (AFP English) reports that divorces in Iran hit a record high in April with nearly 3,000 couples untying the knot. That was up 13 percent from the same period the year before.

"The main reasons for divorce are because the husbands are drug users, or the fact that couples come under the influence of their relatives who often interfere in their private lives," said lawyer Sophie Dodangeh.

The increase in divorce figures can also be explained by the phenomenon of "temporary marriage" which is recognized by Shiite Islam, the predominant branch in Iran, and encouraged by the Iranian religious authorities. Under a "temporary contract" a man, married or not, can take a wife for a pre-arranged period.




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