Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Brazilian accused in nun's murder arrested

(CNN) -- A lengthy investigation into the erratic behavior of a Brazilian accused of ordering the murder of a 73-year-old American nun led to his recent arrest, a Brazilian prosecutor in the state of Para told CNN.

U.S. missionary sister Dorothy Stang as seen in 2004 working in the Amazon forest in Para, Brazil.

U.S. missionary sister Dorothy Stang as seen in 2004 working in the Amazon forest in Pará, Brazil.

Regivaldo Pereira Galvão was recently seen at what authorities say is the site of the 2005 slaying of Sister Dorothy Stang to pressure peasants there into giving him the property rights, said federal prosecutor Felício Pontes Tuesday.

The site is located in a 7,400 acre plot known as "Lot 55" that is under dispute in the Amazon.

Police arrested Galvão Friday on charges of land fraud and slavery. He is already facing a conspiracy to murder charge in connection with Stang's death.

Before her death, Stang had defended the right of landless peasants by giving them access to public land and promoting sustainable farming practices that would help halt deforestation. Her land distribution project, the Project for Sustainable Development (PDS), has received praise by officials with the Brazilian government.

"Sister Dorothy's PDS project is the very most successful land reform project in the Amazon," said Pontes, adding, "It has helped more than 300 settlers make a living in a sustainable way.".

A recently released film called, "They Killed Sister Dorothy," narrated by American actor Martin Sheen, has won international acclaim for its original, in-depth investigation of Stang's life and the details surrounding her murder.

The film contains exclusive interviews and information that will be used against the suspects, Brazilian investigators told CNN.

"This film has been very important for us. It not only explains the dilemma Brazilians are facing in protecting the Amazon, but it also contains interviews with the suspects which we will certainly use against them," said Pontes.

Aside from Galvão, five people have been accused in Stang's killing. Four have been convicted, and one has been acquitted.

Stang was gunned down along a muddy road near Lot 55 as she worked with the peasants.

Galvão's presence at Lot 55 adds to evidence against him in the murder case, Pontes said.

"We have been keeping an eye on him since he left prison, since he has always said he had nothing to do with that land, and therefore was not behind the murder of Sister Dorothy," Pontes told CNN.

"Now we nailed him, we know he lied and he did have a lot of interest in that allotment," he said.

Galvão sat in prison for a year after Stang's death while awaiting trial. He was released by Brazil's high court in 2006, though he is still awaiting trial.

Galvão has consistently denied illegally obtaining land and being involved in Stang's murder. He has also denied any involvement with Lot 55, which has been divided among poor settlers for Stang's sustainable farming projects.

"I'm deeply sorry about this whole tragedy, but I am also a victim of it," Galvão said in a statement from jail after his arrest in 2005 which was posted on a Web site that proclaims his innocence. "I'm innocent. I never stained my hands with any crime, or ordered anyone else to stain theirs."

Prosecutors accuse Galvão of forging land titles and forcefully seizing public lands under the government's law reform program.

Elizabeth Dowyer, a nun with the Sisters of Notre Dame where Stang was ordained, told CNN she was happy when she heard the announcement of Galvão's arrest.

"We are relieved in a sense because we knew he was also involved in slavery and he was an illegal land grabber," she said. "We also strongly believe he was involved in a consortium to grab that plot."

Dowyer, who also was involved in Stang's land reform movement in the Amazon, said Stang knew her would-be killers and even prayed for them.

"In her letters, she named the people she tried to mediate with. On the night before her death, she invited her own killers who bragged to the community of what they were about to do," she said. "She really believed people could change."

The day after the meeting, hired killers murdered her, Dowyer said.

Land reform is the crux of many of Brazil's social problems.

Most agricultural lands rest in the hands of a few wealthy landowners, who are engaged in export-crops like soy and sugar cane as well as cattle ranching, according to the Landless Peasant Movement in Brazil.

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Katine: End discrimination against women

International development secretary Douglas Alexander at a health clinic in Sierra Leone. Photograph: Reuters

Visit The Guardian's Katine page

Uganda's president has promised to do more for women. It is important that he does, says international development secretary, Douglas Alexander

Last year I visited the town of Gulu, in northern Uganda, to see how things had changed since the peace talks in 2006, which brought stability to the region for the first time in 20 years. A new maternity facility had recently been opened, and I spoke to women who were giving birth in a bed for the first time. Their stories were inspiring, and proof of the dividend that peace brings. But they are still the lucky few. Most women in Uganda have to give birth on the floor of their huts, without clean sheets or sterilised water. And up to 8,000 women die every year because of complications during childbirth, around 80 times the rate in the UK – deaths which could easily be prevented by a doctor or nurse.

If you travel south-east from Gulu for roughly 100 miles you reach Katine, where the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) and Farm-Africa, with the Guardian's support, are helping to provide basic healthcare, sanitation and education to improve the lives of the 25,000 people who live there. People like Alice, who is pregnant for the sixth time and is scared because her first four babies died and her fifth miscarried. Alice can't afford hospital fees, so she visits one of the Traditional Birth Attendants, which Amref has trained. Birth attendants can provide much needed care for pregnant women, and give them someone to turn to when they need help, but if there is a complication during the pregnancy Alice will need to see a doctor – requiring money she doesn't have.

Stories like Alice's are not uncommon. Too often women are left to fend for themselves during childbirth, without medical advice or proper support. In a country where almost a third of the population still lives on less than $1 a day, providing care for pregnant women and mothers isn't always considered a priority.

Part of the problem is that too often women are treated as second class citizens, and suffer neglect and abuse as a normal part of their lives. For a quarter of all women in Uganda, their first sexual experience is rape. Yet last year there were only five convictions for rape across the whole of the country. With 5 million women suffering domestic or sexual violence, Uganda not only needs changes in the law, it needs a change in people's attitudes to women.

The Guardian's work with Amref shows that education is central to helping women protect themselves. Educated women know their rights and can stand up for them. Rose, aged 13, goes to school in Katine, where she has been taught about contraception and sexual health. She said that many of her friends feel pressured to have sex because they get money for food and clothes from their boyfriends. Two of Rose's friends became pregnant while they were still at primary school. But Rose understands that the choices she makes now will affect the rest of her life, and she is determined to concentrate on her studies so that she can stand on her own two feet in the future.

Education can be costly, though, and for parents struggling to feed their families, sending their children to school is very expensive. The Ugandan government introduced free primary education in 1997 – a huge step forward. But secondary schools still frequently charge fees, which parents simply can't afford. The UK's Department for International Development is working with the Ugandan government to support free education, healthcare and sanitation. Together we are providing more schools and teachers, more hospitals and doctors, and helping to ensure that the poorest can access the basic services that here in Britain we all take for granted.

On International Women's day last March, Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, promised to do more for women. It is important that he does. Rose said she wants to wait until she is 20 to have children. I hope that by then Uganda will have come far enough that she can visit a doctor if there are complications during her pregnancy, and get medicine when her baby needs it. I hope she won't suffer as Alice has, seeing what should be a time of joy and hope turn into a terrible tragedy. No country can afford to let its women suffer in silence in this way. No country can win the fight against poverty if it discriminates against half the human race.

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BBC's Faces of the Year - The Women

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DuffySimone WallmeyerFiona ShackletonShannon MatthewsIngrid BetancourtFern BrittonYang PeiyiCarla BruniSarah PalinGeorgina BaillieChristine OhuruoguCheryl Cole

Some of the women who have made the headlines in 2008, clockwise from top left: Duffy, Simone Wallmeyer, Fiona Shackleton, Shannon Matthews, Ingrid Betancourt, Fern Britton, Cheryl Cole, Christine Ohuruogu, Georgina Baillie, Sarah Palin, Carla Bruni and Yang Peiyi.

If the credit crunch, which started in 2007, grew to become the story of the year, one face represents the turmoil of the financial meltdown better than any other - Simone Wallmeyer. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange broker's emotion-wracked face became a fixture on the front pages of many newspapers around the world. Behind her designer spectacles, Ms Wallmeyer's animated features seemed to reflect every bad twist and turn in the world economy. The 47-year-old broker with Germany's ICF securities bank thinks her fame may be partly to do with the fact that she sits in front of the share price index board. But she admits the adrenaline high caused by the markets crashing has caused her to "run the full gamut of emotions".

Presenting a far more beatific face to the world was the British singer Duffy. The 24-year-old diminutive blonde chanteuse from Bangor in north Wales headed a charge of female British soul talent with a retro feel. Duffy's album Rockferry was the biggest selling album of the year, outperforming Coldplay and Take That. It included her hit, Mercy, which was voted Song of the Year at the MOJO awards. Duffy, real name Aimee Duffy but never referred to as such except by friends, has also received three Grammy nominations. She has been compared to Dusty Springfield in both looks and voice and, like Dusty, has found fame in America. She has made 15 trips to New York and has sung at the legendary Harlem Apollo.

Emotions were in plentiful supply in court 34 of the Royal Courts of Justice earlier this year when Heather Mills poured a jug of water over the head of Fiona Shackleton. Ms Shackleton was the lawyer representing her husband Sir Paul McCartney in their divorce proceedings. But the 51-year-old legal eagle had the last laugh, convincing the judge that her client, the former Beatle, was worth only half of the £800m that Ms Mills alleged. Ms Mills asked for £125m, but was granted only £24.3m. It was another triumph for the woman whose charm, resoluteness and blonde looks have earned her the nickname Steel Magnolia. It was because of Ms Shackleton's high-profile success when acting for the Prince of Wales in his divorce case against Diana that McCartney is said to have chosen her.

If Heather Mills has become something of a hate figure in the British media, it is nothing compared with the mother of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews. Karen Matthews reported her daughter missing in February, made an emotional appeal to her "kidnappers" and had many of her neighbours in Dewsbury go looking for the child. In fact, Shannon had been abducted by Mrs Matthew's boyfriend's uncle, Michael Donovan, described in court as "inadequate", in connivance with Miss Matthews. Shannon was drugged, tethered and kept in the drawer of a divan bed. The debt-ridden mother had hoped to profit from a reward. The pair were convicted of abduction charges. The case, however, raised the lid on the extent of poverty, welfare dependency and child neglect in many of Britain's sink council housing estates.

There was nothing fake about the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt. In 2002, nine months after announcing that she would run for President of Colombia, she was captured by the guerrilla group Farc and held for six years in the jungle. She and 14 others were rescued this year in a daring mission launched by her former rival, President Alvaro Uribe. During her captivity, she says she was "abused, insulted and tortured". She spoke to the BBC's Alan Johnston, himself a kidnap victim, about her struggle to maintain her self-respect, and said of her ordeal, "I've decided that there are things that will never be brought to the surface - that have to stay in the jungle."

TV presenter Fern Britton earned a good deal of praise in the tabloid press for losing some five stones in weight on a diet. Initially she said, "It's taken me two years and a lot of hard work." However, praise turned to criticism when it emerged she had had a gastric band fitted around her stomach, reducing the amount of food it could take. Viewers felt they had been misled and, in the resultant furore, Ms Britton missed four editions of her programme This Morning with "nervous exhaustion". She said that she had fudged the issue in case it encouraged people to undergo the procedure inappropriately.

A deception on a much grander scale was performed by the Chinese authorities at the summer Olympics in front of a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions. As part of the opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium, a cute little nine-year-old Chinese girl named Lin Miaoke sang the Ode to the Motherland. Except she didn't. In fact, it was to have been performed by another child, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi. But at the 11th hour, little Yang was replaced because she wasn't photogenic enough. Instead, Lin Miaoke lip-synched Yang Peiyi's voice. An official declared, "The child on the camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression."

There's nothing unphotogenic about Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France's first lady as of February this year when she tied the knot with French president Nicolas Sarkozy. A month later the former supermodel went on to wow the British public accompanying her husband on a state visit to Britain. The media positively frothed at the mouth in describing her elegant beauty. Her charm offensive was not restricted to matters of state. In September, she appeared on the BBC's Later… with Jools Holland programme singing songs from her recent album, Comme Si de Rien N'Etait. Later, she told French TV that her wedding to President Sarkozy was decided just two days in advance, and that she had practised curtsying to The Queen with singer Marianne Faithfull.

Another woman who caused a stir in world politics in 2008 was Sarah Palin. John McCain catapulted her from the obscurity of Alaska on to the world stage when he chose her as his presidential running mate. When she joked, "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick", it seemed a large section of America instantly fell in love with her. A number of gaffes, the comedy impersonation by Tina Fey, and a family scandal involving her brother-in-law eventually saw Mrs Palin become more of a campaign liability than a benefit. Yet, many on the right of the Republican Party are backing her to become their presidential candidate in 2012.

Another figure that rose from obscurity in an unlikely fashion was Georgina Baillie. A member of a "horror burlesque" troupe named the Satanic Sluts, she found herself at the centre of a media scandal that resulted in comedian Russell Brand and Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas resigning from the BBC, while presenter Jonathan Ross was suspended. On radio, Brand and Ross had rung up Baillie's grandfather, Andrew Sachs, the actor best known for his role as Manuel in Fawlty Towers. In a message they left on his answer phone, Brand boasted of having slept with Sachs's granddaughter. Later, Miss Baillie told how her loving middle-class upbringing had given way to drugs and appearances in pornographic movies once her parents had split up. When asked what she had learned from this scandal, her reply was "Don't sleep with celebrities. Ever."

Christine Ohuruogu admitted she was so nervous before the Olympic 400m final that she barely slept. When the starting gun sounded, her main rival, American Sanya Richards, went off at a furious pace. But Ohuruogu timed her tactics to perfection, winning Britain's first 400m Olympic gold since Eric Liddell - of Chariots of Fire fame - won in 1924. It was a remarkable comeback for Ohuruogu who had been suspended for a year after three missed drugs tests. She then successfully challenged a ruling that barred her from competing at the Olympics. After the race she said, "The last 50 metres is when people start dying and everyone knows I don't die in the last 50 metres."

Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole received much public sympathy after tabloid speculation about the fidelity of her husband, footballer Ashley Cole. But her popularity has soared this year since she became a judge and mentor on the popular reality TV show, The X Factor. Her good looks combined with her warmth and sensitivity appeals to both sexes. She cries when empathising with contestants' sob stories, but is forthright and feisty when criticising performances. Cole herself auditioned for a reality TV programme as a nervous 19-year-old. According to PR guru Max Clifford, "She knows her subject because, professionally, she does exactly what she's judging…she's got a natural humility."

Compiled by Bob Chaundy.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Women Farmers Toil to Expand Africa's Food Supply
Megan Rowling, Reuters: "This year, agricultural experts have renewed calls for policy makers to pay more attention to small-scale women farmers such as Gondwe, who grow up to 80 percent of crops for food consumption in Africa."


by: Megan Rowling, Reuters


Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo working on a farming cooperative. (Photo: Giacomo Irazzi / Panos)

London - Like many African women, Mazoe Gondwe is her family's main food provider. Lately, she has struggled to farm her plot in Malawi due to unpredictable rains that are making her hard life even tougher.

"Now we can't just depend on rain-fed agriculture, so we plant two crops - one watered with rain and one that needs irrigating," she explained. "But irrigation is back-breaking and can take four hours a day."

Gondwe, flown by development agency ActionAid to U.N. climate change talks in Poland this month, said she wanted access to technology that would cut the time it takes to water her crops and till her farm garden. She would also be glad of help to improve storage facilities and seed varieties.

"As a local farmer, I know what I need and I know what works. I grew up in the area and I know how the system is changing," Gondwe said.

This year, agricultural experts have renewed calls for policy makers to pay more attention to small-scale women farmers such as Gondwe, who grow up to 80 percent of crops for food consumption in Africa.

After decades in the political wilderness, farming became a hot topic this year when international food prices hit record highs in June, sharply boosting hunger around the world. The proportion of development aid spent on agriculture has dropped to just 4 percent from a peak of 17 percent in 1982.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for women to be at the heart of a "policy revolution" to boost small-scale farming in Africa.

Women have traditionally shouldered the burden of household food production both there and in Asia, while men tend to focus on growing cash crops or migrate to cities to find paid work.

Yet women own a tiny percentage of the world's land - some experts say as little as 2 percent - and receive only around 5 percent of farming information services and training.

"Today the African farmer is the only farmer who takes all the risks herself: no capital, no insurance, no price supports, and little help - if any - from governments. These women are tough and daring and resilient, but they need help," Annan told an October conference on fighting hunger.

A new toolkit explaining how to tackle gender issues in farming development projects, published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), highlights the potential returns of improving women's access to technology, land and finance.

In Ghana, for example, if women and men had equal land rights and security of tenure, women's use of fertilizer and profits per hectare would nearly double.

In Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania, giving women entrepreneurs the same inputs and education as men would boost business revenue by up to 20 percent. And in Ivory Coast, raising women's income by $10 brings improvements in children's health and nutrition that would require a $110 increase in men's income.

"The knowledge is there, the know-how is there, but the world - and here I'm talking rich and poor - doesn't apply it as much as it could," said Marcela Villarreal, director of FAO's gender, equity and rural employment division.


Many African governments have introduced formal laws making women and men equal, but have troubling enforcing them where they clash with customary laws giving property ownership rights to men, she said.

Often if a woman's husband dies, she has little choice but to marry one of his relatives so she can keep farming her plot and feeding her children, Villarreal said. But if a widow is HIV positive, she might be chased off her land.

In Malawi, FAO is working with parliamentarians and village chiefs to let rural women know they are legally able to hold land titles. They are given wind-up radios so they can listen to farming shows in local languages and taught how to write a will.

"People continue to think that doing things for women is part of a welfare programme and doing things for men - big investments or credit - that is agriculture, that is GDP-related," Villarreal said.

"Women continue not to be seen as part of the productive potential of a country."

One powerful woman trying to change that is Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda's minister of state for agriculture. She said government land reform and credit programmes specifically target struggling women farmers - many of whom are bringing up children alone after their husbands were killed in the 1994 genocide.

This has helped raise their incomes, leading to better nutrition, health and education for their children, Kalibata said. Women are also getting micro-credit loans, which they use to access markets and cooperatives or set up small businesses, such as producing specialty coffee for export.

"They are not like rocket scientists, they are women from the general population who finally feel empowered that they can come out and do some of these things," explained Kalibata.

In the private sector, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has decided to put women at the center of its agricultural development programme by attaching conditions to grants. It no longer finances projects that ignore gender issues, and it requires women to be involved in their design and implementation.

Catherine Bertini, a senior fellow at the foundation and professor of public administration at Syracuse University, said aid donors had not spent enough on support for women farmers.

"You can find the rhetoric but it's a limited number of people who actually walk the walk," she said.

Bertini, who headed the U.N. World Food Programme in the 1990s, said policy makers could best be persuaded to focus on women farmers by playing up the economic benefits rather than talking about gender equality.

"You convince people to do it because it's the most practical way to increase productivity and income to women," she said.


(Editing by Megan Goldin.)




Duchess of Carnegie, 96, refuses to leave home

Story Highlights
  • Editta Sherman has lived above Carnegie Hall since 1947
  • She and other rent-control tenants are being evicted for Hall renovations
  • Sherman photographed huge stars from Salvador Dali to Marlene Dietrich
  • Only one thing will convince the grandmother of 25 to leave: $10 million

By Ashley Fantz

(CNN) -- Editta Sherman has celebrated more than half a century's worth of new years in her palatial studio apartment above New York's Carnegie Hall. But it's unlikely the celebrated portrait photographer will be raising her glass there next year.

Known as the Duchess of Carnegie, the 96-year-old came home a few days ago to find an eviction notice on her door.

"I thought, oh, what is this? Are you kidding me that they are really going to send a woman like me down the street just like that? Have me scurry away without a fight," she said, delivering a whooping cackle, punctuated with a grandmother's tsk tsk.

"Oh, no, that's not what I am going to do. They'll have to take me out of here with their bare hands."

The city of New York wants to renovate the space above Carnegie Hall, where Marlon Brando once lived and where Sherman and five other renters, including iconic New York Times' photographer Bill Cunningham, have enjoyed rent-stabilized bliss since Frank Sinatra cut his first demo.

Sherman pays $650 a month for her studio, a drool-inducing space basked in natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows. An enormous skylight hangs over bold, black-and-white tiled floors; a cast-iron circular staircase leads to a loft stuffed with props.

Since last year when Carnegie Hall announced its facelift, 43 residents have lost their battle to stay, and one rent-controlled tenant has vacated, according to Hall spokeswoman Synneve Carlino. The push to renovate came from the Hall's chairman Sanford Weill who wants to expand the education classrooms for more than 115,000 music and art students.

Weill's son-in-law, Natan Bibliowicz, has been hired to design the studio spaces above the hall in a $150 million expansion, and taxpayers will reportedly foot part of the bill because New York state granted $5 million to cover design and planning costs, according to the New York Times.

Carnegie Hall has offered to pay for the rent-control tenants' relocation expenses and move them to apartments which are "equivalent or better" in the neighborhood. The Hall also is offering to pay the difference in rent to each of those tenants for the rest of their lives.

"We have asked Editta to come and look at spaces with us," Carlino told CNN.

But Sherman and her like-minded neighbors are not budging.

There is only one scenario that might work, the grandmother of 25 said.

"They can pay me $10 million. I'm part of history," she said. "You want to tell me they don't have enough rooms? They have a building of rooms. This place is history, and I think Carnegie, the people running it, I don't think they think about that."

Dressed in a purple zebra-cuffed shirt and black jumpsuit, Sherman ambles around her enormous studio with the sprightliness of a woman half her age. She holds up a photograph of herself with Salvador Dali, her aubergine-painted eyebrows animated as she tells stories about the famous faces who have dropped by over the years -- Andy Warhol, Henry Fonda, Eva Gabor, Tyrone Power, Carl Sandburg, Paul Newman.

"With Salvador, he had an exhibit nearby, you know, and I went there to meet him and we just hit it off. So he came back to my place and I took some pictures," she said. "He wanted to buy my (stair) railing which was pure bronze then, with some engravings from Paramount. I told him it was quite expensive and he said he'd have to think about it."

Yul Brenner brought Marlene Dietrich by once in the 1950s during a time when the two Hollywood stars were reportedly having an affair, Sherman said.

"They were just so sweet," she said. "Yul was playful, and she was quiet."

In true Warhol style, Sherman photographed the pop genius as he was photographing her.

Warhol's portrait sits next to the hundreds of other portraits piled up in rows in her studio. Sherman has hundreds of letters from Cary Grant -- a long correspondence of them trying, in vain, to get together for a portrait session.

"I never thought that taking photos would be valuable," she said. "I did it to earn a living and because I liked it."

Sherman's career took off when she got a job in New York casinos which hosted welcome home parties for World War II soldiers. Her husband, Harold Sherman, who was an inventor and proprietor of photographic technology, convinced the management of the casinos to let his wife take photos of the celebrities who entertained there, she said.

Sherman had a way of putting celebrities at ease when they posed for her, a gift she picked up from her father who was a photographer. And soon word of her work buzzed among New York's jet set. The Shermans and their five children decided they needed a place to live in New York.

While many were running for the tranquil promise of the suburbs, she wanted to be in the middle of it all. She spied a full page ad in the New York Times in 1947. It read: "Live and work in Carnegie Hall." Rent was $225 a month.

"It wasn't a big deal at the time, and when I saw the place I thought that it would be big enough for me and five children," she recalled.

But the studio was much larger and more ideal for photography than she ever imagined. Vogue magazine used to borrow it for shoots. In the 1960s, Sherman shot many images of the supermodel Veruschka, a Prussian emigre whose father, a German count, was executed for trying to assassinate Hitler. A celebrated muse of Dali, Veruschka was a pleasure to photograph, Sherman said.

"She had such a beauty," Sherman said. "I believe youth and beauty are all in how you live."

Sherman has space to live, at least for now. She occupies an entire floor. Her children are all grown and long moved out. Her husband died in his 50s from diabetes. She spends most days shooting photos and jumping rope to stay fit.

"I feel lost sometimes that I'm the only one on this floor now," she said. "But, you see, people get tired of fighting. They lived here, and they could live somewhere else, so they did.

"But I am different. I have this business here," Sherman said. "This is who I am, where I live, and I won't let someone change that."

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Monday, December 29, 2008

The more things change...

Average Woman Worker Loses Nearly Half a Million to Pay Discrimination

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by: Press Associates, Inc.

Pay scale imbalance. (Photo:

Gadsen, Alabama - Lilly Ledbetter, the longtime Goodyear tire supervisor whose pay discrimination case against her firm went all the way to the Supreme Court, lost $223,776 in lifetime earnings due to 19 years of discrimination at the tire firm's Gadsden, Ala., plant, a new report says.

As it turns out, Ledbetter, who lost her case before the Supreme Court, was somewhere between average and lucky. Her earnings loss was half the national average of lifetime earnings losses, $434,000 per woman, that female workers suffer compared to male counterparts in the same jobs.

But Ledbetter's Goodyear career covered only half of the gentle gray-haired grandmother's working life. Take those 19 years and double them, and Lilly Ledbetter is a typical female worker in the U.S., the report says.

At least in Alabama, she wasn't in the state where woman worker are worst off. Nor, as a company supervisor, was Ledbetter the worst off among all female workers, analysis of federal data shows.

In Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap, Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress, a liberal and pro-worker think tank, showed lifetime earnings of average female workers trailed those of their male counterparts by hundreds of thousands of dollars. In one profession, the law, the gap is $1.48 million.

And the pay gap understates the lifetime earnings chasm, Arons noted. Quoting Ledbetter, Arons pointed out the lifetime gap not only affects a woman's pay but her pension levels and her Social Security earnings base. All are lower.

Arons explained the huge lifetime losses occur because the typical female worker, after adjusting for other factors, earns 78 cents for every dollar a male worker doing the same job earns. Take that and multiply it by a woman's working career, and compound the gap every year, and you get differences ranging from $270,000 over 42 years (ages 24-65) in Vermont to almost three times as much ($728,000) in Wyoming.

The greatest difference between men and women workers was in legal services. That's because while 51% of the legal profession is female, the women start out in lower pay brackets and are concentrated in the lower-paying areas of the legal world. The men are the high-paid law firm partners, the women are lower-paid legal aides.

The smallest lifetime gap was among "installation, maintenance and repair workers," where the difference was only $84,000 over a working woman's lifetime. But even then, there was a problem, Arons noted: The profession is only 4% female.

"It should be hard to have any gap when virtually no women work in a given field. The fact that a wage gap exists at all, despite being the smallest gap, suggests pay equity remains a large problem in that sector. Moreover, it is evident additional effort is needed to better integrate the entire workforce," she said.

"And even an $84,000 gap, averaging out to a shortfall of $2,000 a year, can be a large hit to a family at the lower end of the economic spectrum," Arons noted. As for Ledbetter, the earnings gap in Alabama was $445,000 over a woman's working career. And for an average supervisor nationwide, the male-female lifetime gap was $635,000.

Arons pointed out the lifetime earnings gap has a huge impact on women, men and families. "Lower wages for women hurt men and society as well. American men work the longest hours in the industrialized world and have the smallest amount of leisure time, often so that their wives can increase the time they spend on family caregiving duties or in order to make up for their wives' lower wages.

"Society, moreover, loses out on additional tax revenue from women while having to increase spending on safety net programs for women who are not paid a living wage," she wrote.

Arons also suggested six measures to help close the lifetime earnings gap. Her recommendations included labor-backed legislation to reverse the Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter and other female workers, and the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's top legislative goal in the next Congress.

"This bill would make it easier for employees to form unions, establish stronger penalties for employers who interfere with the right of workers to form a union, and provide mediation and arbitration when necessary to ensure employers bargain with new unions over a first contract in good faith. Union membership increases women's weekly earnings by 38.2% and men's by 26.0%. Women of color and low-wage earners are helped even more by unionization," Arons wrote of the workers' rights bill.

Though Arons did not say so, the pay gap between male and female union wor-kers is smaller than the overall yearly pay gap. The most recent data on median weekly earnings, in 2007, show all working women's median weekly wages were 80 cents for every dollar a man earned. Union women's wages were 87 cents per dollar.

Ledbetter knows about that, too. As a supervisor, not covered by labor law, she suffered the pay discrimination. At one congressional hearing on legislation -- named for her -- to overturn the court's ruling and to let woman workers sue firms for sexual pay discrimination, she told Press Associates Union News Service she believes rank-and-file female workers at Gadsden suffer little pay discrimination. Why? They're covered by Goodyear's union contract, with the Steel Workers.





Child Maid Trafficking Spreads From Africa to US
Rukmini Callimachi, The Associated Press: "They watched through their window as the child rinsed plates under the open faucet. She wasn't much taller than the counter and the soapy water swallowed her slender arms. To put the dishes away, she climbed on a chair. But she was not the daughter of the couple next door doing chores. She was their maid."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eve Ensler and VDay

Video interview 27 August 07

Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues, is campaigning for an end to violence against women and girls. Her VDAY website is calling on people (women, presumably) to host a 2009 V-Day event in their college, high school or community.

Here is an excerpt from the message Ensler posted on her website in September. Posting it here seems like a good way to raise awareness of a situation that hasn't gone away this year and is bound to extend into the next and beyond, if nothing is done to stop it.

Breaking the Silence in Bukavu

I urge you to read everything you can about the DRC (please see our resources page). I urge you to fight with all your heart and to find your connection to the women of the DRC as you have found your connection to the women of New Orleans and Iraq and Juarez and Afghanistan, and the other places V-Day brings us. It is in our connection and solidarity that we will find our freedom and power. The Congo is the heart of Africa and Africa is, in many ways, the heart of the world. What happens to the women here affects the flow of life throughout the planet. When we find the way (and we will) to end the violence here we will have created a template and a vision that can be transferred and used everywhere.

I encourage you to break the silence as the women in Goma and Bukavu have done. Remember that the shame of being raped is not ours, but that of the perpetrators. Remember that when we speak the truth, we free everyone to do the same.

You are always with me.

With V-Love,


September, 2008
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo

Friday, December 26, 2008

Recession Can Be Deadly for Domestic Abuse Victims
Mary R. Lauby and Sue Else, The Boston Globe: "The ripple effect of the economic crisis has multiplied in ways that many of us could never imagine: banks folding, stock markets diving, and an astronomical government bailout. For victims of domestic violence, the impact of this downward economic spiral could be deadly."

Bush's parting shot at women's rights

On his first full day in office, President Bush imposed the “global gag rule,” which prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to international family-planning groups that perform abortions using their own funds or that advocate for safe abortion laws.

NY Times Editorial
The law has long allowed doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion, but new regulations elevate the so-called right to refuse beyond reason.

Undermining women’s reproductive rights and access to health care has been a pervasive theme of the outgoing administration. On his first full day in office, President Bush imposed the “global gag rule,” which prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to international family-planning groups that perform abortions using their own funds or that advocate for safe abortion laws.

So it was unsurprising, but still dismaying, that the secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt, chose to extend that dismal record at the last minute with yet another awful regulation. A parting gift to the far right, the new regulation aims to hinder women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and the information necessary to make decisions about their own health. What makes it worse is that the policy is wrapped up in a phony claim to safeguard religious freedom.

The law has long allowed doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. Mr. Leavitt’s changes elevate the so-called right to refuse beyond reason to an increased number of medical institutions and a broad range of health care workers and services — including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of emergency contraception, even to rape victims.

The impact will be hardest on poor women who rely on public programs for their health care.

In July, Barack Obama, still a senator at the time, signed a letter to Mr. Leavitt, along with some of his colleagues, urging Mr. Leavitt to scrap an earlier draft of the regulation. It cited a number of problems that were perpetuated in the final version.

The Health and Human Services regulation is due to become effective on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. By acting right away to suspend its implementation, President-elect Barack Obama and his choice to succeed Mr. Leavitt, Tom Daschle, can block irresponsible changes that threaten people’s rights and defy the federal government’s duty on public health.

They should do so, and promptly follow up with a formal rule-making proceeding to rescind the regulation once and for all. And they can get rid of the gag rule.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt - C´est Si Bon

Eartha Kitt, a Seductive Legend of Stage and Screen, Dies at 81

Eartha Kitt, who purred and pounced her way across Broadway stages, recording studios and movie and television screens in a show-business career that lasted more than six decades, died on Thursday. She was 81 and lived in Connecticut.

The cause was colon cancer, said her longtime publicist, Andrew E. Freedman.

Ms. Kitt, who began performing as a dancer in New York in the late ’40s, went on to achieve success and acclaim in a variety of mediums long before other entertainment multitaskers like Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was also, along with Lena Horne, among the first widely known African-American sex symbols. Orson Welles famously proclaimed her “the most exciting woman alive” in the early ’50s, apparently just after that excitement prompted him to bite her onstage during a performance of “Time Runs,” an adaptation of “Faust” in which Ms. Kitt played Helen of Troy.

Ms. Kitt’s career-long persona, that of the seen-it-all sybarite, was set when she performed in Paris cabarets in her early 20s, singing songs that became her signatures like “C’est Si Bon” and “Love for Sale.” Returning to New York, she was cast on Broadway in “New Faces of 1952” and added another jewel to her vocal crown, “Monotonous” (“Traffic has been known to stop for me/Prices even rise and drop for me/Harry S. Truman plays bop for me/Monotonous, monotone-ous”). Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times in May 1952, “Eartha Kitt not only looks incendiary, but she can make a song burst into flame.”

Shortly after that run, Ms. Kitt had her first best-selling albums and recorded her biggest hit, “Santa Baby,” whose precise, come-hither diction and vaguely foreign inflections (Ms. Kitt, a native of South Carolina, spoke four languages and sang in seven) proved that a vocal sizzle could be just as powerful as a bonfire. Though her record sales fell after the rise of rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll in the mid- and late ’50s, her singing style would later be the template for other singers with small-but-sensual voices like Diana Ross (who has said she patterned her Supremes sound and look largely after Ms. Kitt), Janet Jackson and Madonna, who recorded a cover version of “Santa Baby” in 1987. Ms. Kitt would later call herself “the original material girl,” a reference not only to her stage creation but also to her string of romances with rich or famous men, including Welles, the cosmetics magnate Charles Revson and the banking heir John Barry Ryan 3rd. She was married to her one husband, Bill McDonald, a real-estate developer, from 1960 to 1965; their daughter, Kitt Shapiro, survives her, as do two grandchildren.

From practically the beginning of her career, as critics gushed over Ms. Kitt, they also began to describe her in every feline term imaginable: her voice “purred” or “was like catnip”; she was a “sex kitten” who “slinked” or was “on the prowl” across the stage, sometimes “flashing her claws.” Her career has often been said to have had “nine lives.” Appropriately enough, she was tapped to play Catwoman in the 1960s TV series “Batman,” taking over the role from the leggier, lynxlike Julie Newmar and bringing to it a more feral, compact energy.

Yet for all the camp appeal and sexually charged hauteur of Ms. Kitt’s cabaret act, she also played serious roles, appearing in the films “The Mark of the Hawk” with Sidney Poitier (1957) and “Anna Lucasta” (1959) with Sammy Davis Jr. She made numerous television appearances, including a guest spot on “I Spy” in 1965, which brought her her first Emmy nomination.

For these performances Ms. Kitt very likely drew on the hardship of her early life. She was born Eartha Mae Keith in North, S.C., on Jan. 17, 1927, a date she did not know until about 10 years ago, when she challenged students at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., to find her birth certificate, and they did. She was the illegitimate child of a black Cherokee sharecropper mother and a white man about whom Ms. Kitt knew little. She worked in cotton fields and lived with a black family who, she said, abused her because she looked too white. “They called me yella gal,” Ms. Kitt said.

At 8 she was sent to live in Harlem with an aunt, Marnie Kitt, who Ms. Kitt came to believe was really her biological mother. Though she was given piano and dance lessons, a pattern of abuse developed there as well: Ms. Kitt would be beaten, run away and return. By her early teenage years she was working in a factory and sleeping in subways and on the roofs of unlocked buildings. (She would later become an advocate, through Unicef, on behalf of homeless children.)

Her show-business break came on a lark, when a friend dared her to audition for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. She passed the audition and permanently escaped the cycle of poverty and abuse that defined her life till then.

But she took the steeliness with her, in a willful, outspoken manner that mostly served her career, except once. In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to the only derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career. (Ms. Kitt claimed that the C.I.A. drafted a negative memo that referred to her as a nymphomaniac.)

As bookings dried up she was exiled to Europe for almost a decade. But President Jimmy Carter invited her back to the White House, and she earned her first Tony nomination for her work in “Timbuktu!,” an all-black remake of “Kismet,” in 1978.

By now a diva and legend, Ms. Kitt did what many other divas and legends — Shirley Bassey and Ethel Merman among them — did: she dabbled in dance music, scoring her biggest hit in 30 years with “Where Is My Man” in 1984, the same year she was roundly criticized for touring South Africa. Ms. Kitt was typically unapologetic; the tour, she said, played to integrated audiences and helped build schools for black children.

The third of her three autobiographies, “I’m Still Here: Confessions of Sex Kitten,” was published in 1989, and she earned a Grammy nomination for “Back in Business,” a collection of cabaret songs released in 1994.

As Ms. Kitt began the sixth decade of her career, she was as active as ever. In 2000 she received her second Tony nomination, for best featured actress in a musical in “The Wild Party.” Branching out into children’s programming, she won two daytime Emmy Awards, in 2007 and 2008, for outstanding performer in an animated program for her role as the scheming empress-wannabe Yzma in “The Emperor’s New School.” And all the while she remained a fixture on the cabaret circuit, having maintained her voice and shapely figure through a vigorous fitness regimen that included daily running and weight lifting. Even after discovering in 2006 that she had colon cancer, she triumphantly opened the newly renovated Café Carlyle in New York in September 2007. Stephen Holden, writing in The Times, said that Ms. Kitt’s voice was “in full growl.”

But though Ms. Kitt still seemed to have men of all ages wrapped around her fingers (she would often toy with younger worshipers at her shows by suggesting they introduce her to their fathers), the years had given her perspective. “I’m a dirt person,” she told Ebony magazine in 1993. “I trust the dirt. I don’t trust diamonds and gold.”

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The True Meaning of the Holiday Season

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by: Greta Christina, Greta Christina's Blog

Children dressed as Santa in Chandigarh, India.

Children dressed as Santa in Chandigarh, India. (Photo: Reuters)

So what does Christmas really mean?

Among all the traditions of the holiday season, one that's becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition -- one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism -- the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn't actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They're trying to establish a theocracy. They don't care about religious and cultural plurality. They don't care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don't care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, and that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it's bad.

But that's not actually what I want to talk about today.

In the face of Bill O'Reilly and company screaming hatefully about the true meaning of Christmas, I want to talk -- in true grade-school essay form -- about what Christmas means to me.

Because I actually like Christmas.

Christmas; Solstice; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa; Festivus; "the holidays"; whatever. I don't have a strong attachment to any particular name or date or occasion. Any mid-winter holiday around the end of December will do. Lately I've been calling it either "the holidays" or "Santamas" (in honor of what Bart Simpson has described as the true meaning of the holiday: the birth of Santa). I was brought up culturally Christian, though, with Christmas trees and Santa and all that, and I do tend to refer to it as Christmas at least some of the time.

And I love it. I always have. I know it's fashionable to hate it, and I get why people get annoyed by it -- but I don't. I love it. It's one of my favorite times of the year.

And here's what it means to me.

I think that holidays tend to rise up naturally out of the rhythms and seasons of a particular geographical area. And in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal, I think it's almost inevitable that a winter holiday, at right around the darkest, shortest day of the year, is going to become the biggest holiday in the culture.

It's been noted many times, for instance, that Hanukkah is far from the most important holiday in the Jewish religious calendar. What's less well known is that Christmas isn't the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, either. Christmas is pretty much a pagan midwinter holiday shoehorned into the Christian religious calendar for convenience. From a strictly religious standpoint, Easter is a much bigger ticket. (Getting born? Big whoop. Everybody gets born. Dying on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and getting resurrected three days later because he's God? Now that's what they're talking about.)

And yet -- in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal -- Christmas has almost entirely eclipsed Easter, for all but the most devout. Christmas gets an entire month of frenzied eating and drinking and shopping and traveling and party-going and family drama. Easter gets -- maybe -- a nice dinner or brunch, plus for kids it acts as a sort of secondary candy- frenzy holiday to Halloween. If the holidays were really about Jesus, we'd be having a nice quiet dinner with friends and family in late December, maybe with a hunt for hidden chocolate Santas for the kiddies ... and a massive social and economic whirl in March or April. As it's commonly celebrated -- at least in the U.S. -- the meaning of Christmas is only partly about the Christian religion. And a pretty minimal part at that.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? Solstice? Santamas? The holidays? Etc.?

It's cold. It's dark. The days are short, and the nights are long. Life is harder than usual right now, and we're cooped up in close quarters more than any other time of the year.

So let's celebrate.

Let's sing. Let's decorate. Let's eat and drink. Let's light candles and put up electric lights. Let's have parties. Let's visit our families and our friends. Let's give each other presents. Let's spend time together that's specifically devoted to enjoying each other's company, and take part in activities -- like gift- giving and parties and big group dinners -- that strengthen social bonds.

Let's remind ourselves that life is worth living, and that the cold and dark won't be here forever. Let's remind ourselves that we care about each other, and remind ourselves of why.

That's what this holiday means to me.

Happy holidays, everybody!

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"My wife, you know, doesn't pump iron. She is strong physically and spiritually"

(CNN) -- No one expected to find Donna Molnar alive.

Donna Molnar's body temperature was 30 degrees Celsius when rescuers found her Monday.

Searchers had combed the brutal backcountry of rural Ontario for the housewife from the city of Hamilton, who had left her home three days earlier in the middle of a blizzard to grocery shop.

Alongside his search-and-rescue dog Ace, Ray Lau on Monday tramped through the thick, ice-covered brush of a farmer's field, not far from where Molnar's van had been found a day earlier.

He kept thinking: Negative-20 winds? This is a search for a body.

"Then, oh, all of a sudden, Ace bolted off," said Lau. "He stooped and looked down at the snow and just barked, barked, barked."

Lau rushed to his Dutch shepherd's side.

"There she was, there was Donna, her face was almost totally covered except for one eye staring back at me!" he said. "That was, 'Wow!' There was a thousand thoughts going through my head. It was over the top."

With one ungloved hand near her neck, Molnar, 55, mumbled and tried to scream as Lau yelled to other rescuers. Dressed in a leather coat, sweater, slacks and winter boots, Molnar was carefully extracted from a 3-foot-deep mound of snow that had apparently helped to insulate her. Video Watch how the rescuers found Molnar »

Then, rescuers got their second shock.

"She was lucid, and said, 'Wow. I've been here a long time!' and then she apologized and said, 'I just wanted to take a walk, I'm sorry to have caused you any trouble,' " said Staff Sgt. Mark Cox of the Hamilton Police Department, one of the leaders in the hunt. "And we're all thinking this is incredible, this is really something."

"I've been doing search and rescue for seven years, and this is the wildest case I've had in finding someone alive," he said.

She was rushed to a hospital and immediately sedated to begin the agonizing steps of hypothermia treatment.

"I think the snow must have worked to trap her body heat, and that's what really saved her," Cox said. "This really speaks to what's possible."

David Molnar is calling his wife's survival his "Christmas miracle."

He wasn't able to speak with her immediately after she was taken to the hospital. But while she was under sedation, he leaned over her and whispered in her ear, "Welcome back, I love you."

"My wife, you know, doesn't pump iron. She is strong physically and spiritually," he said. "When people say to me how do I explain how she survived, I said I believe God reached down and cradled her until the rescuers could find her, because there's no rational explanation."

In addition to hypothermia, Donna Molnar is being treated for severe frostbite, and her recovery will take months.

But his wife's condition was upgraded Wednesday from critical to serious. "That may not sound like a great thing to everyone, but to us, that is the best news we could possibly get on Christmas Eve," David Molnar said.

As for Ace, he's still awaiting his reward: a T-bone steak. It's the least that can be done for a dog who, in his own way, paid it forward.

"A while ago, Ace was rescued from a home where he didn't belong, and now he got to rescue someone. I can't describe the magnitude of that, what that means to me," Lau said.

"He's definitely getting his steak. I'm grocery shopping right now."

Saudi women's group assails judge over 8-year-old's marriage

Story Highlights
  • Group condemns judge for not annulling marriage of girl, 8, to 47-year-old man
  • Groups co-founder fighting those who "keep us backward and in the dark ages"
  • Marriage deal made by girl's father and the husband over mother's objections
  • Human Rights Watch hears about similar cases once every 4 or 5 months, they say

(CNN) -- A group fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia condemned a judge Wednesday for refusing to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man.

The group's co-founder, Wajeha al-Huwaider, told CNN that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to "keep us backward and in the dark ages."

The Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, in a statement published on its Web site, called on the "minister of justice and human rights groups to interfere now in this case" by divorcing the girl from the man. "They must end this marriage deal which was made by the father of the girl and the husband."

On Saturday, the judge, Sheikh Habib Abdallah al-Habib, dismissed a petition brought by the girl's mother. Video Watch CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom report on the case »

The mother's lawyer, Abdullah al-Jutaili, said the judge found that the mother -- who is separated from the girl's father -- is not the legal guardian, and therefore cannot represent her daughter.

The judge requested, and received, a pledge from the husband, who was in court, not to allow the marriage to be consummated until the girl reaches puberty, al-Jutaili said. When she reaches puberty, the judge ruled, the girl will have the right to request a divorce by filing a petition with the court, the lawyer said.

Al-Jutaili said the girl's father arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man, "a close friend" of his.

In its statement Wednesday, the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia said the judge's decision goes against children's "basic rights." Marrying children makes them "lose their sense of security and safety. Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression.

"Moreover, children marriage creates unhealthy families because they were built on bad relationships."

The judge's decision also contradicts the king's consultative council, called the Majlis al-Shura, which found that anyone under the age of 18 "is a child and should be treated likewise," the women's rights group said.

In an interview with CNN, al-Huwaider said the Saudi government has signed international agreements involving children's and human rights, "and they know that this is very harmful to the kingdom's image. There is a strong wave to teach and spread human rights here in Saudi Arabia, but we all know that there are two players behind the scenes: a movement that wants reform and change to better the kingdom and another movement that wants to keep us backward and in the dark ages."

The Saudi Justice Ministry has not commented.

The Saudi Information Ministry forwarded CNN to the government-run Human Rights Commission.

Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the commission, said his organization is fighting against child marriages. "Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed," he said.

Al-Harithi added that he did not have specific details about this case, but his organization has been able to stop at least one other child marriage.

Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said, "We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men."

In an interview Wednesday with CNN, Wilcke said that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."

He added that, "unfortunately, the religious establishment holds to conservative views which many scholars believe sometimes violate sharia [Islamic law]."

Wilcke said he hopes the appeals process will overturn the judge's decision.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mass Rape in the Congo: A Crime Against Society
Ann Jones, The Nation, explores the ongoing tragedy occurring in the Congo. Hundreds of thousands of women are raped and mutilated, leaving behind psychological trauma and the scars of a society ravaged by horrific violence.

Jestina Mukoko

Seized Zimbabwe activist in court


Human rights activist Jestina Mukoko (in red) and other activists entering court through gates

Prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who went missing for three weeks, has appeared in court in the capital, Harare.

The state-run Herald newspaper says Ms Mukoko is charged with attempting to recruit people for military training to try to overthrow the government.

It is unclear when or where the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project has been over the past three weeks.

The police denied opposition claims that they had been holding her.

After the brief court appearance on Wednesday, officials said the case was being referred up to the High Court and that Ms Mukoko and several others would be remanded in custody.

The Herald reported a police statement claiming that one of the defendants had tried to recruit a police constable to undergo military training in Botswana.

They are trying to come up with confessions from these activists
Annah Moyo
Zimbabwean human rights activist

The training would have been used to forcibly depose President Robert Mugabe's government and replace it with one led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said the statement.

Ms Mukoko is one of more than 40 human rights activists and opposition supporters who Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) say have been abducted in the past two months.

International pressure

A Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, Annah Moyo, said the charges against Ms Mukoko and others could be used by the Mugabe regime as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and withdraw from power-sharing talks.

"They are trying to come up with confessions from these activists... that they have been part of the people who have been trying to overthrow the Zimbabwean government," she said.

"This is an indication of a government that is desperate to do whatever it can find to try and hold on to power."

On Wednesday morning, lawyers in Zimbabwe said they had confirmation that Ms Mukoko was being held at a police station in Harare.

Lawyers for Human Rights march in protest at abductions in Harare, Zimbabwe (10/12/2008)
Zimbabwe's Lawyers for Human Rights marched in protest at the abductions

They also said they had managed to locate 14 activists at police stations, but that others were still missing.

Ms Mukoko's whereabouts had remained a mystery since she was allegedly abducted from her home outside Harare on 3 December by 15 armed men.

In an unusual move, a High Court judge had ordered police to search for her and told the national Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation to run radio and television appeals for information.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Irene Petras of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Ms Mukoko and others arrested had "fundamental rights and freedoms which are being violated with complete impunity".

Ms Petras claimed the detainees had been held at unknown locations and possibly subjected to torture and degrading treatment.

Members of the lawyers group took to the streets of Harare last week to highlight Ms Mukoko's plight, carrying banners protesting against other alleged abductions.

Ms Mukoko's court appearance comes as international pressure on Mr Mugabe is mounting.

The leader of the governing ANC party in neighbouring South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has described the situation in Zimbabwe as "utterly untenable".

Meanwhile Archbishop Desmond Tutu had said he is "very deeply disappointed" that South Africa has failed to stand up to Mr Mugabe.

But the BBC's Rachel Harvey reports from neighbouring South Africa that there is no sign for now of an attempt to turn rhetoric into action.

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