Global Roundup: Victory for Aung San Suu Kyi; Tracking Real-Time Rape in Syria


Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

In Myanmar, a Win for Women and for Democracy

Aung San Suu Kyi, an embattled democracy activist who spent more than two decades under house arrest, has won a groundbreaking election for a seat in Parliament. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says it is on track to win 44 of the 45 seats in Parliament this week, signaling that while much work is left to be done, the wheels of democracy are once again turning in Myanmar. Suu Kyi is a pivotal figure in democracy, human rights, and women’s leadership. The daughter of a democracy activist, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent decades being watched, threatened, and oppressed by Burma’s military regime. Her husband, Michael Aris, died of prostate cancer in 1999. The Burmese Government refused to grant him entry before his death to visit Suu Kyi, who was on house arrest at the time. Although they agreed to let her leave to visit him, she felt sure it was a ploy to keep her out of the country and ultimately decided to stay. She said Aris had “sacrificed the companionship of his beloved wife for 10 years so that she could stand with her people in Burma to struggle for human rights and democracy.” Her story is phenomenal and it’s not over yet. Suu Kyi calls the latest elections “a step towards step one in democracy,” but it’s a step nonetheless. If you think Suu Kyi should be on the 2012 Time 100, you can vote for her here. Via Al Jazeera.

UN Opens Inquiry into Honor Killings in India

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, South African Christof Heyns, completed a two-week trip to India where he investigated the persistence of “honor killings” of women in the country. Heyns visited five regions, including far flung Kashmir, which has harbored tensions for decades, and will submit his findings to the UN Human Rights Council next year. Women in India remain at risk for “honor killings” and abuse at the hands of relatives for a range of reasons, including dowry disagreements, rape retribution, or general dissatisfaction. These crimes are rarely pursued or prosecuted because they are “socially sanctioned,” advocates say. The UN estimates that 5,000 women a year fall victim to these sanctioned killings. The issue is not confined to India; the practice is echoed elsewhere in the world and with the movement of people, has become a burgeoning issue in the US, Canada, and Europe. In January, three members of a Canadian-Afghan family were convicted of first degree murder for the “honor killing” of three daughters and the husband’s first wife. In 2010, the death of an Iraqi American teen in Arizona brought the issue home to the US. As straightforwardly gruesome as they seem, and oftentimes are, “honor killings” are a complex outcome with a diversity of underlying factors often misrepresented or misunderstood. Read six perspectives on the issue from leaders in the Muslim and Hindu communities here. Via TrustLaw.

Tracking Real-Time Rape in Syria

Just two months after launching, the women’s rights watch dog Women Under Siege, unveiled an innovative and interactive effort to combat rape in real-time. As conflict continues to unfold in Syria, the group has launched an open  source crowd map enabling victims of rape to identify where and that the event happened. Rape in conflict is rarely covered in full during conflict, but more often profiled after the fact. That sexual violence is both a strategy and outcome of war is not particularly novel, but renewed efforts to elevate this fact in the mainstream, and target this reality as it unfolds, very much is. That’s what Women Under Siege is doing. “We so often have to gather this information after the fact, after so much of it is lost, so anything we can do to get this information out can only help women,” said director Lauren Wolfe. The map serves as both an online and public electronic witness, and lets victims know they are not alone. The effort elevates rape to the urgency of all other civilian causalities in conflict settings, and could serve as a model for tracking other aspects of war as it unravels. Via Mother Jones.

In Nigeria, Female Condoms Offer Hope for an Abysmal Contraceptive Usage Rate

Stakeholders met recently to discuss progress on the Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Program in Nigeria, a countrywide effort to increase awareness and use of female condoms among women. The project found that female condoms had a 61 percent acceptance rate in 2012, up from a 39 percent acceptance rate when awareness efforts began in 2008. Approximately 10% of women of reproductive age in Nigeria report modern contraceptive use – a dismal rate. Social taboos around contraceptive use, and logistical barriers, like cost, convenience, and supply stock outs, contribute to low usage in Nigeria and across Africa. While female condoms are rarely a favorite, they do offer women a singular option when it comes to woman-controlled barrier method, and HIV prevalence in the country remains high. Female condoms are a great idea in theory, but have been the butt of jokes for many – they are often uncomfortable, loud, or awkward to use. But recent efforts have produced better, sleeker, and sexier versions that could live up to the potential this protection method has. In November, at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, the UK’s development program announced five million pounds for female condoms, specifically. Via Vanguard.

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