Hillary Clinton to Speak on Repro Rights and Health this Friday

Nora sent me the below notice from the International Women’s Health Coalition today. I am embarassingly ignorant about the ICPD, so I won’t comment here right now, but I did want to give everyone the heads up about her speech. Check it out.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver a major speech Friday, January 8, 2010 to mark the 15th year of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

In her speech, Secretary Clinton will announce the U.S. Government’s renewed support for reaching the ICPD goals and other related UN agreements including the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the United States’ unequivocal commitment to promoting and protecting sexual and reproductive rights and health.

On Friday afternoon, tune in to Secretary Clinton’s speech and make it known that the world is watching as the U.S. commits to securing a just and healthy life for women and girls worldwide.

The speech will be streamed live on www.icpd2015.org starting at approximately 2:30 pm. A transcript and video of the speech will be posted on this site following the event.

Though successful programs exist, more progress needs to be made. To achieve the ICPD’s goals by 2015, a sustained commitment is needed by both the public and private sectors.

Please forward this email to your friends and colleagues. Take this opportunity to view Secretary Clinton’s speech, host viewing parties, and commit to taking action for the ICPD Agenda throughout the New Year.

Visit www.icpd2015.org for more information.

Some notable stories from the week…

Shakesville provides a definition of rape culture. It’s a term that is used quite a bit, but I’ve never seen such a thorough analysis of what it actually is.

Obama spoke yesterday at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, saying that he is planning to repeal the absurd “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy. Unfortunately, he provided no timetable, despite having made the same promise during his election campaign. Many in the LGBT community are disappointed, and rightfully so.

During protests against Guinea’s new military junta, female protesters were sexually assaulted and raped by soldiers. The events being documented by cell phones and plenty of eyewitnesses, but the leader of the junta, Captain Camara blamed opposition leaders.

Senator Al Franken succeeded in passing an amendment to to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies if they “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.”

This comes after a Halliburton/KBR employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, was drugged and gang-raped by co-workers in Baghdad. She was kept in a shipping container for 24 hours without food or water and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.”

Franken said,

The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. … The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.

Of course thirty republicans still voted against the amendment, some arguing that it was a political attack against Halliburton. Apparently protecting the interests of a company are more important than giving recourse to survivors of rape.

Threatening Young People Into Having Safe Sex?

Look, I understand that from a marketing perspective, it might be a little difficult to come up with a compelling image to represent two consenting people having an honest discussion about their sexual histories and contraception use, out of mutual respect and concern for themselves and one another. Sure, it’s easier to throw a shocking image meant to strike fear in the heart of someone who may not have  chosen to use a condom otherwise, and maybe it is effective. But are these ads promoting condom use really the best, healthiest way to engage people in a discourse about safe sex?
tagline: “Girls, protect yourself. Demand your partner wear a condom”
tagline: “Powerful but not harmful. Use condom.”

These images come from an ad archive of “top safe sex” ad ideas from around the world, and the wide range of ads leaves a lot of room for many many comments (I’m not even going to touch this one that shows a naked cartoon girl safe within a blown up condom, surrounded by an underwater world of penises.) But I am particularly taken aback by the above ads, and a number of similar ones, depicting male genetalia as bullets, snakes, or other threatening images. (Don’t worry, women aren’t left out—vaginas get represented by disgusting spiders; don’t even get me started on how this image mimics female genital mutilation and how disturbing and inappropriate that is.) The most violent image, which I don’t want to post for fear of triggers, actually shows a gun pointed directly between the legs of a naked women.

I’m reading the amazing collection of essays Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape this week, and I’ve been continuously excited by the ideas different writers have presented about sex education that is open, honest, and pleasure-focused, that recognizes and celebrates female desire, and that exists in a world where expressions of female sexuality are not impacted by the constant fear of assault/being blamed for one’s assault. In other words: sex education that is sex positive. What would ads for condom use in that realm look like? Certainly not like these.

The above ads are explicit in their point: women are victims, inherently, and must protect themselves from the guns and snakes of the world. There is no pretense of an idea of sex that is not violent, that contraception use should—like sex—come from a mutual understanding between partners. As Lisa at Sociological Images puts it: “While I am all for encouraging safer sex, I would prefer that such efforts not conflate the penis with a weapon.  Goodness knows doing so only contributes to the idea that the penis is inherently or naturally useful for enacting violence and women’s bodies inherently or naturally vulnerable to violation from men.”

I know that the heart of these ad campaigns is in the right place—get people to protect themselves from STDs! I couldn’t agree more. But by starting from a place of fear and violence, these images solidify the idea of a world in which the natural state of woman is to be unsafe from the predatory and violent man. That’s not a good educational starting point for anyone.

(h/t: Sociological Images)

One in Four

This “one in four” is not referring to the “1 in 4 college women have been raped” stat – today this 1 in 4 refers to new perpetrator data out of South Africa.

One in four men in South Africa have admitted to rape and many confess to attacking more than one victim, according to a study that exposes the country’s endemic culture of sexual violence.

Three out of four rapists first attacked while still in their teens, the study found. One in 20 men said they had raped a woman or girl in the last year.
Of those surveyed, 28% said they had raped a woman or girl, and 3% said they had raped a man or boy. Almost half who said they had carried out a rape admitted they had done so more than once, with 73% saying they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20.

The study, which had British funding, also found that men who are physically violent towards women are twice as likely to be HIV-positive. They are also more likely to pay for sex and to not use condoms.

Any woman raped by a man over the age of 25 has a one in four chance of her attacker being HIV-positive.

I can’t speak to the merits of the study itself, not being a researcher, but the numbers are pretty shocking. As is the link to HIV transmission at such high rates.

The study also points to some concrete dimensions of prevention, noting that 73% of the respondents who admitted rape, had done so before the age of 20. Many men who admitted to rape also rated their parental relationships to be “not kind” and had been exposed to trauma in childhood. Prevention must start early.

Click here for the Executive Summary of the study. Thanks to Nora for the info on this story.

Iran’s Protests

If you didn’t already know by now, hundreds of thousands of Iranians are protesting what they believe to be a fraudulent presidential election outcome and are gathering in mostly peaceful demonstrations to voice their outrage. President Ahmadinejad won the election with 63% of the vote, but supporters of the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, believe that the votes were rigged.

Some of the photos from these protests are absolutely inspiring, while others I can barely view due to squeamish tendencies. Boston.com’s The Big Picture has the most impressive ones I’ve seen.

The New York Times had an article detailing the power of social networking sites in these events, particularly Twitter:

Yet on Monday afternoon, a 27-year-old State Department official, Jared Cohen, e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran.

The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.

Since the Iranian government has silenced foreign journalists working in the country and is not issuing new press credentials, the internet is now the best source of eyewitness testimony:

One YouTube account, bearing the user name “wwwiranbefreecom,” showed disturbing images of police officers beating people in the streets. On Monday, Lara Setrakian, an ABC News journalist, put out a call for video on Twitter, writing, “Please send footage we can’t reach!”

I would love to believe that these demonstrations (the largest ones since Iran’s 1979 revolution) will make a difference, and that the voices of the people will be heard. I think that my Iranian-American friend said it best:

the world owes a lot to the Persians… THAT is how you react to smoky elections, shady politics and scummy statesmen. Wherever he is, Thomas Jefferson must be pleased.

“You See a Threat, We See an Opportunity”

It’s Pride time now here in NYC, with parades and festivals throughout the month. Other Pride celebrations will be going on worldwide all summer.  I don’t really see LGBTQ Pride as an opportunity to promote rape and religious and ethnic divisiveness, but apparently the editors of TimeOut Tel Aviv felt differently. My good friend at Dang…Globalization is Heavy wrote this week about the publication’s Pride cover.


The Hebrew text on the above cover image of praying Muslim men reads: “You See a Threat, We See an Opportunity.”

I’ll let the LGBTQ, feminist and human rights organizations in Palestine and Israel who have written a letter in protest of this disturbing tag-line speak for themselves:

Your celebratory front page mocks and humiliates Islam and Muslims by sexually objectifying their prayers, and it disseminates racist and violent messages. In this image, on the one hand, Islam is portrayed as a “threat”, a religion and people we must fear from and be repulsed by; on the other hand, the Muslim men praying are sexual objects. Such representation would not have been accepted if it was humiliating other religions. If such representation was of Jewish people, there would have been, rightfully, a storm of strong resistance.

The title of the front page suggests that violent, vulgar and disturbing sexual acts are “opportunities”. Opportunities of what, we ask? “To fuck Islam”? “To fuck Muslims”? Is it because “they are a threat”? Or they are “exotic”? Is this an opportunity to “fuck” the “enemy” and stab them in the back as they pray? Is anyone who turns their back an “opportunity” for rape?

In addition, the representation and reduction of gay men as seeking sex in any opportunity, and with anyone, is humiliating and homophobic. It suggests the ones who should be feared are gay men, who are portrayed as sexual abusers and violently manipulative. Pride week supposedly symbolizes the LGBTQ community struggle for equal rights, acceptance of the other. We protest the magazine’s use of the Pride weeks as a platform for racist and homophobic statements, mocking of the other, and promoting violent sexual objectification. All of this is shown in a sophisticated and glossy image and article which doesn’t promote any justice or tolerance.

We believe in the value of freedom of speech, and occasionally we amuse ourselves with humour and satire. We are not aiming at censoring anyone from expressing their opinions. Your choice of this image, as a celebratory front page, shows bad taste, confusion of values, and cultural insensitivity. The message of the image was racist, violent, and ignorant. These messages contradict Pride week’s goals. They are harmful to a point where a public apology from you is necessary.
LGBTQ, feminist and human rights organizations in Palestine/Israel.

The Virgin Myth

There is a commonly held belief in Zimbabwe that if a man with HIV or AIDS (or virtually any STD) rapes a virgin, he will be cured. You can imagine how much damage this so-called “virgin myth” can cause– hundreds of girls, some of them not old enough to walk, are raped for this reason.

What makes this situation worse is that many traditional faith healers in Zimbabwe still push this false cure, and by doing so not only cause hundreds of rapes, but also potentially hundreds of new HIV cases.

According to Science in Africa, this myth also has hold in India and Thailand, as well other developing countries with large numbers of HIV/AIDS populations. Some believe the myth originated from Christian legends of virgin martyrs, in which their purity served as a form of protection in battling demons. The myth began to gain prominence in 19th century Victorian England.

One organization looking to help those affected by this myth is the Girl Child Network Worldwide, which provides leadership training for thousands of girls across Zimbabwe. The founder, Betty Makoni, was raped at six years old, and unlike her mother who endured domestic violence, she was determined to not sweep the issue under the rug.

Zelda Lily also has a great blog post on the topic, as does gottalove.

Kashmir Protests Rape & Murder

Last month, 17-year-old Aasiya Jan and her 22-year-old sister-in-law, Nilofar Shakeel were raped and murdered in South Kashmir’s Shopian, allegedly by members of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force. The allegations have ignited separatist calls, and thousands of women have been involved in public demonstrations against the crimes.

From Kashmir Watch:

At Kashmir University, the highest learning institute of the valley, hundreds of girls staged peaceful demonstrations to protest the alleged rape and murder of the Shopian teenage girl and her sister-in-law last month. Chanting “We want Freedom,” “Islam Zindabad,” “Punish the killers,” the protesters accused the government of trying to hush up the case to shield the culprits.

“Through today’s protest we want to convey to the government that we’ll not tolerate the rape and murder of our sisters. If the government would have been serious, by now the culprits should have been hanged,” an M.A student wishing not to be named told Press Bureau of India.

Of course, complicating the issue is the rift that still exists between the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir and India, with human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch saying that sexual violence is used by Indian military to humiliate the population and to control separatist activities.

This is not the first major protest due to sexual violence committed by the Indian military. From the LA Times:

Shopian residents are particularly sensitive to such allegations because of an alleged mass rape in a Kashmiri village in 1991 in which male residents were driven out of about 45 houses by security personnel and the female residents then raped.

Since the demonstrations started, 400 have been injured and one killed, with general strikes and the shutting down of other services. Amnesty International has called on the Indian authorities to carry out impartial investigations, and condemned the use of live ammunition and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.

Unfortunately, serious investigations into the sexual assault and deaths of the women didn’t begin soon enough. Police failed to interview certain witnesses even though a judicial inquiry was made. Some still feel that this was only done to subdue the growing protests, and that eventually those who are responsible (if found) will be quietly exonerated.

What is upsetting about this is that if not for the fact that there is still tension between Muslims in Kashmir and Indians, a serious investigation probably wouldn’t have happened. It takes political strife to force authorities to take sexual violence in some regions seriously, or to acknowledge it at all.

Monday Morning Links

This week on the internet…

An awesome post at Kittywampus on “how underage drinking laws enable violent crimes” on college campuses. Sungold is completely correct: student victims need amnesty from alcohol policies so they can report without fear of being punished.

Deeply Problematic takes on MTV for Sacha Baron Cohen’s (as his Bruno character) staged assault of Eminem at the MTV Movie awards, and looks at the lyrics on Eminem’s new album that deal with sexual abuse.

At Pandagon, more on the University of the Pacific case, and a Playboy article (now removed from the web after outcry) about conservative women author Guy Cimbalo would like to “hate fuck.” Stay classy, Playboy.

What a crazy happenstance looks at victim-blaming in opinion articles about domestic violence.

At Womanist Musings, a horrifying (and triggering) story on the lack of justice for a 15-year-old rape survivor.

Silence is the Enemy: more on rape in the Congo, Liberia, and Darfur at Shakesville.

Finally, on RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte introduces us to anti-choice organization Justice For All’s training manual for protesters. Marcotte mentions that JFA regularly targets college campuses with their activism. The 113-page manual arms anti-choice activists with “information” on how there is only one medical condition that might require a medically necessary abortion and how using the birth control pill is basically like having an abortion, as well as stragies for convincing pro-choice opponents that abortion is the same thing as genocide. Though SAFER isn’t an exlicitly pro-choice organization and I can’t speak for all the organization’s members, groups like Justice for All are actively campaigning for the control of women’s bodies through manipulation and misinformation. By calling for people to have “self control” and prevent pregnancy via abstience, they also contribute to the unhealthy attitudes about sex that have left young people unprepared, uneducated, and ready to blame victims of sexual violence for being “promiscuous.” This is absolutely not the kind of activism we want to see on college campuses. (Amanda’s post is just one piece of the overwhelming response to the tragic murder of Dr. George Tiller. I encourage anyone who hasn’t to check out this heartbreaking post on patients remembering George Tiller at Feministe.)

Britain to Ask Rape Victims About Police and Court Failure

And for once, a good idea! Ashley’s last post about asking the victims from Abu Ghraib for their thoughts about the release of the photos got me thinking in general about how all of our talk (I, the media, etc.) surrounding the issue of sexual violence gets so wrapped up in theory and anger and statistics that we sometimes forget to consider the pragmatic needs and desires of the actual survivors. There is an impulse to shy away from such discussions, as of course everyone’s experience with assault is different and can be influenced by a huge number of factors, and we never want to tokenize or make assumptions. However, it is rare that I’ve come across (criminal justice-related) policy decisions that are informed by a large-scale survey of those who have been/will be most impacted by that policy’s success or failure. Usually victims of violence are thrown into the policy debate individually by policy makers as a political tool, such as using one child’s rape and murder to pass laws that will make a given politician look “tough on crime” during an election year.

Britain might be taking a different, and far improved route. Disturbed by the fact that England and Wales’ rape conviction rates now hover around 6.5%, (the general criminal conviction rate in England is 34%) the “policing standards watchdog, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary,” will perform a “rape audit” next year.  Details are scarce, but the idea is that “[r]ape victims are to be asked why they feel that they are being failed by the criminal justice system.” If done sensitively and thoroughly, this could provide us with a wealth of important information on rape survivors’ experience with the criminal justice system and open doors for effective interventions. The Guardian cites police, prosecution, and jury skepticism of rape victims’ reports as likely reasons for the low conviction rates. Hopefully the unfortunate realities unearthed by such an “audit” will help to sway public opinion and inform professional training on the issue.

And speaking of public opinion…let’s look at the comments at the Times Online’s “audit” article, shall we? As I write this, there are currently 30 comments. Of these, 10 comments are concerned with false rape allegations—i.e., “the 2% to 9% false allegation rate reported here is bullshit, it’s really much higher” or “what about punishment for all of the women who make false allegations??!?!?!” (for the record, judging by the names of these commenters, all of them appear to be male). Amongst these 10, and in about two more comments, there is also the general feeling that you can never really make an honest rape conviction since it’s always a case of one person’s word against another (and don’t forget about the influence of alcohol!!!!). Jim from Ipswich sums up my thoughts with his comment: “Interesting that, out of the 3 (male) comments here so far, 2 pose questions of the victim and not the agressor. Perhaps this accounts for the results the article discusses.” Thank you, Jim.

To end on a couple of less anger-inducing comments (or rather, still incredibly upsetting and infuriating just in a very very different way):

My daughter was repeatedly raped by her violent (now ex) partner who is still very aggressive towards her. Not only were the rape allegations belittled (she is pregnant as a result of the rapes), the ongoing abuse is being dismissed by police as trivial & insignificant. No wonder she’s suicidal!

AJP, St Albans, UK

I am a detective and I investigate rape daily. I can confirm that in my policing area false allegations represent a minute proportion of complaints. The vast majority of complainants are very brave and deserve justice. The difficulty is in reaching the required burden of proof on consent.

John, Hampshire, UK

(h/t abyss2hope, That’s Why I’m A  Feminist)