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Gender Inequality Causes Global Poverty

It is obvious that poverty creates conditions that make women more vulnerable to violence. But violence against women, in turn, perpetuates poverty, especially in developing countries, according to a U.N. report.

"We cannot make poverty history until we stop violence against women and girls," said the U.N. Population Fund's executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in London upon the release of her organization’s annual State of World Population report in October. "We cannot make poverty history until women enjoy their full social, cultural, economic and political rights."

According to the report, “gender apartheid" could destroy the U.N's goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

Improving women's political, economic and educational opportunities would lead to improved economic prospects, smaller families, healthier and more literate children, lower HIV prevalence rates and reduced incidence of harmful traditional practices.

-- info from Associated Press, Oct 12

Suspicious Death of Outspoken Feminist

Samira Munir, an outspoken Muslim feminist and critic of the headscarf requirements for women in Muslim communities, died mysteriously in November after “falling” on train tracks in a suburb of Olso.

Munir, a Norwegian citizen and politician of Pakistani origin, spoke out relentlessly for the rights of women in the Muslim immigrant community in Norway. She called upon an often indifferent Norwegian political body to take action against forced marriages, "honor" killings and female genital mutilation.

Risking her own personal safety, she supported a ban on the headscarf, or hijab, in Norway’s public schools, arguing that girls need a public space that is free from cultural and parentally imposed restraints.

Like many other feminists from Muslim societies, Munir viewed the hijab as an instrument of control by fathers, husbands, and brothers over girls and women. Many Muslim women maintain that they freely choose to wear the hijab. However, Munir held that the choice is illusory. In public schools, Muslim girls who don’t wear headscarves are targeted, bullied and called prostitutes, primarily by Muslim girls who wear headscarves. Many girls privately confided to Munir that they wear headscarves only because of external pressure; the same girls publicly proclaimed that they wear it of their own volition.

Before her death, Munir, a 42-year-old mother of two, was receiving threatening phone calls on a daily basis, and was harassed on the streets by men who threatened to kill her. The Pakistani Ambassador to Olso, Shahbaz Shahbaz, summoned her to private meetings where he pressured her to reverse her stance on the hijab, reminding her of her vulnerability by mentioning that she still had family in Pakistan.

At the same time, Norwegian politicians distanced themselves from her out of fear of losing the Muslim vote, and out of fear of tarnishing their "multicultural" self-image. Munir was relatively isolated on all sides.

Her death has received minimal media attention even in Norway. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the police lean toward treating her death as a suicide.

–- info from “A Veil and a Warning” by Rafia Zakaria, Frontline, Jan 28 - Feb 19, 2006

Don’t Worry, There’s No Connection

A British man who made a lifestyle of imitating the rapper Eminem – copying his dress, getting the same tattoos, performing identical dance routines – was convicted of beating a woman with a metal baseball bat and then cramming her into a suitcase to die. The killer, Christopher Duncan, 21, was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. Judge David Paget told Duncan at sentencing, “You treat women as sexual objects and have a sadistic sexual fantasy life.”

The victim was Jagdip Najran, a 26-year-old law student and aspiring singer. She met her killer at a karaoke bar, where he had been performing songs by Eminem. They went to his apartment in East London where, after sex, he became violent.

Eminem’s popular song “Stan,” about a man who yearns for another man and kills his girlfriend, includes these lyrics:

      Hey Slim, that's my girlfriend screaming in the trunk.
      But I didn't slit her throat,
      I just tied her up, see I ain't like you.
      'Cause if she suffocates, she'll suffer more,
      then she'll die too.

Another example of Eminem’s award-winning lyrics:

      Don't you get it b*tch, no one can hear you?
      Now shut the f*ck up and get what's comin to you
      You were supposed to love me

Eminem has responded to feminists’ objections to the violent misogyny in his songs by explaining the lyrics are actually a “joke.” Jagdip Najran, and the tens of thousands of other women who are murdered each year by men, are obviously the punch line.

-- info from Reuters and New York Times, December 6

Mentor Flouts Law and Endangers Women while FDA Shrugs

Breast-implant and liposuction equipment manufacturer Mentor Corp, which optimistically awaits FDA approval for its leaky silicone-gel implants, was exposed in November by a former senior engineer as having manufactured superior samples of its product for doctors but doing nothing to repair the malfunctioning implants that would actually be placed in women's bodies.

After Mentor realized the implants that were initially offered as samples to doctors left a slick of silicone oil, the company directed its engineers to come up with a less permeable material for the one-inch patch that seals a hole left by the manufacturing process. But the company never made the same modification to the devices that would actually be implanted in women, the engineer said in a letter to the FDA. He made clear that the modification would cost only a few pennies per device to implement.

The FDA, whose commissioner Lester Crawford is obstructing over-the-counter availability of Plan B Emergency Contraception, remains unalarmed about Mentor’s duplicity. The agency has no problem with Mentor offering a different demonstration model, a spokesperson explained, as long as the practice is "not misleading." Well, of course, it all makes perfect sense now.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than 264,000 breast implant surgeries were performed last year to increase women's breast size. An additional 63,000 were done for women who had mastectomies.

The FDA claims that leakage of the silicone gel is not dangerous. However, Diana Zuckerman of the Washington-based National Research Center for Women & Families pointed to the lack of long-term safety studies of breast implants. She says new research suggests that the low but constant exposure to chemicals such as silicone will have serious long-term health problems for some women. A recent study found that silicone from leaky unruptured as well as ruptured implants gathers in nearby lymph nodes, causing abnormal cells to develop.

This whistle-blower is the third Mentor employee to come forward about defects in the manufacturer's products. John C. Karjanis, a former product evaluation manager for Mentor, stated under oath in a lawsuit against the company that top executives instructed him to destroy reports detailing the high rupture rates and poor quality of some types of implants because the products "are in the customers." Karjanis also testified that factory workers hid defective products in the ceiling tiles in an effort to conceal how often the plant failed to make the products properly. Mentor Corp said the FDA closed its investigation into the accusations in 2002 without taking any action.

-- info from Washington Post, December 5, and NOW and Public Citizen, December 6,

Women No Longer Tolerate Pregnancy Discrimination

Complaints of pregnancy discrimination have become one of the fastest-growing classes of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, just behind discrimination based on religion and national origin, even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been on the books since 1978.

"I think women are finally coming forward in larger numbers to say, 'I have a right to have a job and a family, and I'm not going to take it,'" said Elizabeth Grossman, acting regional lawyer for the EEOC in New York. Grossman said instances of discrimination have not necessarily increased. Rather, the number of women willing to fight back has grown. At the same time, many employers remain ignorant of the fact that pregnancy discrimination is illegal.

Pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the EEOC have risen 33 percent in recent years, to 4,512 in 2004 from 3,385 in 1992. Some of that increase reflects a growing number of women working during and after their pregnancies, but not all of it. During the same period, the percentage of working women with children younger than 18 rose by 5.2 percent.

info from Washington Post, December 31

Current Tax Spending for Healthcare Enough for Universal Health Plan

Next year, the U.S. government expects to provide about $130 billion for Americans to buy health insurance. This is equivalent to about 11 percent of all federal income tax revenue and more than a fifth of federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid. The bill is expected to surpass $180 billion in 2010.

This financing is provided indirectly, as a tax break that allows workers to receive health insurance coverage from their employers without having to pay income taxes on what it costs. The subsidy is supplemented by an additional $11 billion in deductions for medical expenses and billions more in similar tax breaks for health insurance from states and municipalities.

By reallocating this same amount of tax money already devoted to health insurance, the U.S. could provide nearly universal coverage to its citizens. Currently about 45 million Americans – 18 percent of the population under 65 -- lack health insurance, and more are underinsured.The nation has the highest per-capita spending on health in the world -- about $5,400 in 2002 – but ties for 26th place among the world’s countries in life expectancy.

According to President Bush's advisory panel on tax reform, about half of the tax break for health insurance accrues to families making more than $75,000 a year. More than a quarter goes to families making more than $100,000.

A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation says two-thirds of the uninsured earn less than twice what the federal government defines as poverty. In four of every five cases, the uninsured made less than three times the poverty level.

-- Info from New York Times, December 18

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