in this issue:
Serial Killer Targets Prostitutes As Vancouver Protests Cell Phones
Twenty one women who had worked as prostitutes in the tough east side of downtown Vancouver, BC, have been missing since 1995. Many believe they are the victims of a serial killer who is still in the area.
Vancouver's mayor has proposed offering a reward of up to $2 million for information that helps solve the case. But little is being done to give the prostitutes who are still alive some protection, or to economically empower them so they can leave this dangerous work.
The British Columbia's Ministry of Women's Equality did take some constructive action. They organized a government program which has provided 100 cell phones for the approximately 1,000 prostitutes working in the area. The cell phones, which can only dial 911, have been donated or are being bought second-hand.
The program, which costs an entire $3,000, has been met with public outrage. "This is absolutely disgusting. What's next: two-bedroom condos to work in?" one man wrote in one of the letters on the subject printed in the Vancouver Province newspaper.
Women's Equality Minister Sue Hammell said she won't be backing off the project. Unfortunately, the clamoring protest means that greater actions by the government to protect the prostitutes of the area probably won't even be considered.
In May, more than 300 people held a memorial service for the missing women. Family members lit a candle for each woman during the ceremony, which was followed by a march through the city streets.
(CP, May 18 and AP, May 17, 1999)
University Officials Intervene for Men Athletes
Since 1993, University of Minnesota athletics officials--often with the cooperation of campus police, and through intimidation of the accusers--have interfered with sexual assault investigations of star athletes.
Between 1993 and 1997, at least 11 women have made allegations of rape, domestic assault, indecent conduct, and harassment by seven football and basketball players, according to records obtained by the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Three of the athletes were later accused of assaulting other women after police neglected to submit the initial cases for review by prosecutors.
The vice president for student development and athletics admitted that the university police chief commonly gives his office a "courtesy call" when a serious crime against an athlete is alleged. Allegations are then often dealt with by athletic officials, while detectives refuse to write up reports.
The players' coaches sometimes arrange to meet with alleged victims and then accuse them of lying. In trying to defend themselves for their actions, the coaches argued they need to protect their players from false accusations and racially biased campus police and medical staff members.
The accusations against the players, most of whom are African American, are "racially biased, you bet," said one of the coaches, who is white. The women who have made the accusations are of varied races--African-American, white, and Asian.
The other head coach used the same argument. "We have a problem between the white female and the black male," he said.
Legal experts said that athletic officials shouldn't be involved in criminal cases in any way. They also said that it is never up to police to decide whether to forward a case for review by prosecutors.
(Minneapolis Star and Tribune, May 21 and 22)
In India, Lower Caste Women Turn Village Rule Upside Down
"We are the rulers, but now she is ruling," said a Brahmin farmer who was village head before Rani, an illiterate woman from the lower castes, took over.
Rani, who like other low-caste women has only one name, is one of almost a million women who now have governing positions in their villages. The epic change is the result of a constitutional amendment that India adopted in 1993 that sets aside a third of all village governing seats and chief positions for women, with a percentage of those reserved for women of the lowest rungs of the caste system.
The amendment is transforming more than 500,000 villages that are home to more that 600 million people--about 1 of 10 people on earth.
A new government study found that while a third of the women in governing positions are rubber stamps for their husbands, two-thirds are actively engaged in learning the ropes and exercising power. The new rules are having their greatest effects in states where women are already more empowered, such as Kerala, where nine of ten rural women are literate. Change will come more slowly in more sexist states such as Uttar Pradesh, where only 35 percent of rural women are literate, compared with 66 percent of the men.
(New York Times, May 3)
Welfare Ups and Downs
As the government continues to manipulate women through inhumane welfare reform, activists for welfare rights are both winning and losing the smaller battles.
Lost is the right for mothers in Washington state to care for their infants until they are 12 months old. Mothers must now leave their infants to look for work when the infants are twelve weeks old. Mothers who don't have alternative care for their children will be exempt from the requirement, but social workers are often confused by all the new rules, and may mislead welfare recipients into thinking there are no such exemptions.
Governor Gary Locke, who put such tremendous time and energy to get voters to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for Paul Allen's privately controlled football stadium, barely lifted a finger to change this new law, which hoes into effect in July.
On a happier note, poor women won an important victory with the Supreme Court. On May 17, the court banned states from paying lower benefits to newcomers than to longtime residents. This ruling was a defeat for Congress and the Clinton Administration, but welcome to poor mothers and children, particularly those escaping batterers.
(AP, May 17; Washington Welfare Reform Coalition Network News)
Wal-Mart is Bad News for Women
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the second largest pharmacy chain in the country, have prohibited their pharmacists from stocking, ordering, or dispensing emergency contraception. The emergency contraception, Preven, is used to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after intercourse. It decreases a woman's chance of getting pregnant by 75 percent. Researchers estimate that Preven, if widely used, could prevent half of all unintended pregnancies.
Wal-Mart is not satisfied simply by banning on contraceptives for women. The chain is also waging a war on its women workers.
More than two-thirds of Wal-Mart's 800,000 employees are women. The company ranked last among retailers in terms of equity and fairness to women in a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Recent court cases reveal a grim picture of sexual harassment and discrimination at Wal-Mart. Juries have so far awarded women millions of dollars for the ongoing problem. Wal-Mart also denies health coverage to 62 percent of its employees, most of whom are women. The national average of workers denied health insurance is less than 40 percent.
Wal-Mart is now moving into the supermarket business, where a half a million more women are employed. If successful in its takeover, these women will most likely face lower wages, loss of health care benefits, and a loss of power in the workplace.
Sounds like its time for a boycott.
To protest the ban on contraceptive sales, email the president of Wal-Mart, David Glass, at email@example.com, or write to him at Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, AR 72716.
( Planned Parenthood press release, May 4, NOW legislative update, May 7, and United Food and Commercial Workers Union press release, May 10)
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