Women in SingaporeIn 1961, young girls and women in Singapore received the promise of change when the country passed the Women’s Charter legislative act. The Women’s Charter establishes the regulation of romantic and family relationships. The act keeps the door open for Singaporean women to make decisions in their lives, such as who they marry and divorce. It also protects against family violence and holds criminals accountable for offenses toward women of all ages. Though this is the intention of the Women’s Charter, the statistics for prosecution, rape, domestic violence and citizens’ views of women in Singapore do not align with it.

Equality and Domestic Violence

Singapore struggles with gender equality, with 57% of Singaporeans believing men are the head of the household and should have the upper hand in decision making. However, 52% of Singaporeans expect women to take on household roles such as chores and caregiving. Domestic violence is another issue women in Singapore frequently face. One in 10 women experiences a lifetime of physical violence by men. In addition, 83% of Singaporeans encourage women to stay in violent relationships under some circumstances, including for a child’s sake.

Unfortunately, 71% of women in Singapore who experience abuse from a partner are not likely to make a police report. This leads to six out of 10 Singaporean women suffering repeated victimization. The safety of these women is at risk due to the lack of respect fellow citizens have for women. Regarding sexual assault, 40% of Singaporeans between the ages of 18-39 and 50% of Singaporeans aged 40 and older believe that women who wear revealing clothing are asking to experience assault and should be responsible for their harassment.

The Lack of Sexual Assault Justice

The majority of women in Singapore have not received the justice that the Women’s Charter promises. On January 5, 2021, Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam announced that there were 6,988 reported cases of sexual assault in Singapore. Out of these 6,988 cases, 1,368 led to prosecution, resulting in only 931 criminal convictions. Out of the 1,368 who authorities charged, 1,364 had prior sexual assault convictions.

Minister Shanmugam, a former lawyer and Singaporean politician, discussed flaws within the nation’s system. He admits that “The government does not track the use of alcohol, drugs or prevalence and diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in relation to sexual assault offenders.”

Governmental Changes

In September 2020, Minister Shanmugam announced an evaluation of women’s issues in Singapore, led by three female political officeholders. The convention subsequently occurred in October 2020. Officials discussed handling sexual offenses, potential increases of penalties, criminalization of conduct and factors authorities should consider when assigning sentences.

Shanmugam opens up about the country’s societal views. He states, “I think a whole society mindset change is necessary. The government has got to lead it with the right pieces of legislation.” He adds, “We need men to be part of the mindset shift — to embrace the changing aspirations of younger women as equal economic partners and facilitate their success in the workplace by sharing in household and caregiving responsibilities.”

With the ongoing issue of victimization, Shanmugam reflects, “We need to try and deal with that —  how we encourage, so people report. And, once the report is done, taking action thereafter is easier.”

AWARE Improving Lives

AWARE is one of the many NGOs working on improving the lives of women in Singapore. Its vision is to create a society where there is true gender equality. In this community, people would see both men and women as individuals with the right to make responsible and informed decisions for their lives. AWARE’s mission is to remove all gender-based barriers through its research, advocacy, education, training and support services.

AWARE launched the Sexual Assault Care Centre in 2014 to support survivors of sexual assault. Throughout 2017, the Sexual Assault Centre saw a 57% increase in cases. The NGO also created a Women’s Care Centre, a helpline that provides information and support for Singaporean women in distress. In 2018, the Women’s Care Centre saw 32% more helpline calls and 48% more counseling clients. Furthermore, AWARE has collaborated with police in developing a new training video to help supplement police officers’ understanding of the behavior and feelings of victims and how police and responders impact these victims.

Bringing awareness to the hardships women in Singapore face is crucial. However, with the help of AWARE and Minister Shanmugam, steps are being taken to safeguard the well-being of women.

– Alexis Jones
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
According to UNICEF, child marriage is “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.” Although rates of child marriage have declined, the practice remains widespread. Unfortunately, child marriage impacts approximately one in five girls today. According to UNICEF, about 12 million child marriages occur each year. Consequently, more than 120 million girls may marry before they turn 18 years old by 2030. Child marriage in Zimbabwe is especially prevalent.

How it Impacts Children

Child marriage is a human rights violation. Additionally, it restricts girls from achieving their potential in education, social bonding, friendship, simple maturation and the right to choose a life partner.

Moreover, girls who marry young face great health risks. Dr. Nawal M. Nour, an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explains “child marriage is driven by poverty and has many effects on girls’ health: increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas.” Many nations such as Zimbabwe are working to implement policies and programs to educate and ban the practice of child marriage.

Solutions

Zimbabwe banned marriage for children under 16 years old in 2016. As a result, the practice is on a steady decrease. However, child marriage continues to persist in most impoverished areas in the country.

Many low-income families choose to marry off their child due to a lack of income to support their basic necessities such as food and clothes. According to Girls Not Brides, many marriages result in some type of transactional agreement. Oftentimes, the husband gives the family money in exchange for their daughter. Unfortunately, many families use this money to survive.

Many organizations exist that are trying to prevent child marriage by creating safety nets that protect vulnerable families from the economic factors that predicate child marriage. Furthermore, young women are fighting against child marriage in Zimbabwe. In particular, one 17-year-old martial arts fan is showing girls that they have a fighting chance.

Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium Initiative

Natsiraishe Maritsa started a taekwondo program called the Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium Initiative to fight child marriage in Zimbabwe. Despite her limited resources, Maritsa was able to carve out a community of young fighters in the face of an oppressive system.

Young children gather at Maritsa’s home to practice taekwondo. She leads her people in drills and teaches them how to stretch kick and punch. After each class, they discuss the dangers of child marriage in Zimbabwe. Many cases of child marriage result in marital rape. However, Maritsa’s group sessions provide girls with a safe place to heal and reach catharsis. According to the Associated Press, she hopes to “increase the confidence of both the married and single girls through the martial arts lessons and the discussions that follow.”

Child marriage in Zimbabwe is a problem that continues to hurt communities in impoverished areas. Fortunately, many people are working to prevent these circumstances. The future for children in low-income households is steadily improving in Zimbabwe.

– Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in TongaDomestic violence in Tonga, specifically against women, has become the leading type of law infringement. The most prevalent instance occurs in the home, which is especially alarming during a pandemic forcing everyone inside. However, Tonga is taking measures to fight this issue. One way is through the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC).

Domestic Violence in Tonga

The amount of reported cases of domestic violence in Tonga has risen over the past five years. Between January and June of 2020, there were about 537 domestic violence reports and 117 issued police safety orders. Out of those, only 99 assaulters faced prosecution.

Tongan women report experiencing physical coercion and control, sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical assault. Police officials state that the chief problem is related to a cultural belief. Tongan men believe they are in a position of power at home and can act however they please because of this entitlement. As a result, women are often scared to report their abuse cases. This is particularly true when husbands, brothers or sons are the perpetrators, as is typical.

Pacific Women reports that three out of four women in Tonga have experienced physical and sexual violence. Relationships can involve abuse as early as day one and continue on for decades, which women often endure. Furthermore, about 85% of women who have suffered from domestic violence are likely to return to the same environments as their attacks. To combat this, the WCCC in Tonga offers an escape for the abused to ensure women are given the protection they need from abusers.

The Women and Children Crisis Center in Tonga

The WCCC was established in 2009 by Director Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki with a group of women and male supporters. The aim was to help those who have suffered from violence. In turn, they gave free counseling and support to victims of domestic violence in Tonga. Further, the WCCC provides 24 hours of free housing to both women and children in the Mo’ui Fiefia Safe House.

When a woman reports her case to WCCC, the volunteers at the organization help guide the victim through the legal process. They explain the amount of time it will take for the victim’s case to reach court and provide information about how and when the police will contact the victim for testimonies. They also educate the victim on the importance of having a medical record when reporting cases like rape. If the woman is willing, the WCCC offers her a platform to voice her experience. The organization focuses on sharing the stories of victims who have used WCCC’s services and how they have benefitted from those services.

Male Advocacy Training

Violence prevention was another main reason for WCCC’s founding. In 2017, the WCCC launched male advocacy training to end violence against women and children and encourage gender equality. The purpose of the training is to educate men on three key ideas: men have control over how they behave in a sexual manner, all sexual activity can only be performed after there is consent on both sides and men are equally responsible for the transmission of sexually active diseases.

The men receive many lessons from knowledgeable speakers to help end the domestic violence in Tonga. Director Guttenbeil-Likiliki said, “In a situation where a woman does not want to have sex but you continue to persist and persuade her to have sex, this is a high-risk situation, as it is considered to be sexual assault or rape.” Melkie Anton, a lead trainer, explains proper relationship roles to male participants. Anton states, “Women are often used as sexual objects,” and when a woman is in a relationship, she must follow all of her partner’s orders. As a result, the man ends up controlling the relationship and may treat the woman’s feelings with disregard. Another learning directive is toxic masculinity. WCCC members detail how issues, such as proving masculinity and competing with other men encourage domestic violence.

Looking to the Future

WCCC members are working toward expanding their organization’s influence throughout Tonga,  particularly through collaboration. The WCCC has partnered with other organizations, such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Vanuatu Women’s Crisis Centre. The organization even reaches out to Tongan government agencies, including the Ministry of Education. The work of the WCCC, from aiding victims to education to advocacy, is a step in the right direction. With continued efforts, there can be an end to domestic violence in Tonga.

Sudiksha Kochi
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in SerbiaSerbia is a country located in southeastern Europe that has a population of close to seven million people. Additionally, around half of the population consists of women. They often receive unequal rights and treatment. However, women’s rights in Serbia are improving. Acknowledgment and representation of women are increasing significantly.

Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence is one of the main issues that women in Serbia face. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) find that violence against women is not uncommon. Research reveals the 76% of Serbian women in secondary school are victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, a survey reveals that about 20% of Serbian men believe that women “sometimes deserve to be hit.” In particular, domestic violence often occurs in the privacy of homes. Furthermore, women often do not report this violence.

Domestic Violence in Serbia

Serbia also has a history of overlooking incidents of domestic violence incidents. Domestic violence goes unaddressed due to an inadequate police response, minimal prosecutions and judges who are reluctant to issue protective orders against abusive partners. Feminist movements in Serbia started in the late 1970s, fighting for the protection and rights of Serbian women. The first domestic violence hotline came about as early as 1990. This hotline improved the data on domestic violence and supported abused and at-risk women. Several similar hotlines have since been developed in Serbia.

The UNFPA Serbia and the Government of Serbia are working to improve domestic violence information channels for rural women. In addition, healthcare professionals are receiving training to improve their ability to recognize and address incidents of domestic violence.

Women With Disabilities

In a report, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that women with disabilities in institutions are insufficiently protected from violence and abuse. The Committee further states that Serbian legislation infringes the rights of women with disabilities. These violations occur concerning legal capacity, the right to make decisions and the right to access justice.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch reported “that when women with disabilities are deprived of legal capacity and held in closed institutions in Serbia, violations of their right not to receive treatment without consent and to be free from violence occur.” The  Committee recommends that Serbia repeal all laws infringing upon the rights of women with disabilities.

Progress and Improvements

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) emphasizes that focusing on ending domestic violence and discrimination is crucial in fighting for women’s rights in Serbia. Thus, additional legislation for the prevention of domestic violence has been implemented. As a result, Serbia’s Council of Suppression of Domestic Violence received a report of around 76,000 cases of domestic violence in 2018. In response, Serbia implemented 18,000 plans for the protection and support of domestic violence victims. Serbia hopes to see an increase in acknowledgment and access to services for women who suffer from gender-based violence.

The political representation of women in Serbia is also significantly improving. There is an increasing amount of female representation in parliament. Currently, around 40% of the National Assembly are women. Women’s rights in Serbia continue to improve and gain traction within the nation. With the help of organizations and the government, the future looks bright for Serbian women.

Jennifer Long
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Abuse in South AfricaThis fall, Microsoft and other NGOs will host a hackathon aiming to create solutions for women and children facing domestic abuse in South Africa. The announcement came out during Women’s Month, with the hope to spread awareness about issues surrounding women in South Africa. South Africa has always had an alarming presence of domestic violence, and the coronavirus quarantine has increased abuse reports. Microsoft’s hackathon, however, might produce an app that has the capability to save countless women and children in South Africa from violent households.

Statistics about Domestic Abuse in South Africa

South Africa has the “highest statistics of gender-based violence in the world, including rape and domestic violence.” Domestic violence incidents were scarcely reported before the last three decades because it was considered a private affair to be sorted out among households. However, available data affirms the severity of domestic abuse in South Africa. A 1998 study by the South African Medical Council revealed that 50% out of almost 1,400 men “physically abused their female partners at their homes.”

The World Health Organization found that “60,000 women and children were victims of domestic abuse in South Africa” in 2012. On average, women in South Africa who face abuse are usually unemployed and have an almost non-existent educational background. Moreover, the same study found that the women who were victims of violent relationships were usually from rural areas. The latter piece of information is important because most help-centers or other valuable resources for abuse victims in South Africa are located in urban areas. With Microsoft’s new app, the goal is to disseminate the necessary resources and information regarding abuse to those victims who live outside of South African cities.

Domestic Abuse: The Second Pandemic

As the coronavirus runs rampant across the globe, South Africa faces a second pandemic: a massive increase in domestic violence. Following the country’s lockdown procedure in March, South Africa’s national helpline for victims doubled its usual volume, putting the number of calls from afflicted women and children over 120,000. With fewer places to seek refuge during the lockdown, women and children facing domestic violence are trapped at home. The Jones Safe House is a non-profit shelter group for abuse victims in South Africa. It has been overwhelmed by the increase in abuse cases. Every day they try to make room for another victim who managed to escape from his or her violent residence.

Microsoft’s Hackathon Against Domestic Violence

Microsoft’s [email protected] hackathon will run from September 22 to October 19. The objective is to create apps that help those who are in abusive relationships or face any form of gender-based violence. The organization will account for South Africa’s gender-based digital divide, which leaves many women with less access to certain technologies. Namely, the hackathon has a list of considerations that developers need to keep in mind:

  • “Many of those facing gender-based violence are using 3rd or 4th generation phones that are obsolete
  • Users may not have access to applications like Whatsapp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications
  • Data is expensive and not always readily available – especially in emergency situations
  • Regular load shedding means that cell towers are not always operational
  • Many women in South Africa have limited or no airtime to make calls or send SMSs
  • Many women and children do not have access to transport to find a place of safety”

Also, Microsoft has outlined some possible directions app developers can take, which include assistance, empowerment and recovery. At the end of the hackathon, the top three teams of developers will win monetary prizes. Additionally, Microsoft will grant the first-place team a contract in order to collaborate for the app’s further development.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the plight of South African abuse victims, but people have not given up hope. Those facing domestic abuse in South Africa have allies who will be working tirelessly toward virtual solutions. And by the end of the year, one might find an app online that can save thousands of lives. Microsoft’s initiative to develop an app-based solution to domestic violence is a step in the right direction, and their actions will hopefully spur other corporations to get involved.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan
In 1919, Azerbaijan became the first Muslim majority country to grant the right of suffrage to its female population. Following this, the country experienced half a century of Soviet rule, which maintained the right of women to suffrage, as well as established government provisions to ensure representative equality. When the country became an independent republic in 1991, one of the greatest challenges was that though government rules guaranteed women’s rights in Azerbaijan and equality, social norms and rules still inhibited women from reaching their full potential.

Once independent, the first measure Azerbaijan took in 1998 to safeguard women’s rights was the implementation of the State Committee on Women’s Problems (SCWP). Moreover, shortly following in 2000, the president decided to enforce “state policy regarding women in the Republic of Azerbaijan.” These both identified which roles women could participate in regarding social and state administration. This marked a period of growth in female participation in Azerbaijan where women received easier access to running businesses, working in the government and participating in the military.

Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan Today

Today in Azerbaijan, female activists work diligently to change the attitudes of society and to increase the representation and safety of their country’s women. Most of these women operate through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which people have come to know as the government’s “third sector.” This third sector is able to work on philanthropic policy that increases access to education, health care and women’s representation.

NGOs provide women access to the political field that societal prejudices usually exclude them from. In fact, men hold over 90% of all of the highest offices in the country (ministers, chairs, etc.) and around 80% of judicial positions, meaning that women lack the foundational representation in public office that would ensure that others hear their voices. Through the NGOs, women are able to affect policy without submitting themselves to a political process that is not yet ready to accommodate them.

Domestic Violence

Some of the larger issues these women are fighting against are domestic violence and access to reproductive healthcare for women. About 74.2 % of husbands beat their wives, and on average, women report only 44 rapes nationally per year though estimates have determined that there are many more that go unreported due to societal condemnations of victims of rape. To combat this violence against women, activists have worked to first change the attitudes of both men and women who traditionally see domestic violence and rape as just a part of gender relations.

As for reproductive health care, NGOs have primarily worked to establish more health care centers and women’s crisis centers because there is a severe lack of them throughout the country, specifically in rural areas. As they establish these centers, activists have worked to distribute education, hoping to establish generations of Azerbaijani citizens who recognize the necessity of women’s health care.

Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD)

One of these NGO leaders, Shahla Ismayil, has been working since 1998 through her organization: Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD). She stated that the mission of WARD “is based on the notion that full democracy, justice and development cannot be reached if there is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of gender, age, religion, ethnicity and affiliation.” One such way she has accomplished this is through her gender school, which exposes civil and academic society to the issues of women. Her organization has also established a maternity school, both as a way to ensure women remain safe in childbirth, while also encouraging other women to pursue careers as midwives.

Like many other nations on earth, there is still quite a bit that needs to occur to maintain women’s rights in Azerbaijan so that the country sees complete gender equality. However, due to the dedication of female leaders and policymakers, the country is seeing great strides in reaching equality.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Kosovo
Although the Kosovo war has ended, there are still citizens who remain displaced. The U.N. Refugee Agency reported that 90,000 people still need housing assistance, and there lacks a clear strategy set to combat homelessness. Although a cogent strategy has yet to reveal itself, there are key issues that the government and various aid organizations need to look at in order to combat homelessness in Kosovo. These include domestic abuse, the development of housing projects and the fate of internally displaced people (IDP).

Domestic Abuse

Many women and children suffer from domestic abuse in Kosovo. In 2016, reports determined that there were 870 cases of domestic violence in Kosovo, with women mostly being the target. Currently, officials lack adequate housing assistance for those who suffer from domestic abuse. There are two components that make housing assistance inadequate: financial instability in the shelters, and the low chance of adequate housing for women and children after they leave the shelter. These factors leave women and children at risk of homelessness in Kosovo. The shelters have been improving in recent times. According to a report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, over 400 women along with their children received assistance and shelter from the operating shelters in Kosovo between January and November 2018.

Housing Projects

 The Kosovo war, which lasted from 1998 to 1999, has also put a number of its citizens at the brink of homelessness. The chaos from war has resulted in the destruction of 120,000 housing structures. The state of homelessness in Kosovo is also hard to define because the nation does not address the level of homelessness at the national level and instead diverts these responsibilities to different regional agencies. These circumstances have forced many refugees into a state of uncertainty. Thankfully, officials that have received the designation to work on housing projects had begun constructing housing projects for the refugees beginning to return home. Contractors begun building the R121 million-dollar housing project in the summer of 2019 and residents were able to move in the following year.

Internally Displaced People

Kosovo’s long-lasting conflict has left many of its people to fall into the category of IDPs. The term describes internally displaced people who flee their homes but still remain on the borders of their nation. A majority of the people reside in Serbia, where they have access to healthcare and social services. IDPs have the unfortunate risk of facing discrimination in the process of obtaining these rights. To add, many IDPs may lack identification which puts them into a stateless position within their own country. IDPs mainly tend to go back to rural areas rather than urban areas because they face the threat of violence upon their return. The government of Kosovo has been making slight progress on the issue of violence through services for the homeless called “do no harm” innovations. The innovation makes it required that refugees and IDPs returning home shall not be harmed. Although the act is small and not groundbreaking, it is a step towards positive change for homelessness in Kosovo.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr