sorcery killings in Papua New GuineaSorcery — like something out of Harry Potter movies— receives a lot of focus around fall, especially on Halloween. It is a common lighthearted joke of the season. However, sorcery, magic and witches are a strong legitimate belief in some cultures, especially in Papua New Guinea. Sorcery, also known as “sanguma,” is a life or death issue in Papua New Guinea — sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea are all too common.

These murders rarely make the news, and police protection is unreliable. Those mainly accused of witchcraft and sorcery are women, which leads to gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Since 2013, Papua New Guinea’s government has been attempting to stop this modern-day witch hunt. Despite their efforts, it’s harder than it seems. One main obstacle is the lack of awareness. This problem only gained global attention in 2017. The people of Papua New Guinea accused Justice, a 7-year-old girl, of using dark magic.

The History

Sorcery killings have been occurring in Papua New Guinea for centuries. For a period of time, their law even legalized the killings. In 1971, the Papua New Guinea government passed the Sorcery Act. This law made sorcery an illegal and criminalized act. It also made sorcery a legal defense when it came to murder trials. The act affirmed that magic is a real, plausible belief in their culture, which can be punishable by death.

Between 1980 and 2012, sorcery killings resulted in only 19 charges of murders or willful murders. Then in 2013, the Sorcery Act was repealed (the part about sorcery as an acceptable murder defense). Witchcraft practitioners were (and are) still imposed with the death penalty — although, there have been no executions since 1954.

Additionally in 2013, the government passed a Family Protection Act. The new act criminalized domestic violence and allowed women to acquire protection orders. But according to Human Rights Watch, the implementation of the law is weak.

Despite the new legal repercussions, death rates have continued to increase. Locals believe up to 50,000 people have been accused over the years, and there are 200 sorcery killings annually.

Recent Occurrences

Sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea continue today is because of the lack of punishment and law enforcement. Many public events have occurred when it comes to sorcery killings, many of which fly under the media’s radar.

In a 2016 case, four women were accused of stealing a man’s heart. After condemning the women for witchcraft, villagers attacked the women and forced them to return his heart. The man made a full recovery with his “returned” heart. While the man lived, a video surfaced of the burning, torture and death of all four women. Justice, the 7-year-old girl who gained global attention, was accused of the same act. Likewise, her village captured and tortured her for five days.

Positive Change

Papua New Guinea’s government has been upholding their decision to hold individuals accountable for sorcery killings. In 2017, The National Council agreed that eight men were to receive the death penalty for a sorcery-related killing. Further, the government raised $2.9 million for “sorcery awareness and education programs.”

There are even foundations, such as the PNG Tribal Foundation, dedicated to helping Papua New Guinea. The organizations fight to change the country’s societal views on women, engage in new health care programs, open women’s forums and help at-risk youth. The PNG Tribal Foundation actually helped create a plan to save 7-year-old Justice from her village.

Hopefully, change is on the rise when it comes to sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea and the associated gender-based violence. Papua New Guinea can begin to turn things around if they put into place more properly enforced laws.

Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Papua New GuineaAlthough Papua New Guinea is a resource-rich area, almost 40% of its population lives in poverty. For women, Papua New Guinea is a dangerous place to live as the country is plagued by gendered violence and inequality and women’s rights are unprotected.

Women’s Rights in Papua New Guinea

Although the Papua New Guinea Constitution technically renders men and women equal, the traditional customs of the country and the patriarchal values that come with the vastly rural community make it difficult for this to actually implement itself within the country. Women’s rights in Papua New Guinea are shunted on a legislative and social level. In fact, not a single woman in Papua New Guinea is a member of Parliament. Moreover, women are not given the opportunity to be in positions of power due to a lack of access to education. In Papua New Guinea, only 18% of girls are enrolled in secondary school.

Gender-Based Violence in Papua New Guinea

Women in Papua New Guinea are subject to male domination and violence. It is estimated that Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world, for a country that is not a conflict zone. Moreover, the ruralness of Papua New Guinea leads to a lack of infrastructure and community programs to deter violence and provide sanctuary to women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. Women are often forced to return to their abusers due to the lack of these types of systems.

In 2015, Doctors Without Borders completed its Return to Abuser report in Papua New Guinea. Of the patients treated, 94% were female, with the most common form of violence being at the hands of domestic partners. From 2007 to 2015, Doctors Without Borders treated nearly 28,000 survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea. Doctors Without Borders shared that this abuse cycle continues because women and children lack the proper resources to leave their abusers, as many of them are dependant on the abuser and the abuse happens at home.

Intimate Partner Violence

In a United Nations multi-country study about Asia and the Pacific, researchers discovered alarming statistics about the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence. In Papua New Guinea, 80% of male participants self-reported perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against their partner in their lifetime. Additionally, 83% of male participants also reported having committed emotionally abusive acts against their female partners in their lifetime. Sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is an epidemic too. In the same study, 62% of males also reported that they had perpetrated some form of rape against a woman or girl in their lifetime.

Pro Bono Australia

Despite these statistics, women in Papua New Guinea are supported by female-focused programs, such as Pro Bono Australia. Pro Bono Australia is working to aid women in Papua New Guinea to learn more about business and communication. Up to 85% of women in Papua New Guinea make their livelihoods off of the informal economy, through selling goods and services at markets. Through Pro Bono Australia, more than 600 market and street traders in Papua New Guinea who are mostly women, are members of the provincial vendors association. Through this association, vendors educate themselves about the Papua New Guinea market and the Constitution. Moreover, they now can communicate with governmental leaders and local leaders about the status of the informal economy. From this communication, these women have also been able to communicate with their leaders about other issues within their communities. As a result of this program, the provincial vendors association has begun to petition the government for better sanitation, safe spaces, better shelter and reliable water.

The Future for Women in Papua New Guinea

The communication between a coalition of mostly females and the governmental structure of Papua New Guinea will give voices to those who have been voiceless, bring attention to the status of women within society and hopefully make strides towards resolving issues such as gender-based violence and women’s rights in general. As a result of this measure, there is hope that women’s rights in Papua New Guinea will continue to improve and that the resources for gender-based violence will expand.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic’s Effects On Women
As COVID-19 forces the world into lockdown, people are scrambling to provide medical services and save toppling economies. The pandemic affects schools and workplaces, and everyone is struggling to adjust to this new way of life. In the midst of all the chaos, some problems are forgotten. The pandemic’s effects on women, which are especially bad, are buried underneath the plethora of other challenges. Two of the greatest issues they are facing are period poverty and domestic violence, both of which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Period Poverty

Period poverty manifests in a lack of access to restrooms, sanitary products, education on menstrual hygiene and improper waste management. Now, with disrupted supply chains of period products, increased financial strain and lockdowns making it difficult to go out and purchase basic amenities, women are having a harder time than ever accessing these necessities. Forced to make do with what they have, they put themselves at risk of infections and diseases, including cervical cancer.

High costs and taxation are also major contributors to period poverty. In the U.S., menstrual products are subject to tax in many states. Though every bit as important, they are eligible to be taxed while other essentials, like food and medicine, are not. Only nine out of 50 states in the U.S. have policies against taxing menstrual products. Even without tax, the cost is too much for those living in poverty to afford. Approximately 12 million women between the ages of 12 and 52 in the U.S. are living below the poverty line and unable to purchase the products they need.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations dedicated to making period products more affordable. Under the CARES Act, menstrual products are covered under health savings and flexible spending accounts, which set aside pre-tax income that can be spent on important health services. However, where legislation and policies fall short, nonprofit organizations and charities are stepping in. Groups distributing products to women in need include I Support the Girls and PERIOD. They are also helping to raise awareness about the pandemic’s effects on women.

Domestic Violence

Increased domestic violence is another appalling result of the pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders, many women and children are stuck with their abusers. An estimation by the United Nations Population Fund predicts that six months of lockdowns will cause 31 million more cases of gender-based violence. According to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence, calls increased by 25% during the first two weeks of quarantine. Lockdowns also make it difficult for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to receive the treatment and consolation they need.

Luckily, people have begun to take note of these issues. Actress Charlize Theron’s campaign, Together For Her, is working to address the additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from the lockdowns around the globe. In an interview with Vogue, Charlize stated that she is distributing funds from the Together For Her campaign to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence.”

More than 50 prominent female celebrities in the fields of film, sports, music and more have shown support to Charlize’s campaign. Fellow actress Mariska Hargitay has contributed to Together for Her and says about the movement, “As someone who has worked on gender-based violence issues for two decades, I am proud to join such a powerful group of women to shine a light on the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence–not just during this pandemic but every day.” Together for Her is giving women a voice and uniting them in the face of difficulty.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 has affected lives around the world but has hit some groups harder than others, especially women. Global lockdowns have greatly amplified the issues of period poverty and domestic violence, and women and children are more vulnerable than ever. Fortunately, organizations are working to address the pandemic’s effects on women, supplying menstrual products and giving support to those who need it. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts continue. Though times are hard, the persistence and dedication of the people behind these movements can prevail.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

Native American reservationsLow qualities of life exist in developing countries as well as developed countries, including the United States. Within the 326 Native American reservations in the U.S., Indigenous peoples experience unequal life conditions. Those on reservations face discrimination, violence, poverty and inadequate education.

Here are 5 facts about the Native American population and reservations.

1. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States.

According to a study done by Northwestern University, one-third of Native Americans live in poverty. The population has a median income of $23,000 per year, and 20% of households make under $5,000 a year.

Due to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, reservations cannot provide adequate economic opportunity. As a result, a majority of adults are unemployed. Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has better numbers than most reservations — 43.2% of the population is under the poverty line. However, this rate still is nearly three times the national average

2. Native Americans have the highest risk for health complications.

Across the board, Native American health is disproportionately worse than other racial groups in the United States. This population is 177%  more likely to die of diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians.

Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service. It is a severely underfunded federal program that can only provide for approximately 60% of the needs of the insured. That does not account for a majority of those on the reservations. Only about 36% of Native Americans have private health care, and one-third of the non-elderly remain uninsured.

3. Native Americans, especially women, are frequently victims of violence.

A study from the National Institute of Justice concluded nearly 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women more likely to be victim to interracial perpetrators and are significantly more likely to suffer at the hands of intimate partners. The numbers are similarly high for men of this population. Over 80% of men admit to experiencing violence in their lifetimes. Most victims report feeling the need to reach out to legal services, but many severely lack the tools to get the help they need.

A few law practicing organizations have dedicated their existence to ensure Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a non-profit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are being upheld. Since their inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from over 250 tribes all over the country.

4. Native students hold the highest national dropout rate.

Conditions on reservations leave schools severely underfunded, and many children are unable to attend. This delay in education leaves early childhood skills undeveloped. According to Native Hope, “Simple skills that many five-year-olds possess like holding a crayon, looking at a book and counting to 10 have not been developed.” Inadequate education is highly reflective of Native American graduation rates. Native students have a 30% dropout rate before graduating high school, which is twice the rate of the national average. This number is worse in universities — 75% to 93% of Native American students drop out before completing their degrees.

Such disparity between Native American students and their colleagues has inspired the increase in scholarships for this community. Colorado University of Boulder, for example, offers a multitude of scholarships and campus tours specifically for those of Indigenous descent. Further, they founded the CU Upward Bound Program which is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of their Native American students. Third party scholarships also come from a multitude of organizations such as the Native American College Fund and the Point Foundation.

5. Quality of Life on Reservations is Extremely Poor.

Federal programs dedicated to housing on Native Americans reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long, and such a wait doesn’t guarantee adequate housing. Often, three generations of a single family live in one cramped dwelling space. The packed households frequently take in tribe members in need as well.  Additionally, most residences lack adequate plumbing, cooking facilities, and air conditioning. The state of these Native American reservations is receiving increased attention.

Some reservations are taking matters into their own hands. Native Hope is a volunteer-based organization working to address the injustices brought upon the Native American community. Their commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade over 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

The marginalization of the Native American population has recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are getting more attention, which allows them to have increased beneficial impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years and only recently have been getting the help and attention they require. With continued attention and advocacy, Native Americans can one day receive the justice and equality they deserve.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Harmful Practices in MalawiDespite the enactment of the Gender Equality Act in 2013,  Malawi has much more to accomplish with respect to women’s rights. Traditional customs and harmful cultural practices are still deeply entrenched in Malawian society, leading to discrimination and marginalization of women and girls. These practices adversely affect their development, health, socioeconomic status and overall contributions to society. UNICEF defines harmful practices as discriminatory practices that transcend into communities and societies’ cultures and are viewed as acceptable. The most common harmful traditional and cultural practices include female genital mutilation (FGM), Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child marriage. Such practices perpetuate gender inequalities, violate women’s rights and have detrimental physical and emotional effects on women. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space aims to reduce harmful practices in Malawi that affect women and girls.

Harmful Practices in Malawi

As a result of cultural practices, gender disparities remain pervasive across all aspects of society. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, with cascading consequences for young girls. For example, girls married as children are more likely to drop out of school, become teenage mothers and have higher rates of maternal mortality.

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa, with the Human Rights Watch estimating that in 2020, one out of two girls will be married by the time they turn 18.

In addition to child marriage, Malawi remains a setting where gender-based violence is prevalent. One in five young women experiences sexual violence before they turn 18 and nearly 40% of married women have experienced intimate partner violence.

While adequate policies exist, the public and non-governmental sector responses have faced challenges in breaking down discriminatory cultural ideals and improving women’s rights. Harmful practices toward women continue unabated in Malawi due to the persistence of cultural attitudes. However, in rural communities, mentoring has proven to be efficacious in preventing harmful practices and empowering young girls and women.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space

The Tilimbike Safe Community Space is a mentorship program led by The Spotlight Initiative that serves at-risk girls and women in rural communities in Malawi by trying to eliminate harmful practices such as sexual and gender-based violence and child marriage. In mentorship sessions, mentors teach young girls about their basic human rights, sexual and reproductive health and other critical life skills. With this knowledge and interactions with their peers, girls are empowered to speak out and challenge harmful cultural practices.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space has 360 mentors, spanning across the high-risk districts of Dowa, Ntchisi, Mzimba, Nkatabay, Machinga and Nsanje. The program has educated and empowered more than 7,000 young women in these regions by equipping them with knowledge and skills to challenge the harmful practices that fuel GBV in their communities. The women and girls are now apt to speak out in their own communities, with crucial knowledge such as the importance of staying in school and the adverse effects of early marriage. Empowering girls and women is the first step toward change and fostering the foundation for solutions to these harmful practices.

Tilimbike During COVID-19

During COVID-19, women and girls are more confined to their homes due to school closures and travel restrictions. Therefore, they are at increased risk for GBV, teenage pregnancy and being coerced into childhood marriage. Despite the elevated risks, mentees of the Tilimbike Safe Community Space successfully prevented these harmful occurrences. Huge strides have been made to end the harmful cultural practices during COVID-19 restrictions, with no teenage pregnancies or child marriages among the mentees during the lockdown.

These women and girls have renewed hope for achieving their life goals and have enhanced their ability to make informed decisions about their lives and futures. The mentors in the Tilimbike Safe Community Space allow girls and women an opportunity to receive advice and support outside their home to reach their fullest potential. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space illuminates that mentorship programs are effective in breaking down cultural barriers and ending harmful practices.

Further Progression

Initiatives such as the Tilimbike Safe Community Space play a key role in eliminating dismantling gender disparities in society caused by cultural barriers. Mentoring and empowering women and girls will advance not just Malawi but the entire world.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

empowering women in Israel
Founded in 1925, NA’AMAT is an organization that provides support, education and service to Israeli women. The women who originally started the organization believed in equality: that women were equal to men and deserved equal chances at life. The organization began in New York with the purpose of empowering women in Israel. Eventually, the organization spread to nine countries in total.

Israeli women fought for the right to receive equal treatment in the workplace and community long before the 1960s feminism movement. They demanded respect for all they did as wives and mothers. NA’AMAT played a large role in providing resources for these women. Its mission statement reads: “[NA’AMAT provides] vital educational and social services for women, children and families in need, in Israel.” Here are three ways NA’AMAT fulfills its mission statement.

Nurturing Children

NA’AMAT has 200 facilities to provide childcare to over 17,000 children, so their parents are able to work. The families who enroll pay based on a sliding scale fee, depending on their income. Because so many families live below the poverty line, the NA’AMAT U.S.A. branch raises funds to help pay for these children to attend.

On top of providing early education, NA’AMAT is also a safe haven for children who have suffered abuse or neglect, become an orphan or experienced terrorism. These children receive counseling and special attention.

Empowering Women

In 2004, 18,000 women in Israel reported experiencing abuse, but authorities believe the actual number was closer to 140,000-200,000. One out of three women will experience sexual assault according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. However, most women with conservative or religious backgrounds do not file a complaint.

NA’AMAT focuses on empowering women in Israel by operating legal aid bureaus. Its purpose is to help women who have been victims of workplace discrimination and domestic abuse. It provides counseling and programs that give women a sense of pride and self-worth.

Education For At-Risk Youth

Not everyone without an education lives in poverty, but people who experience poverty are far more likely to not have an education. Education opens doors: it provides more job opportunities, helps fight gender inequality and allows people to develop social skills.

NA’AMAT provides education and vocational training for low-income children. Some of the schools are girls-only, and each student receives personalized care and attention. Whether the children have come from underrepresented groups in Israel or are migrants, NA’AMAT gives them a second chance at developing skills to contribute to society and feel a sense of empowerment.

Empowering women in Israel is a clear focus of the organization. Through NA’AMAT, Israeli women can progress forward in their lives. Whether they have been victims of abuse or neglect, the organization helps them stand on their own two feet. NA’AMAT gives women the support they’d otherwise lack with helping care for children, so they can have a career and provide for their families.

Each woman truly receives personalized care. Additionally, positive role models surround their children and provide support through their adolescence. With NA’AMAT on their side, Israeli women have had an ally for almost 100 years to help fight for equality for themselves and their children.

Tawney Smith
Photo: Flickr

Domestic violence in the Maldives
In July, the Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services introduced a nationwide campaign to combat domestic violence and encourage women’s empowerment. The campaign is intended to last for a three month period and raise awareness on domestic violence in the Maldives.

The Maldives is considered a “development success” by the World Bank. In the last few decades, the Maldives’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita multiplied by more than fifty. The average life expectancy is the Maldives is now 78 years it has almost achieved full literacy across the nation. Now, the country is turning its attention to women’s rights and domestic violence.

Women’s Rights in the Maldives

The Maldives has improved its Gender Inequality Index score significantly in the last two decades from 0.649 to 0.367. The GII takes into account a variety of factors to measure equality between genders, with nations closer to 0 being the most equal. Women contribute to the nation’s economic and political progress through leadership roles and participation in the workforce.

However, the Maldives today still grapples with structural forms of gender inequality. A byproduct of this is the prevalence of domestic violence. According to data collected by the U.N. in 2017, 56% of women ranging from ages 15 to 49 had experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners in the last 12 months.

To continue furthering socio-economic progress in the Maldives, women’s rights and gender equality must not be sidelined. Recognizing this, the government has begun to make a stronger effort to combat domestic violence.

Women’s Rights and Poverty

Economic inequality between the genders is also a persistent social issue in the Maldives. According to research done by the UNDP, Maldivian women’s Gross National Income is lower than men’s by a staggering 48%.

As of 2016, 8.2% of Maldivians live below the nation’s poverty line. Due to structural inequalities that exclude women from major sectors of the economy, such as tourism and agriculture, women are more vulnerable to poverty in the Maldives. For example, the tourism industry indirectly accounts for nearly 60% of the Maldivian economy, but only three percent of women contribute to this sector, in contrast with nearly 50% of men.

Greater women’s empowerment and gender equality have been shown to boost nations’ economic growth. Gender gaps in employment and access to equal opportunity can cost approximately 15% of a nation’s GDP. Allowing women to access the same employment as men in the Maldives would not only benefit the nations’ path of economic growth but help to lift the Maldives’ most vulnerable from extreme poverty.

Furthermore, women’s economic empowerment can be linked to domestic violence. While it is not the only factor, when women can financially support themselves, they are more likely to be able to leave their abusers. Improving women’s rights and helping raise them out of poverty can improve the overall economy and help women escape domestic violence.

The ‘Geveshi Gulhun’ Campaign

The president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, participated in the inauguration of the Maldives’ anti-domestic violence campaign on July 15, 2020. This campaign comes after public demands from individuals and civil society groups that the government fulfill its promises to address issues like sexual violence and domestic violence.

The campaign aims to raise further national awareness about gender inequality and change long-standing stereotypes about women. The ‘Geveshi Gelhun’ campaign is a necessary first step to what is hopefully a more equitable future in the Maldives.

At the event, President Solih announced that the government would almost double the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services budget to develop resources to address gender-based violence against women in the nation. In addition, he promised that the government would make legislative changes to further punish cases of sexual violence.

The three-month campaign is mostly administered through various forms of media. This has consisted of live television programming, social media posts and billboards to raise awareness. The Ministry is working with local businesses and artists to develop the campaign’s messaging.

Moving Forward

The ‘Geveshi Gelhun’ campaign is a great step in the right direction. Raising awareness and enacting stronger legislation will hopefully have a significant impact on women’s rights. To continue combatting domestic violence in the Maldives, the government and other humanitarian organizations must make this issue a focus of their efforts.

Leina Gabra
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

Acid Attack Survivors
Terrifying acid attacks in India are rising in number according to ABC News. Advocates for acid attack survivors estimate that around 1,000 attacks take place per year in the country. However, only 300 cases get reported due to fear of retribution. It can take up to 10 years for an abuser to face justice, and still, some get off scot-free.

Gender-Based Violence

India has more acid attacks than any other country in the world. With patriarchal arranged marriages common, unsatisfied husbands are often the perpetrators. In these attacks, a person throws acid on the woman’s face and body with the intent to disfigure her permanently. Men commit these gendered acts of violence out of jealousy, for retribution or for any “wrongdoing” that they believe has occurred.

Once a woman endures such an attack, she is expected to cover her face in public. Oftentimes, she must hide in the home of a family member since it is difficult to find employment under these circumstances. Society tends to reject disfigured acid attack survivors, who are then unable to find employment due to the prejudicial belief that they deserved the violence. As a result, it is nearly impossible for a woman to support herself or her children, which throws them into abject poverty.

An NGO for Survivors

In 2014, Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) launched in Delhi as the first nonprofit center for the rehabilitation of acid attack victims. Ria Sharma is the founder of the organization. After completing graduate work in the United Kingdom, Sharma came back to India to make a documentary film on acid attack survivors. Her work on the film inspired her to start an NGO to assist the survivors with recovery

Psychological and Physical Recovery

Sharma has stated that the main focus of the organization’s efforts is to enable acid attack survivors to recover both psychologically and socially. The survivors need to regain confidence, which is a difficult task after enduring an attack that often disfigures a person for life. The women suffer immense physical trauma as well as long-term psychological repercussions. MLNS addresses the impact of such an attack by encouraging the victims to enroll in courses that will enable them to earn a regular income. The organization also helps pay for these courses. In this way, MLNS works to alleviate global poverty by helping the victims make a living. Otherwise, the survivors would have difficulty in finding a job after such a devastating and disfiguring experience.

Funding for Medicine and Legal Aid

In addition to offering psychological aid, MLNS raises money to provide for women’s medicine, surgery and vital post-operative care. The charity also helps survivors of acid attacks connect with leading pro-bono lawyers who volunteer to help victims in India.

New Laws Help Prevent Acid Attacks

Some countries are enacting laws and restrictions that reduce the number of acid attacks. For example, in Bangladesh, these attacks have gone down in number after the death penalty was introduced for the crime. Additionally, the sale of common chemicals used in the attacks is now restricted in Bangladesh. Advocates for victims hope that similar laws will be instated in India.

MLNS Founder Honored

In 2016, Make Love Not Scars ran a campaign named #EndAcidSale, which called for a universal ban on acid sales. The campaign won a Gold Cannes Lion award in the category of film. Then in 2017, Sharma won the United Nations Bill and Melinda Gates GoalKeepers Global Goals Award, becoming the first Indian to receive the honor. Sharma has stated that MLNS would like to expand its work into other areas of gender-based violence and burn victims.

Sarah Betuel
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