THE YARL’S WOOD TALE PART 1: A CLIMATE OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN DETENTION
In June, the UK hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in an unprecedented galvanising force to raise awareness and highlight the prevalence of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war. Yet, clearly sexual violence does not only take place in conflict.
As the controversy over sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood detention centre indicates, the Summit was a reminder of the hypocrisy around domestic and foreign policy on the treatment of women asylum seekers fleeing the very situations and experiences that were overwhelmingly condemned by UK officials during the Summit. Asylum law needs to be reformed to ensure gender-mainstreaming throughout asylum policy so as to be sensitised to the protective needs of women.
An ongoing parliamentary investigation into the allegations will allow MPs to inspect the conditions at the detention centre. MPs have argued that Serco has deliberately practiced selective quoting, which has limited the thoroughness of the committee’s investigations into Serco. By their own admission, Serco previously dismissed 10 staff members accused of sexual misconduct. Yet, the Home Office’s freedom of information response (April 30th 2014) suggests they are aware of only one case of sexual misconduct since 2007 but recognise seven staff members have been dismissed. The problem is that the data available is confusing and muddies any understanding of the scale of the crisis in order to combat it.
Filling the gap, Women for Refugee Women (WRW) have exposed allegations at Yarl’s Wood in its report ‘Detained: Women Asylum Seekers Locked up in the UK.’ The report documents the experiences of 46 women detained in Yarl’s Wood and revealed damning evidence of the prevalence of sexual misconduct toward victims who have previously suffered rape (71%) and torture (41%). Of great concern for the women was the fact that male guards conducted supervision. Many reported how they would enter their rooms unannounced. The women would often be subjected to aggressive and sexual behaviour by these guards leaving them feeling intimidated, humiliated and fearful. Many worried that by rejecting sexual advances this will detrimentally impact their asylum cases.
Suffice to say, this is an extremely threatening environment towards the most vulnerable, voiceless and hidden women in the UK. It has exasperated concerns around women’s safety in detention. Women for Refugee Women reported many felt depressed and one in five have attempted suicide. Prolonged detention has caused aggravated mental health issues, despite extended detention being only allowed where deportation is imminent. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Home Secretary had contravened Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights by detaining a severely mentally ill individual where it was not done so “on very exceptional circumstance.”
Complaints submitted by women are often not followed up, with many of these women being subsequently deported. Serco’s weak internal review system is clear by the lack of an evidentiary paper trail recording the number of allegations. The Observer highlighted how women were being deported before they had a chance to testify, preventing their case progressing and geographically silencing them.
Serco’s response is overwhelmingly insufficient: Director Norman Abusin has argued that “the corridors leading to residents’ rooms are covered by CCTV, which is monitored in the control centre, and this footage was used as evidence in their investigation.” However, if thorough investigations were carried out, then the pervasive knowledge by guards of ‘CCTV blackspots’ would have been uncovered. Amidst growing public interest to open up Yarl’s Wood to inspection, a veil of secrecy has descended. Calls to detainees to gather information have been intercepted and restricted. Despite Serco’s attempt to cover up the allegations, there is a public duty for greater accountability and transparency both towards the running of Yarls Wood and the treatment of asylum seekers in Britain. The Twitter campaign #SetHerFree has led this momentum.
The severe neglect and abuse in detention highlights how subcontracting healthcare to has placed profit over protection. Responsibility for the protection of women lies with the state. Since the UK’s commitment towards the Elimination of Violence Against Women 1993, little progress has been made towards a human rights treaty that would place direct accountability on states for the prevention and protection of women from abuse. The UK’s National Action Plan launched at the Global Summit needs to address the subordination and injustice faced by asylum seekers. Britain needs to do more to account for its protective responsibility to vulnerable groups within its jurisdiction.
The allegations coming out Yarl’s Wood are a reminder that international attention on rape and sexual violence in conflict must acknowledge that the same women will seek safety and security in other states. When they come to the UK they must be treated with dignity within a protective and just asylum system. Women in Yarl’s Wood are not just victims but survivors’ of sexual harassment, violence, and rape and to detain them, where they receive further sexual harm, is a stark reminder that UK domestic policy is in need of critical reform to protect women asylum seekers.
The ongoing inquiry into Yarl’s Wood provides the opportune time to grant these women justice and protection. Britain cannot adequately fulfil its foreign policy commitments to ending the culture of impunity around sexual violence and rape in conflict, when it does not sincerely combat the issue of sexual misconduct faced by women asylum seekers within its own territory. While becoming a leading voice for women’s protection during the Global Summit, the government must also be a voice for those women who flee such situations and seek sanctuary on its own soil.
Under the net
Sensationalism sells, fact. It therefore shouldn’t be a shock to see news headlines such as “Britain overrun with refugees” or “Asylum seekers costs the taxpayer millions each year”, particularly now as we climb back towards economic prosperity and look around for the scapegoat. Yet it is still difficult to hear seemingly educated people vehemently discuss the influx of asylum seekers, difficult to comprehend that it is considered appropriate to create a mainstream television programme entitled “Immigration Street”, and difficult to see a rise in popularity of right-wing political parties, whose manifestos have previously included provisions to detain all asylum seekers in secure units. So what is the truth?
Contrary to media suggestions the majority of asylum seekers know nothing of the welfare system before they arrive in the UK and that they do not expect any financial assistance. They often flee their home country in fear of persecution due to their religion, political ideologies, nationality, race or gender, and it is this fear of persecution which forms part of the criteria for refugee status. Yet despite around one third of asylum seekers in the UK being female victims of heinous crimes such as rape, forced marriage or ‘honour’ crimes, gender specific persecution is not considered when deciding if refugee status should be granted. As a direct consequence women are disproportionately more likely to be refused refugee status.
Consider Noorzia Atmar. Like so many asylum seekers before her, Noorzia did not want to leave her home country. She had been one of the inaugural female politicians in Afghanistan and was a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Yet just three years after her term had ended she divorced the man who abused her, she was living in a women’s shelter and she had suffered knife attacks, beatings and threats against her life. Noorzia sought asylum from the Western countries that had so welcomed her outspoken approach to women’s rights issues in the middle-east, but her asylum request was immediately refused. The strict criteria for asylum applications only allows for applications to be submitted once a person has fled their home country. Noorzia did manage to flee to another country and her application is ongoing, but for so many other women who have been forced out of the family home, who have no access to their monies or who are of limited finances this travel would be impossible.
The sad truth is that even when all criteria has been satisfied, the majority of applications for asylum are still rejected. In 2014 68% of initial decisions on asylum applications were rejected, and many women claim that when discussing their persecution they are simply not believed by officials. Furthermore, since 2005, the majority of those who manage to successfully obtain refugee status will only be permitted to remain in the UK for a maximum of five years. Refugees are often unable to make decisions for their long term future and having initially escaped persecution and wading through the grueling asylum application process, the fears and stresses of being returned to the country were their persecution is almost inevitable will not be alleviated.
Take Yashika Bageerathi for example; in March this year Yashika, a 19 year old student due to take her A-Levels examinations, was detained in Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre awaiting a flight to Mauritius. Yashika and her family came to the UK in 2011 to escape an abusive relative, but the Government claimed that as Yashika was now 19 she was no longer protected under deportation rules. Despite an online petition receiving over 175,000 signatures and MPs requesting a review of the matter, Yashika was deported to Mauritius and to her abusive relative. She was unable to sit her A – Level examinations and the Home Office has refused to comment on her individual case.
Frequently women who are awaiting deportation are placed in immigration removal centres under the supervision of predominantly male guards. For those who are persecuted or falsely imprisoned by men this arrangement is abominable. It is also in direct conflict with Section 9.1 of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Guidelines, which states that “victims of torture and other serious physical, psychological or sexual violence need special attention and should generally not be detained.” Current research completed by Women for Refugee Women suggests that of the asylum seekers they questioned who are currently detained 85% had been raped or tortured before they came to the UK, 93% were depressed, more than 50% had thought of suicide and 20% had attempted to take their own life at least once. These appalling figures represent the true reality of the asylum process in the UK.
The asylum process is complex, cruel and outdated. A complete Governmental overhaul is required to create a gender sensitive asylum system, with a focus on widening the definition of persecutions, ensuring time limits for refugee status are considered on an individual case basis and addressing inherent issues with detaining women before deportation, and we must recognise that the current process is more gruelling, oppressive and harrowing than sensationalist journalists would have us believe.
Perhaps don’t believe everything you read.
NGO supporting African women’s lives
These African women are very active and have to support many tasks during their daily life to raise their families.
Dynamic and inventive, they find thousands of ideas to solve out their daily economical hardship.
In Thiès, Senegal, with the support of a local NGO some women recycle plastic. In this way they contribute to reducing pollution, one of the top problems in African countries, and involve local people to clear the streets in exchange for a small contribution. All plastic items are sorted, cleaned and melted to give to the plastic a second life.
By empowering womens’ work, this local NGO contributes to the empowerment of women’s roles in the Senegalese economy.
The Hobby Lobby Saga Part 3 of 3 - UNDER FIRE: THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, ECONOMIC POWER AND WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
The decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc is yet another attack in a long running battle against The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a vital piece of legislation protecting women’s right to contraception healthcare coverage. Crucially, it ended the practice of gender rating, where insurers charged women or companies with majority female workforce more than they would for men for the same coverage. It provides more women the freedom to decide on family planning, significantly enhancing their educational, economic and social prospects. The ACA provides women more protection, choice and control over their health care. The Hobby Lobby decision is a dangerous setback for the health of women nationwide.
For most women, affordability is access. Indeed, around a third of women have struggled to meet the costs of birth control in their lives. Justice Ginsburg highlighted how women are particularly burdened when seeking health care coverage because they pay significantly more than men. Women expend nearly a month’s income for those on minimum wage to cover the cost of the Intrauterine Device (IUD.)
The decision comes at a time when reproductive health groups are advocating for greater use of IUDs as more successful defences against unplanned pregnancy, when compared to the pill (9 pregnancies per 100 women per year) and condoms (18 pregnancies per 100 women per year). Planned Parenthood reported a 75% increase in IUD usage amongst its patients since 2008. However, the lack of awareness and inadequate public relations campaigns means that uptake has been disappointing overall. It is further set back by Hobby Lobby decision that using IUD 5 days after intercourse is viewed as emergency contraception. Yet it is statistically and functionally incorrect to assert that IUDs are used to prevent pregnancies. IUDs are inserted only after a woman gets her period to insure she is not pregnant. All of the emergency contraception methods cannot be used as preventive pregnancy if used after ovulation; the definition was highlighted by Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion. It points to the male justices clear lack of understanding of established science and legal definition of conception as ‘implantation’ in such a way as to “redefine” pregnancy to convenience the ruling. Therefore, IUD and the pill are forms of birth control that Hobby Lobby should continue to cover and should never have been categorised as methods leading to abortion.
The Hobby Lobby ruling promotes further ignorance and limits choice and access over various birth control methods. This is despite the fact that the availability of contraceptive care safeguards the sexual health of women and prevents unintended pregnancies and abortions. Justice Alito’s opinion conveniently overlooks the wider benefits of birth control to women and its related promotion of economic security, public health and gender equality.
Affordability of contraception across America is a crucial economic and public health issue, one that is being dramatically epitomised in the case of Texas. Since the ACA was enacted in 2010, conservatives within the state have vigorously and consistently challenged the programmes, polices and providers that are involved in reproductive health care and protection of these rights. The political campaigns that are particularly hostile or neglectful of women’s health issues have left them even less able to navigate around one of the most contested and restricted forms of health rights for women. Yet, in 2010, 1.7 million Texas women were in need of publicly funded contraceptives and supplies, 30 percent higher than in 2000, which means even more women have fallen into poverty in the state. Texas has particularly unattractive demographics for women: a quarter of women struggle below the federal poverty line. Income inequality has grown further over the last decade, with the poorest households suffering an estimated ten percent shrinkage to their income. Most of these women are Hispanic, first-generation migrants, or young adults.
The unprecedented Hobby Lobby decision will have severe detrimental effect on women in Texas as result of its size and the number of women who use or are in need of contraception. Texas is a stark warning to the rest of the country. It is emblematic of a wider conservative culture that is failing women. With fewer safety nets and increasingly limited access to contraceptive care, unintended pregnancies are one of the highest in the country, with teenage pregnancies amongst the highest in the country, and despite its ultraconservative movement against abortion, many still get an abortion at the same rate as women elsewhere in the country. Such developments are extremely troubling for the consequences this will have on the health and welfare of women in Texas. Many more states are set to follow suit, leading to a greater number of women and families suffering the consequences of such devastating effects of power and control over women’s bodies.
To counter the fallout from the Hobby Lobby decision, state legislators are stepping in to restore the fundamental principles behind the ACA. Legislators in Michigan, North Carolina and the District of Columbia are introducing bills prohibiting discrimination based on an individual’s reproductive healthcare decisions. On June 19, 2014 the New York bill passed the State Assembly. At the back of this success, state non-discrimination laws will be increasingly looked at to reaffirm and restore women’s basic rights to health care coverage.
With more studies indicating how access to reproductive health services are leading to greater educational attainment and employment opportunities for women as well as overall economic security for themselves and their families, the principles protected in the ACA must be upheld and enforced. This is not just for the good of women, but also for the nation. By allowing women to take on the costs of having a child when it is most suitable and financially viable, they gain the double benefits of higher family incomes and college graduation rates. Therefore, encapsulated within women’s reproductive health is the economic health of families, society and the nation. It is imperative that a greater understanding around the importance of birth control is reflected in stronger respect and adherence to the ideology and principles of the ACA.
Mothers and Grandmothers: Militants of Memory for the Disappeared
Franca Jarach – Source: www.nuncamasargentina.it
Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires (Argentina) is the emblematic square where mothers and grandmothers have been claiming their right to know the fate of their disappeared children and grandchildren between 1976 and 1983. 14 mothers got to know one another through their efforts to find their children and founded the association of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
These courageous and desperate mothers started silent, non-violent marching on 30 April 1977. They silently marched around the pyramid in the centre of Plaza de Mayo (May Square), in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace. They marched in circle for 30 minutes, silently each week, every Thursday. Those mothers and grandmothers protested holding their children and grandchildren’s photographs. They wore white scarves over their heads. Those scarves were their children’s first nappies.
Vera Vigevani Jarach is a Mother of Plaza de Mayo and a survivor of the Holocaust. She is a militant of Memory as she defined herself in a recent TV interview and documentary. Her mission is to keep the disappeared’s memories alive and honor them. She is the emblem of all the family members, mothers, who claim the right to know the fate of their missing relatives, their children.
On the one side, her family fled Italy to go to Argentina in order to escape the Holocaust. Her grandfather died in the Auschwitz concentration camp because he refused to flee Italy. He did not believe it possible that his own country could send him to his death. On the other, her eighteen years old daughter, Franca, disappeared during the Argentinian dictatorship. Franca’s mother was able to know her fate only very recently thanks to a survivor. Nevertheless, no grave could be found for Franca, because she was arrested, tortured and killed. She was loaded on a “flight of death”, drugged and thrown alive into the Rio de la Plata. Franca Jarach disappeared because she protested against the dictatorial regime with the student collective of her provincial college in Buenos Aires.
The white scarf of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo painted on the ground of the same Plaza. Source: Wikipedia, 2014
30 August marks the United Nations International Day of the Disappeared.
The initiative for the day commenced in 1983. The Latin American Federation of Associates for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM), an association of state delegates and regional groups working against secret imprisonment and forced disappearances, led the campaign for the Day.
Such campaigns also led to the adoption of the 1992 United Nations Declaration of Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. The first two articles are worthy to quote as follows: Article 1: “Any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity. It is condemned…as a grave and flagrant violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 2: “Any act of enforced disappearance…constitutes a violation of the rules of international law guaranteeing, inter alia, the right to recognition as a person before the law, the right to liberty and security of the person and the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It also violates or constitutes a grave threat to the right to life.
The campaign continued strengthening such declaration with a UN Convention against Enforced Disappearances in 2006. The Convention’s definition of enforced disappearance is: "The arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons, groups or persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law." (see article 2 of the Convention above mentioned).
More decisively, the article 5 of such Convention states “the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law”. According to the UN working group annual report on enforced and involuntary disappearances, as of January 2013, there were 42,889 disappeared in 84 states, which require clarification and disclosure.
The International Day of the Disappeared commemorates each single enforced and involuntary disappearance by honoring their memory as well as showing solidarity with their families. Thousands of persons like Franca Jarach suffered similar atrocities and thousands of mothers like Vera Vigevani Jarach had to deal with this tragic loss of contact, unable to find their family members, alive or dead.
Such a day, though, is also embedded with hope. Hope that the families will receive news and may be able to restore contact. For instance, Estela de Carlotto is one of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and she was able to find her grandson on 5 August 2014. This is an outcome of courage and perseverance in claiming the right to know.
We invite you all reading this post to honor the memory of the disappeared and the plight of their families, especially of their mothers and grandmothers.
The Hobby Lobby Saga part 2 of 3 - THE IMPOSITION OF RELIGION OVER WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which stipulates that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion”, has now been widened by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc to include not just the religious practices of individuals but also privately held corporations as persons. The rulings silver lining is that it applies only to “closely held” companies, which are deemed companies with five or fewer persons with ownership of more than half of the corporation. Yet in reality this is anything but limiting. It is estimated that 90% American businesses and around 52% of the American workforce are employed by “closely held” firms.
The case is clearly about religious rights, but it is simultaneously about the trumping of women’s rights when pitted against competing human rights in America, specifically to individual’s private decisions on family planning. The dissenting opinions, not surprisingly by all three of the women Justices and Justice Stephen Breyer, are instructive for arguing the slippery slope in women’s protective health care and potentially dangerous precedent being paved out by the all male majority opinion. Justice Ginsburg strongly opined that “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs” would have reduced access to contraception coverage.
Since there is no judicial test for “sincerely held religious beliefs”, the slippery slope is best summed up by Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State who sees the ruling as “a double-edged disaster” which opens the door for fake religious rights for corporations while simultaneously blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women. Concern is slightly mitigated as the ruling only applies to federal law which means twenty-eight states are still legally obligated to provide health insurance including contraception. It is likely that the Obama administration will pick up the cost to fill the gap created by the Hobby Lobby ruling.
What is objectionable about the Hobby Lobby decision is that it permits religious interference into what is an inherently private matter, where women should have complete and absolute bodily autonomy. In ruling that the case only applies to contraception, this is in itself admission of the singular discrimination against women, by playing legal gymnastics to disguise such obvious regression to reproductive care in America. Further, it ignores the wide interpretation that can be gleaned from the distinction that contraception is “different from other forms of discrimination and other forms of health care” (Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.) Yet, Dr Nancy Stanwood of Physicians for Reproductive Health affirmed after the ruling that "[c]ontraception is essential to women’s health and well-being, a critical component of preventive care, and integral to the health of families." The substantial (financial) burden faced by corporations is extremely light when compared to the decision, which “jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies” (Josh Earnest, White House spokesman.)
The Hobby Lobby ruling is irrational given how this corporation splits its financial spending, which critically highlights it’s own hypocrisy. According to documents filed by the Department of Labour, Hobby Lobby’s 401K insurance plan covers more than $73million with Teva and Pfizer, companies that produce the same contraceptives that they argued were offensive to their religious freedom. After the ruling, Hillary Clinton criticized the decision arguing that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had very different protections in mind. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg sees the Act as enacted by Congress “to serve a far less radical purpose and to be used “as a shield, not a sword” focused on persons not companies, a reminder by one of its designers, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York.
Marcia Greenbery, co-president of Women’s National Law Center, argues that companies should provide contraception coverage as a basic health need. Indeed, the majority opinion “did not question that there is a compelling need for such health care for women in this country.” Yet while the Court can be considered to be balancing competing rights that landed more in favour of Hobby Lobby, it is also propelling the anti-abortion movement that is stigmatising women and doctors that seek and provide this medical service, and is now taking up that attack with contraception. To separate and reduce access to contraception as part basic and routine medical care is discriminatory. The ruling evades the fact that women are people too, protected under 14th Amendment that provided for equal protection under the law, and this includes the freedom from religion.
The fact that this was a majority opinion of five conservative male justices on a case brought by a male-headed corporation deciding on an issue discriminatory to women’s reproductive rights indicates where the power over women’s bodies lies. This is even more so given that the rights of male employees to vasectomies or accessing Viagra are fully covered. In the majority opinion “woman” were mentioned only 13 times, avoiding the mention of women’s health altogether. Yet, in Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, women are mentioned 43 times, and well-being four. Ginsburg’s dissent is a reminder of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” The majority opinion fails to account for the real-world consequences faced by women.
The ruling places an ideological veil over women’s reproductive rights, in a nation founded by the separation of politics and religion. It is an obscure attempt to preserve female purity and prevent promiscuity, seeing women as chaste and in need of moral guidance. It is unduly cumbersome for women to then have to consider geography and the possibility of economic restriction. After 30 years of hard fought right to birth control, women continually have to justify their sexual relations with other people, where men see sex as a want and not a need for women but interestingly not applying this argument to men.
The case may potentially have international consequence. U.S assistance for family-planning services have been increasingly restricted, with only two cents for every dollar going towards programmes supporting girls such as those that provide access to contraception. Yet this investment would save $4 in areas of education, sanitation and public health. Women in the poorest areas of the world rely on access to family planning so they can meet the needs of their already struggling circumstance.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court decision allows for the imposition of corporate religious values on women without seeing this as discriminatory to the women it affects. The case shows how far the hobby of lobbying against reproductive rights has created a seismic fault in politics that has reinforced how women’s bodies are annexed with male authority and religious ideology above that of their own autonomous sexual control. The Supreme Court has failed to uphold the statutory entitlement afforded to women in this case.
With 500 days left to accelerate action on the UN Millennium Development Goals, widely considered to be the most successful global anti-poverty push in history, 500 young people gathered at the United Nations on at a special event with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In attendance was education and equality activist Malala Yousafzai.
Ahead of the event, the Secretary-General gave Malala a backpack and school supplies, calling her the most famous, most hard-working student in the world.
The Hobby Lobby Saga Part 1 of 3 - CRAFTING OUT LEGAL PRECEDENCE FOR CORPORATE CONTROL OVER WOMEN’S BODIES
On 30th June the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 decision that employers are not obligated to provide insurance coverage for birth control where this conflicts with the employer’s religious beliefs. The ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is the first of its kind that gives precedence to corporations, and is not just a setback for the Affordable Care Act, but fundamentally the autonomy over women’s rights as human rights.
The Affordable Care Act includes the provision that health insurance plans must cover birth control without cost-sharing. The provision provides a safety net for women, especially those of low income status where they would otherwise have to cover the cost of the pill which can run up to $25 a month and where an intrauterine device (IUD) can cost up to $900. For a minimum-wage worker this can easily take away a month’s income without such coverage. The legal position prior to the Supreme Court decision was that only religious institutions are exempt from this provision, as are non-profit organisations with religious affiliations where the insurer can provide coverage for workers without the organisation using its premiums.
The decision by the Supreme Court means that this exemption now extends to privately-held corporations, determining that to obligate employers to provide for contraception coverage would contravene their religious values where they consider emergency birth control, such as the morning after pill and two types of IUDs, a form of abortion. Avoiding this coverage would amount to $475 million penalty per year deemed a “substantial burden.” This argument was submitted by Hobby Lobby, a privately owned for profit corporation run by the Green family who are devoutly Christian. The decision will affect all of its female employees within its 13,000 workforce across 602 locations in the U.S.
The rationale behind the decision to find corporations as “persons” in order to rule in favour of religious protection, whilst ignoring women as such, is perplexing. Congress has previously decided on the issue by adding into the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Women’s Health Amendment, voting down the "conscience amendment," which would have enabled any employer or insurance provider to deny coverage based on its asserted "religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
As such, Congress confirmed the protection of “woman’s bodily choice” (Justice Ginsburg) superseding the expansion of corporate decision making of its employees. The all women justice dissent reads the case from the perspectives of the women employees, who are increasingly situated within a climate of corporate power utilised to achieve higher control over women’s bodies legitimated as religious rights.
Justice Ginsberg’s 35-page legal argument is a carefully crafted opinion, which is increasingly reflective of the wider cultural battle over women’s reproductive rights. Endorsing the all-women justice dissent, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill aimed at overriding the Super Court’s decision that would compel for-profit organisations with religious affiliation to provide full contraceptive cover and insulate the Affordable Care Act from further derogations. The lawmakers saw the Hobby Lobby decision as unprecedented and unwarranted intrusion into women’s lives. The bill was invoked to ensure that women’s private health decisions stay within their private remit, protected from corporate dictates over their rights and freedoms. The bill was subsequently voted down in July, unsurprising given the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At a minimum, it will put senators on record for their support or opposition to universal reproductive health coverage.
The success to the Hobby Lobby decision could open a Pandora’s box of legal discrimination. Such cases and the issues within will most certainly arise is such circumstances as gender or sexual orientation discrimination where employers object to equal health coverage to same-sex couples justified through their religious beliefs. Justice Alito’s assertion that the case will remain narrowly defined is likely to be ineffective, given that lower courts have broadly interpreted previous Supreme Court decisions, which have cited narrowness. Behind the Hobby Lobby are forty eight ‘closely held’ firms waiting for the lower courts to rule on their case for religious protection over women’s reproductive choice. The slippery slope has been ignited by the Hobby Lobby decision.
As it now stands, the Obama administration has said they respect the decision of the Supreme Court, despite the dissent of its three women justices. Social media has galvanised around the issue through the hashtags “#jointhedissent” and “#notmybossesbuisiness” tweeting their support for the minority dissenting opinion. With 99% of sexually active women using contraception for various health reasons in the US the decision undoubtedly affects all women.
SHINE: 10 Women Strip Down & Share Their Thoughts On Beauty & Body Image
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey’s first president to be elected by popular referendum. Three-time prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past decade, Erdogan’s leading place in Turkey’s modern history is guaranteed. That should not obscure the fact that the country has seen a very real erosion of human rights and the rule of law over the past two years as Erdogan has consolidated power.
If the days of military tutelage in Turkey are thankfully over, that doesn’t yet mean that Turkey has a government that is fully accountable to the people or a justice system that is independent and can guarantee that the law applies to everyone.
Since a corruption scandal implicating government ministers and their sons broke in December 2013, Erdogan and his ruling party have sought to change laws to suit their own agenda and muzzle social media. They have interfered repeatedly in the corruption investigation, reorganized entire parts of the criminal justice system, and in the process pursued a politically polarizing discourse rounding on opponents and critics. All of that came on the heels of Erdogan’s demonization of the Gezi protestors last year and repeated expressions of support forviolent police tactics and a clampdown on demonstrations.
Photo: Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan addresses supporters during the celebrations of his election victory in front of the party headquarters in Ankara. © 2014 Reuters
Nigerian Troops Battle To Retake Gwoza As Boko Haram Kills 20, Kidnaps Women
Nigerian troops have massed around Gwoza to retake the town from members of the Islamist group, Boko Haram, military sources have disclosed. The battle for control of Gwoza rages as reports emerged that Boko Haram insurgents today killed 20 people in Doro Baga in Kukawa local government area of Borno State. The residents of the embattled village also disclosed that the militants kidnapped several women in an early morning raid.
Another Independent Texas Abortion Provider Shuts Its Doors
"Another independent Texas abortion facility has closed its doors just days before its owner returns to court to challenge part of HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law that has shuttered more than half of the state’s legal abortion facilities since it went into effect last November.”
Read more here: http://rhrc.us/1xK7cOJ