European News for the Week of October 21, 2002
BOSNIA -- The United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) on Thursday sacked 11 local senior police officers suspected of involvement in trafficking and sexually exploiting women in Bosnian nightclubs, the U.N. confirmed in Sarajevo.
According to U.N. Spokeswoman Kirsten Haupt, many of the 11 suspects, who served with the police stations in central and northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, frequented the nightclubs and in some cases informed the clubs' management about forthcoming raids in exchange for sexual services. The U.N. reported that one of the 11 was Zdravko Nikolic, inspector of the Bugojno Police Administration and leader of the so- called STOP team, tasked with fighting the human trafficking and prostitution for which he now stands accused.
Nikolic used his position to inform local nightclub owners - including an internationally wanted human trafficker - in Bugojno in central Bosnia on planned raids. In addition to termination from duty, most of the 11 police officers will probably face criminal charges. According a U.N. Development Programme report, more than 10,000 women mostly from eastern Europe passed through Bosnia-Herzegovina last year. Most were exploited as prostitutes in nightclubs and bars in Bosnia-Herzegovina while attempting to enter western Europe. According to the U.N. Mission in Bosnia, more than 260 nightclubs are registered in the country.
BRATISLAVA -- Women politicians have called for a quota system in government following the formation of a new cabinet that for the first time does not include a woman. Former women ministers, new members of parliament and women's rights groups say they are disappointed with the new all-male cabinet. The absence of a woman in a ministerial post, and a low number of women in parliament compared with other European states will hinder action on women's rights, they say.
"Women's issues have been ignored to a large extent until now, and we can expect that they will become even more marginalised in the next four years," says Magdalena Piscova, an analyst on women's issues at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Women's groups say there has been some improvement over the last ten years but a large part of society still believes women cannot be trusted in high-profile public positions. Men therefore hold the vast majority of positions in public life.
"Many people simply doubt that a decent lady can be involved in politics," says Zuzana Martinakova, the new deputy speaker of parliament. "It's not good that there are no women in the cabinet. Male ministers are less likely to focus on issues that would help the women's agenda."
Martinakova and other women politicians are now demanding new legislation to ensure that women play a more prominent role in politics. Outgoing minister for European integration Maria Kadlecikova says she wants more women higher up on candidate lists. "After these elections I think quotas have to be introduced," she says.
Martinakova, who was seen earlier as a top candidate for the post of labor minister before being named as one of the four deputy speakers could face obstacles from male MPs in the new parliament, analysts say. Some male MPs have already suggested that Martinakova will have a difficult job gaining respect from a legislature not used to a woman deputy speaker.
Under Slovak electoral law each party puts forward a list of candidates for parliament. The candidates are sent to Parliament on the basis of the number of seats the party wins. So if a party wins 15 seats in parliament it puts forward its top 15 candidates. Only 22 of the 150 MPs in the new parliament -- about 14 percent -- are women. The figure in most European states is much higher. Forty-three percent of MPs in Sweden are women. In Norway the figure is 38 percent, and in the European Parliament 30 percent.
The call for quotas has been supported by several European politicians. "Women in Slovakia need quotas, and they need them fast," Belgian senator Anne-Marie Lizin said at a recent conference in Bratislava on equality of opportunities in Slovakia and the European Union. "Only with quotas can they gradually work their way to equality." Under Belgian law at least 50 percent of party candidates must be women.
Piscova says the all-male cabinet and the mostly male parliament hardly shows Slovakia in a progressive light as it prepares to join the European Union in 2004. "I'm definitely in favor of introducing quotas as a temporary measure," she says. "It helped in other countries and it can help here." Any moves to introduce quotas will have to overcome misgivings rooted in Slovakia's Communist past. The Communists had implemented a 30 percent quota for women in the legislature in former Czechoslovakia until they fell in 1989 (Czechoslovakia broke into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993). But many leaders now see the earlier quota as a measure for the sake of appearances rather than equality. "Female MPs were looked down upon and it was said their job was 'to be a woman'," says Piscova.
The ruling coalition have offered a partial apology over the absence of women in the new cabinet. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda says he is "very sorry" about how "things turned out". Pavol Hrusovsky, head of the coalition KDH party, admits his party has not nominated a female minister but says that "we have put all our best women in parliament." Two of the KDH's 11 MPs are women. The government's apology is not good enough, says Piscova. "People have to get used to seeing that society is composed of two sexes that can contribute to the country's public life," she says. "All that is being asked is to let women compete with men, to give them a chance." (Inter Press Service October 16, 2002)
GREECE -- Exit polls in Greece's local elections suggest the opposition conservatives are set to sweep to victory in the capital Athens with a woman ready to take the reins for the first time in the city's history. Dora Bakoyannis, the second most powerful figure in the New Democracy (ND) movement, is credited with obtaining between 57.5 and 62 percent of the vote in Athens, according to the polls. Her rival for the job, the Socialist Christos Papoutsis, was expected to garner between 38 and 42 percent of the vote.
Bakoyannis has said she wants to revive ailing Athens, just as Europe's oldest capital gets ready to host the 2004 Olympics. She said she would use the opportunity to give the city a much-needed facelift. "I'm aware of the extent of the problems," Bakoyannis said, pointing to chronic pollution, chaotic traffic and labyrinthine bureaucracy. Her goal, she declared, would be to deliver pragmatically "concrete and measurable results" that would make Athens more livable and restore its place among the tourist capitals of the world.
Bakoyannis is the daughter of former conservative prime minister Constantin Mitsotakis. She was first elected to parliament 13 years ago, shortly after her first husband, Pavlos Bakoyannis, a conservative member of parliament was murdered by the November 17 urban guerrilla group. (Agence France Presse October 20, 2002)
IRELAND -- SEX attackers are using the internet to gain access to recipes for socalled date rape drugs, student leaders have warned. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) yesterday launched an awareness campaign to highlight the danger of drugassisted rape in colleges across the Republic.
Campaigners will visit pubs and clubs frequented by students and place stickers on unattended glasses to demonstrate how easy it is for would-be rapists to target potential victims. The USI has also stressed that vulnerable students, who are not used to consuming alcohol and may have recently left home, can fall victim to rape drugs at parties and cafes.
USI welfare officer Maureen Woods said: "The issue of drug rape in Ireland, particularly in colleges, is one that is in vital need of awareness promotion. Many students are aware of the issue but few know much about it." Telltale signs of having consumed a spiked drink include loss of control of limbs, an excessive feeling of drunkenness not related to the amount of drink taken, nausea and a loss of inhibitions.
Ms Woods expressed concern that the internet had "added a new menace to the equation" by supplying recipes for the manufacture of drugs. "This is a worrying development in the sense that it makes such drugs more accessible to those who perpetrate such despicable acts, " she said. Recent figures from the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, which is backing the USI campaign, revealed that more than 130 people contacted rape crisis centres last year, believing that they had been the victims of drug-assisted rape, compared to just 70 people in 2000.
USI women's rights officer June Coghlan warned that while the majority of such rapes targeted women, the campaign was aimed at men as well. "Men should be aware and alert to the threat of drug rape. Our aim is not to scare or alarm but to raise a greater awareness about the matter among the student body, " she said. Speaking at the launch, minister of state Willie O'Dea said the campagin would help to make students aware of the dangers that exist in relation to drug rape and of the measures they can take to safeguard themselves without affecting their enjoyment of a night out. He said Dublin Rape Crisis Centre received an average of one phone call per week about drug-assisted sex attacks. (Irish News October 16, 2002)
Previous Week's News
GENEVA -- 500 religious leaders and businesswomen met in Geneva this week for thethe Global Peace Initiative. When Toni Maloney, a nonpracticing Catholic, left here this week, she was "all 'spiritualed' out," she said with a smile.
The New York City businesswoman was returning home - her horizons widened - from a conference the likes of which she had never attended before: 500 women religious leaders from around the world had gathered in a search to inject a spiritual dimension into peace-building, and to harness women entrepreneurs to their effort.
She had come to the three-day Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, she says, because "peace right now has a certain urgency about it in the US," and because, as a successful marketing consultant heading her own company, "It's time for me to give something back."
Others came to discuss ways in which they could bring their moral authority as spiritual leaders to bear on conflict zones. "Rich countries know how to call for economic resources to rebuild" nations fractured by war, says Dena Merriam, convener of the initiative. "But what about the international community's spiritual resources? Who tends to the spiritual healing?"
Behind the initiative, explains Bawa Jain, secretary general of the World Council of Religious Leaders, lies the hope that spiritual leaders can join their voices to influence politicians.
"Are we willing to trust our world to politicians alone?" asks Ms. Merriam. "I would have more confidence if people of wisdom who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity were brought in to provide moral guidance." The conference, which closed on Wednesday, set up an international Womens' Negotiating Corps, designed both to help stave off conflict and to speed reconciliation after a war. In its preventive role, the corps intends to support official diplomacy through fact-finding missions on the ground; in its healing role, it might oversee one of the conference's proposals - that peace-education in schools be made a condition for reconstruction aid.
The meeting also called for greater recourse to collective prayer, which Sister Priya, a nun with the Self Realization Fellowship, which practices yoga meditation, calls "the greatest untapped resource we have. "We can change the world, we are already changing it, those of us who pray and act," she says.
Women came to the conference from 75 countries and all the world's major religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Shinto, Bahai, and Jainism. That diversity, participants say, was especially important in light of the way in which religious differences have often been exploited to make war.
"People here were able to step across boundaries," says Virginia Harris, chair of the Christian Science Board of Directors, who addressed the conference. "It's the spiritual component that will be the vehicle for peace, and we have to have a higher platform than denominational doctrine."
In that spirit, American businesswomen attending the conference launched a Business Council for Peace, offering women in war-torn countries such as Rwanda and Afghanistan knowhow and assistance in rebuilding their lives. "We train people every day, we negotiate every day, why not repurpose those skills?" says Ms. Maloney. "We can bring competencies."
Among the ideas proposed was the creation of a website on which women, whose businesses had been vetted by the UN Development Fund for Women, could post their needs - such as help with accounting or marketing - to see who could meet them. As well, the head of Eziba, which sells exotic craftwork over the Web, offered to add Rwandan baskets, often woven by women widowed by the genocide, to her online catalog.
"The idea that spirit and business walk hand in hand is absolutely critical," says Amber Chand, Eziba's founder. When it came to the immediate threats to world peace, such as Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the women acknowledge that they have little direct leverage. "We are not under the illusion that we can control what Bush or Saddam Hussein are going to do," says Merriam.
Instead, the conference decided to send an international delegation of women spiritual leaders to meet US political leaders to stress "the importance of investigating and pursuing all viable alternatives to war."
"We are not going to solve the world's problems because four or five hundred women come together, but it's a beginning," says Sister Priya. "When enough of us get together, then we will be heard." (The Christian Science Monitor October 11, 2002)
UK -- THOUSANDS OF British Asian women are locked into brutal marriages, forced to endure physical and mental abuse for the sake of family honour, a conference was told this week. The first national symposium on domestic violence in minority communities was told that growing numbers of third and fourth-generation British Indians and Pakistanis were sliding into depression or attempting suicide to escape their daily torment.
The suicide rate among British Asian women who suffer domestic abuse is two to three times greater than for non-Asian victims and there is growing depression and isolation. Attempts to escape the abuse, which in some cases included genital mutilation and assaults from the extended family, had seen women being traced and murdered by their families. Research by Blackburn with Darwen Council, where about 19 per cent of the 137,000-strong population is from an ethnic minority, revealed the extent of the problem. Ghazala Sulaman-Butt, a policy officer, interviewed about 100 Asian women, many of whom were severely depressed and isolated after enduring psychological, physical and sexual violence. None was prepared to speak out for fear of bringing shame to the family izaat, or honour, which renders broken marriages taboo. Mrs Sulaman -Butt said: "Domestic abuse is a feature of every community and is fast escalating within the Asian communities ... culture and tradition plays a major part in the survivor's decision to tolerate the abuse.
"Such is the power of izaat that women have committed suicide or attempted suicide rather than leave an abusive relationship." The meeting in Blackburn, organised by the Northern Circuit for Domestic Violence Forum and funded by the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office and the local council, was the first in a series of seven conferences on hidden domestic violence in Asian communities. Research by the Southall Black Sisters pressure group showed that of more than 2,000 Asian women who sought counselling every year, the majority for domestic abuse, almost all would have contemplated or attempted suicide during their married lives.
Delegates heard that Asian women brought into the country were faced with the added problem that they could not speak English. This meant they could not obtain information about women's shelters, social security benefits and basic human rights.
This week, an inquest in Swindon into the death of a Sikh woman, Harijinder Malri, 24, was told she had endured an unhappy arranged marriage. Mrs Malri, who was brought from India for the wedding, placed herself in the path of an oncoming train after enduring abuse from her husband. Friends and family revealed she had already tried to take her life once with an overdose. A report from a psychiatrist into her death in April in Swindon said she had told him in May 2000: "I do not want my life."
A doctor's statement added that "she had huge cultural and social pressures and she was very guarded and protective of her abusive husband". While most arranged marriages are undertaken willingly in Britain each year, at least 1,000 are estimated to be forced, a position that the conferences are trying to address. They are also looking at issues such as trafficking in children and other forms of domestic violence.
In some instances, the domestic violence can be tied to forced marriages, a link that Rosie Winterton MP, a parliamentary secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department who attended the Blackburn conference, said she was keen to investigate. The lack of independent interpreters, Asian police officers, social workers and advisers has been identified as a factor that prevents Asian women from speaking about their abuse. The next conference will take place in London in February, followed by meetings in Bradford, south Wales, Scotland, Birmingham and Bristol, ending in March 2004.
I was raped but my parents disowned me' SHAZIA SHEIKH was duped into a two-week "holiday" to Pakistan at the age of 15. Once there, she was forced into a marriage with a man 16 years older than her. During the six years the union lasted, British-born Shazia (not her real name) suffered serious physical and verbal abuse. The assaults included rape and attempted strangulation. She had a knife held to her throat and, in despair, contemplated suicide. Shazia, now 29, was told she would never return to Britain if she did not fall pregnant. "I suspected something was not right before I left. I went to social services to stop my parents from taking me but nothing came of it," she said.
"I felt trapped when I found out on arriving they had bought me a one- way ticket. I wrote to my school in England and I wrote to the British embassy in Pakistan. No one responded. I could not refuse the marriage because I believed my parents would kill me if I didn't marry him." After her son was conceived, Shazia returned with her husband to her parents' home in northern England, where she lived under the constant fear of being attacked by him. At the lowest point in her marriage, Shazia stopped short of swallowing the handfuls of paracetamol tablets she had emptied into her mouth. "He was raping me all the time and coming in drunk and high on drugs. I would lie in bed too scared to sleep. He told me if I told the authorities, my younger sister would be taken to Pakistan," she said.
Thinking back to the first beating at the age of 16, Shazia remembers her extended family watching while she was assaulted for "answering back" to her husband. Her father slept in the neighbouring room as her husband punched her back and legs. Shazia finally found the courage to escape after her husband sat on her and tried to strangle her. She believes she was saved by her younger sister, who accidentally came into the room and fought him off. Shazia, who has since trained as a hairdresser and lives with her 12- year-old son, was disowned by her parents after leaving her husband. He has now returned to Pakistan.She felt she needed to leave to stay alive, but the guilt remains. "My parents disowned me for years after I left. My father had still not forgiven me when he died three years ago," Shazia said. (The Independent (London) October 12, 2002)
UK -- Women are deserting the sciences in droves. For female students at university level, media studies courses win hands down over those in technology. Furthermore, those who do study science subjects either reject them as a career choice or, if they do choose that direction, don't return to the occupation for which they trained once they have had children.
Short-term contracts and unfriendly working environments aren't helping. Judging from the flurry of government activity to get women back into science, this trend is worrying politicians no end. But why should we care if women are under-represented in science? Does it really matter that women engineers are in the minority or that computing is largely for boys? Undeniably. It matters on a dozen different levels. It matters for women themselves and for the way society develops, improves and evolves.
Itis a criminal waste of talent for a start. One half of the brightest minds in this country belong to women. Having only 50% the nation's potential brainpower engaged in the solution of the problems that beset us means the nation is limping along, sparking on just two out of four cylinders. Half the insight, half the results, half the solutions. It matters because technology is about the future and if women aren't contributing, then half of society isn't represented. Women have very distinct skills to offer science. They are pragmatic problem solvers - networkers who operate best in teams and they are more socially aware than men. Men and women tend to operate in different ways, too. "Women are interested in getting the job done, while men are more interested in functionality," says Anne Cantelo of E Skills UK, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the numbers of women in IT.
"Men design washing machines with dozens of different programmes, just because they can. Female-designed machines will offer what you need and no more." So that'll be just the three programmes, then. Women also need to have more say in how the world around them operates. Unless they can develop skills in those sciences that command the future - computing, engineering, genetics - their voices will be remain silent. And it matters because women are, in the main, the decision-makers in the home. They make choices about what food to serve, which medicine or treatments their family use. Increasingly, making those choices demands scientific literacy, particularly when it comes to the assessment of risk.
Unfortunately, science, engineering and technology jobs are seen as nerdy and boring. When, for example, a television drama wants to depict a man as socially inadequate, he is put in front of a computer or in a laboratory. Yet for the women who can see past this stereotype and manage to leap the hurdles, science can, in fact, offer some of the most glamorous and highly-paid jobs available. For those who want to make a career in science, there is a far greater choice of occu pation than in most other fields.
The other side of the coin is that science, engineering and technology need women. Industry acknowledges this now as never before. In a recent speech on diversity, Lord Browne, chairman of BP, a business based on technology, said: "We have to show we're a company that great women want to join."
All this makes the following figures so upsetting. A report this year from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) revealed that there are 50,000 women science, engineering and technology (SET) graduates not working in their respective industries at any one time. Of those who do go back to work, just 8,000 will take a job that makes use of their original degree. It's a criminal waste of talent and skills. But why is it happening?
True, there can be long hours, unsociable shift work and poor pay in SET jobs. The average age at first appointment is 27, yet starting salaries after years of study may be as little as pounds 15,000. Even so, such conditions apply equally to men and are hardly unique to science. Women have family circumstances taken into account when they're hired, while men do not, and all women under 45 are viewed as ticking maternity bombs. But, again, this is not uncommon. No matter what the job, home and work still have to be reconciled. So is it science itself that's the problem?
Certainly, women start keen. More girls take biology A-level than boys, and girls out-perform boys across all sciences at A-level. Girls are over-represented on bioscience degree courses, some of which are now 60% female. Yet of 770 professors of biological science in Britain, just 60 are women. In computing science, engineering and physics, where women, admittedly, are in a minority right from A-level onwards, the number of women academics is pathetically small. Industry is not immune to the problem either, and this is of great concern to government - hence the DTI report.
The hurdles that women in science face are the same as those for men, but they are likely to encounter them more often. The problems start at degree level. "Women tend to lose confidence in their ability to do science, no matter how well they are doing," says Carol Kemelgor, author of Athena Unbound, a study of the paucity of women in science. It's hardly surprising, given that those who storm the citadels of engineering or computing science may find themselves alone in a group of 90 men.
Without a network of female peers, women find it hard to keep themselves afloat. The women who do succeed aren't necessarily the brightest but are those who have had the fortune to access support. The women who fall by the wayside may have been reluctant to ask for help for fear of being labelled dependent. Mentoring is a key recommendation of the DTI report.
Funnily enough, women tend not to choose female mentors. "They choose men because they are better connected to the right networks," says Jan Peters, head of the government's SET for women unit. Women who do manage to get to the higher echelons of academia are also marginalised. Student welfare committees are stuffed with high-achieving women but, as Nancy Lane of Cambridge University confirms, they are notably absent on decision-making bodies, such as grants committees.
Science is generally thought to be for loners, doggedly pursuing the truth. The reality is that science is a social pursuit in which interaction with others is key to developing new ideas. Men may find it hard to accommodate women in departments previously seen as an all-male club. Women are excluded and their contributions devalued.
Success in science is measured by the number of papers that are published. Science expects big results at a young age and that the production of papers will decline with age, which is the opposite of a woman's life plan. If women have a career break and fall behind on publications, the level playing field will disappear. Recruitment based on academic rather than chronological age is suggested in the report.
The speed of change in technology is also a problem. "Even a six-month break can be a killer in computing," admits Cantelo of E-Skills UK. There is every intellectual reason but no financial incentive to attract or retain women scientists in academia. Yet in industry there is better news. The number of science graduates, male and female, is plummeting and there's intense competition for the best. Retaining skilled female employees has become an economic necessity. AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, doesn't have women-specific policies, but it is women-friendly, with job shares and flexible work plans, including parental leave for both sexes and home working. "If you have a creative streak, we need you," says Jenny Holmes, its research and development director. She has strong views about initial hiring, too. "If you have male PhDs involved in recruiting, they recruit in their own image. This puts women who may have less conventional employment histories at a disadvantage." Industry should now address itself to returners, rather than new graduates.
It is interesting that neither AstraZeneca nor BP - companies that have made a huge effort to recruit a more diverse workforce - have quotas for women employees. They feel, with good reason, that quotas devalue women - as in "only here because of the quota".
Meanwhile, there's support from the Athena Project and the Association for Women in Engineering and Science, and the Daphne Jackson Trust, which helps women returners with grants. It is easy to feel angry. No profession is denied to women, yet here we are, a century after Marie Curie won her Nobel Prize, still being made to jump through impossible hoops. Science and technology are the future. Giving up now is not an option.
Vivienne Parry is a scientist with interests in genetics and immunology and a former presenter of Tomorrow's World. * This feature, part of a special report on women in science, appears in the November issue of Good Housekeeping on sale now. (The Guardian (London) October 11, 2002)
UK -- NEARLY a third of women are embarrassed by their lack of understanding of science and maths, while a quarter believe men have "more scientific minds", a poll has found. A fifth of women admit to not doing enough to encourage their daughters to take an interest in science, the survey of 1,000 women revealed.
The poll was commissioned by Good Housekeeping magazine to highlight the under-representation of women in the scientific professions. In 2000, 60 out of 770 bioscience professors were women. Women accounted for only 10 out of 370 chemistry professors and 10 out of 480 maths professors. Lady Greenfield, the director of the Royal Institution, speaking at the launch of the report, said institutionalised sexism was rife in universities and the science industry.
If women were to have a fighting chance they had to be encouraged from an early age, she said.