Global Roundup: As Olympics Near, Saudi Women Remain on the Sidelines

Weekly global roundup: Saudi women left on the Olympics sidelines; Lebanese activists demand marital rape laws; WHO says injectables still safe to use; Ugandan women trafficked to Malaysia; and a fatal witchcraft accusation in Nepal.

Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

International Olympic Committee to Saudi Arabia: Where Are the Women?
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to put the screws on Saudi Arabia, one of just three countries that has yet to field any women for the Olympic games. The other two countries, Brunei and Qatar, have either vowed to send women to London this summer or are struggling to send anyone to the Olympics. Saudi Arabia has no excuse, HRW says, and by not pushing them to field women the IOC is violating its own principles on gender equality. A researcher for HRW called women’s participation in sports a “wedge issue” for other women’s rights – a hefty claim in a country where women lack even the ability to drive and vote in most elections. Read HRW’s full report on the denial of women and girls in sport in Saudi Arabia here. Via Daily Beast.

Activists in Lebanon: Husbands Can “Legally Rape” Wives
Women’s rights activists in Lebanon demonstrated last week against domestic violence in the country, and the lack of laws to protect women. The group, called STOP Violence Against Women included 300 activists wielding signs with slogans like, “he will legally rape you,” (referring the country’s lack of marital rape law) and “All marriages are sacred, but not all are safe.” A draft law addressing violence against women – the first of its kind and drafted by the NGO Kafa – has stagnated in Parliament since April 2010 and the committee reviewing it has already removed a clause on marital rape. Said one of the committee’s (male) MPs: “There’s nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It’s called forcing someone violently to have intercourse.” Um, sure. Video of the demonstration available here. Via The Daily Star.

WHO Stays the Course on Injectables, Despite Potential HIV Risks
After a much-discussed January meeting where WHO and a group of experts reviewed evidence suggesting that injectable contraception may double the risk of HIV, WHO has remained firm in their decision that injectables are still safe to use. The panel weighed the potential risk of increased HIV transmission and contraction (suggested by some studies, though not by others) against the risk to women if injectable contraception were unavailable. The method is one of the most popular in the developing world, because it is discreet, long-lasting, and affordable. Without it, unintended pregnancy rates would almost certainly spike and maternal mortality rates in Africa and South Asia are already the highest in the world. This proved a more sobering – and concrete – fact to consider. In the mean time, more studies on HIV risks are planned. Via Guardian.

Are More Ugandan Women Being Trafficked to Malaysia?
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) is concerned about an increased number of Ugandan women being trafficked to Asia. There are anecdotal reports (though no studies) of rape, torture, and sexual coercion, and a raid in Malaysia at the end of 2011 substantiated some of these reports. The AP is reporting the story with the unfortunate headline “Ugandan Women Tricked into Malaysia Sex Work.” The lure of steady work is a major reason that women migrate, of their own accord or sometimes by the coercion of others, across borders. The issue is highly complex, and media coverage often simplifies the story to the detriment of the women themselves, who lose agency and dignity in the process. Other headlines include “Hundreds of Ugandan Women Trapped in Malaysia”. Human trafficking is a very real and critical issue, but coverage that obscures the underlying issues and disrespects its subjects won’t really help. Via Voice of America

In Nepal, Accusation of Witchcraft Justifies Horrific Violence
After a Shaman accused her of casting a spell to induce illness, a mother of two was attacked and burned alive by a mob, which included family members. This horrific act is part of a disturbing pattern of  violence carried out against women. Shamans and healers are used often for illness and spiritual traditions across the country, but women’s advocates say they also pray on innocent women with accusations of witchcraft, inciting sometimes fatal violence. In 2007, a woman was badly beaten following the accusation that she used black magic to cause a girl in her village to become ill.