Global Roundup: Philippines On the Verge of Reproductive History; Laotian Women Take On Land Mines

Weekly global roundup: Philippines Congress (finally!) set to vote on embattled RH Bill; Nepal recruits female police officers to stem violence against women; All-female mine deprogramming teams make history in Laos; and survivors of sexual violence in Kenya's 2007 post-election chaos still await justice. 

Philippines: RH Bill Final Decision Draws Nearer, Despite “Providential” Barriers

After nearly 15 years of roiling debate, the long-suffering Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) has moved closer to approval than it ever has before. Congress voted Monday to close debate on the bill, which would mandate the Department of Health provide “medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective reproductive health care services nationwide,” and requires “age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education” from fifth grade through high school.”

It would be groundbreaking for this majority-Catholic country. The bill hanging in the balance has drawn global attention, as the Philippines remains riddled with poverty and ill health, largely driven by poor lack of access to reproductive health care and lack of women’s autonomy to make decision. Maternal mortality in the country has risen in recent years, almost singularly among other countries worldwide, and abortion is entirely restricted. The United Nations finally weighed in, highlighting the “urgency of the bill” given pressing development and health issues in the country. After voting to end debate on the bill, an important procedural hurdle, Congress was set to vote on the bill Tuesday. However, heavy rains and flooding Monday led to the session’s postponement, in a “providential” act of God, one newspaper suggested. While Church leaders have vehemently opposed the bill over the past decade, most citizens–and the President – overwhelmingly support the bill, which would drastically improve the rights and futures of all Filipinos. Via AFP.

Nepal: Female Police Officers Curb Violence Against Women

In an effort to stem violence against women countrywide, the Government of Nepal has taken steps to recruit and train all-female police forces. Currently, 3,500 of the country’s 60,000 police are female, or just five percent. An additional 2,200 women officers are planned for recruitment, which is in line with a growing representation of women in official positions in the country overall. Under the current interim constitution, measures have secured 33 percent of legislative seats for women. Studies have suggested that female law enforcement officials help create a more supportive environment for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, enabling greater reporting and ultimately more successful prosecution. An officer’s gender is not a sure bet of his or her support, however, and intense counseling, confidentiality, and procedural training is necessary overall to change the dynamic of impunity around violence against women in the country. Via Malaysian National News Agency.

Laos: All-Female Mine Deprogrammers Make History

Nearly 40 years after the end of American bombing campaigns in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, the presence of unexploded mines (UXOs) creates a threat for individuals in the region. In Laos, the non-profit Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has organized the country’s first-ever all-female clearance teams. The Independent reports, “working for MAG means valuable training as a technician or medic, and also raises the status of women while giving them skills they can pass on to their daughters.” The majority of Laotians, including women, make their living as farmers and UXOs impact the quality of the soil–this prosperity–and the safety of the lifestyle. Women are generally less educated than men, and technical training opportunities are rare. Since the mid-sixties, 50,000 people have been killed or injured by the more than 45 million mines and cluster bombs placed by the US across the countryside. Hillary Clinton visited Laos last month, the first American Secretary of State to do so in almost 60 years. Via Independent.

Kenya: Post-Election Rape Survivors Sill Waiting for Justice

Trust Law reports on the impunity of sexualized violence in Kenya, following the country’s bitterly contested and violent 2007 election. The violence, which spanned several months, displaced 600,000 and killed 1,200. After an inquiry by the United Nations, trials of several prominent Kenyan politicians–accused of orchestrating the post-election violence–will commence at the International Criminal Court in the near future. In the mean time, women–who overwhelmingly comprised the majority of those suffering sexual violence during the chaos–await compensation or response. The Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), a national rights group, also points out that without proper institutional reforms, women remain just as vulnerable to conflict- and crisis-driven violence in the future: “We can’t afford to say it won’t happen. So, what if it happens? Are we ready? The answer is no.” Contributing to impunity is the severe under-reporting of sexual violence, due to stigma, repercussions against victims, and the persistent instability of those who endure it while in temporary places. Much of the violence is also perpetrated by law enforcement officials, which makes reporting nearly impossible. Via Trust Law