Global Roundup: Saudi Arabia Plans Women-Only Cities; Philippines RH Bill Continues to Languish

Weekly global roundup: Will Saudi Arabia's plan to construct a women-only industrial city opens new doors for women? Philippines' RH Bill still hanging in the balance as the Catholic Church grows restless; Texans seek abortion pills in Mexico; Rare justice for 13-year-old Afghan torture survivor.

Saudi Arabia: Women-Only Industrial City to Open in 2013

In the tentative march forward for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a women-only city will be constructed in Hofuf Province, in the east of the country. Several more single sex cities are planned in the coming years. Sex segregation in the country, which follows strict Wahabi Sharia laws, is the norm. Saudi Arabia has continued to come under strong criticism from other countries for its blatant marginalization of women. In July, Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee to demand that, for the first time ever, the country field female athletes at this year’s games. They did, though some women’s rights advocates claimed the move was tokenistic. The country has continued to move slowly toward liberalizing strict gender laws, especially when it comes under international pressure to do so, though without making major systemic changes. Campaigns, both national and international, to let women drive, vote, run in elections, and work freely outside the house have only been marginally successful. The latest news has been met largely with lukewarm appreciation or skepticism. “How can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination?” asks Homa Khaleeli in the Guardian. Khaleeli argues that women-only cities are one more link in the chain of women’s oppression, not a clear step toward undoing it. Via Guardian.

Philippines: Clock is Ticking as RH Bill Debate Wears On

In the never-ending story of the Philippines’ Reproductive Health Bill, debate wears on. While Congress voted last week to end debate on the RH Bill, which has languished for nearly two decades, heavy rains and flooding led to the postponement of a final vote. In the meantime, there has been even more testimony both for and against the bill. This week the Senate Majority Leader shed pernicious tears describing the loss of his infant years ago due to, according to him, his wife’s contraception use. He erroneously cited a number of other instances where friends had lost children, whose health had been compromised by the contraception their parents’ were using when they were conceived. Yikes. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are growing angrier. The CBCP spoke out during Mass this week, complaining that President Benigno called the vote to end debate on the bill August 6, instead of August 7 as promised. While the Philippines is majority Catholic, the overwhelming majority of the population supports the bill’s passage, which would grant unfettered access to sex ed and contraception where it has systematically been denied. Via The Philippines Star.

Mexico and the US: Crossing Borders for Abortion Access

The Texas Tribune reports on the trend of women living on the Texas border crossing over into Mexico to access Misoprostol, a drug that serves to induce abortion. Abortion access has remained under assault, and especially in Texas, and this latest revelation is a sobering picture of the lengths to which women will go to pursue their reproductive freedom. Hefty costs, sparse clinic access, and intensified cultural stigma around abortion in the US have the potential to push women underground in their efforts to seek access. Misoprostol, or Cytotec as it is known generically, is a safe and effective abortifacient, but not available in the US without prescription and clinic-based use. In contrast, the drug is available widely and cheaply all over the world, largely due to the fact that it is marketed on-label as an ulcer medication. In 2009, a study showed that Dominican women living in New York were more comfortable taking Misoprostol on their own, obtained from the Dominican Republic, than visiting a local clinic for a safe, legal abortion. The trend highlights the immensity of abortion stigma, but also raises questions about efficacy when women self-abort with the drug obtained from another country or outside of a clinic setting. In the US, medication abortion is not recommended for use after nine weeks of pregnancy, and must be taken in specific doses and time frames to be effective. See Women on Web, by the fabulous abortion rights group Women on Waves, for specific information about safe and effective dosing of Miso. Via Texas Tribune.

Afghanistan: 13-Year Old Torture Survivor Sees Justice, Sort Of

Thirteen-year-old Sahar Gul made international headlines earlier this year after she was found tortured and shunned by her in-laws for refusing to engage in prostitution. While violence against women and women’s rights abuses in Afghanistan are, sadly, not rare, the global publicity of Gul’s case likely contributed President Hamid Karzai calling vociferously for a “probe” into the girl’s injuries. In July, a court of appeals upheld sentences of 10 years in prison each for her three in-laws, convicted of torture and imprisonment. While the decision is being hailed as a victory for women’s rights, Gul’s case is undoubtedly singular in the amount of global media attention it has garnered and advocates are dubious that her justice gained means much for women countrywide. “We have many cases perhaps graver than this where women are murdered. No one hears anything about them,” said one Afghan women’s rights advocate. In addition, the media’s treatment of Gul’s case has revealed insensitivity toward and objectification of the experiences of women, especially young women, in developing and non-Western countries. Gul’s image, bruised and battered, was splashed across websites and blogs, and Times reporter Graham Bowley was criticized after he declared he should have ‘pushed past no,’ in trying to interview Gul in her hospital bed. Via New York Times.