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UN asks India to protect sex workers rights, repeal 377, curb growing violence against women

UN- 2014- India-women- report

UN Special Rapporteur highlights pervasive gender stereotyping in media and community and entrenched patriarchal attitudes in public officials, judicial officers and the police force, as an impediment to curbing violence against women

By Team FI

In an important step towards recognizing sex worker rights in India, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women called on the Indian Government to review the trafficking legislation which criminalizes women in sex work.

The Special Rapporteur, Rashida Manjoo, also urged the government to repeal section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex and amend the new rape law of 2013 – in particular to review the provisions that provide for the death penalty and to include the definition of marital rape as a criminal offence.

The Report on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Mission to India was submitted to the UN General Assembly in April 2014 and was based on the India mission undertaken by the Special Rapporteur in April 2013. The Special Rapporteur received written submissions and listened to depositions from women’s organizations, networks, affected individuals, and government officials across the length and breadth of India during her visit.

According to the report, the overall conviction rate in India for crimes listed in the Penal Code was 38.5 per cent in 2012, the lowest in 10 years, which was largely due to delays in the finalization of cases. Quoting the National Crimes Records Bureau, the Rapporteur expressed concern over the fact that while conviction rate for crimes against women (21.3%) remained low while a 24.7 % increase was recorded in the reports of crimes against women after 2008. The proportion of registered cases of crimes committed against women vis-à-vis crimes in total increased from 8.9 per cent in 2008 to 10.2 per cent in 2012. As per the report, “the low conviction rate and the higher number of cases registered will not act as a deterrent for future crimes against women, nor will it engender trust in the judicial system.”

The Special Rapporteur also raised concern about the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes of police officers, prosecutors, judicial officers and other relevant civil servants, with regard to the handling of cases of violence against women noted that the “persistence of harmful practices, pervasive gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched patriarchal social and cultural norms is of serious concern.”

The Special Rapporteur stated that it also received reports indicating that the legal basis of the National Commission for Women is not in accordance with international standards; that the institution lacks foundational, functional, operational, political and financial independence. The report also stated that there a “number of allegations highlighted the Commission’s inability to deal with complaints effectively and undertake independent investigations into violations of women’s rights.”

The report is also deeply concerned about the prevalence of dowry-related practices throughout the country and the increasing number violence and deaths related to dowry payment.

Violence against Sex workers
For perhaps the first time, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, underscored the need to address the violence faced within sex work from state and non – state actors and the lack of avenues for legal redress. It notes that sex workers in India are “exposed to a range of abuse including physical attacks, and harassment by clients, family members, the community and State authorities”.

It further states that “sex workers are forcibly detained and rehabilitated and consistently lack legal protection”; and that they “face challenges in gaining access to essential health services, including for treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases”.

Violence against minority women
Commenting on violence faced by women belong to minority communities, the report stated that impunity for crimes relating to communal violence is “the norm”. The recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to the Gujarat massacre have not been fully addressed as yet. Moreover, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill has been pending in Parliament for over eight years; despite the necessity for such a law.

The report has also urged the government to Repeal, as a matter of urgency, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and ensure that criminal prosecution of members of the Armed Forces is free from legal barriers.

Main observations made by the Special Rapporteur
Violence against women in India is systematic and occurs in the public and private spheres. Women are discriminated against and subordinated not only on the basis of sex, but on other grounds, such as caste, class, ability, sexual orientation, tradition and other realities. The manifestations of violence against women are a reflection of the structural and institutional inequality that is a reality for most women in India.

Sexual violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2012, 2.84 cases of rape were reported every hour. Many interlocutors stated that there was a general sense of insecurity for women in public spaces, especially in urban settings. Women are easy targets of attacks, including sexual violence, whether while using public transportation or sanitation facilities or on the way to collect wood and water.

Civil and political rights
In terms of women’s participation in parliaments, India stands at 111 out of 188 States as per the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The proportion of female judges is very low. At the local level, there have been numerous allegations of abuse of authority by and patriarchal attitudes of women elected to Gram Panchayats (whether by choice or through coercive influences) and of abuse by community leaders, including members of the illegal informal courts of the Khap Panchayats.

The Special Rapporteur stated that she could not engage directly with Gram Panchayats despite her requests.

Violence against women in the family

The physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women in the private sphere is widely tolerated by the State and the community. The perpetrators include husbands, in-laws and other family members. The widespread socioeconomic dependency of women subordinates them to their husbands and other family members. The fear of social exclusion and marginalization, and the lack of effective responses to violence, keeps them in a context of continuous violence and intimidation. The report also noted the prevalence of honour crimes in the country.

As per National Crime Records Bureau there is also an alarming increase in violence and killings linked to dowry payments – as reported under the Dowry Prohibition Act since 2008 and a significant increase in such crimes since 2010. Concerns about the lack of effective implementation of the law were noted.

Sex ratio
Research has documented a trend of declining girl-child sex ratio from 962 per 1,000 males in 1981, to 945 in 1991, to 927 in 2001, to 914 in 2011. Patriarchal norms and socioeconomic factors have reportedly fuelled the decline. The desire for sons has led to a “policing” of pregnancies by spouses and families through prenatal monitoring systems. The results can lead to sex-selective abortions, which are often forced on women in violation of their sexual and reproductive rights. Despite specific legislation to address this problem, including stringent measures in case of contravention, there is a continuing prevalence of sex-selection practices in some states.


Early marriage and forced marriage

With regard to early and/or forced marriages, the implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has resulted in some reduction in the overall percentage of early marriages. However, there are significant gaps in the legislation, particularly in the Penal Code, whereby child marriages are allowed through the practice of declaring them voidable, not void.

Caste-based violence
Dalit and Adivasi women and women from other scheduled castes and tribes and other “backward classes” are frequent victims of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as violence. The intergenerational nature of caste-based discrimination condemns women to a life of exclusion, marginalization and disadvantage in every sphere of life. Many of those women are denied an education and economic opportunities, and perform dangerous and unprotected work, including bonded labour (debt bondage) and manual scavenging, which are both widely regarded as forms of forced labour and modern forms of slavery.

Communal violence
Numerous testimonies shared on recurrent episodes of communal violence against religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians; reflect a deep sense of insecurity and trauma of women living in those communities. Experiences included women being stripped, burned, attacked with objects inserted into their vaginas and sexually assaulted in myriad ways because of their religious identity.

It was reported that perpetrators of those crimes usually held positions of authority and often went unpunished. Further, those minorities are allegedly excluded from access to education, employment and adequate housing on equal terms with other citizens, despite the existence of affirmative action schemes and measures by the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the National Commission for Minorities.

Women with disabilities
Women with disabilities face multiple challenges, including, for example, the lack of adequate access to public spaces, utilities and buildings, and often experience harassment in public. The Special Rapporteur was informed of violence perpetrated against women with disabilities in State-sponsored shelters.

Lesbian and Transgender women
Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”. This particularly affects the protection rights of lesbian and transgender women and has been used by parents as an excuse to prevent homosexuality in their families. The mere perception of different sexual orientation is sufficient to put people at risk of violence and is a contributory factor to the inability of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community to report cases of violence.

Sex workers
Sex workers are exposed to a range of abuse, including physical attacks and harassment by clients, family members, the community and State authorities. Many sex workers are forcibly detained and rehabilitated, and they also face a consistent lack of legal protection. Many face challenges in gaining access to essential health services, including for treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. A recent order of the Supreme Court of India took the position that a sex worker engaged in such work to survive and was “not leading a life of dignity”. The Special Rapporteur noted a tendency to conflate sex work with trafficking in persons, and when sex workers are identified as victims of trafficking, the assistance that is provided to them is not targeted to their specific needs.

Trafficking of women and girls
The trafficking of women and girls from, and to, India was reported as widespread. Disadvantaged women from minority groups, scheduled castes and tribes and the “backward castes” are usually the main victims. Women who are trafficked and forced into prostitution are left unable to defend their rights, and lack access to rehabilitation and compensation for such crimes. This lack of protection and prioritization of the problem by the State has intensified the violence perpetrated against them by criminals or those involved in trafficking practices.

The complicity of State officials in human trafficking was also reported as a concern. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and its amendments are reportedly more directed at safeguarding public moral than combating trafficking in line with the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Widows
Widows also face particular vulnerabilities, as they are often denied and dispossessed of property by their in-laws following the death of a spouse. In addition, social exclusion and poverty lead some widows to engage in sex work and prostitution, and their children to perform hazardous labour or beg on the streets.

Forced evictions
The State’s efforts to foster economic growth and implement development projects are allegedly often conducted without adequate consultations with affected communities, with the sole objective being one of economic growth at any cost.

The consequences for women include being forced to live in insecure environments, displacement; the degradation of their environment, the loss of land and livelihoods and forcible evictions. Many victims are left without adequate relocation alternatives, forcing them to live in slums or on the streets.

Witch-hunting

The Special Rapporteur was informed of brutal acts of violence against women, including executions, commonly referred to as “witch-hunting”. The stigma that is attached to women, who are labeled a “witch”, and the rejection they experience within their communities, leads to various violations and is an obstacle to gaining access to justice. Such labeling affects family members across generations. There is reportedly little or no official investigation into such violations.

Violence condoned or perpetrated by the State
Women living in militarized regions, such as Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states, live in a constant state of siege and surveillance, whether in their homes or in public.

Information received through both written and oral testimonies highlighted the use of mass rape, allegedly by members of the State security forces, as well as acts of enforced disappearance, killings and acts of torture and ill-treatment, which were used to intimidate and to counteract political opposition and insurgency. Testimonies also highlight the impact of that situation on women’s health, including psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, fear psychosis and severe anxiety, with such conditions having a negative impact on women’s physical well-being.

Additionally, the freedoms of movement, association and peaceful assembly are frequently restricted. The specific legal framework that governs those areas, namely, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and its variations, allows for the overriding of due process rights and nurtures a climate of impunity and a culture of both fear and resistance by citizens.

Custodial violence
In 2012 there were 20 women’s prisons and 21 centres for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Furthermore there are rehabilitation centres for sex workers. Women account for 4.4 per cent of all inmates in the country. Women prisoners are scattered across the country, often in violation of international standards aimed at ensuring that those wishing to maintain family relationships during custody can do so. Concerns were raised about a lack of adequate protective measures to ensure the safety of inmates, including from gender-related killings. In 2012, 55 deaths of female inmates were registered, of which eight were suicides.

Fair trial rights

Fair trial rights, equality before the law and equal protection of the law were affected by numerous challenges, beginning with the reporting of cases of violence against women to the police. Many interlocutors said that victims were often discouraged from reporting to the police and that many women did not file a complaint owing to fear of reprisals or lack of guarantees of adequate shelter and access to livelihoods. Informal dispute settlement alternatives are often sought, allegedly by police, family members or community leaders. Many interlocutors described the complete or partial absence of legal, housing, security and financial assistance measures for victims. To be able to officially report complaints and continue throughout the often lengthy judicial process in safety and with an adequate standard of living is not an option for many women.

The Special Rapporteur received information indicating that human rights defenders, including women’s organizations, face numerous challenges, including harassment, intimidation and reprisals. Those concerns echo the findings contained in the 2011 report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Profit-oriented microfinance institutions
The Special Rapporteur noted concerns with regard to profit-oriented microfinance institutions involving microfinance products for women, and the failure of the State to protect and prevent abuses. Vulnerable women reportedly receive multiple loans and are sold financial products with little or no information, and the unequal bargaining power between such institutions and clients is not addressed by regulation.

Such practices result in over-indebtedness and the inability to pay back, which leads to harassment and threats and women being excluded from their families and communities. Some have reportedly committed suicide as a result of such abuse. It is unclear if the larger problem is a lack of, or inadequate, regulation of microfinance institutions.

Domestic workers
Women employed as domestic workers are often irregular migrants and unregistered women who operate in a poorly regulated labour market and who are usually considered as belonging to the bottom of a social class. They become easy targets for abusive employers, who force them to work long hours in return for low salaries and often deduct amounts for leave days taken. Many are prevented from using the employer’s sanitary facilities and are forced to defecate and bathe in public, and are subjected to various forms of harassment and violence.

Violence against women in the transnational sphere
Many women refugees and asylum seekers are unskilled workers who often perform hazardous labour in urban and informal settings. While access to education and health care is provided for free by the Government, access to livelihoods is still a challenge, particularly in urban or semi-urban areas. Many of those women earn low wages and are forced to live in small and overcrowded apartments, with a lack of access to basic sanitation in less developed urban settings. Such factors contribute to poor health conditions and other vulnerabilities.

Language barriers often impede their ability to gain access to health care, education and the justice system. Despite improvements in criminal law and police procedures, women refugees and asylum seekers continue to voice safety concerns, as they are frequent targets of attacks and harassment by employers, landlords and community members in public and private spheres.

Economic rights and the right to development

Economic development focus for women remains one of subsistence and does not necessarily take into account, or address sufficiently, the gendered and class nature of systemic and structural inequality and discrimination.

Whereas the participation of all citizens in the economy is considerable, women’s labour force participation is significantly lower, at 25.7 per cent, as compared to men at 77.4 per cent. An International Labour Organization source indicates that the participation of women in the workforce fell from 37.3 per cent in 2004/05 to 29.0 per cent in 2009/10.

While job opportunities for women are in decline, women were found to be in precarious jobs requiring low skills and offering low and unequal wages. Daily earnings for women in recent decades has been comparatively lower than those of men in virtually all sectors

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace
Legal measures have been instituted to address sexual harassment in the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 defines sexual harassment comprehensively and is largely in line with the 1997 Vishaka judgment. It provides for complaints committees in all workplaces employing at least 10 persons. Moreover, while penalties are prescribed in the event of a false or malicious complaint, the Act seeks to prevent the revictimization of victims who are unable to provide adequate proof or substantiate a complaint.

Social and cultural rights
Pervasive gender stereotyping, whether in the media, in the community or in discourses by public officials, was highlighted as an impediment to women’s development. The pervasive culture of denigrating and marginalizing women’s perspectives, concerns and also their identity was an issue that was raised by several interlocutors. Concerns were also raised about the resulting impact on the social standing of women. According to official data, between 2011 and 2012 the number of cases involving insult to the modesty of women increased by 7 per cent.

In 1986, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act was enacted to prohibit indecent representation in advertisements, publications, writings and paintings or in any other manner. New amendments have been proposed to include new forms of communication, to strengthen penalties and to provide for preventive measures. No official information was shared as to accountability measures to address the continuing occurrence of such stereotyping by either State or non-State actors.

State’s obligation to eliminate violence against women
States are required to exercise due diligence to prevent and respond to all acts of violence against women. A comprehensive system of prevention and protection, with real prospects of mitigating harm, altering outcomes and ensuring accountability, must be the norm.

National Commission for Women
The legal basis of the National Commission for Women is not in accordance with international standards; that the institution lacks foundational, functional, operational, political and financial independence; and that the Commission is generally unable to adapt to the evolving and transformative demands of the human rights of women.

According to section 3 of the National Commission for Women Act, 1990, the Commission’s composition is determined by the central Government. A number of allegations highlighted the Commission’s inability to deal with complaints effectively and undertake independent investigations into violations of women’s rights. Reports also reflect the Commission’s failure to address the causes and consequences of violence against women, including, for example, by finding that no particular religious group was targeted during the 2002 Gujarat massacre; by consistently justifying sexual assault on women as a result of “provocative dressing”; by its inability, over many years, to promote much needed law reform; and by denying reports of sexual violence by security forces, including in regions governed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts.

Domestic Violence

The lack of implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was a concern often raised. Under the Act, women victims require the assistance of a protection officer to lodge a complaint and to file a domestic incident report. The recruitment and deployment of protection officers in the country is limited; they often work part-time and lack the resources to assist victims to file complaints. For instance, in the State of Rajasthan, with a population including approximately 27 million women, there are only 607 designated protection officers and 118 organizations registered as service providers.

Supreme Court refuses to review section 377, LGBT groups protest in Delhi

gay- sex -ban- india

Members of gay community and human rights activists condemn the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the review of Section 377 and call it a set back to the fundamental rights of all Indians

By Team FI

Members of the LGBT community along with women’s and human rights groups protested in Delhi yesterday against the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to review its earlier verdict on gay sex.

In December last year, the Supreme Court of India had passed a controversial order re-criminalizing gay sex in the country. Following this, a review petition was filed by eight parties including the Union of India, parents of LGBTQ persons, Voices Against 377, teachers, mental health professionals, veteran film maker Shyam Benegal and the Naz Foundation. The apex court dismissed the petition seeking a review of section 377 on Tuesday.

According to the press note issued by the LGBT group, the court’s decision represents an abdication by the judiciary to protect the spirit of the constitution. “The court disregarded arguments made by the parties, did not consider key findings of the Delhi High Court judgment, and was seemingly blind to the voluminous material on record that incontrovertibly established rape, torture, discrimination, and harassment of LGBTQ persons as a direct and inevitable consequence of Section 377”.

There is nothing ‘miniscule’ about the concerns of the LGBTQ community and that the fight against discrimination is everyone’s fight

Calling the SC decision a temporary reversal, the press release said that the LGBTQ community is not disheartened. “Regardless of the decision of the Court, our activism asserting the right to live without fear and discrimination, and indeed to live with pride, will remain undimmed. If anything, we are strengthened and heartened by the wide range of support we have seen and felt. The media, mainstream political parties, ordinary persons, families of LGBTQ persons, mental health professionals, teachers, academics, artists have all stood with us in favour of the constitutional guarantee of dignity to the LGBTQ community.”

The press note stated that community intends pursue all legal options, including curative petitions, “There is No Going Back’. Regardless of the Court’s ruling, we walk with pride. As the Delhi High Court judgment reminded us, our rights are inalienably ours – they Court did not confer them on us, it cannot take them away” states the press release.

Russia’s Closet: The Politics Behind a Ban on Gay “Propaganda”

Russia bans homosexual propoganda

A draconian new law in St. Petersburg, Russia, bans any public talk of gay issues even on the Internet. The idea originated with the religious right in the United States

By Brett Edward Stout

Days before the United Nations held its first panel on LGBT rights, the St. Petersburg assembly passed a law banning any public activity (including what happens online) that promotes homosexuality, sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgender identity, as well as any display of homosexual conduct that could potentially be seen by minors (which the lawmakers dubbed as promoting pedophilia). The bill was signed into law by St. Petersburg governor Georgiy Poltavchenko and took effect on March 12. Many have started to look back on how exactly things got to where they are today. The answer: politics, and the rise of religious conservatism in Russia.

In 2008, two years after Moscow denied a permit to the first Gay Pride Parade, a bill to ban gay propaganda in Ryazan was introduced into the local assembly. The bill did not define what qualified as gay propaganda, and proponents presented it as a bill to protect children from the threat of homosexuality. Activists united to oppose the law, challenging it on constitutional grounds. However, in March of 2010, the Russian Constitutional Court dismissed a case opposing a Ryazan law banning so-called “propaganda of homosexuality.”

Activists quickly pointed out that the law seemed a clear violation of Russia’s Constitution Article 29 – freedom of speech, Article 19 – the ban on discrimination, and Article 55 – the ban on local governments infringing on the rights of minorities. Arkhangelsk and Kostroma signed similar laws in 2011, and in November of that year, Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, proposed its own ban on “gay propaganda,” which passed the city’s assembly by a two-thirds margin.

Moscow has yet to hold a legally sanctioned gay pride parade and, with the new law, the chances it will any time soon seem even less likely.

The Western Wind
The emergence of this law has taken some in the international community by surprise and has raised many questions. The most asked question is, “Why now?” In an interview with The Advocate, Andre Banks, executive director of the international advocacy group AllOut, which created the much-publicized public service announcements on the issue, offered this theory: “There is one particular advantage. The law has public support and is a populist issue. It was no surprise that this issue came around at the time of a very contentious election in Russia.”

Indeed, the 2012 election in Russia saw some of the largest opposition protests in the country’s history. Dozens of unprecedented political protests, some estimated as large as 25,000 people, condemned the Conservative Party, United Russia and even Vladimir Putin in the months before the March elections. Many see this election as not just about the Conservative Party staying in power but also as a move by Russia to differentiate itself culturally from the West. Putin’s determination to show his independence is even the subject of a new BBC series Russia, Putin and the West. Ironically, the law Russia’s Conservative Party is using to flex its cultural differences was born not in the Motherland, but in the U.S.

Pouncing on antigay momentum around the 2006 ban on the Moscow Pride parade, American evangelist Scott Lively wrote a letter to the Russian people after completing a speaking tour in the country. Through his speaking engagements, Lively closely allied himself with the Russian Orthodox church and his influence is still evident. Many will remember Lively as the origin of what became Uganda’s Bill 18, also known as the notorious “kill the gays” bill. In his letter, Lively elaborated that, “The purpose of my visit was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement which has done much damage to my country and which has now taken root in Russia. This is a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it.” Through his tour, Lively closely allied himself with the Russian Orthodoxy and presented its adherents with a road map to protect themselves from what they saw as gay propaganda.

Of the several steps he lays out, the third is this: “Criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality. My philosophy is to leave homosexuals alone if they keep their lifestyle private, and not to force them into therapy if they don’t want it. However, homosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never [be] publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality.” Play by play, the Russian Orthodoxy has taken Lively’s blueprint and is acting swiftly on his urging “to protect their country from the gay movement.”

Gay rights Russia- Gay protest Russia

Photo courtesy: GAYRUSSIA

The Rise of Russian Religious Conservatism
In the years since Yeltsin turned the reigns over to his successor, Putin, Russia has drifted toward the right. However, in the last four years, that slow drift has turned to a sprint. Polina Savchenko, general manager of the St. Petersburg advocacy group Coming Out, says, “There is a clear tendency in Russia’s both external and internal politics to move toward more ultra-right ideas; clerical, traditionalist discourse is finding its way into legislation.”

In 2009, Metropolitan Kirill was appointed as the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. From the day of his coronation, he has made it clear the new focus of the Church would be to save Russia from moral decay. As the new Russian Orthodoxy has moved swiftly to align itself within the Conservative United Russia Party it began to strategically place its pieces on the chessboard in key positions. In late 2011, the patriarch himself created even deeper controversy about church and state separations when he personally moved into residence inside the Kremlin.

The primary political voice behind this most recent law is St. Petersburg’s new governor, Georgiy Poltavchenko. While many abstract references have been made about the dismantling of Russia’s democracy, Poltavchenko is a concrete example of this. In the last two years, both Poltavchenko and his counterpart in Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, were handpicked by United Russia with the blessing of the Orthodoxy and appointed to their posts. In the federal Assembly, the Orthodox Church has sanctioned United Russia to make other key appointments, most importantly, the new chairman of the Upper House, Valentine Matvienko.

Before the governor could sign a bill, he first needed a bill to sign. Under the governor’s direction and following the blueprint laid out by the Ryazan law, assembly member Vitaly Milinov, a champion of what he calls Russia’s “moral sovereignty,” wrote and introduced the bill. In an interview with the Russian Service Milinov explained that, “The perverted concepts about family – about society, destroys the state. Our problem – to show Europe, that this is wrong, that they have rethink this.”

Gay arrests in St. Petersburg

On April 5th, Police arrested two gay rights activists for holding up "Homosexuality Is Normal" placard in St. Petersburg . It was the first arrest under the new law. Photo by Olga Maltseva -AFP

But these political moves have not been without opposition. “I think that for the opposition party, their key focus is being seen as seeking greater rights. This law is one piece of a much broader push to limit free expression by the Conservative Party,” said Andre Banks from AllOut.

In Russia, the chief spokesperson of the opposition party on this issue, Assembly Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, called the law “strange” and issued a written criticism of the bill’s vague language: “The very term ‘promoting’ is uncertain from a legal viewpoint, hence either cannot be applied, or can be applied arbitrarily, or, to put it simply, creates the grounds for arbitrariness toward adult citizens.”

All this being said, activists argue it is reductive to say this is simply a political game. Without digressing into religious dogma, there is a philosophy behind Orthodox Russian Conservatism. It is a view that there are two different means of pursing civil liberty. The foreword on the United Russia Party’s website reads, “Our critical situation should not be bound to the motivations of temporary or fleeting temperament: e.g. the scheming of authorities, the struggles between geopolitical elites etc., but by a multitude of other, more meaningful, and inevitable motives connected to impending End of Times.”

In the eyes of Russian Conservatives, only the pursuit of the freedom to work is compatible with Russian religious traditions. The pursuits of personal freedoms (such as expression) are not compatible with those traditions. In the eyes of the new Orthodox movement, without these religious rules to govern society, civilization itself will collapse. In the U.S., it is easier to see this as the same old tired, worn-out set of arguments and assertions used by the radical Christian right (many an evangelical figure has warned Americans of the fall of civilization and against the gay “indoctrination” of children). Nonetheless, it is important to understand that for the new Orthodox Russian Conservatism movement, proponents literally see the pursuit of individual liberty as a means that will bring about the social and economic death of civilization.

As Goes St. Petersburg, So Goes the Nation
Legally, the Russian Constitution appears to clearly prohibit these laws at a local level, but at the federal level, it does allow for laws that inhibit the rights of minorities that could be deemed as harmful to the majority. A federal law is exactly what is feared at this point and that fear is spreading quickly.

In Russia, the natural progression of laws is to move through the local assemblies of the two major cities and then be presented at the federal level. The bill is being discussed in Moscow and a federal bill is also in the works. Andre Banks pointed out that this process is habit and not a requirement. The Russian Federal Assembly can take this bill up at any time and appears ready to do so.

The problems with the law are twofold: the language and the impact. In a statement issued by LGBT activist Polina Savchenko, she expressed great concern over both the vagueness and the implications of this law. “To talk about existence of homosexuality, to publicly denounce homophobic violence, to develop a sense of self-awareness and dignity in homosexual people, to promote tolerance – all of these acts can fall under the ‘propaganda’ law,” she said. “This law will serve directly to further isolate and marginalize the gay community and encourage hate towards a social group.”

These exact types of arguments and policies are being seen in the U.S. as well. One need not look deeper than the headlines of Tennessee and Utah, where legislatures passed “don’t say gay” bills for public school systems in an attempt to erase the LGBT community from the minds of young people. Additionally, in Michele Bachmann’s Minnesota school district, a slightly different but similar law was repealed after a lengthy string of gay youth suicides. Community outcry from concerned parents and faculty finally prompted school board members to reconsider and implement changes in its policies.

In Russia, the law is much more far-reaching than school systems, covering the entire citizenry anywhere they go, even on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Without a specific definition of what constitutes “gay propaganda,” the potential for widespread abuse is great and enforcement will largely be left to the whims of police and judicial authorities.

Russia’s Gay History
The Russian Federation has evolved a long way since the days it exiled artist and activist Slava Mogutin in the mid ’90s. Officially, Russia legalized homosexuality in 1993 and six years later it was also removed from the country’s list of mental illnesses. But the country has continued to struggle with mainstream acceptance of gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people. Every year since the first 2006 attempt to hold a Pride parade in Moscow, each subsequent attempt has been denied permits, counter-protested, met with violence, and followed by arrests of gay activists.

Gay rights Russia

Riot police arrest a gay activist during Moscow's second attempted Gay Pride parade in 2007. The parade had already been banned by Moscow's Mayor on the grounds that it would provoke violence. Photo courtesy: Moscow Pride

At the first ever United Nations Human Rights Panel on LGBT rights, the spokesperson for the Russian Federation reiterated his government’s official position. In the eyes of the Russian government, they are simply protecting “the majority’s rights.” He went on to insist that, despite Russia’s ratification into the European court of Human Rights, “no international commitments are breached” by the country’s actions denying gays and lesbians their rights. (The European Court of Human Rights Article 10 guarantees an individual’s right to freedom of expression.)

This same spokesperson stated that the United Nations must “respect the opinion of the majority and of moral precepts and avoid the promotion of one group over the rights of others. It’s not about [one group] over another; it’s about the inclusion of all. It is not appropriate to give rise to appreciation of special groups such as LGBT.”

Again, say American gays, we’ve heard this all before. “This is the same ‘special rights’ argument we have here,” Stephen Grant, a scholar of gender and antigay violence, says. “This isn’t about special rights that elevate one group over another, it’s about bringing an oppressed group up to a level playing field with the majority.”

Through the fight, Russians have tried to make their voices heard in the streets. Dozens of grassroots protests have occurred since December, but most have been only groups of up to 250 people who were dispersed by the police. Now that the bill has become law in St. Petersburg, fear has silenced most would-be protesters. But internationally, voices continue to speak out. Groups like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex Association and AllOut have mobilized to keep the pressure on, calling for a travel boycott of the city. The ILGA spoke out about gay oppression at the UN Panel on Human Rights and AllOut’s PSA on the St. Petersburg ban has received hundreds of thousands of hits worldwide. Even Madonna said she plans to speak out about the issue during her upcoming St. Petersburg concert: “I don’t run away from adversity, I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity.”

Dr. Irina Kostina, who teaches Russian Studies at the University of Iowa, said, “Russia is a country where gays always were not welcome and oppressed by politicians and society. It is very dangerous to show that you are a gay in Russia.”

According to a poll done by the Levada Center in 2010, 74% of Russians believe homosexuals are mentally defective, and 39% say they should be isolated from society.

“While we’re much further ahead than Russia regarding civil liberties issues like marriage equality and the reversal of the DADT policies,” says Stephen Grant, “the dangers of being openly gay are very real [in the U.S. as well]. Antigay hate crimes in America number in the thousands every year.”

Dr. Kostina also pointed out that that this issue is low on the everyday Russian citizen’s priority list. “I believe that Russian people care less about this situation,” she says. “They think about the other huge problems they have. The government will not change anything. We should change the government. For Russia, it takes a long road to understand this situation and make it better for gays.”

What happens next?
At the moment, what will happen is purely speculation. No one knows for sure. Several paths exist for repeal. Legal challenges can still be made both in the Russian Constitutional Court and in the European Court of Human Rights. Non-judicial avenues exist as well. Laws can be passed that negate the “propaganda ban” as can amendments to dilute or nullify its enforcement. While both are possible, federal legislation will be more difficult to repeal than local laws. In any case, the path taken must be well executed after careful strategic planning. The darkest possibility still remains that these laws continue to gain traction and Russia’s closet will be sealed even more tightly shut in the days and months ahead.

Brett Edward Stout is a writer and activist living in New York. He attended the University of Iowa after serving 5 years in the US Marines. He published his novel Sugar-baby Bridge in 2008. This article was originally published on advocate.com

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Pioneering Feminist Poet and Activist Adrienne Rich is No More

Rich

Veteran feminist poet and political activist Adrienne Rich has passed away at her home in Santa Cruz, United States

By Special Correspondent

Adrienne Rich, whose writings influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists is no more. Rich died on Tuesday at her home in the US from rheumatoid arthritis complications. She was 82.

Adrienne Rich, like so many, was profoundly changed by the 1960s. She is best known for her poems and essays that attacked what she considered to be the “myths” of the American Dream. Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and brutalities of war.

She is considered to be one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism.

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens”.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Rich was encouraged by her Jewish father to write poetry at an early age. She was married to economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. Rich came out of the closet after leaving her husband and met her lifelong partner, the writer Michelle Cliff, in 1976. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.

Rich has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman — a member of the second sex.”

Her political poems included “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” an indictment of the Vietnam War and the damage done and a cry for language itself: “The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

One of her best-known poems, “Living in Sin,” tells of a woman’s disappointment between what she imagined love would be — “no dust upon the furniture of love” — and the dull reality, the man “with a yawn/sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard/declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror/rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes”.

She won many top literary awards but when then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.” “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

She taught widely, including at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford.

Related reading here and here

 

Mumbai Queer Pride Parade 2012

pride parade 2012

By Team FI
Mumbai celebrated its 4th Queer Pride Parade today. Officially called the “Queer Azaadi Parade” , the event saw, over a thousand of people participating in a colorful procession. The parade started at the historic August Kranti Maidan and ended at Mumbai Chowpatty. Visit Gallery for visuals.