Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need With Little Aid

Posted in women's rights by allisonkilkenny on February 23, 2009

New York Times

Ahmed Hassan Sharmal, right, and his extended family of 30, including three war widows, are forced to share only two trailers. (Johan Spanner for The New York Times)

Ahmed Hassan Sharmal, right, and his extended family of 30, including three war widows, are forced to share only two trailers. (Johan Spanner for The New York Times)

BAGHDAD — Her twin sisters were killed trying to flee Falluja in 2004. Then her husband was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad just after she had become pregnant. When her own twins were 5 months old, one was killed by an explosive planted in a Baghdad market.

Now, Nacham Jaleel Kadim, 23, lives with her remaining daughter in a trailer park for war widows and their families in one of the poorest parts of Iraq’s capital.

That makes her one of the lucky ones. The trailer park, called Al Waffa, or “Park of the Grateful,” is among the few aid programs available for Iraq’s estimated 740,000 widows. It houses 750 people.

As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency.

Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors and mosques.

But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.

With the economy limping along, dependent almost entirely on the price of crude oil, and the government preoccupied with rebuilding and quelling sectarian violence, officials acknowledge that little is likely to change soon.

“We can’t help everybody,” said Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. “There are too many.”

Among Iraqi women aged 15 to 80, 1 in 11 are estimated to be widows, though officials admit that figure is hardly more than a guess, given the continuing violence and the displacement of millions of people. A United Nations report estimated that during the height of sectarian violence here in 2006, 90 to 100 women were widowed each day.

In large cities like Baghdad, the presence of war widows is difficult to ignore. Cloaked in black abayas, they wade through columns of cars idling at security checkpoints, asking for money or food. They wait in line outside mosques for free blankets, or sift through mounds of garbage piled along the street. Some live with their children in public parks or inside gas station restrooms.

Officials at social service agencies tell of widows coerced into “temporary marriages” — relationships sanctioned by Shiite tradition, often based on sex, which can last from an hour to years — to get financial help from government, religious or tribal leaders.

Other war widows have become prostitutes, and some have joined the insurgency in exchange for steady pay. The Iraqi military estimates that the number of widows who have become suicide bombers may be in the dozens.

In the past several weeks, even as the government has formed commissions to study the problem, it has begun a campaign to arrest beggars and the homeless, including war widows.

The issue has burst into public view in some unusual ways recently. When an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush in December, he shouted that he was doing so on behalf of the war’s widows and orphans. During the campaign for last month’s provincial elections, political rallies featured heart-rending songs of the suffering of widows.

Those sentiments, though, have yet to translate into political action.

Efforts to increase the government stipend for widows — currently about $50 a month and an additional $12 per child — have stalled. By comparison, the price of a five-liter container of gasoline, used for cars as well as home generators, is about $4.

Still, only about 120,000 widows — roughly one in six — receive any state aid, according to government figures. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds.

“It is blackmail,” said Samira al-Mosawi, chairwoman of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament. “We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”

The latest plan, proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee, a city agency, is to pay men to marry widows. “There is no serious effort by the national government to fix this problem, so I presented my own program,” he said.

When asked why the money should not go directly to the women, Mr. Shihan laughed.

“If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he said. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.”

Abdulalah F. Alafar, who runs the Maryam Establishment for Children charity in Baghdad, said he had become so frustrated by the lack of government support that he had begun to turn away war widows. He said he planned to close his organization entirely this month.

“If the situation progresses, we will be just like India,” he said. Questioning the government’s priorities, he added, “They are busy building public fountains when we don’t have water in the sink.”

The trailer park, in Baghdad’s Al Shaab district, opened four months ago. Its 150 identical aluminum trailers sit in neat rows amid a vast field of puddles, their white exteriors already stained tan by blowing sand.

A short walk down a muddy path from Ms. Kadim’s trailer, Ahmed Hassan Sharmal, 58, and his extended family of 30 are moving into trailer numbers 39 and 40. Three of his daughters-in-law are widows. Fatherless children seem to fill every bit of the trailers’ available space, playing and giggling while their mothers wonder where everyone will sleep.

Mr. Sharmal, a Shiite, lost three sons to sectarian violence in Diyala Province, which was a center of the Sunni insurgency, during a 10-month period in 2006.

One son, a doctor, was killed in a parking garage as he walked to his car. A second died after gunmen sprayed bullets across a field of soccer players. The third, a police officer, was shot in the back of the head while on his way to work.

Jinan, 25, had been married to the doctor. She has no money and little freedom. One of her brothers-in-law, an unemployed former police officer, said he planned to marry her, a match arranged by her in-laws. As he spoke, her 4-year-old son squirmed in her mother-in-law’s lap.

Soon, Jinan will no longer be a widow, but she refuses to look at the man chosen to be her husband. As she hangs her head as if to cry, the conversation continues without her.

Anwar J. Ali and Suadad al-Salhy contributed reporting.

The Invisible War

Posted in women's rights by allisonkilkenny on February 21, 2009

Note from Allison: Unfortunately, Herbert didn’t include a call to action in his otherwise wonderful column. I feel like people will be profoundly moved after reading his words, and they’ll want to help, or post links to where others can donate money to help Congolese women. Here are some charities that take donations for the Congolese victims:

Women for Women International

International Rescue Committee

V-Day

###

Bob Herbert

Perhaps we’ve heard so little about them because the crimes are so unspeakable, the evil so profound.

drc_civil_war_congoFor years now, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marauding bands of soldiers and militias have been waging a war of rape and destruction against women. This sustained campaign of mind-bending atrocities, mostly in the eastern part of the country, has been one of the strategic tools in a wider war that has continued, with varying degrees of intensity, since the 1990s. Millions have been killed.

Women and girls of all ages, from old women to very young children, have been gang-raped, and in many cases their sexual organs have been mutilated. The victims number in the hundreds of thousands. But the world, for the most part, has remained indifferent to their suffering.

“These women are raped in front of their husbands, in front of their children, in front of their parents, in front of their neighbors,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who runs a hospital in Bukavu that treats only the women who have sustained the most severe injuries.

In some cases, the rapists have violated their victims with loaded guns and pulled the triggers. Other women have had their organs deliberately destroyed by knives or other weapons. Sons have been forced at gunpoint to rape their mothers. Many women and girls have been abducted and sexually enslaved.

It is as if, in these particular instances, some window to what we think of as our common humanity had been closed. As The Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman, on assignment in Congo, wrote last fall:

“Many of these rapes have been marked by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place riven by civil war and haunted by warlords and drug-crazed child soldiers.”

Dr. Mukwege visited me at The Times last week. He was accompanied by the playwright, Eve Ensler, who has been passionate in her efforts to bring attention and assistance to the women of Congo.

I asked Dr. Mukwege to explain how it was in the strategic interest of the various armed groups to rape and otherwise brutalize women. He described some of the ramifications of such atrocities and the ways in which they undermine the entire society in which the women live.

“Once they have raped these women in such a public way,” he said, “sometimes maiming them, destroying their sexual organs — and with everybody watching — the women themselves are destroyed, or virtually destroyed. They are traumatized and humiliated on every level, physical and psychological. That’s the first consequence.

“The second consequence is that the whole family and the entire neighborhood is traumatized by what they have seen. The ordinary sense of family and community is lost after a man has been forced to watch his wife being raped, or parents are forced to watch the rape of their daughters, or children see their mothers raped.

“Neighbors are witnesses to this. Many flee. Families are dislocated. Social relationships are lost. There is no more social network, village network. Not only the victims have been destroyed; the whole village is destroyed.”

The devastating injuries treated by Dr. Mukwege at his hospital can all but stun the imagination. There is no need to detail them further here. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are commonplace. Often the ability to bear children is destroyed. In many other cases, women end up giving birth to the children of their rapists.

“The hospital can take care of 3,600 women every year,” said Dr. Mukwege. “That is our maximum capacity. We can’t take any more.”

He spoke of ambulance teams that would drive into villages and be besieged by rape victims desperately seeking treatment. “It is awful to see 300 women in need of help,” he said, “and you have to take 10 because the ambulance can only take 10.”

Ms. Ensler spoke of her encounter with an 8-year-old girl during one of her trips to Congo. The girl’s father had been killed in an attack, her mother was raped, and the girl herself was abducted. The child was raped by groups of soldiers over a two-week period and then abandoned.

The girl felt too ashamed to allow herself to be held, Ms. Ensler said, because her injuries had left her incontinent. After explaining how she persuaded the child to accept an embrace, to be hugged, Ms. Ensler said, “If we’re living in a century when an 8-year-old girl is incontinent because that many soldiers have raped her, then something has gone terribly wrong.”

Despite the presence in the region of the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world, no one has been able to stop the systematic rape of the Congolese women.

If these are not war crimes, crimes against humanity, then nothing is.

The Contraception Freakout

Posted in politics, Republicans, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

American Prospect

originalI’ve never bought the idea that opposition to abortion is solely about controlling women’s bodies. I’ve just known too many people who were genuinely sincere in their religious beliefs that abortion is wrong. But I’ve seen little evidence that conservatives’ hostility to contraception, to methods that prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions, from taking place, could be anything else. Steve Benen writes, via Elana Schor, that Republicans are opposed to money in the stimulus bill that would help state governments assist low-income women in getting contraception coverage:

What’s being proposed is an expansion in the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Of the 26 states that already have Medicaid waivers for family planning, eight are led by Republican governors (AL, FL, MS, SC, CA, LA, MN and RI — a ninth, MO, had a GOP governor until this past November). If this policy is truly a taxpayer gift to “the abortion industry,” as John Boehner and House Republicans claim, where are the GOP governors promising to end the program in their states? 

Additionally, the process of obtaining a waiver for Medicaid family-planning coverage is extremely cumbersome. A letter written by Wisconsin health regulators in 2007 noted that some states have had to wait for as long as two years before their request was approved. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that eliminating the waiver requirement would save states $400 million over 10 years.

Beyond the fact that this policy would save the government money in the long run (a finding from the same office that didn’t produce that report on the stimulus), are Republicans really arguing that unwanted pregnancies don’t result in a significant financial burden for families that are already struggling in an economy that’s likely to get worse? What’s the moral justification for denying them the choice of preventing pregnancies they don’t want? That having sex should be predicated on yearly income?

— A. Serwer
 


Desperate Children Flee Zimbabwe, for Lives Just as Bleak

Posted in human rights, poverty, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 24, 2009

New York Times

Williad Fire, 16, crossed illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe with eight friends after the deaths of his parents and an uncle. (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

Williad Fire, 16, crossed illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe with eight friends after the deaths of his parents and an uncle. (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

They bear the look of street urchins, their eyes on the prowl for useful scraps of garbage and their bodies covered in clothes no cleaner than a mechanic’s rags.

Near midnight, these Zimbabwean children can be found sleeping outside almost anywhere in this border city. A 12-year-old girl named No Matter Hungwe, hunched beneath the reassuring exterior light of the post office, said it was hunger that had pushed her across the border alone.

Her father is dead, and she wanted to help her mother and younger brothers by earning what she could here in South Africa — within certain limits, anyway. “Some men — men with cars — want to sleep with me,” she said, considering the upside against the down. “They have offered me 100 rand,” about $10.

With their nation in a prolonged sequence of crises, more unaccompanied children and women than ever are joining the rush of desperate Zimbabweans illegally crossing the frontier at the Limpopo River, according to the police, local officials and aid workers.

What they are escaping is a broken country where half the people are going hungry, most schools and hospitals are closed or dysfunctional and a cholera epidemic has taken a toll in the thousands. Yet they are arriving in a place where they are unwelcome and are resented as rivals for jobs. Last year, Zimbabweans were part of the quarry in a spate of mob attacks against foreigners.

For those in the know, crossing the border can be a simple chore, a bribe paid on one side and a second bribe on the other. But for the uninitiated and the destitute, the journey is as uncertain as the undercurrents of the Limpopo and the appetites of the crocodiles.

Where is it best to enter the river? Where are the holes in the barbed fences beyond? Where do the soldiers patrol? Perhaps the greatest risk is the gumagumas — the swindlers, thieves and rapists who stalk the vulnerable as they wander in the bush.

Williad Fire, 16, who arrived here on Jan. 4, is one of nine boys who came from Murimuka, a town in a mining region of central Zimbabwe. His story is a fairly typical one of serial catastrophe. He was living with an uncle after his parents died, but then the uncle died, too, stricken in November with an illness that Williad described with a mystified shrug: “He was vomiting blood.”

The boy was hungry, and scrounging in South Africa seemed to hold more promise than scrounging at home. To get train fare south, he sold his most valuable possession, a secondhand pair of Puma sneakers two sizes too big. He and eight friends then did odd jobs in Beitbridge, on the Zimbabwean side of the border, until they had saved about $35.

From there, Williad’s story takes another dismal turn. When the boys neared the river, they were confronted by the gumagumas, who pretended to be helpful, then pounced. “They hit me in the forehead with a rock,” Williad said. “I was carrying everyone’s money, so I was the one to beat.”

But they continued across the river, and here in Musina, the boys from Murimuka slept in the streets for a while, as many other youngsters do. Then they staked claim to a patch of sandy soil under the punishing sun at the Showgrounds, an open athletic field that is the designated repository for refugees. The population hovers around 2,000. Each day new people arrive, and each day familiar faces depart.

The South African government issues temporary asylum papers to about 250 of these refugees a day, entitling them to six months without worry of deportation. Unaccompanied minors are ineligible for this status, though, leaving them in an odd limbo, with no specified place in the bureaucratic shuffle.

Williad and his friends share a single blanket. They cook spaghetti over a fire fed with twigs and cardboard. Cans and buckets fetched from the trash are used as pots. Plastic bottles sliced open along one side serve as bowls.

Honest Mapiriyawo, a 13-year-old orphan, is the boys’ best beggar. Children compete at the supermarkets to carry groceries for shoppers in exchange for tips. Honest is tiny and winsome. People are drawn to his proper diction. “May I assist you?” is the phrasing he prefers.

Another of the Murimuka boys is Diallo Butau, 15. He said his father is dead and his mother had tuberculosis. He bears the guilt of abandoning her. “If I could get some medicine, some pills, I would go back and cure her,” he said.

Georgina Matsaung runs a shelter for children at the Uniting Reformed Church. “You’ll sometimes find boys sleeping in ditches and under bridges, but you won’t find the girls,” she said with a regretful shake of her head. “The girls get quickly taken by men who turn them into women.”

The Musina area has a population of about 57,000, with an additional 15,000 foreigners, overwhelmingly Zimbabweans, at any given time, according to Abram Luruli, the municipal manager. “Many children are scattered in the street,” he admitted, though it is plain enough for anyone to see. At night, they can be found sleeping beneath sheets of plastic along the roadside, a few of them with their minds meandering from ethers inhaled from a bottle of glue.

While the stories of the refugee children are troubling — with penury in Zimbabwe being exchanged for penury here — many of the more horrifying stories in the city involve the rapes of helpless women.

Leticia Shindi, a 39-year-old widow from the village of Madamombe, said she left Zimbabwe on Jan. 4, hoping to get piecework so she could send money back to her two daughters. She had never waded across a river before, and as she eyed the muddy flow, she seized up with fear.

Two young men were preparing to lead others across, and she gratefully joined them. The guides used poles to judge the hidden depths while the rest cautiously held hands as they moved through the shoulder-deep water.

Once across, the two men robbed them all. Because Ms. Shindi had insufficient money, payment was exacted otherwise. “Take off your underpants,” she recalled one gumaguma saying. “Today I am going to be your husband.”

Chengetai Mapfuri, 29, left the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, just after Christmas, carrying her 20-month-old son, Willington. Two knife-wielding gumagumas who raped her took turns, she said, one holding the toddler while the other held her.

Aldah Mawuka, 17, is also from the Harare suburbs. She said the first gumagumas she encountered on Jan. 7 only robbed her; it was the second ones who demanded she pull down her jeans. The rapist was very direct and impatient, she recalled: “If you don’t do it, I’ll kill you.”

South Africa’s national police force is exasperated by the crimes. Capt. Sydney Ringane, seated in his office in Musina, said the surrounding wooded terrain made it too hard to catch the gumagumas. Anyway, most victims do not file complaints. After all, they are here illegally, unless remaining in the Showgrounds. “Last week, I had 1,500 ready for deportation,” he said.

The captain stood up, walking over to a computer screen. “We keep photos of the refugees killed near the border.”

He punched the keyboard and clicked with the mouse. “This woman was raped before she was killed,” he said. “She wasn’t wearing underpants. She was identified for us by some street kids.”

Mention of the children seemed to feed his exasperation. “Street kids, more all the time,” he said. “They come in as if they are playing in a game.”

He asked, “What do we do about these kids?”

Striking the Brothels’ Bottom Line

Posted in women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 11, 2009

Nicholas Kristof

_248684_prostitutes300POIPET, Cambodia

In trying to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner.

My guide to that has been Sok Khorn, an amiable middle-aged woman who is a longtime brothel owner here in the wild Cambodian town of Poipet. I met her five years ago when she sold me a teenager, Srey Mom, for $203 and then blithely wrote me a receipt confirming that the girl was now my property. At another brothel nearby, I purchased another imprisoned teenager for $150.

Astonished that in the 21st century I had bought two human beings, I took them back to their villages and worked with a local aid group to help them start small businesses. I’ve remained close to them over the years, but the results were mixed.

The second girl did wonderfully, learning hairdressing and marrying a terrific man. But Srey Mom, it turned out, was addicted to methamphetamine and fled back to the brothel world to feed her craving.

I just returned again to Ms. Khorn’s brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.

For years, Ms. Khorn had been grumbling to me about the brothel — the low margins, the seven-day schedule, difficult customers, grasping policemen and scorn from the community. There was also a personal toll, for her husband had sex with the girls, infuriating her, and the couple eventually divorced bitterly. Ms. Khorn was also troubled that her youngest daughter, now 13, was growing up surrounded by drunken, leering men.

Then in the last year, the brothel business became even more challenging amid rising pressure from aid groups, journalists and the United States State Department’s trafficking office. The office issued reports shaming Cambodian leaders and threatened sanctions if they did nothing.

Many of the brothels are owned by the police, which complicates matters, but eventually authorities in Cambodia were pressured enough that they ordered a partial crackdown.

“They didn’t tell me to close down exactly,” said another Poipet brothel owner whom I’ve also interviewed periodically. “But they said I should keep the front door closed.”

About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the last couple of years. After Ms. Khorn’s brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it’s doing poorly and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead. “A store would be more profitable,” grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.

“The police come almost every day, asking for $5,” she said. “Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money. … Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn’t a brothel. I say that we’re all sisters.”

Ms. Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.

But brutality has its own drawbacks as a business model, particularly during a crackdown, pimps say. Brothels that imprison and torture girls have to pay for 24-hour guards, and they lose business because they can’t allow customers to take girls out to hotel rooms. Moreover, the Cambodian government has begun prosecuting the most abusive traffickers.

“One brothel owner here was actually arrested,” complained another owner in Poipet, indignantly. “After that, I was so scared, I closed the brothel for a while.”

To be sure, a new brothel district has opened up on the edge of Poipet — in the guise of “karaoke lounges” employing teenage girls. One of the Mama-sans there offered that while she didn’t have a young virgin girl in stock, she could get me one.

Virgin sales are the profit center for many brothels in Asia (partly because they stitch girls up and resell them as virgins several times over), and thus these sales are their economic vulnerability as well. If we want to undermine sex trafficking, the best way is to pressure governments like Cambodia’s to organize sting operations and arrest both buyers and sellers of virgin girls. Cambodia has shown it is willing to take at least some action, and that is one that would strike at the heart of the business model.

Sexual slavery is like any other business: raise the operating costs, create a risk of jail, and the human traffickers will quite sensibly shift to some other trade. If the Obama administration treats 21st-century slavery as a top priority, we can push many of the traffickers to quit in disgust and switch to stealing motorcycles instead.

Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases

Posted in military, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

New York Times

Bae at 29. Now 80, she lives on welfare and uses an oxygen machine. (Jean Chung for The International Herald Tribune)

Bae at 29. Now 80, she lives on welfare and uses an oxygen machine. (Jean Chung for The International Herald Tribune)

South Korea has railed for years against the Japanese government’s waffling over how much responsibility it bears for one of the ugliest chapters in its wartime history: the enslavement of women from Korea and elsewhere to work in brothels serving Japan’s imperial army.

Now, a group of former prostitutes in South Korea have accused some of their country’s former leaders of a different kind of abuse: encouraging them to have sex with the American soldiers who protected South Korea from North Korea. They also accuse past South Korean governments, and the United States military, of taking a direct hand in the sex trade from the 1960s through the 1980s, working together to build a testing and treatment system to ensure that prostitutes were disease-free for American troops.

While the women have made no claims that they were coerced into prostitution by South Korean or American officials during those years, they accuse successive Korean governments of hypocrisy in calling for reparations from Japan while refusing to take a hard look at South Korea’s own history.

“Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military,” one of the women, Kim Ae-ran, 58, said in a recent interview.

Scholars on the issue say that the South Korean government was motivated in part by fears that the American military would leave, and that it wanted to do whatever it could to prevent that.

But the women suggest that the government also viewed them as commodities to be used to shore up the country’s struggling economy in the decades after the Korean War. They say the government not only sponsored classes for them in basic English and etiquette — meant to help them sell themselves more effectively — but also sent bureaucrats to praise them for earning dollars when South Korea was desperate for foreign currency.

“They urged us to sell as much as possible to the G.I.’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots,’ ” Ms. Kim said.

The United States military, the scholars say, became involved in attempts to regulate the trade in so-called camp towns surrounding the bases because of worries about sexually transmitted diseases.

In one of the most incendiary claims, some women say that the American military police and South Korean officials regularly raided clubs from the 1960s through the 1980s looking for women who were thought to be spreading the diseases. They picked out the women using the number tags the women say the brothels forced them to wear so the soldiers could more easily identify their sex partners.

The Korean police would then detain the prostitutes who were thought to be ill, the women said, locking them up under guard in so-called monkey houses, where the windows had bars. There, the prostitutes were forced to take medications until they were well.

The women, who are seeking compensation and an apology, have compared themselves to the so-called comfort women who have won widespread public sympathy for being forced into prostitution by the Japanese during World War II. Whether prostitutes by choice, need or coercion, the women say, they were all victims of government policies.

“If the question is, was there active government complicity, support of such camp town prostitution, yes, by both the Korean governments and the U.S. military,” said Katharine H. S. Moon, a scholar who wrote about the women in her 1997 book, “Sex Among Allies.”

The South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality, which handles women’s issues, declined to comment on the former prostitutes’ accusations. So did the American military command in Seoul, which responded with a general statement saying that the military “does not condone or support the illegal activities of human trafficking and prostitution.”

The New York Times interviewed eight women who worked in brothels near American bases, and it reviewed South Korean and American documents. The documents do provide some support for many of the women’s claims, though most are snapshots in time. The women maintain that the practices occurred over decades.

 

In some sense, the women’s allegations are not surprising. It has been clear for decades that South Korea and the United States military tolerated prostitution near bases, even though selling sex is illegal in South Korea. Bars and brothels have long lined the streets of the neighborhoods surrounding American bases in South Korea, as is the case in the areas around military bases around the world.

But the women say few of their fellow citizens know how deeply their government was involved in the trade in the camp towns.

The women received some support for their claims in 2006, from a former government official. In a television interview, the official, Kim Kee-joe, who was identified as having been a high-level liaison to the United States military, said, “Although we did not actively urge them to engage in prostitution, we, especially those from the county offices, did often tell them that it was not something bad for the country either.”

Transcripts of parliamentary hearings also suggest that at least some South Korean leaders viewed prostitution as something of a necessity. In one exchange in 1960, two lawmakers urged the government to train a supply of prostitutes to meet what one called the “natural needs” of allied soldiers and prevent them from spending their dollars in Japan instead of South Korea. The deputy home minister at the time, Lee Sung-woo, replied that the government had made some improvements in the “supply of prostitutes” and the “recreational system” for American troops.

Both Mr. Kim and Ms. Moon back the women’s assertions that the control of venereal disease was a driving factor for the two governments. They say the governments’ coordination became especially pronounced as Korean fears about an American pullout increased after President Richard M. Nixon announced plans in 1969 to reduce the number of American troops in South Korea.

“The idea was to create an environment where the guests were treated well in the camp towns to discourage them from leaving,” Mr. Kim said in the television interview.

Ms. Moon, a Wellesley College professor, said that the minutes of meetings between American military officials and Korean bureaucrats in the 1970s showed the lengths the two countries went to prevent epidemics. The minutes included recommendations to “isolate” women who were sick and ensure that they received treatment, government efforts to register prostitutes and require them to carry medical certification and a 1976 report about joint raids to apprehend prostitutes who were unregistered or failed to attend medical checkups.

These days, camp towns still exist, but as the Korean economy took off, women from the Philippines began replacing them.

Many former prostitutes live in the camp towns, isolated from mainstream society, which shuns them. Most are poor. Some are haunted by the memories of the mixed-race children they put up for adoption overseas.

Jeon, 71, who agreed to talk only if she was identified by just her surname, said she was an 18-year-old war orphan in 1956 when hunger drove her to Dongduchon, a camp town near the border with North Korea. She had a son in the 1960s, but she became convinced that he would have a better future in the United States and gave him up for adoption when he was 13.

About 10 years ago, her son, now an American soldier, returned to visit. She told him to forget her.

“I failed as a mother,” said Ms. Jeon, who lives on welfare checks and the little cash she earns selling items she picks from other people’s trash. “I have no right to depend on him now.”

“The more I think about my life, the more I think women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans,” she said. “Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.”

California’s Propositions

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 29, 2008

I’m posting this here for my California readers. Apparently, there’s some deception going on as indicated in the email I received below. Hope this clears up any confusion. Please forward it to California-based friends.

On a side note, I’m sure you’re familiar with Prop 4 here in california…I keep seeing signs that say “stop child predators”, vote yes on 4. I find it so horrible how the religious movement is completely misleading their followers. Also, if churches want to get involved with politics and hand out political signs, they should loose their tax rights…maybe I’m crazy, but it seems fucked up.

Proposition 1A   

What it does: Authorizes $9.95 billion in bonds to build an electric train to get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over 2 1/2 hours.

Back story: This is the governor’s and the Legislature’s baby, years in the making. They pulled similar measures off ballots in 2004 and 2006 because the stars didn’t align for a win. An earlier version (Proposition 1) also got pulled from the 2008 ballot, this time for a revise (that’s why it’s now designated 1A). Lawmakers were arguing aboutamong other things, whether the train would run through Altamont Pass (the site of a deadly 1969 Rolling Stones concert) or Pacheco Pass (site of the hokey but fun tourist stop Casa de Fruta). They went with Pacheco.   

Proposition 2

What it does: Bars use of pens and cages that don’t give farm animals room to turn around, stretch, stand or lie down.

Back story: This is all about chickens. The language on veal calves and sows tugs on voters’ heartstrings, but it’s moot; California produces virtually no commercial pork or veal. Chief opponents — egg producers — argue that without tight cages, their chickens will eat each other and their own droppings. No matter what, the caged chickens are doomed: After a short life laying eggs, they are too spent even for the soup pot.

Proposition 3

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand children’s hospitals in California.

Back story: With interest, the measure would cost about $2 billion over 30 years. Backers are (no surprise) the state’s children’s hospitals. California voters authorized $750 million in bonds for this cause in 2004; just under half of those bonds have yet to be sold. But how can voters say no to sick kids?

Proposition 4

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to require a physician to notify a minor patient’s parent or other adult family member 48 hours before performing an abortion.

Back story: Déjà vu. Californians defeated parental consent or notification for abortion measures in 2005 and 2006, but had last year off. (There is no limit on how often failed ballot measures may be resubmitted to voters.) Proposition 4 adds the “other adult family member” alternative to answer critics of earlier propositions. It also would require a girl who chooses that alternative to allege parental abuse. The Legislature passed a parental consent law in 1987, but it never took effect. The state Supreme Court upheld it in 1996, but on rehearing — after court membership changed — struck it down. Which is why Proposition 4 is a constitutional amendment.

Proposition 5

What it does: Mandates probation with treatment instead of jail or prison for many drug crimes and diminishes sentences and shortens parole for many nonviolent property crimes when drugs are involved.

Back story: This measure pits two well-known liberals against each other — activist and actor Martin Sheen and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Sheen, whose son Charlie had high-profile drug problems in the 1990s, leads the opposition because, he has said, “successful rehabilitation requires accountability.” Soros and former Soros executive Jacob Goldfied are Proposition 5’s top financial backers. If voters pass Proposition 5 and Proposition 6, they would simultaneously loosen and stiffen penalties for drug offenses.

Proposition 6

What it does: Commits close to 1% of the state’s annual general fund budget for anti-crime programs. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates costs of $500 million for additional prison space.

Back story: This is the Son of Three Strikes and Jessica’s Law. It’s sponsored in part by Mike Reynolds, author of the 1994 Three Strikes Initiative, and state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), whose anti-sex-offender Proposition 83 — Jessica’s Law — won 71% of the vote in 2006. The top donor is Henry T. Nicholas III, who gave $1 million (see Proposition 9).

Proposition 7

What it does: Increases the clean-generation requirement on investor-owned utilities and extends them to municipal companies, like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Back story: The primary backer (with a donation of $3 million) is Peter Sperling, son of University of Phoenix founder, cat-cloner and octogenarian liberal proposition-meister John Sperling (who in 2000 gave California Proposition 36, mandating treatment instead of prison for drug convictions, a failed initiative to soften three strikes, and several others besides). Caveat for green voters: This measure is intended to advance green power and improve the environment but is opposed by a host of high-profile environmental groups, who say it will undermine many green-power efforts.

Proposition 8

What it does: Outlaws same-sex marriage by adding the following words to the state Constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Back story: More déjà vu. Californians expressly outlawed same-sex marriage in a voter initiative in 2000. But that was mere law, which the state Supreme Court struck down earlier this year in a case that found that the right to marry is fundamental — the state can’t deny marriage to a couple based on their sex. Proposition 8 opponents tried (but failed) to get the court to also strike the measure from the ballot on the argument that voters cannot strip citizens of their state constitutional rights. If the initiative passes, they will be back.

Proposition 9

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to give enforceable rights to the families of crime victims.

Back story: This is the centerpiece of a law-and-order campaign by billionaire businessman and engineer Henry T. Nicholas III and is called “Marsy’s Law” in memory of his murdered sister. It qualified for the ballot on June 6 — the day after indictments were unsealed against Nicholas for a variety of drug charges and for allegedly violating securities laws. Nicholas gave $4.8 million to the campaign but distanced himself after the charges against him were reported. Among other things, Proposition 9 would limit the number of chances for parole for many convicted criminals.

Proposition 10

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $5 billion in bonds ($9.8 billion when interest is included) to provide rebates to buyers of natural gas and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Back story: Uncle T. Boone Pickens wants you: The Texas oilman is underwriting Proposition 10, which will likely drum up buyers for cars that run on natural gas. His company, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., produces and markets … natural gas.

Proposition 11

What it does: Strips the Legislature of its power to draw the lines of Assembly and Senate districts (every 10 years, after new census figures come out) and turns the job over to a 14-member citizens’ commission.

Back story: Do Californians care that most of the time district boundaries are drawn to consolidate incumbent power? If they do, why did they reject reform in 2005 and eight times before that? In a political sop to Nancy Pelosi, this measure leaves out congressional districts — a fact that has alienated some Republicans. Minority advocates are alienated because there is no guarantee that anyone on the commission will speak for their constituents.

Proposition 12

What it does: Authorizes a bond to extend a state program allowing veterans access to low-interest mortgages.

Back story: The 27th time’s a charm: Voters have already approved bonds for Cal-Vet mortgages 26 times since the program was established for World War I veterans in 1921. Opposition is hard to come by — the “con” ballot argument was written by Gary B. Wesley, a Mountain View lawyer who for many years has taken for himself the task of writing against measures when no one else will. The current Cal-Vet program only covers veterans who served before 1977.

Robert Greene is a member of The Times’ editorial board. See Vote-o-rama (latimes.com/elections) for an opinionated guide to the propositions and everything else on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Protect Roe in South Dakota

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 29, 2008

From ACLU:

Tomorrow evening we are hosting phonebanking in our New York City office to help the cause in South Dakota by encouraging voters to vote against a state abortion ban. 

Please Join Us!

When: Thursday, Oct. 30, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: 125 Broad St., 19th Floor
New York, NY
RSVP to Ariel at asamach@nyclu.org or 212.607.3339

The votes cast on November 4th will have an enormous impact on reproductive rights in the 21st century. While most of the country and the world will be watching what states go red, and what states go blue, many of our colleagues and allies will also be watching South Dakota, as the state’s residents vote again on a near complete ban on all abortions.

A sweeping ban, like the one on the ballot, would be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and would be challenged — possibly all the way to the Supreme Court. As we saw with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the federal ban on a certain method of performing abortions, we cannot rely on this court to protect women’s right to make fundamental decisions for ourselves and our families. We cannot sit by as the future of reproductive freedom nationwide is threatened in South Dakota.

We hope to see you tomorrow.

Background: New York Times

 

WASHINGTON — After a group of doctors challenged a South Dakota law forcing them to inform women that abortions “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being” — using exactly that language — President Bush’s appointees to the federal appeals courts took control.

A federal trial judge, stating that whether a fetus is human life is a matter of debate, had blocked the state from enforcing the 2005 law as a likely violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights. And an appeals court panel had upheld the injunction.

But this past June, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted 7 to 4 to overrule those decisions and allow the statute to take immediate effect. The majority argued that it is objectively true that human life begins at conception, and that the state can force doctors to say so.

Mr. Bush had appointed six of the seven judges in the conservative majority. His administration has transformed the nation’s federal appeals courts, advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan.

Palin: ‘I Don’t Know’ If Abortion Clinic Bombers Are Terrorists

Posted in abortion, politics, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on October 25, 2008

This is a wink and a nod to her radical base. Door’s open, boys. Go kill them wicked doctors. Meanwhile, John McCain looks like he wants to crawl under his seat and die.

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