Global News Roundup: Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Israel, Kenya

This week: reports of mass rape  in Congo; poison gas at an Afghanistan girls’ school; desperate straits for Pakistani women who survived the floods; Indian women paid to delay pregnancy; Jerusalem’s gender-segregated trains; and a revolutionary constitution for Kenya.

CONGO: Last Monday, the mass rape of almost 200 women in Congo was reported. The rapes were carried out systematically by groups of 200 to 400 men between July 30 and Aug. 3, across 15 villages in the Eastern part of the country. Women were raped by two to six men at a time, often in front of their families. Rwandan and Congolese rebels are suspected of committing the attack. Moreover, the U.N. was reportedly aware of rebel activity in the Congolese villages at the time, with U.N. peacekeepers stationed only 16 km away from Luvungi, one of the sites of violence, and they even passed through affected villages twice in early August. It is unclear why these peacekeepers failed to protect the citizens.

AFGHANISTAN: On Wednesday, 46 students and nine teachers were treated in a Kabul hospital after an apparent poison gas attack on their girls’ school. Although some social conservatives attribute their symptoms to mass hysteria, their families and doctors believe that a poison-gas attack by those hostile to girls’ schooling is most likely, with the Taliban being the prime suspect. Mohammad Asif Nang, an official at the Afghanistan education ministry, agrees, blaming “the enemies of women’s education.” Taliban sympathisers banned girls’ education when they were in power between 1996 and 2001 and have continued to target women and girl’s schools.

PAKISTAN: As Rafia Zakaria reports on the Ms. blog, women are being disproportionately affected by the floods in Pakistan, which have now reached their fourth week. Nearly 85 percent of survivors in camps are women, as men stayed behind or got separated. They are struggling to survive with insufficient access to food and water, and the needs of pregnant and lactating women are not being met. Moreover, aid has been slow to arrive, a phenomenon that is being explained by “donor fatigue” and a general unwillingness to engage with Pakistan, a country that many think of as a terrorist haven. If you would like to donate to Pakistan’s flood victims, you may do so via credit card through Oxfam America’s secure site, or text FLOOD to 27722 (which will thus authorize $10 to be sent through the State Department Fund to help flood affectees).

INDIA: Next door to Pakistan, the Indian government is offering cash payments to young married couples in certain districts as an incentive to delay pregnancy for two years. With a population of 1.2 billion people, roughly half of whom are under 25, India may be facing severe pressure on its  resources as well as a lack of government services in the very near future. The government’s cash-for-waiting initiative mainly targets young rural women, many of whom undergo arranged marriages as teenagers and are expected to produce children in rapid succession immediately afterwards.

ISRAEL: Last week we mentioned that a much-needed women-only train service has been introduced in Indonesia. This week, The Guardian reported that a light railway under construction in Jerusalem may also feature gender-segregated carriages—but this time, it’s not to combat sexual harassment. CityPass, the company responsible, is considering bowing to the pressure exerted by the city’s ultra-orthodox community by declaring several of the train’s carriages “kosher” and separating men and women. Jerusalem city councillor Rachel Azariya was quick to condemn these plans, stating “Naveh [the chief executive of CityPass] was appointed to run a project—that doesn’t mean that he can tell people where to sit and where not to sit, nor does it mean that he knows anything about values and democracy.”

KENYA: On a happier note, values and democracy are being highly honored in Kenya. The country’s new constitution was ratified by President Mwai Kibaki this week after it was enthusiastically endorsed by 67 percent of voters on August 5. Some have described this as the most important political event in Kenya’s history since it gained independence from Britain in 1963. The document contains significant human-rights benefits alongside other long-awaited improvements. According to IPS News, certain provisions within the constitution are expected to “dramatically alter” the status of women in Kenya. Women’s health services should become much better, for example, abortions can be carried out in certain circumstances and women’s parliamentary representation will be guaranteed by a one-third quota.

Photo from set “Congo (DRC)” courtesy of Flickr user babasteve under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Corruption is the enemy of every nation and naturally Afghanistan also suffers from the menace. But the problem is with the modern Democratic system. You have to spend money to be elected and naturally a person would like to have returns on investment. We are working for the promotion of Afghanistan and highlighting the positive aspects of the society.

  2. Regarding the war in Afghanistan, please read:

    I suggest two simple measures of our resolve to do the right thing:

    First, if an Afghan female ever escapes to the sanctuary of a U.S. military camp and there asks for asylum, she should be granted permanent irrevocable asylum without question and without delay, and should then be evacuated to the U.S. without prior approval from the Afghanistan government. Once the female arrives in the U.S., she should be given a new identity, and should be safely sheltered, cared for, and educated in preparation for her new life as an American citizen.

    Second, every year on Good Friday, one U.S. combat veteran should be released from prison in every state in the nation with a presidential pardon and with sufficient resources to successfully reintegrate into American society. Yes, I mean let 50 prisoners who once served our nation honorably during combat go free — and do that every year!

    Both of my "simple measures of resolve to do the right thing" are simple. Yet I doubt we have the resolve to do either one of them.

    * * *

    Steven A. Sylwester

  3. Regarding the cash payments offerings made by the Indian government to young couples for delaying pregnancy, I would like to say that there is nothing sinister, unethical or undemocratic about it. There are evil social customs like child marriages and forced multiple pregnancies on young girls leading to population explosion and a severe constraint on Indian resources including medical facilities.
    I dont understand why you are advertising it in a bad light.

    But i would like to appreciate the efforts made by the Indian Government on all these accounts. To begin with the government is doing evrything to ban child marriages and instead encourage girls to attend schools and complete education especially in rural areas. The government is also proposing to make it a mandatory requirement for every medical professional in India to serve atleast two years in rural area without which he/she will not be awarded a medical degree. The reason for doing this is that the medical professionals do not want to serve in rural areas as a result of which it is very difficult to get doctors there.
    as for offering cash payments for delayed pregnancies is concerned, these are not mandatory but only incentives and do not infringe on any fundamental right or private space of a person.

    As an Indian i whole heartedly support the efforts taken by the government. Problems related to women in India emerge from a patriarchal system which takes ways all types of freedom from women which have otherwise been guaranteed by the constitution. I am a women and have gone through a lot of struggle to complete my education. The government has very good policies in favour of women but the real struggle is against the society but things are changing and the steps taken by goverment may be slow but are right

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