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Women's Day Marks Crisis of Poverty, Violence for Some
NEW DELHI - Indian activists marked International Women's Day on Sunday by protesting over a spate of violent attacks launched on women by religious extremists in the name of "moral policing."
A collective formed by residents in Bangalore, in India's south, met in parks and open areas where young Hindu extremists have targeted women for wearing jeans, or being seen in public with men.
While women from Australia to Liberia gathered to hail achievements and to campaign on issues such as work equality, voting rights and abortion access, there was little to celebrate for the female population in many parts of the world.
Women are still forced into marriages or subjected to domestic violence in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, activists say.
In Iraq, according to aid agency Oxfam, they are trapped in a "silent emergency" of poverty.
Despite the billions of dollars poured into Iraq's reconstruction, many women - especially those widowed - are too poor to provide families with basic nourishment, health and education, according to a report by the agency, published to mark International Women's Day.
Yet Iraq's minister for women's rights, who resigned in despair over lack of support last month, has not been replaced.
"I was convinced that I could improve conditions for women, but I ran into a wall," Nawal al-Samarrai said.
Another female politician who has risen to the top in a male-dominated society, Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan member of parliament, also lamented her gender's plight.
She is campaigning against forced and child marriages - practices still common in Afghanistan - after her husband took a second spouse.
"It is very painful for me that my husband has another wife. I myself am a victim of male violence against women in this country. My husband married his second wife without even telling me," she said.
Under Afghanistan's sharia law, men are allowed up to four wives.
The strict Islamic law also curtails the rights of women in Pakistan's Swat valley, where the government last month signed an agreement with Taliban rebels who promised peace in exchange for the law.
Militants have destroyed 191 schools in the valley, 122 of them for girls, local officials say, and women are only allowed out if heavily veiled and accompanied by a male relative.
Muslim women around the world are facing a "growing crisis" as Islamic governments fail to honour commitments to end inequality and violence against them, a senior UN official warned.
Yakin Erturk, the UN's rapporteur on violence against women, told a weekend conference in Malaysia that women must demand their governments carry out pledges to grant them equal rights and ensure their safety.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "women and men united to end violence against women and girls."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week one woman in five around the globe has been a victim of rape or attempted rape, and that in some countries one woman in three has been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act.
At a conference of more than 400 high-profile women in Liberia on Saturday, female leaders pressed for equal rights and highlighted the role better political representation can play in reducing violence.
But Margot Wallstrom, vice-president of the European Commission told the conference that despite being better off than their peers in much of the world, women in the West struggle to have their voices heard in the corridors of power.
"Still today in governments and parliaments, less than a quarter of members are women," she said.
"One half of the population is seriously under-represented."