Women's Day Marks Crisis of Poverty, Violence for Some

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Agence France Presse

Women's Day Marks Crisis of Poverty, Violence for Some

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An Iraqi woman walks at a garbage dump in the outskirts of Baghdad on March 8, 2009. (Photograph by: Getty Images, Getty Images)

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."

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