‘I Support Female Genital Mutilation' Internal Affairs Minister Designate.  [Liberia] Despite campaign against the practice of female genital mutilation, Liberia's Internal Affairs Minister designate Ambulai B. Johnson has disclosed that the practice is not bad and that he would not discourage it when he is confirmed by the Liberian Senate.  The Internal Affairs Minister designate, Thursday told the Senate Committee on Internal Affairs that female circumcision was the constitutional rights of people practicing it.  Responding to question posed to him by member of the committee, Mr. Johnson disclosed that he would be more concerned and worried over the issue if it were Liberians campaigning against it.   "Those expatriates who are campaigning against the practice of female genital mutilation are ignorant to the matter and need to be educated about the practice."
Female Genital Mutilation: Being Conducted on the Quiet with Young Girls Exposed to Infections and to HIV.   [Malwai] Research carried out by the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has revealed that in some parts of the southern region Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is very quietly happening.  Shrouded in secrecy, the practice continues to take place and exposes girls to HIV infection without any challenge because no one will talk about it.   Girls in some parts of Mulanje in the Southern Region have been undergoing FGM during initiation with the practice going almost unnoticed because of the secrecy surrounding the practice.  The practice, that involves the pinching off of the tip (cli toris) of the girl's private parts, is conducted during the ceremony by the Namkungwi (elderly woman counselor and instructor).  Using her fingernails to remove the organ, the part is pinch and severed by the namkungwi under conditions that are not sterile or hygienic.  Using a basin of water to wash her hands after each removal, she moves from one girl to the next, exposing the girls to different kinds of infections, including HIV.  Apart from the pain and risk of chronic infection that can lead to infertility, a girl can bled profusely and suffer server anemia.  The risk of HIV infection can be high during the time when the young girls are bleeding and wounds are exposed.  Some of the girls, although young, are already sexually active.  Working from one girl to the next in the way it is done could spread HIV infection should any one of them have contracted the virus.  The possibility of a young girls being HIV positive because of Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) could also lead to other initiates being exposed.   There is also the risk of infection being passed on to the girls if the namkungwi herself is infected with HIV and her bodily fluids which can carry the virus comes into contact with her hand and, inadvertently to the girls wounds during this time.
CDHR Engages Female Ward Committee Members.  [Sierra Leone] The Ward Committee members in the Tonkolili, Koinadugu and Bo districts and local councils last week converged on Bo town to chart the way forward for women participation in community development.  The intensive workshop, which was organized by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR) with funds from Westminster Foundation for Democracy, saw female ward committee members discuss pertinent issues related to women empowerment and the tenets of democracy.   "CDHR had organized similar workshops in Koinadugu and Tonkolili where we shared our experiences.  This one in Bo is third in the series of workshops and probably the final one," she said adding that lessons learnt in Bo were remarkable and quite different from what they had earlier learnt.  "For example we face series of problems with our male counterparts especially councilors. Unlike Bo where women are allowed to participate fully in council matters, in Koinadugu female ward committee members are not allowed to take part in any development activity in their communities," Kabah explained.
Former Deputy Leader Faces Rape Charges.  [ South Africa] Prosecutors in Johannesburg charged former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma with rape Tuesday, a development that analysts said would end the tattered political career of a man once considered the favorite to become president in 2009.  The charges resulted from an alleged attack last month by Zuma against a 31-year-old woman and family friend who was visiting his suburban Johannesburg home.  South African newspapers have reported that the woman is an HIV-positive AIDS activist and the daughter of prominent members of the African National Congress, Zuma's party.  Zuma, 63, already faces corruption charges and was dismissed from his government post in June.  He was released on $3,125 bail after a brief, closed hearing at a magistrate's court Tuesday morning and was scheduled to face trial Feb. 13 at Johannesburg High Court.  In a written statement, Zuma said, "I wish to state clearly that I am innocent of these charges." He added, "I regard these allegations against me very seriously as I abhor any form of abuse against women."  Zuma also announced that he was suspending his activity within the ANC.   But he maintained the title of deputy president of the party, and he did not withdraw his name from consideration for presidency of the party, a post to be selected in 2007, or for president of South Africa during elections scheduled for 2009.
Rape Crisis Protests to Demand New Rape Laws.  [South Africa] Over 100 activists mainly coming from Rape Crisis, Treatment Action Campaign and Molo Songololo took part in a picket against rape outside parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday 16 November.   "We are here to put pressure on government to pass this new rape legislation," explained Benita Moolman, training coordinator at Rape Crisis.   The new legislation will replace the current one, which was adopted in 1957 and still guiding rape cases today.  The new legislation will, among other things, define rape to also include boys and men.  According to the 1957 rape law, boys and men cannot be ‘raped’, only ‘indecently assaulted’, which means that punishment for perpetrators targeting boys and men is much milder than for rapists of women and girls.  Furthermore, Rape Crisis want the treatment program for rapists to be longer – increased from 3 to 5 years – and all sex offenders must go through the program, which is too limited at the moment.  Prince Iwatts from the United African Christian Leaders Congress held his placard high at the picket.  "A rapist is not a man! Real men don’t rape!"  He said sternly and added that he took part in the protest to pressure government to protect the victims of rape.
Women and Babies Jailed Over Protest.  [Zimbabwe] Nearly 200 Zimbabweans, including women with babies strapped to their backs, spent a night in prison for marching in an annual protest against economic hardships, their lawyer said on Tuesday.  Lawyer Perpetua Dube said members of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested while trying to march through the southern city of Bulawayo in a show of anger against a crisis many blame on President Robert Mugabe.  "They are mostly housewives, the people who have to cook the food that is now in short supply.  They are saying we need love, we need food," Dube told Reuters.  For the last three years police have scuttled WOZA attempts to hold a march on Valentine's Day to highlight the social and economic problems that the group says have mostly affected Zimbabwean women and their children.  The country's woes are highlighted by chronic shortages of basic food items, fuel, and foreign currency, soaring unemployment and the highest rate of inflation in the world.
Sanitary Boost Gives Women Dignity Back.  [Zimbabwe] Over 500 000 sanitary products have been collected to help desperate women in Zimbabwe forced to use newspapers and rags as substitutes.  Speaking to Sapa on Monday Thabitha Khumalo, human rights activist and founder of Dignity, Period!, said a pack of 10 sanitary pads in Zimbabwe cost about 1,5-million Zimbabwean dollars (about R100).  "The problem started in the late 1990s when a company manufacturing sanitary products relocated from Zimbabwe to South Africa.  "That's when we started feeling the pinch as prices of the remaining stock started escalating," Khumalo said.  "Then in 2001 and 2002 we started getting sanitary pads from the black market, but the hygienic standards were not good."  Khumalo said women in Zimbabwe were now subjected to domestic abuse as their spouses were mistaking infections acquired from using improper materials for sexually transmitted infections.