Safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind for women’s rights advocates and activists, least of all during 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Yet they are undoubtedly huge barriers to safety, equality and education for women and girls worldwide.
One of the most insidious impacts of lack of WASH is on girls’ educational access, success, and sense of safety. One in three people worldwide doesn’t have access to a decent toilet. In low-income countries it is estimated that nearly half of all schools don’t have safe drinking water, decent toilets or hygiene facilities on the premises.
Anonymous school children, all girls, in front of a blackboard at an unidentified school somewhere in Sierra Leone.
Education is a human right. It is both a right in itself and also a pathway to the enjoyment of other rights. Education is also an inalienable right for every child, and every child deserves the opportunity to receive one.
Countries around the world that strictly deny women’s access to abortion, including when such access could save their lives and health, also tend to have the highest rates of maternal mortality.
Most Latin American countries criminalize abortions, forcing girls and women to resort to unsafe, clandestine abortions. According to the World Health Organization, “Death due to complications of abortion is not uncommon, and is one of the principal causes of maternal mortality” and of an estimated 300,000 hospitalizations.
Andrei Bondarenko, a trade union activist, was ordered to undergo a forced psychiatric examination by a court in Vinnytsya, south west Ukraine. He is in hiding and fears that he will be subjected to psychiatric treatment because of his legitimate trade union and human rights activities. Andrei has never been treated or diagnosed with a mental illness, and has undergone three psychiatric examinations to prove his sanity. Nevertheless, a court granted the order for an examination after prosecutors argued that Andrei Bondarenko has an “excessive awareness of his own and others’ rights and [an] uncontrollable readiness to defend these rights in unrealistic ways.”
Through Andrei’s work as a trade unionist and a human rights activist, he has butted heads with powerful local leaders. Many of those leaders have a financial interest in repressing the very workers that Andrei campaigns for. He has not hesitated to expose the irresponsible and inadequate behavior of officials, and in August 2010 he registered an NGO called Movement for a Corruption Free Vinnytsya Region Prosecutor’s Office.
Since 2007, the Vinnytsya Prosecutor’s Office has pushed for a forced psychiatric examination of Andrei four times. Each time the request has been refused by the court because of his certification of mental health from various psychiatrists. However, on 29 October of this year, a judge ordered Andrei to submit to a psychiatric examination in a closed court session where Andrei was not present and his lawyer was kicked out of the courtroom.
Knowing one’s own rights and advocating on behalf of others is perhaps the sanest thing one could do, but Andrei could be forced to undergo possibly dangerous psychiatric treatment for doing exactly that.
The New York Timesreported yesterday that the formaldehyde-tainted trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to people who had lost their homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are getting a second life. This time around, the trailers are being used as housing for workers cleaning up the growing BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
Many families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were initially housed in 120,000 trailers issued by FEMA. As Amnesty reported in Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast, several residents soon began complaining about respiratory problems and burning eyes, noses and throats. The trailers were found to have had such high levels of formaldehyde that the government banned them from being used as long-term housing. But what was the government going to do with thousands of contaminated trailers that cost $130 million every year to maintain? Auction them off to the general public, of course.
The trailers—resold from $2,500 and up at auctions in 2006—were bought by individuals and companies, including contracting firms now involved in the oil spill cleanup. Although FEMA placed restrictions on the use of the trailers as housing and required that subsequent owners be informed that the trailers are not intended for housing, cleanup workers are reportedly living in the trailers unaware of the health risks they face. This disturbing news comes on the heels of reports that hundreds of complaints have already been filed by cleanup crew members with poison control centers after exposure not only to the oil, but to the fumes from the burning of the oil, and to the chemicals in the dispersants.
The individuals working tirelessly to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf have a right to housing that is safe and habitable, to protection from conditions that are hazardous to their health, and to complete and accurate information about the environment in which they are living and working. The oil spill already poses a threat to human rights particularly in those communities of the Gulf region that are still struggling to recover from severe hurricane damage, a threat that is now compounded by the resurrection of FEMA’s formaldehyde trailers. Surely the least we can do is protect the rights of those who are working to protect our own environmental human rights. A sign of how seriously the Government wants to avoid any more fallout from an already disastrous situation? By Thursday night Congress had already called for an official investigation into the use of the condemned trailers.
Israel is denying Palestinians their right to access to adequate water by using discriminatory and restrictive policies.
Donatella Rovera, senior researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories said,
“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse.”
The report, “Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water,” says Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT, while restricting Palestinian access to 20 per cent. Israel takes all the water from the Jordan River, the Palestinians get none.