Wed, 09 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Violence and discrimination mark Women's Day in Asia

Karl Malakunas, Agence France-Presse/Singapore

Asia marked International Women's Day on Tuesday with rallies and protests against a wide range of gender inequalities and acts of violence, although there were some celebrations for hard-won victories.

In Bangladesh, where hundreds of women continue to be disfigured each year from acid attacks, victims were due to converge on the capital of Dhaka to call for greater government efforts to stop the brutal practice.

Nearly 2,000 women in Bangladesh have had acid thrown on them since 1999, according to the Acid Survivors' Foundation, with their attackers most often men who have had their advances rejected.

"On Women's Day, our slogan is law, justice and good governance will help fight acid attacks," one of the rally's organizers, Rahman, said.

The United Nations-mandated Women's Day was being marked in Pakistan by a similar battle to end "honor crimes".

In the central city of Multan, high-profile gang rape victim Mukhtiar Mai led a rally of several hundred women on the eve of Women's Day, less than a week after a court controversially acquitted her alleged attackers.

"I shall continue my struggle for the rights of women 'til the last breath of my life and I will not bow before tyranny, exploitation, tradition or customs," Mai told the march.

The 30-year-old was raped for more than an hour in a village in Punjab province in 2002 as punishment for her brother's alleged affair with a woman of a powerful rival clan.

A Pakistani court last week freed five men earlier sentenced to death for the attack, while a sixth man's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

In the Philippines, the decades-old campaign for justice by women who were forced into sexual slavery at the hands of Japanese World War II occupation forces, was again a rallying cry on Women's Day.

Twenty elderly women who say they were sex slaves staged a protest at the Japanese embassy because they were "still bereft of justice and recognition by the Japanese and Philippine governments," women's group Kaisa Ka said.

In China, women's rights were one of the "hot topics" among lawmakers gathered in Beijing for the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

The All-China Women's Federation is campaigning at the NPC for a law to protect women in the workplace, following a recent survey in Beijing that showed 86 percent of women had been victims of sexual harassment.

At a forum in Bangkok to mark International Women's Day, the United Nations and rights groups warned last December's tsunami disaster had led to wide-ranging follow-up dangers for female survivors.

"The Indian Ocean tsunami... has produced some very gender- specific aftershocks, ranging from women giving birth in unsafe conditions to increased cases of rape and abuse," Cholpon Akmatova, from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, told the forum.

"Women, marginalized and disempowered under normal circumstances are more at risk because of their socio-economic status, barriers to choice and lack of access to resources."

However it was not all bleak news for Asia's women on Tuesday.

In South Korea, women's groups staged plays, dances and exhibitions to mark a victory for gender equality -- the abolition of a century-old family registration.

The National Assembly last week voted to abolish by 2008 the "hojuje" system under which children take the family name of their natural father.

Women's groups say the system adds to the stigma of divorce and discriminated against children of divorced women.

Events were also decidedly more upbeat in the modern city- state of Singapore, where the Singapore Council of Women's Organizations was due to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner on Tuesday night.