Sunday, September 13, 2009

G8 Women's Summit Opens in Rome

A Group of Eight conference on violence against women opened in Rome Wednesday with keynote speaker, Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna, calling it a crime against humanity.

This crime, she said, was sometimes condoned for tribal or religious reasons, or ''accepted as part of human nature''.

''We do not accept this indifference...we want the whole world to speak out, be outraged, and act,'' she told women's representatives from 25 countries, calling for ''new laws, mass movements,'' and action to raise public awareness.

''We must free our sisters from fear. If a woman is free, if she can love and marry whom she wants, if she studies, if she can work, if she can choose when and if to become a mother, to dress as she thinks, speak out and smile, the whole of society will bloom''. Some 140,000 women worldwide are the victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse and 50,000 are killed by close relatives each year, Carfagna observed.

In other opening remarks, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said ''chilling episodes of group violence against women of all ethnic groups, from the very young to the less young'' were happening worldwide, even in rich countries like Italy where rights are constitutionally protected''.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called for a United Nations ban on female genital cutting and said Italy would gather ''many countries'' to debate the issue on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month.

Until Thursday afternoon, women politicians from around the world including an Afghan delegation will meet with representatives from charities, activist groups and international organizations to discuss the causes of violence and look at ways to avert the threat to women.

Rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, workplace intimidation, abuse during armed conflict and violence against girls are all subjects under discussion. The event, which Italy has organized in its capacity as this year's Group of Eight president, will produce a final document to be submitted to a G8 foreign ministers conference in New York on September 25.

During the course of the conference, the Italian Equal Opportunities Ministry is encouraging politicians and supporters to wear white in order to raise awareness about the conference and issues under discussion. Over 20,000 bracelets emblazoned with the conference's slogan, ''Respect women, respect the world'', will also be distributed at various points around Milan, Naples and Rome.

But a number of activists attending the conference expressed doubts about the event's effectiveness. Opposition MP Marina Sereni, House deputy whip for the Democratic Party, said words were not enough.

''There is a massive need for funds to build structures and to set up prevention and welcome programmes, be they public or private initiatives,'' she said. The Afghan women's coordinator for the international ActionAid agency, Nasima Rahmani, praised the idea of the conference but said it needed more concrete support. ''The next step must be getting the [G8] world leaders to put women's rights on their agenda,'' she said. ''So far, no date has been set for confirming the resources that G8 countries and international organizations are ready to provide in order to fight violence against women''. And the president of a top Italian women's development charity, AIDOS, dismissed the entire initiative as ''futile''.

''Not a single concrete proposal has been put forward,'' said Daniela Colombo. ''You don't fight violence against women by distributing bracelets but through real projects and programs''.

She also implied the Italian government was being hypocritical, noting it had donated ''barely 500,000 euros to UN women's agencies this year ...compared to 50 million euros from Spain''.

Finally, Colombo questioned the Italian foreign minister's call for a UN ban on female genital cutting, suggesting it was a waste of resources that could be spent on more critical issues. The procedure should be ''a private matter for individuals'', she added. Speakers at the conference include UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro of Tanzania, the founder of an association for trafficking victims in Italy, Isoke Aikpitanyi, the US-based Iranian activist Manda Zand Ervins and Burkina Faso's First Lady, Chantal Compaore.

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