Feb 05
Her eye on the news
'Weird people'

Japan’s deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, has issued a public apology for comments in which he suggested that women were “at fault” for the country’s declining population. Speaking at constituency meeting in Fukuoka, Aso said that he was tired of “the elderly” being blamed for economic problems posed by the country’s low birthrate and aging population.

“There are lots of weird people who say the elderly are at fault, but that’s incorrect,” said Aso. “Rather, those who aren’t giving birth to children are the problem.”

Japan’s population declined by 448,000 in 2018 as the country saw only 921,000 total births — the lowest such birth tally in the country’s recorded history. This disparity, combined with the country’s high life expectancy, has precipitated a demographic crisis in which people above age 60 make up a third of the country’s population — posing a serious economic challenge as a narrowing base of young people are forced to provide and care for their many older relatives. Concern about this problem has long been on Aso’s mind — in 2013, he went so far as to suggest older people “hurry up and die” to help resolve the issue.

In wake of criticism over his recent remarks, the 78-year-old politician suggested that his words had been misinterpreted but that he’d “like to withdraw my comments and will be careful with my words in the days ahead.”

In recent years, the Japanese government has been more inclined to shift blame for the demographic crisis from the elderly to unmarried women who they claim are being “selfish” by not having children. In 2015, former chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga declared that women need to “contribute to their country by feeling like they want to have more children.” Last year, Liberal Democratic Party politician Kanji Kato declared that women should have “at least three children,” and that unmarried women were a burden on society since “they’ll end up in a care home paid for with the taxes of other people’s children.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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‘Sent from Heaven’

A young British council worker who suffered psychosis due to a rare brain infection, has told reporters she awoke from a coma convinced that she was “the Messiah.”

“I remember lying on the floor next to my hospital bed and creating the sign of the cross,” Evin Moore, a 23-year-old resident of Gloucestershire told PA Real Life. “Then, when the junior doctor came to see me, I’d say, ‘Hello, I’m a messenger from God and I’ve been sent from heaven.'”

Moore said she began realizing something was wrong about three months before she was diagnosed, when she started to suffer paranoid delusions — including about her boyfriend’s fidelity. Then, after suffering through what appeared to be the flu, she went into a seizure. Doctors at the nearby hospital were forced to induce a medical coma to reduce the potential brain damage. When she awoke, she said, she didn’t remember who she was. She was allowed to leave the hospital after a week, but her delusions persisted and she was hospitalized again and diagnosed with psychosis caused by encephalitis — a dangerous condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy brain cells. A month and a half into her renewed stay at the hospital, her boyfriend told her that the changes were too much for him and asked to break up.

Now recovered, Moore says she no longer suffers from religious delusions, but that she does retain some of her confused memories from the illness — including from her time as “the Messiah,” and other strange fantasies.

“I became animalistic,” recalled Moore. “I had no knowledge of who I was anymore. The medics put me in a room on my own and I could see the birds flying outside and thought that I could, too. I was desperately trying to jump out of the window and fly and my dad using all his force to pull me back.”

February 22 is World Encephalitis Day, aiming to raise awareness globally about the little-known condition that affects millions of people across the world.  Approximately 250,000 patients were admitted to hospital in the U.S.A. with a diagnosis of encephalitis in the last decade, according to the charity Encephalitis Society. Half a million people are affected around the world annually, yet around 80 percent of people surveyed responded that they did not know anything about the condition.

Read the full story at Fox News. Read more about encephalitis here.


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Four women have been killed every day so far this year in Brazil, a rate the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called “alarming” on Monday.

The IACHR, the human rights arm of the 35-member Organization of American States, said more must be done to prevent and prosecute femicides in Brazil. Femicide is the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender.

“The Commission calls on the Brazilian State to implement comprehensive strategies to prevent these acts, fulfill its obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible, as well as to offer protection and comprehensive reparation to all victims,” the Washington-based IACHR said in a statement.

To stem femicide, Brazil passed a law in 2015 giving a legal definition of the crime, with tougher jail sentences of up to 30 years for convicted offenders.

Brazil, along with about 15 other countries in Latin America, has introduced laws against femicide in recent years.

The region has the world’s highest rates of femicide, according to the United Nations.

Commissioner Margarette May, IACHR president and rapporteur for women’s rights, said Brazil’s 2015 law on femicide was a crucial step in making murders of women more visible.

“However, it is now essential to strengthen prevention and protection measures,” May said in a statement.

“It is inadmissible that women with protection orders are murdered, that they do not have sufficient shelters or that their complaints are not properly taken into consideration.”

With a population of more than 200 million, Brazil has only 74 shelters for victims of domestic violence, according to Human Rights Watch.

In Brazil, those women killed are often shot dead in their own homes at the hands of current or former boyfriends who have a history of domestic abuse, the IACHR said.

“The Commission notes with concern that in most cases, the murdered women had previously denounced their aggressors, faced serious acts of domestic violence, or suffered previous attacks or attempted homicides,” the IACHR said.

Femicides are not an “isolated problem” but reflect “sexist values deeply rooted in Brazilian society,” the IACHR said.

Black women, those belonging to indigenous groups and the LGBT+ community, as well as women politicians and human rights activists are most at risk of being killed, the IACHR noted.

Last year, the murder of Marielle Franco, a rising political star and black councilwoman in Rio de Janiero, sparked public outcry and protests. Her killing remains unsolved.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office last month, renamed the existing Ministry of Human Rights to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, and lumped indigenous rights with women’s issues.

The new minister for the department, Damares Alves, a pro-life evangelical pastor, has pledged to tackle the country’s gender wage gap and support poor women.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Jason Fields, Thomson Reuters Foundation)


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'Ethnic cleansing'

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie made a visit on Monday to the world’s largest refugee settlement, home to nearly one million Rohingya Muslims, in a bid to put their plight back in the headlines ahead of a United Nations $920 million funding appeal.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-dominated Myanmar 18 months ago in the wake of an army crackdown described as “ethnic cleansing” by U.N. investigators, and they are now living in camps in neighboring Bangladesh with no sign of moving.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said Jolie, a special envoy for the organization, would spend three days visiting the camps to “assess” the needs of the Rohingya and the challenges that Bangladesh faced as a host country.

Jolie, 43, will also meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has garnered global praise for committing not to repatriate any Rohingya unwillingly, and the Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.

The UNHCR spokesman said Jolie’s talks would centre around “the need for safe and sustainable solutions to the plight of one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya.”

The spokesman said the visit came ahead of the launch of a new appeal seeking to raise $920 million to continue meeting the basic needs of the Rohingya. Last year U.N. agencies launched a $950.8 million appeal for the Rohingya influx.

While this was Jolie’s first visit to Bangladesh, she met Rohingya refugees in Myanmar in 2015 and India in 2006. The Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), a government organization created to deal with the Rohingya crisis, welcomed Jolie’s visit.

“[Jolie] will definitely have a message to take back from here. We hope that the humanitarian community understands the kind of crisis the Rohingya are in through her,” RRRC commissioner Abul Kalam.

In 2017, speaking before a Bangladesh delegation in Vancouver, Jolie reportedly “condemned the armed conflict in Myanmar” and spoke “about the sexual violence faced by almost each female Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh,” according to a statement from Bangladesh’s foreign ministry.

Watch Canadian doctor Fozia Alvi and columnist Nicholas Kristof share first-hand accounts of the harrowing conditions for Rohingya refugees in flight from Myanmar, at the 2018 Women in the World New York Summit:

(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith, Thomson Reuters Foundation.)

Read Women in the World’s full coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis here.


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A woman in Nepal has died while sequestering herself in a “menstruation hut,” marking yet another tragedy caused by a traditional practice that officials are struggling to stamp out.

According to the New York Times, Parbati Bogati, 21, had been burning wood and fire to keep warm in below-freezing temperatures. She died of suffocation, authorities said, and was found with her legs charred.

Year after year, Nepalese women — and also at times the children in their care — are killed while observing chhaupadi, which sees the women banished to isolated huts during their periods. Their deaths have resulted from wild animal attacks, exposure and the fires they build to stave off the cold. Just last month, a mother and her two young children suffocated to death from smoke exposure while sleeping in a hut.

The practice of menstrual seclusion stems from a belief that menstruating women are impure, and that family members or livestock might die if they go inside houses or temples. The Supreme Court of Nepal banned chhaupadi in 2005, and the government criminalized it last year. But the superstition remains prevalent in western parts of the country, which are among the poorest regions in Asia, and authorities find the ban difficult to enforce. In Bogati’s case, for instance, no one forced her to enter the menstruation hut; her husband was away in Malaysia, and she seems to have adhered to the practice of her own volition.

“She was alone in her house” said Lal Bahadur Dhami, deputy superintendent of the region’s police, according to the Times. “Tell us, who should be held responsible for this crime?”

But critics say that local officials aren’t doing enough to spread the word about the dangers of chhaupadi, for fear of losing political support in regions where the tradition remains rampant. As former lawmaker Rewati Raman Bhandari, who helped draft the bill criminalizing the menstrual huts, said last month, “Tradition is stronger than the law.”

Read more at the New York Times.


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Menstruation activists fight to end a stigmatizing — and sometimes life-threatening — taboo


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