India’s ruling party promised cheap sanitary pads, workplace child care centers, and quotas to get more women into parliament on Monday, seeking to woo female voters ahead of a general election.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) devoted an entire chapter to what it called women’s empowerment in its election manifesto, published days before voting starts on Thursday.
About 432 million of India’s voters are female and they are a major focus for parties competing for power in the world’s largest democracy.
Women’s safety is a particular focus, with the main opposition Congress Party promising to set up a separate agency to investigate crimes against women amid concerns that they have been neglected in the past.
But women’s rights advocates accused both parties of tokenism, saying they had taken little concrete action while in power.
“The need of the hour is to focus on women as many more women are [now] talking about these issues,” Geeta Menon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But this is tokenism. What does it mean in the real sense,” said Menon, secretary of Stree Jagruti Samiti, a charity that promotes domestic workers’ rights.
The BJP said it would set up fast-track courts, promising “strict provisions” to ensure speedy prosecutions for rape and other offenses against women.
Six years after the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi sparked national outrage, safety remains a key concern among Indian women.
Government data show reported cases of crime against women rose by 83 percent between 2007 and 2016, when there were four cases of rape reported every hour.
Both major parties vowed to improve women’s participation in the workforce, with the BJP promising to increase the number of workplace daycare centers to free women up from child care.
Congress promised a series of measures including night shelters for female migrant workers, hostels, and safer transport services.
Both parties pledged to make it easier for women to access sanitary products — a key issue in a country where many cannot afford them. The BJP said it would expand an existing scheme offering pads for just one Indian rupee (1.5 U.S. cents), while Congress said it would install sanitary pad vending machines at public places, schools and colleges.
The two main parties committed to reserving a third of seats in the national parliament and state assemblies for women.
Women currently hold just 12 percent of seats in the lower and upper houses of parliament combined, compared to a global average of 23 percent, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global body.
A bill to introduce a quota was passed by the upper house in 2010, but has since stalled despite pledges by successive governments to enact the legislation. And only 668 of the 8,251 candidates in the last election were women.
“Both parties have had the chance to pass this bill. The BJP had [an] absolute majority [in the] past five years, so why do they have to promise it now,” said Kalpana Sharma, a journalist who writes on gender issues.
The BJP is widely expected to retain power after the election, though with a much smaller mandate, hit by concerns over a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices.
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Claire Cozens. Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Actress Felicity Huffman will likely do time in prison after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from $15,000 she paid to have her daughter’s SAT answers corrected. Huffman’s guilty plea comes after she was implicated in a wide-reaching college admissions scandal that saw 50 people — including Huffman and actress Lori Loughlin — charged with bribing their kids’ way into college.
“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions. I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and the educational community,” said Huffman in a statement delivered on Monday.
“I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly. My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her,” she continued.
Legal experts say that Huffman is likely to face 4 to 10 months in prison — a somewhat light sentence because of her lack of criminal history and the relatively small amount of money involved. Loughlin, on the other hand, allegedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 to have her daughters recruited onto the University of Southern California crew team. A dozen other parents, including Los Angeles marketing guru Jane Buckingham, have also reportedly agreed to plead guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy.
Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times.
Actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty on Monday to racketeering charges for coercing women into becoming sex slaves for Keith Raniere, the spiritual leader of the alleged New York cult known as NXIVM.
The former Smallville star reportedly wept while she confessed to obtaining compromising information and photographs of at least two women, a practice known within the group as obtaining “collateral.” At Rainere’s direction, she said she threatened to expose the women’s collateral if they didn’t perform “so-called acts of love” for the guru.
“I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people and I was wrong,” said Mack. In the months since her arrest in March, she added, she had reflected on her behavior and determined that “I can and will be a better person.” Mack, who allegedly served as Raniere’s second-in-command within NXIVM’s secret sex-slave sorority, DOS, has previously been accused of recruiting 25 women to serve as slaves for Raniere. Former members of DOS have also spoken out about being branded with Raniere’s initials as part of their initiation into the group.
Mack’s guilty plea will allow her to avoid a trial with Raniere, NXIVM insider and Raniere confidant Kathy Russell, and heiress Clare Bronfman, who has been accused of funding the cult with her family fortune. In her high-ranking role within the group, a prosecutorial indictment claimed, Bronfman aided Raniere in committing identity theft, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, and “recruiting and grooming sexual partners for Raniere.” All three have pleaded not guilty, and defense attorneys have argued that all of Raniere’s relationships with his alleged victims were consensual.
New allegations in the case have also emerged that one of the women exploited by Raniere was an underage teenager. Ahead of the scheduled beginning of the trial on April 29, potential jurors are reportedly being asked to fill out questionnaires that include questions about whether they “believe that people under the age of 17 should be able to consent to sex with adults.”
Read the full story at the Guardian.
Stacey Abrams is fighting to fix the census. The Trump administration’s efforts to manipulate the national headcount by adding a citizenship question have been struck down by three separate federal judges. That legal challenge will likely reach the Supreme Court later this month.
The stakes could hardly be higher. The results of the census are used to assign proportionate representation in Congress and up to $900 billion in federal funds. Abrams, who has long fought against conservative efforts to purge voter rolls of minority groups through her non-profit Fair Fight, launched a new non-profit, Fair Count, in March. The goal is to ensure that all Georgia residents are able to participate in the upcoming census.
Fair Count program director Jeanine Abrams McLean, an evolutionary biologist and population researcher who also happens to be Abrams’ sister, says the challenge will be a steep one.
Nearly 25 percent of the state’s population is categorized as hard to count, and one in five Georgia residents don’t have reliable access to the internet. More than half of all counties in the state will reportedly need additional support in order to accurately count their constituents.
“One of the things that Fair Count is planning to invest in is bringing the internet to those who can’t access it,” Abrams McLean told CityLab. “We’re talking about providing hot spots or internet census cafes — basically bringing the internet to people.”
Providing vital infrastructure that would give people access to a phone signal or an internet connection, noted Fair Count CEO Rebecca DeHart, would create lasting value for residents well beyond the 2020 census.
“Our goal isn’t to open up shop, make sure everyone is counted, and then shut the door,” DeHart explained. “If we’re going to be assisting in bringing the internet to a community, we want to make sure that community fulfills whatever other needs they have, too.”
Read the full story at CityLab.