Welcome to "Women Around the World: This Week," a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, covering May 14 to May 19, was compiled with support from Becky Allen and Alyssa Dougherty.
U.S. State Department expands global health restrictions
On Monday, the State Department released a guidance document on global health, dramatically expanding Reagan-era restrictions on U.S. aid related to reproductive health to affect all global health programs, including those focused reducing HIV-AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health. The guidance document – entitled "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance" – was issued under the auspices of a Presidential Memorandum promulgated at the start of the Trump administration. The guidance will, for the first time, extend restrictions beyond family planning programs to restrict funding to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies, explicitly including programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI). In total, the rule is estimated to restrict almost $9 billion in global health aid, in comparison to around $600 million affected under President George W. Bush. Experts expressed alarm that the new policy would undermine HIV-AIDS prevention efforts—including the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus—as well as programs to combat maternal mortality, among other priorities.
Ugandan peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation
This week, Ugandan peacekeepers tasked with finding warlord Joseph Kony in the Central African Republic (CAR) were accused of rape, sexual exploitation, and sexual slavery of young girls. According to UN records, more than thirty cases of allegations of abuse have been documented, and forty-four women and girls have been impregnated by members of the Ugandan forces. Both the Ugandan military and American Special Operations deny any knowledge of misconduct. Allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in CAR are not unique to the Ugandan military; years of abuse by peacekeepers from countries including France, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Burundi resulted in an independent investigation into the issue in 2015. The resulting report produced a set of recommendations for the UN, including the creation of a Coordination Unit to oversee the UN response to sexual violence, establishment of a trust fund to provide specialized services to victims, and new mechanisms to ensure prosecution.
Pakistan government cracks down on abuse of girls
The Pakistani government has arrested numerous tribal leaders practicing vani – an illegal practice in which a father marries off his daughters to repay debts or settle village feuds. Recent reports from human rights workers, police officers, and regional media cite an increase in cases in rural communities, despite efforts from lawmakers to resolve disputes through government-appointed mediators. Although only twenty-eight cases of vani have been officially reported since January 2016, hundreds of incidents are estimated to occur annually, and some victims of the practice are as young as one year old. Local critics of the government’s crackdown – typically conservative tribal elders – consider vani to be a long-held tradition that prevents bloodshed, rather than a criminal offense that violates girls' human rights.