Girlie feels like growling

Anne Gwish and Miss Errry

Zika Virus and Abortion

Writing online in Motherboard (22 February 2016) Leticia Naisa presents an excellent expose of the situation facing pregnant women in Brazil. Fuelled by the Zika virus and babies born with microcephaly, the abortion debate has reignited. Abortion is unlawful in Brazil and desperate women seek backyard abortions which may lead to horrible infections and deaths, and are expensive. Naisa writes that over a million illegal abortions are performed annually in Brazil and they are the fifth highest cause of maternal deaths.

Led by anthropologist Debora Diniz, a group of activists plans to ask the Federal Court of Brazil to change the law banning abortion: 'Our proposal for action is not only a discussion about abortion, but it is also for a social policy focused on these women and children that may now be born.' The group wants social protection and assistance for women who decide not to have an abortion particularly as the government has been negligent in not controlling the mosquitoes which carry the Zika virus.

Abortion Down Under

On the same day as Victoria's Safe Access law came into force, a 12-year-old Queensland girl had to appeal to the Rockhampton Supreme Court for the right to an abortion. According to Caroline De Costa and Heather Douglas (Crikey, 2 May 2016) the case highlights the urgent need for abortion law reform in Queensland. The girl, known as Q, was nine weeks pregnant. She and both her parents requested an abortion. In the previous month, she had been seen by a General Practitioner, two gynaecologists, a psychiatrist and a social worker. All agreed an abortion was required. Nonetheless, under Queensland's archaic laws pertaining to abortion, Q was forced to take her case to the Court. De Costa and Douglas say Queensland's abortion laws cause additional stress and expense and invoking such out of date laws may deter doctors from providing the services girls require. Queensland's first-ever abortion decriminalisation Bill has recently been tabled by independent MP, Rob Pyne. A parliamentary committee is taking public submissions up to 30 June 2016.

No Man's Right

In Pakistan, hardline Islamic extremists are protesting for the right to abuse and kill their wives and daughters. Gavin Fernando (News.com.au, 6 April 2016) writes that Pakistan 'has finally taken a progressive step forward on gender equality, but some men still believe the mistreatment of women is their divine, God-given right. The controversy began when the Pakistani government introduced the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill which effectively criminalises violence against women in Punjab — the country's most populous region'. The Bill was passed unanimously but some 'diehard extremists' tried to block it, arguing it would destroy the family system in Pakistan and 'add to the miseries of women'.

Fernando explains what the new law does in criminalising all forms of abuse by men against women 'whether it be domestic, emotional, psychological or done through stalking and cybercrime'. It also provides shelters where women can seek counselling, and financial and medical assistance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned violence against women, calling it 'totally against Islam' and saying that 'anyone who does this must be punished and punished very severely'.

Sexist and Ageist Judge

A 90-year-old woman has been ordered to sell a home which has been in the family since 1956 or find $1.1 million to pay out her son's ex-wife (Caroline Overington, The Australian 2 May 2016).

Mrs H told the Federal Circuit Court judge, Grant Riethmuller, she would rather die than sell the place that holds so many beautiful memories. Astonishingly the judge decided that was 'hyberbole in a form not uncommon for someone of such advanced years'.

A Bench of her Own

Congratulations to Urfa Masood who has been appointed to the Magistrates' Court of Victoria. Sri Lankan born, Her Honour is the first Muslim woman to be appointed to any court in Victoria.

She worked as a criminal law solicitor with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service in 2003, and was admitted to the Victorian Bar in November 2004. Reactions to the appointment include those who are hoping it will encourage the appointment of more Muslims from the considerable talent pool available which has been overlooked until now because of prejudice. Others lament the fact that media coverage of the appointment has focused on Urfa Masood as a Muslim rather than because of her legal expertise.

ANNE GWISH and MISS ERRRY are feminist lawyers.

(2016) 41(2) AltLJ 134
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