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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Twenty years later, Rwandan women come out on top

Rwanda's women, both in-country and abroad, have played a massive role in rebuilding their society. Here, one survivor and refugee recounts what the last 20 years have been like.

NEW YORK — Twenty years after a three-month genocide ravaged their country, Rwandan women have rebuilt — playing some of the most powerful roles in the reconstruction of the African nation.

Today, Rwanda is ranked first in the world — of 189 countries placed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union — for women’s representation in parliament. Holding down 51 of the 80 lower or single house parliamentary seats, women make up 63 percent of the governing body as of the country’s last elections in September of 2013.

This is a sharp incline, considering that in November of 1994, four months after the end of the genocide, women accounted for  just 17 percent of parliament. And it was a necessary step toward recovery, according to Ambassador Fatuma Ndangiza, deputy chief executive officer for the Rwanda Governance Board.


How poetry saved two young women's lives — one in Peru, one in Los Angeles

Two teenagers from opposite sides of the world began writing poetry to cope with difficult situations in their lives. That poetry brought them together.

NEW YORK — Poetry changed Senna’s life.

She wrote her first poem at age 10, she said, because “I could tell my notebook what I wanted to say. … I imagined that my book and my notebook told me, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’”

Unbenounced to her, halfway across the world, someone else was writing poetry for the same reason. 

“I started to write because the paper was the only person I could talk to,” said Marquesha Babers, 18, from Los Angeles. “Poetry has actually saved my life.”


Domestic violence victims of California's Indian diaspora find a sacred home

For 72 percent of domestic violence victims who immigrate for a spouse, abuse starts or increases after moving to a new country.

LOS ANGELES — Anu appeared in the classifieds in 1999. She’d finished her bachelor's degree and returned to her family in Kerala, a state in southern India. Anu’s parents placed an ad in the marriage column of Kerala’s state newspaper in search of a husband for their daughter. Not long after, her future husband called from Downey, California. He visited her and then proposed. Already once married and divorced, he wanted a small civil wedding, but Anu insisted they wed in a Hindu temple.

At 32, Anu—a pseudonym to protect her privacy—left India to live with her husband in Southern California. But she said he began abusing her verbally, and sometimes physically, after just a few weeks. Not long after, he took her passport from her.


Visa restrictions turn Indian women into 'involuntary housewives' in the United States

Wives of high-skill visa holders are highly restricted by current immigration rules.

LOS ANGELES — Sinduja Rangarajan belongs to a group of women who call themselves “involuntary housewives.”

The group is made up of Indian women who moved to the United States because their husbands landed great jobs, but who aren’t legally allowed to pursue their own career-related ambitions, because of what critics say are antiquated immigration rules.


For companies, investing in women can mean better health, education — and business

But experts say there is still work to be done to translate good theories into results.

Ishrat Hussain’s decision to enroll in a Nestle job-training program that would kick-start a career in the dairy industry set her neighbors in rural Pakistan talking. For one month, the 20-year-old learned how to increase milk production through proper livestock feeding and care before Nestle helped her launch a veterinary business to service many of the company’s local milk producers. Such dirty work, people in Hussain’s conservative village said, wasn’t “good” for a young woman. But she carried on, she later told Nestle, because “I knew it would help me and my family out of poverty.”

Hussain’s new business could accomplish much more than that. A growing body of research from leading global institutions, including UNICEF and the World Bank, suggests economically empowering women not only lifts families out of poverty and stimulates the economy, but also leads to better community education and health.

Fueled, in part, by such data, experts say women’s empowerment has emerged as one of the more popular areas for corporate philanthropic investments. The benefits of women’s economic participation have seized America’s heart and imagination to an extent that, “any consumer-facing brand would be foolish to ignore,” said Racheal Meiers, a gender expert at the corporate responsibility consultancy BSR.


In US, government hacking is '40 years ahead' of the language in privacy laws

And experts at a Harvard Berkman Center conference on the constitutional right to IT privacy say the key to dealing with this new reality, and protecting information, is reshaping legislation for new technologies.

CAMBRIDGE—By now it’s no secret: Governments are increasingly using their expanding capabilities to access people’s digital lives. Most information stored online, on digital devices or on cloud-based services can now be searched and manipulated in the name of national security.

But while hacking techniques advance, our legal definition of ‘privacy’ remains rooted in traditional, historical concepts that predate even the thought of our current digital age.

Unless the language in US legislation is adapted for new technologies, experts say people may remain largely defenseless in protecting their digital information.


In Venezuela, protests shed light on the extent of media censorship

Analysis: President Maduro had so far been both subtler and more brutal than Chávez, but studies say he enacted 93 new (not-so-subtle) restrictions between the start of protests in early February and March 20.

Venezuelans have never been less informed by traditional media than during the recent wave of protests that began in early February.

Newspapers don’t have access to the dollars they need for buying paper, because the government restricts the flux of dollars through a currency exchange control, so they have reduced their print editions virtually to newsletters.


Transgender people voted for the first time in El Salvador's history

With victory in tow, rights groups now push new president to end violence, corruption and discrimination.

SAN SALVADOR and NEW YORK—Rubi Navas is among the first transgender women in the history of El Salvador to be allowed to vote.

In previous years, Rubi and her peers were normally barred from voting, because their physical appearances don’t match the masculine birth names on their national identification cards. The few who were able to cast ballots were lucky; an unusually progressive election official had probably let them by.


In Kenya, major debate over government wages 'spiraling out of control'

In the nation’s public sector, there are huge disparities between the highest earners and the low. Now, Kenyans are fighting over who should take a cut.

NAIROBI, Kenya—Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ignited a nationwide debate over government employee wages this month when he surprised the country by announcing he would reduce his own salary by 20 percent.

The move signaled the beginning of a fierce debate over government wages, which are rising out of control: This year, public sector salaries are expected to eat up 54 percent of all tax revenue and equal 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to cabinet secretary in charge of the Treasury, Henry Rotich.

Kenya currently pays out some 543.7 billion shillings, or $6.4 billion, per year in public salaries and benefits. But recently that figure has been rising at the rate of 21 percent per year, “well above (Kenya’s) nominal GDP growth of about 14 percent and population growth rate of about 3 percent,” said Rotich.

Kenya employs some 700,000 civil servants, making the public sector a sizeable employer in the country. But as wages continue to take up a greater share of the national budget, many fear Kenya will lack the funds necessary to invest in infrastructure and other development projects that are critical to supporting the country’s economic growth.


To end hunger, global policy can't be 'business as usual'

Analysis: As the UN leader on the right to food steps down, he urges policymakers to think about sustainability. Will a new model for food security arise?

International food prices have fallen since 2008, when agricultural commodity prices doubled, pushing millions around the world from bare subsistence to hunger and raising the number of food insecure people to nearly one billion

Is the crisis over, then? Far from it, according to Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. As he told the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month, global policymakers have yet to address the structural causes of the crisis. In particular, they have failed to recognize that industrial agriculture is not the ultimate solution to global hunger — and that it is, instead, part of the problem.

In part, De Schutter drew his conclusions from his official mission to Malawi last year. As I toured the country last month, it was easy to see what he saw: the promise and allure of hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizer, as well as their limits.