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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

The year Indian women became visible

Analysis: One year after the Delhi rape, government reforms and daily coverage in the Indian press show how vast India’s rape crisis has become.
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Indian students take part in a candle-light vigil commemorating the December 2012 fatal gang-rape of an Indian woman, in New Delhi on December 16, 2013. The fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi shattered India's silence over sexual violence and emboldened victims to speak out, family members and campaigners said on the first anniversary of the attack. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

The brutality of last year’s gang-rape in Delhi was hard to ignore: a 23-year old physiology student was lured onto a public bus by six men who raped her so savagely, at times with a metal pole, that she died of her injuries five days later.

The news of the rape quickly captured the media’s attention; it tapped into a latent anger in India, spurring thousands to take to the streets to protest the treatment of women in their country. These events have highlighted the wider problem of rape in India, giving Indian women and their everyday struggles with sexual violence unprecedented visibility.

After the Delhi rape and the ensuing protests, the Indian government reacted quickly to toughen laws on sexual offenses. In March, it passed landmark legislation broadening the definition of rape, identifying stalking, acid attacks, sexual harassment and voyeurism as crimes and imposing harsher punishments on sexual offenses.

These reforms are important because they send the message that the Indian government considers sexual violence a serious violation, but their effectiveness will depend on how well they are implemented. So far, real change has been slow to come because India’s criminal justice system is too inefficient and overburdened to adequately enforce the new laws and procedures.

The public outcry surrounding the Delhi case spurred India’s top officials into action, resulting in a quick resolution to the case.


From Havana to Quito: A refugee's fight for LGBT rights in Cuba

For members of Cuba's LGBT community, two choices exist: remain in country and face possible persecution, or brave the lengthy, uncertain road to asylum.
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Members of Cuba's gay and lesbian community participate in a march against homophobia on May 11, 2013 in Havana. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

QUITO, Ecuador — In Cuba, on her 15th birthday, a girl gets a big coming out party. A boy might get cash to go out on the town.

For Alberto Garcia Martinez's 15th birthday, in 1974, his parents gave him money to go shopping in Havana's city center, where he was subsequently picked up in a police sweep targeting gays. For an effeminate teen who did not yet realize he was gay, the experience was both terrifying and confusing.

At his court appearance, his mother, a high-ranking Cuban bureaucrat, sat next to him, weeping out of shame.

We spoke in the office of Asylum Access Ecuador, a legal aid group helping refugees in Ecuador’s capital, where Garcia says he fled after being persecuted in Cuba for his advocacy on behalf of gay rights. His story offers a window into the ongoing struggles of the LGBT community that challenges Cuba’s official narrative of progress on the issue. It also highlights the reluctance of Ecuador’s own government to recognize the limits of political dissent there.

In pre-revolutionary Cuba, many gay men became involved in a prostitution industry that catered to military personnel and tourists from the US, although homosexuality at the time was criminalized. In the decades following the Revolution, gays and lesbians faced official persecution in Cuba, including the threat of forced labor and prison.

Critics argue that, while the revolution may have inherited the biases of the prevailing Roman Catholic cultural order, persecution of the LGBT community was really institutionalized under Castro, who associated homosexuality with bourgeois decadence and the American sex tourist-oriented prostitution industry of the Batista years.


Young Sikh basketballers find support at Los Angeles camp

Followers of Sikhism in the United States regularly experience harsh discrimination. One sports workshop aims to help young Sikhs rediscover pride in their identity.

LOS ANGELES — Prateek Singh could not wait to get out onto the court.

With his friends and family packed tightly into a small high school gym, the basketball-obsessed, turban-wearing Prateek took the floor to warm up for his first high school game. It was 1992 and Singh was a sophomore at Burbank High School, a public school in north Los Angeles.

But his first taste of high school sport was interrupted by a brand of bigotry all too familiar to adherents of the Sikh religion living in the United States, including the diasporic hub of Southern California.

“One of the referees came up to our coach and said, ‘That kid over there — with that thing on his head — can’t play in the game,’” said Prateek, now in his mid-30s. “I still hold that to heart.”

That “thing” was Prateek’s dastar, or turban, a staple amongst devout male Sikhs that represents piety and self-respect. For the rest of the season, Prateek had to present a letter from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) each game that allowed him to play in his turban.

Today Prateek is the treasurer of a top-tier mortgage company and a coach at the Singh Sensations Basketball Camp, a free, annual workshop for young Southern California Sikhs.


Kenya: Long days and low pay to grow Christmas flowers

Fair Trade and other certifications have led to better wages and benefits at some flower farms, but progress is inconsistent.
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Simbi Roses worker Mogambi Martin, 21, moves buckets full of roses from the greenhouses to the road where they will be picked up for packaging and sale in Europe. Martin, who began working on the farm in October, said this is his first wage-earning job in an part of central Kenya where formal employment is hard to come by. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

THIKA, Kenya — On a bright Tuesday morning in central Kenya, Mark Chirchir paces up and down rows of red and yellow roses. He watches over workers as they seed, plant and water the rose bushes, then clip the stems, strip them of their leaves and bunch them into bouquets for export to Europe and the United States. Production surges around Valentine’s Day and Christmas.

An environmental specialist at the mid-sized flower farm Simbi Roses, Chirchir, 37, remembers an era when workers would sustain injuries on the job — rashes or even eye burns from the spraying of chemical pesticides.

“In the past we used to use very toxic chemicals, but with time we are phasing those out and replacing them with soft chemicals and biological organisms to feed on pests,” he said. 

This is one of many improvements in worker protections here in Kenya’s blossoming horticulture sector. Kenya is the world’s fourth largest exporter of cut flowers, employing approximately 100,000 people whose wages directly support an estimated half-million more of their family members. 

But not all flower companies here have followed Simbi Roses' lead by paying workers higher wages, offering more benefits and taking steps to ensure worker safety. 


Talking Peace: This week in global diplomatic negotiations

What you need to know about the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Syria.
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Anti-government protesters use snow to reinforce a barricade blocking street access to Independence Square, known as the Euromaidan, on December 11, 2013 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The rage that has taken over the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the last week of protests and police suppressions is showing no signs of subsiding, despite the president’s reported efforts to come together for peace talks and a visit from a European Union official. The opposition has made clear that it will not negotiate until the president has met its conditions.


British leaders confront gay conversion therapy

Parliament is considering a ban on a practice some lawmakers are calling 'insane' and 'dangerous.'
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Mayor of London Boris Johnson takes part in an event organized by gay rights charity Stonewall on April 14. 2012 in London, England. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: This story is the second in a running series on the global debate about the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy — also known as reparative therapy and sexual reorientation therapy — which has been widely discredited by professional organizations but remains legal in most places. The stories will explore the intersections of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identities and mental health.


Debunking 5 misconceptions about female genital mutilation

No, FGM is not mentioned in the Quran. Yes, it is practiced outside of the Middle East.
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A mother holding her daughter's hand as she is circumcised in Bandung on February 10, 2013. The Indonesian government has come under fire after the UN General Assembly in November 2012 passed its first resolution condemning female genital mutilation (FGM) which more than 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

An article about female circumcision we posted Tuesday morning caused quite a stir among Redditors about the origin and ethics of female genital mutilation.


Russian activists work to maximize Olympic spotlight amid anti-gay violence

An international chorus of opposition to Russia's homosexual 'propaganda' law is making noise as the International Olympic Committee asks athletes to keep quiet.
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Members and supporters of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Intersex (LGBTI) community protest US economic trading with Russian companies outside the New York Stock Exchange on November 18, 2013 in New York City. Russia passed anti-LGBTI laws over the summer, including laws that effectively make any pro-gay statements or demonstrations illegal. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi still two months away, Russia's LGBTI advocacy community is already preparing for what happens when the Games are over.

"The experience of previous Olympic Games is not very optimistic in this regard," said Anastasia Smirnova, an activist representing a coalition of six Russian LGBT organizations at the United Nations on Tuesday. "As soon as attention is drawn away, ugly things start happening."


Female genital mutilation on the rise among Southeast Asian Muslims

More than 90 percent of women surveyed in Malaysia have been circumcised, and experts say increasing regional Islamic conservatism may be the reason why.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

Though World Health Organization reporting in 2011 indicated a decline in the practice of female genital mutilation — also known as female circumcision — experts say it is actually being practiced at much higher rates among Southeast Asian Muslims than previously thought.

The rise, they suggest, correlates directly to increasing conservative attitudes throughout the region.

On December 20, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously accepted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation, saying that the practice affects between 100 and 140 million women and girls worldwide. But nearly a full year later, it appears the ban has had little to no effect in the southernmost tip of Southeast Asia.

More from GlobalPost: Debunking 5 misconceptions about female genital mutilation

A 2012 study conducted by Dr. Maznah Dahlui, an associate professor in Malaysia’s University of Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, found that 93.9 percent of Muslim women surveyed had been circumcised. In Indonesia, a 2010 Population Council study of six provinces indicated that between 86 and 100 percent of teenage girls had undergone the procedure. In both studies, 90 percent of Muslim women surveyed expressed support for the practice, claiming that it fulfills a religious obligation and fosters purity in women by controlling their sexual desire.

“Many people are doing it because they believe it is wajib or mandatory in Islam - a belief that was reinforced by a 2009 fatwa by Malaysia’s Islamic council that made it religious obligation,” said Suri Kempe, an activist from Muslim feminist organization, Sisters in Islam. “Yet there is nothing in the Qur’an that states that female circumcision is required. The bottom line is that Islam is not supposed to cause harm.”


America's domestic workers, mostly female immigrants, 'undervalued and underpaid'

A new study finds that over 90 percent of the United States' domestic workers are women, and they're living in poverty.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

A new study of the United States’ domestic worker industry shows a disproportionate number of laborers are women —predominantly immigrants — many of whom have trouble "making ends meet." The report, published Nov. 26, documents the economic instability and lack of legal protections for domestic workers.

Here is a closer look: