News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Zeba Raman is a 28-year-old Pakistani sex worker. Born into the profession in Karachi’s red light district of Napier Road, she plies her trade all over the city.

nadia
I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex
Nadia, sex worker

She is celebrating the launch of an initiative to promote health awareness among sex workers.

“We are now revealed to society,” says Ms Rahman.

But prostitution remains illegal and anathema to many in Muslim-majority Pakistan. It is an ever-present fact of life, but never really acknowledged.

The last two decades, given the increasing Islamisation of Pakistani society, have further reinforced stereotypes about such women.

But the profession has only grown.

Karachi alone has at least 100,000 female sex workers, according to data gathered by local welfare organisations.

Lahore has 75,000 sex workers while the military garrison town of Rawalpindi has at least 25,000.

‘Spirit of openness’

Pakistan’s first workshop on health awareness among sex workers has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the profession.

“Earlier we were doing our jobs secretly, but now we can raise our voice for our rights,” Ms Raman says.

ghulam murtaza
It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested
Dr Ghulam Murtaza

The three-day event was recently held in Karachi by Gender & Reproductive Health Forum (GRHF) – a local social welfare organisation – in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

“I am very happy that a number of sex workers attended the workshop,” says Ms Raman.

“This has provided us an opportunity to gather and exchange views and experiences.”

She is not the only one to have benefited.

“I became a sex worker five years back,” says Nadia, 26.

Nadia said that she learned about safe sex measures at the workshop.

“I had heard about HIV/Aids, but I thought that it could only be transmitted through blood transfusions.

“I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex as well,” she said.

Before the workshop, most of sex workers who attended did not know about measures for safe sex, Nadia added.

Dr Ghulam Murtaza is the head of the GRHF organisation and the man behind the workshop.

Ziba Raman

Ms Raman said she drew a lot of confidence from the workshop

The man behind the workshop, GRHF head Dr Ghulam Murtaza , said the organisation was working to create awareness of safe sex among female sex workers.

“It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested,” he said.

“We offered several incentives and assurances and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20) per day for their attendance,” he said.

“Finally, we succeeded in gathering almost 100 sex workers at the workshop held at a local hotel”.

Most of the sex workers who attended avoided the cameramen there., saying they were afraid of being exposed to their families.

Many said their husbands or family members did not know they were sex workers. They told their families that they work for private firms.

Despite these barriers, Dr Murtaza said the workshop had been successful.

“We have trained some female sex workers. They will now go to their community to create awareness among their co-workers.”

‘Reinvigorated’

The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned.

I can now continue with my profession with more confidence
Zeba Raman

The UNFPA representative, Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha, said at least 100 HIV- positive sex workers had been found in central Punjab. But the number of HIV-positive women was not high among female sex workers in Pakistan.

“It can be controlled by creating awareness about the disease among sex workers and about usage of precautionary measures,” he said.

The workshop was widely considered to be a success and Dr Pasha said they were considering organising a national convention for sex workers next year.

The sex workers themselves were moved by the workshop.

“Having attended the workshop, I feel reinvigorated,” Zeba Raman declares.

“I can now continue with my profession with more confidence.”

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November 12, 2008

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

Congolese government soldiers pass displaced people as they return from the front near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

Congolese troops have faced fresh allegations of abuses

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a fresh plea for 3,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In New York, Mr Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas near Goma.

A 17,000-strong UN force in Congo has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The UN Security Council is considering the call for reinforcements.

The UN head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, said there were currently only 10 UN soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants in eastern DR Congo.

Rebel administration

He said this was not enough to protect the population from violence perpetrated by rebel groups and the Congolese army.

A displaced woman next to a UN armoured vehicle near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

The UN presence in DR Congo is its largest mission in the world

Recent fighting between government and rebel troops has displaced a quarter of a million people in the strife-torn region around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Earlier, the rebel Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, said he had formed an alternative administration in the area of eastern Congo that he controls.

In what observers say is his latest direct challenge to the central government, 12 ministers will take responsibility for a range of functions including police and security.

The move appears to be pure propaganda.

‘Looting and raping’

Our correspondent says it may annoy the government but is likely to be insignificant unless the rebels follow it up with further military action.

Displaced people tap into a supply of water aid nearby the Nyiragongo volcano in Kibati

Meanwhile government troops have faced fresh accusations that they have been ransacking villages and raping civilians.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said looting began around Kanyabayonga, 100 km (60 miles) north of Goma, on Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

He said UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army had been trying to intervene.

Rebel leader Gen Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Monday, he threatened to take over the whole country if President Joseph Kabila’s government continued in its refusal to negotiate with him.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
CNDP: Gen Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels – 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus – 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia – 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers – 1,000 in Goma, 6,000 in North Kivu (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army – 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

But a Congolese official said the government was still unwilling to talk to the rebel leader and accused him of war crimes.

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes during the latest violence.

Mr Kabila was elected president in 2006 in polls that were backed by the UN, and which international observers generally declared to be fair.

As in the four-year war that began in DR Congo in 1998, the recent fighting has threatened to draw in neighbouring countries.

Map of eastern DR Congo


What is your reaction to the situation in Congo? Can this region ever find peace? Tell us your thoughts

September 13, 2008

Arrests’ after China landslide

Arrests’ after China landslide

Family members grieve for one of the victims on 12 September 2008

Devastated relatives are now burying their dead

More than a dozen mine officials have been arrested, Chinese state media have reported, after a landslide engulfed a village, killing at least 178 people.

The local Communist Party head has been sacked over Monday’s incident in Shanxi province, news agency Xinhua said.

Thousands of rescue workers are combing through the debris in Taoshi, in which hundreds more victims may be buried.

Frequent mining accidents in China are blamed on lax safety standards and ageing infrastructure.

More than 3,000 rescue workers are at the site, near the city of Linfen, recovering bodies from the debris with the help of 160 diggers, Xinhua reported.

But hopes of finding any more survivors are fading four days on from the accident. It is not known how many people are still missing.

Rescuers have already covered about 90% of the area, Xinhua said.

‘Grave accident’

Earlier in the week, government officials were quoted as saying hundreds of people could be dead, but they later denied such statements.

Thirteen officials from the Tashan Mining Co, which ran the illegal iron ore operation, have now been arrested, Xinhua reported.

Map

In addition, the head of the local Communist Party and other senior local officials were dismissed, the agency said.

“It is the most grave accident that involves the largest death toll so far this year,” said Wang Jun, director of the State Administration of Work Safety.

“The rising accidents disclose local governments’ poor supervision on work safety. Those responsible must be dealt with seriously.”

The torrent of sludge buried the village of 1,000 people, including a market that was packed with people attending a fair, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Witnesses said that the mud appeared to be more than 20ft (6m) deep in some places.

State media said that the mining reservoir was decommissioned in the 1980s, but had recently been put back into use after a new owner took over the mine.

The mine’s safety certificate was revoked in 2006, it said.

Analysts say the disaster highlights China’s failure to enforce safety standards at its notoriously dangerous mines, and also the unsound state of many of its bridges, dams and other ageing infrastructure.

September 8, 2008

Sri Lanka bars foreign aid staff

Sri Lanka bars foreign aid staff

Tamils displaced by recent fighting

Tamils have been fleeing the fighting in the north and east of the island

Sri Lanka’s government has announced a ban on foreign aid workers and many of their local colleagues from working in Tamil-rebel held areas in the north.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said Colombo could no longer guarantee the safety of aid workers in the area.

Colombo has intensified its war against the Tamil Tigers in a drive to crush their decades-old separatist struggle.

Aid agencies have been helping some of an estimated 160,000 people displaced by the fighting in the north.

They have in the past voiced concern for tens of thousands of people who have fled the frontline and sought refuge from the violence deep inside rebel-held territory.

The agencies have yet to respond to the government’s announcement.

An estimated 85,000 people have fled their homes in the area since June, according to the United Nations.

‘Dangerous environment’

The government said the ban would apply to all foreign aid workers in rebel-held territory and to their local colleagues who were not permanently resident in the area.

“We can’t assure the security of these people,” Defense Secretary Rajapaksa told The Associated Press news agency. “We are taking precautions.”

Mr Rajapaksa said any people affected by the ban who were currently in the area should leave immediately.

He said his government wished to avoid a repeat of the murder in 2006 of 17 local employees of French aid agency, Action Against Hunger.

Sri Lanka’s government said Tamil rebels carried out the attack but international truce monitors said the killings were the work of the military.

A United Nations official last year described Sri Lanka as one of the world’s most dangerous environments for humanitarian workers, prompting an angry rebuttal from the government.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east for 25 years.

More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict.

Do you work for an NGO in northern Sri Lanka? Are you affected by this announcement? Send us your experiences.

August 30, 2008

Police killed by India mine blast

Police killed by India mine blast

Map

Twelve police officers have been killed by a landmine explosion in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, police say.

The officers were carrying out a patrol in a police vehicle through the Maoist rebel stronghold of Burudih, 160km (100 miles) south of the capital, Ranchi.

A police spokesman said the rebels had been planting mines in the area to deter attacks by the security forces.

More than 6,000 people have died during the Maoist rebels’ 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

Last week, at least nine people, including six policemen, were killed in clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels in Bihar state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the “single biggest threat” to India’s security.

The rebels, who operate in several Indian states, say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.

August 21, 2008

Pakistan bombers hit arms factory

Pakistan bombers hit arms factory

Police at the scene of the Wah bomb

The emergency services rushed to the scene of the bombings

At least 55 people have been killed in twin suicide bombings outside a munitions factory in the Pakistani town of Wah, police say.

The attack is the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The bombs hit the city, 30km (18 miles) north of Islamabad, as workers left. Many people were injured.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban said they had carried out the attacks, which he said were a response to army violence in the country’s north-west.

Speaking to the BBC, Maulvi Umar of the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan said the bombings in Wah were in retaliation for the deaths of “innocent women and children” in the tribal area of Bajaur.

Map

He said more attacks would take place in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

Correspondents say Wah, in the province of Punjab, is a strategically important town normally under heavy security as it is home to a large industrial complex producing conventional arms and ammunition.

Local police chief Nasir Khan Durrani told : “Many others have been injured and we expect casualties to rise in the coming hours.

“At least 25 people have been critically injured.”

Mr Durrani said none of the dead was military personnel.

‘Disturbing’

The first blast took place outside the gate of the factory as workers were leaving work during a shift change.

Minutes later, another blast took place at another gate of the same factory.

Pakistan's Al-Zarar tanks are made at Wah

Tanks used by the Pakistani army are made at Wah

Mohid Ahmed, a student from Wah, was on a tour of the ordnance factories and witnessed the immediate aftermath of the blast from his bus.

“It was very disturbing,” he told.

“There was smoke, bodies and blood. Those who were left alive were in great suffering. I saw a man clutching his leg and crying in pain and asking for help. I saw people running away from the scene.”

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

It is the second recent direct attack on a Pakistani military installation.

Last September, 17 officers and soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on a special forces base in the nearby town of Tarbela-Ghazi.

The ordnance factories at Wah lie on the road into Pakistan’s troubled north-west, where fighting between security forces and Islamic militants has raged in recent weeks.

Established in the early 1950s, it is a sprawling complex manufacturing everything from tanks and small arms to artillery shells.

Militants have often threatened to increase the level of violence unless the army pulls back from tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan.

On Monday, President Musharraf, a key ally of President Bush’s “war on terror” resigned after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.


Are you in Wah? Have your been affected by the bombings? Send us your comments

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