Wounded Pakistani girl Malala now able to stand but battling infection

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to education, has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing, a British hospital official said
LONDON -- Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education-rights campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan, has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing, a British hospital official said Friday.

But the 14-year-old whose plight has aroused international concern is still fighting an infection caused by the bullet that entered her skull, burrowed through her jaw and lodged in her shoulder blade, said David Rosser, medical director at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in central England. Malala was flown to the hospital this week to receive treatment.

Rosser said she continued to show signs of improvement since waking from a long anesthesia.

"One of the first things she asked the nurses was what country she was in," he told reporters, adding: "She's closer to the edge of the woods, but she's not out of the woods."

The teenager was shot in a school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she had risen to prominence by courageously advocating the right to education for girls despite the fanatical Taliban's sway over the region. The Taliban has vowed to finish her off, prompting tight security at the Birmingham hospital.

PHOTOS: Pakistani teen shot by Taliban

But far from quashing Malala's cause, the attack sparked huge rallies across Pakistan and the rest of the world on her behalf. Rosser said she was "keen to thank people" for their outpouring of support and wanted the world to be kept apprised of her condition.

He said that scans had shown some damage to her brain, which was grazed by the bullet. But encouragingly, "at this stage we're not seeing any deficit in terms of function. She seems to be able to understand; she has some memory. ... She's able to stand. She's got motor control, so she's able to write."

Malala appears to have some recall of the attack, but those around her are refraining from bringing up the topic, Rosser said.

"From a lot of the work we've done with our military casualties, we know that reminding people of traumatic events at this stage increases the potential for psychological problems later," he said.

A tube in her trachea makes it impossible for her to speak, but the hospital is trying to arrange for her to listen to her father on the phone. Her family remains in Pakistan; efforts are underway to bring them to Britain to be at her bedside.

Rosser said the girl would require a couple of weeks of recuperation before surgeons try to reconstruct the damaged part of her skull and possibly her jaw.

"It would be over-optimistic to say that there are not going to be further problems," Rosser said. "But it is possible she’ll make a full recovery."


Mexico's most powerful woman faults working mothers

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U.N. rights chief decries U.S. Border Patrol's 'excessive force' 

-- Henry Chu

Photo: Women in the British city of Birmingham hold a vigil Thursday for wounded Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who is receiving treatment at a hospital in the city. Credit: Gavin Fogg / AFP/Getty Images

Mexico's most powerful woman faults working mothers

  Mexico's most powerful woman faults working mothers

MEXICO CITY -- She may be Mexico's most powerful woman, but she doesn't seem too keen on power for women.

Elba Esther Gordillo, the much-feared head of Mexico's gigantic teachers union, is blaming the abysmal state of education here on none other than working mothers.

In an "open letter to the public" covering two full pages of Mexico's leading Reforma newspaper, Gordillo seemed to rue the days decades ago when traditional family roles were clearly established (link in Spanish, registration required).

"A fact that was changed when women had to share responsibility for the family income, which didn't only contribute to the deterioration of the individual but also of society," Gordillo wrote.

"The abandonment of the mother in the rearing of children turned schools into daycare centers, gave teachers sole responsibility for education and emptied education of any substance," she added.

Gordillo went on to say that the void created by absent mothers working outside the home was filled with "the excessive consumption of junk TV" and similar distractions, which generally contributed to the demise of society's values.

Quite a lot to hang on working women, especially since most experts would blame Mexico's poor educational system on precisely the union that Gordillo lords over like a private fiefdom.

Gordillo, who favors expensive jewelry, designer clothes and tons of prime real estate, is the "president for life" of the union, which also formed a political party prone to backroom king-making deals and which generally refuses to open its bank accounts to public scrutiny. Thanks to the union's clout, teachers are allowed to bequeath their posts to descendants, and most teachers have flunked basic competency exams.

Outrage over Gordillo's comments was swift, intense and came from both the political left and right as well as women's groups.

"I read that and didn't know whether to laugh or cry," feminist columnist Rosaura Barahona wrote, noting that Gordillo apparently ignored the fact that many of the very teachers she represents are working moms (link in Spanish).

"It is very easy to blame women for everything bad that happens in the world today and for the poor education of the children," she continued. "But what about the fathers? The school? The media? The church? The government?"

If Gordillo needed a scapegoat, Barahona concluded, she should look elsewhere.

And that is exactly what many analysts said Gordillo appeared to be doing. She is under pressure on several fronts. There is a move afoot in the recently seated Congress that would force unions to be more democratic and "transparent," qualities that might erode her power. And the citizens group Mexicanos Primero has launched a concerted campaign to promote education and criticize Gordillo's handling of the teachers. One slogan is: More money for education, less for the union.

Gordillo on Thursday was opening a three-day convention of her union, the largest teachers group in Latin America. It was expected that members would endorse a slate of regional and local leaders primarily loyal to Gordillo.  The city of the convention had to be changed at the last minute because of reports that a group of dissident teachers who oppose Gordillo planned to picket the meeting.

Gordillo used the venue to argue that some of her recent comments had been "twisted" and that she really wasn't a misogynist.

But her critics remained adamant and revived a June television interview given by Gordillo's daughter, Monica Arriola, who was just elected to the Senate (link in Spanish). In it, Arriola said she was essentially raised by her grandmother because her mother, whom she sometimes went weeks without seeing, was too busy.

"It was difficult to see her," Arriola said, "because of her work."


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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Teachers union boss Elba Esther Gordillo of Mexico, shown in 2006 in Mexico City. Credit: Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press



As Malala recovers, U.N. marks International Day of the Girl Child

International Day of the Girl Child

As Malala Yousafzai lay in a Pakistani hospital recovering from gunshot wounds, the United Nations on Thursday marked its first International Day of the Girl Child.

The U.N. event, planned long before Malala was shot this week, focused on an end to child marriage and emphasized the importance of educating girls, the cause that put Malala in the sights of a Taliban gunman.

“Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families.”

Ban urged all members of society, including governments, community and religious leaders and families -- especially men and boys -- to promote the rights of girls.

“Let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides,” he said.

The Tuesday attack on Malala, who angered militants by speaking out against efforts to ban education for girls, appalled Pakistanis and again thrust the issue into the global spotlight. The 14-year-old, who was reportedly out of danger of dying from her wounds, was on a school bus when she was shot.

A new report released Thursday by Plan International says that while the average teen girl now gets more years of education than ever before, the numbers largely reflect strides made by China and India, masking the fact that many poor countries have made little or no progress in educating girls.

Girls are thwarted from going to school for a long and varied list of reasons, some of which also keep boys out of school. The obstacles include poverty, prejudice against women, early marriage and safety threats.

Less than a fifth of girls in Niger, for instance, are in school. In Mali, roughly a third attend classes. And in Senegal and Guinea, less than half are in school. Education rates are also dismal for Roma girls in eastern Europe; only 9% of Roma girls in the Slovak Republic go to high school, the group wrote.

The bulk of young people who are not in school are in South Asia and Africa, regions that also have glaring gender gaps, the report said. Rural girls are even less likely to go to school than urban ones, as girls are tasked with gathering firewood, finding water and childcare to help their families scrape by.

Other girls are kept out of school by marriage. UNICEF estimates a third of young women worldwide -- 70 million -- are married before they turn 18, including 23 million girls wed before the age of 15. Marrying young almost always ends schooling for girls, the United Nations said Thursday.

School fees and hidden costs block other girls from school. Others are turned away by lengthy treks on roads riddled with danger. And still others fear sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers or classmates, the report found. In some Francophone countries in West Africa, sexual coercion by teachers is so familiar that students coined the phrase ‘moyennes sexuellement transmissibles’ -- sexually transmitted grades.

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Tunisia woman accused of indecency after alleged rape by police


Hundreds of protesters thronged to a Tunis courtroom Tuesday as a woman and her fiance who accused police officers of rape and extortion defended themselves against allegations of indecency.

The case has outraged Tunisian feminists and human rights groups, who said the charges are an attempt to humiliate and frighten the couple, discouraging others from reporting police abuse. It has focused new attention on police impunity and the rights of women in the North African country, the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, as it tries to set its path after the ouster of autocratic President Zine el Abidine ben Ali.

Last month, the couple said that two police officers stopped them and raped the woman in the back of their car while a third officer took her fiance to an ATM and tried to extort money from him. After the police officers were arrested and charged with rape and extortion, the officers alleged that they found the couple in an “immoral position.” The couple could now face indecency charges punishable with up to six months in prison.

The two were questioned Tuesday at the courthouse to decide whether the woman would be prosecuted for immoral behavior, according to the Associated Press. No decision was immediately announced.

Immorality charges have been used over the last year and a half to quiet government critics, Amnesty International said, arguing  that  the case against the couple should be dropped. Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni said the Interior Ministry, by holding a news conference to announce the indecency allegations, “tried to manipulate the public opinion and to make them forget the real scandal:  the rape.”

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Uruguay debates bill to allow abortion; passage expected


In a marathon  session Tuesday that stretched more than eight hours, Uruguayan lawmakers argued passionately over whether to legalize abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy, a controversial step that would make it a rarity among Latin American nations.

Under the measure, Uruguay would allow abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 14 weeks in cases of rape, and decriminalize later abortions to protect the life of the mother or carried out when a fetus isn’t expected to survive.

The legislation  would require women to explain why they are seeking to abort to three professionals -- a gynecologist, a mental health professional and a social worker -- and hear information about abortion risks and alternative options, such as adoption. Afterward, they would have to wait five days “to reflect” before being allowed an abortion.

The bill, which proponents said was created in hope of reducing the number of abortions, was seen as likely to pass and be signed by President Jose Mujica. The Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon that the measure appeared to be headed for a narrow passage by 50-49 votes.

But Uruguayans on both sides of the debate were displeased by the bill. Abortion opponents showed a National Geographic video  of a fetus in its earliest weeks as they argued against the measure on Tuesday. Roman Catholic and evangelical groups have opposed any legalization.

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Don't bother yelling 'Taxi!' in Saudi Arabia anymore

Saudi woman boards taxi in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.

The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders,  Al Madina newspaper reported.

The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.

The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.

Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.

Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.


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Photo: Saudi women are dependent on taxis for travel and errand-running as the kingdom prohibits women from driving, and most urban bus travel is exclusively for men. Credit: Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty Images

Iranian universities shut female students out of dozens of fields

Iranian universities are shutting female students out of dozens of fields this year, saying there aren’t enough jobs available for them after they graduate, according to Iranian media.

Three dozen universities across the country are not allowing women to study in 77 different majors, according to the Shafaf news website and Mehr News. The barred majors, which differ from school to school, reportedly include several fields in engineering, history and English.

“Some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature, such as agricultural machinery or mining, partly because of the hard work involved in them,” science ministry official Seyed Abolfazl Hassani told Rooz Online. “Past experience shows that women do not become professionally active in these fields after they are admitted to these subjects and even after they graduate.”

Iranian officials said a shortage of female dormitories also necessitated the restrictions, Shafaf reported, the first time such limits have been imposed. Education officials also stopped men from going into nursing this year, a decision lamented by the national nursing association.

The decision to stop women from studying certain fields is believed to be driven by a combination of factors, including women getting better marks than men on university exams, male students complaining that female scholars don’t have to worry about being breadwinners, and the difficulty in keeping male and female students segregated in classes.

In a letter to the United Nations agency for gender equality, Iranian Nobel laureate and attorney Shirin Ebadi charged that the government was trying to squelch the women's movement.

"It is pushing them back into the house in the hope that they abandon their demands and leave the government alone to pursue its wrong policies," Ebadi wrote.

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Saudi Arabia plans industrial city for female workers

Saudi Arabia is planning a new industrial city for female workers, ensuring that female investors and entrepreneurs can go to work in conditions “consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines and regulations,” the Saudi Industrial Property Authority said.

The new industrial city in Hofuf will not be closed to men, but will have sections and production halls reserved for women within factories, the authority said in its recent statement. The city will be located near residential neighborhoods to make it easier for women to get from home to work, it added.

The industrial city near Al Ahsa airport is the first of its kind, according to the authority, and has been approved by the minister of municipal and rural affairs. It could provide as many as 5,000 jobs for men and women.

“Saudi women have the ability to enter the labor market and invest in the industrial sector,” the authority said in paraphrased remarks attributed to acting Director General Saleh Rasheed.

Saudi media first reported the proposed cities this summer, saying as many as four such cities could be in the works. Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry Deputy Chairman Saad Mogil told the Saudi Gazette that the industrial project would “offer comprehensive services to all residents of the city besides opening new avenues of employment for Saudi women.”

The plans appear to be a bid to balance religious strictures with the goal of getting more women into the working world. The kingdom has been tugged between modest reforms backed by the king and the objections of religious leaders who resist reducing the sway of Islam in government and public life.

Women in Saudi Arabia face rigid restrictions. They are in effect banned from driving and required to get permission from a male guardian to work, study or travel. The country sent its first female competitors to the Olympics this year, but women are still shut out of most sports, condemned by some clerics as a slippery slope toward immorality. Only a fraction of women work.

Among Saudi women who do work, nearly two-thirds said they did so to achieve financial independence, according to a June survey conducted by YouGov and Bayt.com. More than a third said their workplaces had both male and female workers, but in separate sections.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


Alleged Mexico cartel figure 'Reina del Pacifico' sent to U.S.

Reina del pacifico

She told the cops she was just an innocent housewife who dabbled a little in the rental market.

She had her own narcocorrido, or drug ballad, sung by an outfit called Los Tucanes de Tijuana.

And when she was fighting her extradition to the U.S. on cocaine trafficking charges, Sandra Avila Beltran, the so-called Reina del Pacifico, or Queen of the Pacific, found a way to have a doctor visit her in prison to administer her Botox treatments,  a characteristic demonstration of vanity that has made her such an enthralling folk figure to so many Mexicans here. The episode also pointed to the often-squirrelly security standards in the Mexican penal system.

But from now on, Avila -- Mexico’s high-heeled human telenovela -- will be a drama for the United States to ponder: On Thursday, the Mexican attorney general announced that she has been extradited to the U.S.

Avila is believed to have been a rare figure -- a powerful woman -- in Latin America’s testosterone-saturated drug world, and her story has become a kind of genre to itself, particularly with the success of “La Reina del Sur,” the wildly popular Telemundo telenovela to  which Avila’s life is sometimes compared. (In the U.S., the Showtime cable network has had similar success with "Weeds," a tragicomic tale of the life of the fictional Nancy Botwin, a weed-dealing, Starbucks-slurping soccer mom.)

Avila, reportedly in her early 50s, was arrested in 2007 in Mexico City with her Colombian boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, whom officials claimed was also a powerful drug-world figure. Officials allegedthat  Avila served as a key connection between Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and wholesale drug sources in Colombia.

A Mexican judge acquitted Avila of drug-related charges in 2010, and she waged a long legal fight against extradition. On Thursday, Mexican officials turned her over to U.S. marshals at Toluca International Airport. She is expected to appear in U.S. Federal District Court in Florida to answer allegations that she coordinated, stored and moved large drug shipments destined for the U.S.

Avila was reportedly the product of well-established drug-world families, and Mexican journalists alleged that her affairs with powerful male drug kingpins helped her rise to a position of power. According to the Associated Press, authorities became suspicious of her in 2001 when her son was kidnapped and she was allegedly able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to get him back.

Video of Avila being escorted by officers once she was in custody -- with a pair of chic torn jeans, stylish raven hair and a devil-may-care grin -- only fueled public fascination with her. Authorities eventually seized 225 of Avila’s properties in the state of Jalisco, including two tanning salons.

In their corrido, Los Tucanes called her “that big businesswoman -- a very heavy lady.”

-- Richard Fausset


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Photo: Sandra Avila Beltran, shown  in 2007,  has been extradited to the U.S. Credit:  European Pressphoto Agency 

Furor over film capturing harassment on hidden camera in Belgium

As Sofie Peeters walked down the streets of Brussels, men catcalled her, followed her, called her rude names and asked how much she cost. She wondered: Was she doing something wrong?

Peeters, a film student, took a hidden camera to chronicle the harassment she underwent regularly on the streets. When she confronted the men who called out to her, they told her to shut up and keep walking.

“You should be thanking us, 'Thank you for making me feel like a woman!' ” one man argued to Peeters, saying that the only way to avoid it was to have a man walk alongside her.

Other women shared their strategies for coping with harassment: One told Peeters that if she was wearing a skirt she would change before going out for a walk.  Another said she constantly wore headphones to dull the annoyance, seeing but not hearing the catcalls.

The broadcast of the documentary "Femme de la Rue" ignited a firestorm last week in Belgium and France over the unwanted attention that many women report getting in the streets.

The furor appears to be fueling real action: The Belgium interior minister said more must be done to squelch the phenomenon and plans to introduce legislation against harassment, according to Belgian media. Brussels will impose fines of up to $300 for sexual intimidation this fall.

French feminists have seized on the film as an example of why its new, tougher sexual harassment law was needed, passed not long after the French housing minister was catcalled inside the French National Assembly while wearing a modest summer dress.

After a journalist tweeted that he had never heard of the same problems in France, the film also spawned a Twitter hashtag, #harcelementderue, as European women told of  the insults they had weathered on the streets.

“A turtleneck or a bikini –- it makes no difference,” one French-speaking user wrote in frustration.

Peeters has also come under fire: Most of the men in the film appear to be North African immigrants, spurring accusations of racism. Anti-immigrant bloggers have argued that the film should be seen as an example of the ills of Muslim and North African culture.

The film student told a Flemish television station that she had feared the film might be seen as racist because so many of the catcallers were immigrants, but she insisted that was not her intent and that she had simply chosen to record what she experienced in her own neighborhood.

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