- Women groups in Mauritius say enough is enough. With girls being beaten and raped, later to be put in jail for trying to get an abortion, little has happened to adjust Mauritian gender laws to the 21st century. Now, gender organisations decided to campaign all year round to improve conditions, launching the "365 days of action to end gender violence".
Newspapers in Mauritius have to report on abortion as if it was a vicious crime. Recently, three women were found unconscious after an unprofessional abortion had taken place in an obscure "hospital" on the island. Not the "doctors" that almost killed the women were treated as criminals. Neither the men that had made the women pregnant against their will. The girls were the criminals. Brought back to life at a real hospital, the women were sent to court and to prison.
But the notion is spreading that something is wrong in society when raped girls having an abortion are penalised stronger than wife-battering men, rapists and adults sexually assaulting children in their care. By now, also the Mauritian press has a more sceptical coverage of abortion cases and uncovers domestic violence and incest.
This new awareness is clearly a result of many years' work by Mauritius' many gender organisations. But developments are too slow, activists hold. In a nation with European strong cultural influences and comparable living standards, it is obvious for many that the current legislation is not reflecting society's needs. Coming to legal standards, Mauritian women are worse off than many African sisters.
The gender equality movement of the Indian Ocean island is therefore into heavy mobilisation to finally raise standards. In early October, representatives from over 20 organisations met for three days in Port Louis to draft an Action Plan to end Gender Violence. Among the most important issues in the plan is to achieve abortion legislation that at least meets South African standards, where abortion is permitted to preserve women's life and health, for economic reasons and in the case of rape or incest.
Last weekend, another ground-breaking three-day workshop was held in Port Louis, were a National Action Plan to End Gender Violence was drafted and an interim task team comprising representatives from over twenty stakeholder organisations was set up. Women groups agreed to extend the regional, annual Sixteen Days of Activism campaign to a year-long campaign to combat violence against women.
Held under the banner "365 days of action to end gender violence", the conference identified a range of priority actions, including the passing of a Sexual Offences Bill; simplification of procedures for implementing the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and an audit of services available to survivors of sexual assault with a view to ensuring that survivors of gender violence have ready access to redress as well as comprehensive treatment and care under one roof.
The Mauritian Minister responsible of gender issues, Indira Seebun, and the Minister of Justice, Rama Valayden, opened the conference by expressing their support for the first effort in Mauritius to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach to ending this human rights scourge. They however made no concrete promises. Media Watch Organisation-GEMSA and the South African-based Gender Links had convened the workshop.
Filled with new self-confidence, overall plans and energy, Mauritian women expect the coming year to be a tough one for the ministries of Ms Seebun and Mr Valayden, national legislators and the strong anti-abortion lobby, which all can look out for a fight. If "Mauritius pretends to be a model of democracy in the region," says activist Loga Virahsawmy, legislators now needed "to turn the Action Plan into concrete realisation."
Gender activists are confident they will see some results within soon. By the end of the action year, women and like-minded men hope to be able to open their newspapers and read that victims of gender violence are treated as such, not as criminals.
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