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Biden urged to end US aid ‘abortion ban’ | Reproductive rights

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Joe Biden is being urged to clarify a longstanding US law restricting overseas aid that has been misinterpreted by successive administrations as an outright ban on funding abortion for any reason.

As the US president marked his first 100 days in office on Friday, more than 140 human rights and global health organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International US and the Global Justice Center, signed a letter asking him to confirm that US aid can be used for abortion care in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is in danger.

The letter calls on the president to back a bill, introduced in Congress last year, to permanently repeal the 1973 Helms amendment, which has been wrongly interpreted as a ban on US money being used for abortion in any circumstances.

The letter says: “As written, the law restricts the use of US foreign assistance for ‘abortion as a method of family planning’. This does not include cases of rape, incest, or life-endangerment; however, lack of clarity around the law has prevented the use of funds in these cases, even in humanitarian emergency settings.”

The group want clear guidance issued on Helms and another misinterpreted law, the Leahy amendment.

“The US is the largest funder of global health, including family planning, and is the only donor nation to single out abortion in this way,” the letter says. “Many US abortion restrictions, including the Helms amendment, have consistently been in place for decades, causing generations’ worth of harm – and they will continue to do so if action is not taken. This is a matter of utmost urgency as bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are increasingly under siege.”

During his first 10 days in office, Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy – known as the “global gag rule” – which stopped overseas groups that received US aid using money from other sources to fund abortion services. Kamala Harris, the US vice-president, co-signed a bill to repeal the policy permanently – currently, it can be reintroduced or rescinded by each president.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the belief that the Helms amendment banned abortion under all circumstances had become “normalised”.

Bethany Van Kampen, an adviser at the signatory reproductive health charity Ipas, said the law “has to be fully repealed” but that in the meantime: “Why would we not mitigate the harm of Helms? That would save lives immediately.”

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organisation, has estimated that repealing the Helms amendment could result in 19m fewer unsafe abortions and 17,000 maternal deaths a year.

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EU to propose universal phone-charger law

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The EU plans to propose laws harmonising mobile-phone, tablet, and headphone chargers and ports on Thursday in a bid to make life easier for consumers, Reuters reports. But Apple, whose iPhones use a special ‘Lightning cable’ has said the move will lead to piles of waste and deter innovation. Rival Android-based devices use so-called ‘USB-C’ connectors, but ‘USB micro-B’ and Lightning connectors account for about a third each of market-share.

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Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International

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The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.

The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.

Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).

As we approach a year since the end of the Transition Period, we really want to hear from you about the key issues…

Posted by Brits in Spain on Friday, September 17, 2021

The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.

Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.



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‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development

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The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.

It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.

Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.

Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.

“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”

Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”

The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).

“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”

About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.

Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”

Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.

A dam affected by drought in Kandahar.
A dried up dam in Kandahar. A majority of Afghans are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought, as they live in rural areas. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.

According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.

“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”

Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.

Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”

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