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Volume 10, No. 1
June 1996



WOMEN'S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS. Every time we say this, we make it true again. The success of the international women's community at Vienna in 1993, at Cairo in 1994, at Beijing in 1995 can be measured largely by the global acceptance of the phrase and by the movement in various international fora to acknowledge women's stake in the human rights enterprise.

All this is no small accomplishment. But the international community, including governments, NGOs, and international bodies, still struggles to give substance to the promise. And the problem lies not in the idea, but in the framework of human rights as it has traditionally been practiced.

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-the grandmother document, adopted in 1948 by most of the member states of the newly formed United Nations-includes a comprehensive list of basic human rights, most human rights work on both national and international levels has focused on civil and political rights. "Human rights work" has been defined by the methodologies that are used to deal with civil and political rights. Freedom of speech and assembly, freedom to vote according to conscience in fair elections, fair trials and freedom from arbitrary detention, are matters that can be addressed by documenting events and cases. Individual and collective examples of violations of these rights can be described, the perpetrators usually can be identified fairly readily as agents of the state, and the remedies are clear if not always available. International action alerts and campaigns, investigation and documentation, the basic tools of international human rights work, can be focused readily on these individual cases and events. In short, while no human rights work can ever be said to be easy, civil and political rights lend themselves more readily to case-based analysis and action than other human rights.

Women's civil and political rights are overtly violated at least as frequently as those of men. But the "violation" framework does not address the ways in which women are prevented by social, cultural, and economic obstacles from exercising their civil and political rights even in apparently open societies that claim democratic values. Are they told by family members how to vote and punished if they disagree with family authority figures? Are they prohibited by custom from meeting in public? Are qualified women discouraged by family and community from running for office? Do family responsibilities or subsistence work take up so much time and energy that they cannot conceive of caring about who governs? These questions are rarely if ever asked by human rights experts in any context.

Economic, social, and cultural rights-outlined in the Universal Declaration and further articulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Women's Convention-are critical to women's exercise of civil and political rights as well as to women's survival. These rights include access to economic opportunity, health care, education, and social security. They are more difficult to analyze and implement in terms of violations, because, while the level of employment or health care or education may be statistically measurable, the statistics generally evidence systemic problems, including maldistribution of resources. In recognition of these issues, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides for "progressive realization" of rights rather than remedy of violations, and the Women's Convention states an obligation to "take all appropriate measures." Nowhere does either treaty indicate that these rights cannot be realized, only that the remedies are complex.

Women have a special stake in framing the issues and suggesting solutions to the systemic obstacles that prevent them from exercising all of their human rights. The treaty bodies that monitor implementation of human rights have a mandate to pay attention to the human rights of women in dealing with all the issues before them. We in the NGO community have an opportunity to tell them what is missing and suggest what can be done. If we do not tell them, nobody will.

IWRAW recently began to monitor and work with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and to provide that Committee with material relating to the human rights of women in countries under review. IWRAW also has supported other NGOs in their efforts to provide relevant information to other treaty bodies. The process is similar to production of the IWRAW to CEDAW Reports, but focused on a limited list of countries that recently were or are about to be reviewed by CEDAW. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has welcomed IWRAW's presence in the process.

The information IWRAW receives from NGOs throughout the world is critical to making governments accountable at the international level-to making the human rights process work for women. Governments must know that they are accountable in all contexts, not only in CEDAW, for their treatment of women. They must be reminded that systemic oppression of women must be addressed as a basic human rights issue across all areas of concern.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND DISCRIMINATION - Convention Articles 2 and 3

On May 8, 1996, South Africa adopted a new Constitution, completing its transition to a nonracial democracy with an historically broad bill of rights. The new constitution renounces the racism of the past and guarantees all South Africans freedoms of speech, movement and political activity. The bill of rights devotes two pages to the rights of arrested, detained and accused persons. It specifically states that "everyone has the rights to enter, to remain in, and to reside anywhere in the republic." Scholars note that the privacy protection enshrined in the constitution provides a foundation for protection of reproductive choice, including abortion. The constitution not only bars discrimination on the bases of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and marital status, but also extends to guarantee social and economic rights such as rights to housing, health care, water, food and education. Although practical implementation of such rights will be difficult because of social and economic conditions, the inclusion of such rights in the Constitution mandates consistent government efforts to eliminate social injustice.

The government made a special effort to make writing of the Constitution a public process. Four million draft copies of the document were distributed, and 2 million citizens contributed their views, sending in letters or E-mail. Women's organizations actively participated in the process. The Women and Rights Project of the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape, held a conference, "Towards the Final Constitution: A critique of the Interim Constitution from a Gender Perspective - The Way Forward," in January 1995, attended by 150 delegates from NGOs, academic institutions, political parties and parliament. The papers represented at the Conference are now available in a book, The Constitution of South Africa From a Gender Perspective, edited by Sandra Liebenberg. The papers explore various constitutional themes affecting women, and raise questions of the relation between legal rights and social change for women. For further information, contact: David Philip Publishers, P.O.Box 23408, Claremont, 7735, South Africa, Phone: 021 64 4136.

Just to the north, in the country that had given refuge to the ANC government in exile, Zambian President F.T.J. Chiluba signed a constitutional amendment act that fails to protect women from discrimination-contrary to the recommendations of a national constitutional commission. Zambian NGOs protested and plan a campaign for further amendments to bring the government's commitments into line with its ratification of the Women's Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Information: Sara Longwe, FEMNET-Zambia, PO. Box 37879, Lusaka Zambia; tel (260-1) 223834; email: zard@zamnet.zm

The Malaysian government arrested a woman activist for "false reporting" of abuses against migrant workers at the immigration detention centers, preventing her planned attendance at the UN Commission on Human Rights. On March 18, Irene Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, a women's rights organization in Kuala Lumpur, was arrested for July 27, 1995 press release entitled "Abuse Torture and Dehumanized Treatment of Migrant Workers at Detention Camps." It reported poor health and sanitary conditions as well as abusive and corrupt practices of camp officials at immigration detention camps. Concerned organizations such as Human Rights Watch claim that use of criminal charges in such cases is unwarranted and only leaves an impression of the government attempting to restrict freedom of expression. Fernandez' trial began on June 10 and is being watched by international observers.

POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Article 7

Palestinian women's organizations struggle against the exclusion of women from the transitional process to self-rule. During the intifada, the uprising against Israeli military occupation, women took part in advocating self-rule and maintaining the economy in the absence of male wage earners who were jailed or exiled. Encouraged by their gaining status during the intifada, organizations such as the Women's Affairs Technical Committee (WATC) saw an opportunity to seek full representation and equal status of women in the process of building a new nation. WATC includes women representatives from three political groups, members of women study centers and women activists. It successfully lobbied against the law which required women to have a male relative's permission in order to travel. However, women have generally found themselves excluded from the transitional process to self-rule. Women who held leadership positions in political parties during the intifada were compelled to step aside when the men returned from jail or exile. President Arafat's cabinet is composed entirely of men except the wife of Abu Jihad, a Palestinian Liberation Organization leader who was murdered. Only five women gained seats in the newly created 88 member Palestinian Assembly.

A network of women's groups protests the war in the former Yugoslavia by building inter-ethnic solidarity. For the last five years, in every Wednesday afternoon, the pacifist group Women in Black gathers at Belgrade's Republic Square and marches in protest of the Milosevic regime. The protest has developed into a network of women's groups including shelters for battered women and feminist reading groups. They share the conviction that the sources of the war in Yugoslavia are also the sources of their own oppression. One member says the war magnifies male violence, often manifested as rape and prostitution. Since 1993, Belgrade's first rape crisis center has treated thousands of the more than 40,000 women raped during the Balkan war. A member says the war, in fact, pushed them to develop their ideas and actions, such as establishment of inter-ethnic solidarity. They maintain close contact with their Croatian and Bosnian counterparts, sending food and medical supplies as well as messages of support via the Internet.

Women's groups in Sierra Leone are credited with a significant impact on the establishment of democratic process. According to the New York Times, in Februrary and March 1996 the country held a round of elections against a background of an authoritarian military government installed by coup, rebel intransigence, and South African mercenaries prosecuting the government's war against the guerillas. The elections were peaceful, with a 75% turnout, largely because the surviving elements of civil society-women's groups at the forefront-defied attempts to intimidate voters. According to the Times, the military leaders have quietly left the country and democracy now stands a chance.

South Africa is establishing an Office on the Status of Women to ensure that a gender perspective be integrated at all levels of public programs and policies. The Office on Status of Women's plan was announced in January by Geraldine Fraser Moleketi, the Deputy Minister for Welfare and Population Development, after a group of officials visited Uganda and Australia to observe their approaches to dealing with gender issues in policymaking. In addition to establishng the Office on the Status of Women, the government is urged to begin training of officials to analyze policies and programs from gender perspectives and to disaggregate data and expenditure by sex.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles, 3,5,6,12,15 and 16

The US Board of Immigration Appeals has granted political asylum on the ground that genital mutiliation constitutes persecution. Fauziya Kasinga of Togo was threatened with forced marriage and genital mutilation and sought political asylum in December 1994. Denied by a Philadelphia immigration judge in 1995, her claim was reviewed on May 3 by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Karen Musalo, George Washington University law professor who represents Kasinga's case, argued that she qualifies as a refugee, under the Refugee Act definition of facing "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion." Musalo said that there is little doubt that if Kasinga returns to a patriarchal society where she does not have anyone to protect her, she would face persecution through the "deadly practice" of genital mutilation. Lawyers for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service argued that Kasinga's story was dubious and asked that the case be sent back to the lower court. The appeals board found "no meaningful inconsistencies" in Kasinga's testimony.

The INS guidelines published in May 1995 include a reference to genital mutilation as evidence of past persecution but are not binding on immigration judges. Lower level immigration judges have made different rulings in cases involving genital mutilation. Kasinga's appeal is the first case in which the Board of Immigration Appeals considered whether FGM constitutes persecution for the purposes of refugee status. The ruling is narrow, deciding only on this case and not issuing a guideline for all FGM cases. However, the Board's opinion as stated is binding on all 179 immigration judges, and the opinion quotes an INS report stating that women who refuse to undergo the practice or attempt to protect their daughters "face threats to their freedom, threats or acts of physical violence, or social ostracization."

Upon the celebration of 25 years of Bangladesh independence, the Pakistani NGO Women's Action Forum issued a statement apologizing to the women of Bangladesh for the military violence in 1971. It states "continued silence on our part makes a mockery not only of the principles of democracy, human rights, and self determination which we lay claim to, but also makes a mockery of our own history." It recognizes that "even in cases of war, ... there are certain parameters beyond which violence cannot and must not be condoned..." and states that "...those perpetrating and responsible for such violence should be held responsible." The statement closes with an apology to the women of Bangladesh who "became the symbols and the targets in the process of dishonoring and humiliating people."

A domestic violence survey conducted by the first women's shelter in Kenya reveals high awareness of wife-beating but little resolve to deal with the problem. The Women's Rights Awareness Program (WRAP) opened the first women's shelter in Kenya and has conduced a survey on domestic violence. Seventy percent of respondents, both women and men, were aware of wife-beating in their neighborhood yet 60 percent said women were always or sometimes responsible. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that men who batter women should not be punished. The survey also indicates that battered women rarely seek help from law enforcement authorities. Even when they did, assailants only receive a small fine. According to Janet Kabeberi-Macharia, regional coordinator for the Women and Law in East Africa research group, most men do not regard wife-beating as a crime. Thus a specific law to punish assailants is required to change people's perception, she says. Some progress has been made, with women's organizations sponsoring workshops and requesting churches to open more shelters. The International Federation of Women Lawyers has launched a public campaign and an effort to sensitize police, judges and law makers to domestic violence.

Women in Kosova face more severe domestic violence as unemployment among men heightens, the Center for Protection of Women and Children reports. The Center was opened in Prishtina in July 1995 in order to meet basic needs for women including women's health services and assistance for battered women. One of the Center leaders, Sevdije Ahmeti, says the Center's difficulties include reluctance to be involved in the problems of of women until the political future of Kosova is resolved as well as a lack of confidence that women's groups can accomplish more than discussion of issues.

EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11

Eritrean women veterans face difficulties in the unchanged patriarchal society that would deny them the equal status they gained on the battlefield. During the independent struggle that ended in 1991, thousands of women fought against Ethiopian rule side by side with men in the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. Marxist rebel commanders treated women as equals and trained them to drive tanks, fight and handle big guns. A few rose to a higher command positions. Even outside the battlefield, women broke out of traditional roles, taking over conventionally male dominated work as dentists, medical technicians, mechanics, and teachers. Eritrean women have traditionally had a little power; they are not allowed to own livestock in much of Eritrea, and genital mutilation is still in practice in many areas. Since independence, traditional attitudes have been reasserted. Employers are reluctant to hire women for skilled jobs. The majority of women fighters, some of whom spent entire adulthood in the front without education, were discharged from the army and cannot find work. The new government has tried to maintain some of the gains women made during the war through equal public hiring. It has also mandated that one-third of all village council members be women. President Isaias Afwerki supports the idea noting that "it is not a matter of guarantees but it is the attitudes in the society that always become an obstacle. "

The biggest sexual harassment suit in the history of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been filed against the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. The EEOC alleged that the company condoned a workplace environment "characterized by continuous physical and verbal abuse against 300 to 500 women" since the opening of plant in 1988. In interviews, worker after worker described incidents of sexual harassment, from adolescent pranks to verbal abuse to physical attacks. Mitsubishi now employs about 4,000 workers, about 700 of whom are women. Union officials acknowledged that they have tried to informally resolve complaints in an effort to avoid formal complaints. Unlike union contracts at other US auto makers, the United Auto Workers' contract with Mitsubishi does not have a provision that requires management to take action within 48 hours after receiving a complaint of sexual harassment. Several women confessed that they did not go through the formal complaint system, believing that they would face retaliation by their coworkers and the company. Many workers expressed concern that a consumer backlash could cost their jobs, adding another obstacle for women seeking justice. Concerned about regaining trust among employees and customers, Mitsubishi stated that it would conduct a fair and independent review of its sexual harassment policies.

According to China Women's News, 27 out of 42 Chinese government agencies admitted to having limited or avoided hiring female university graduates despite a policy requirement of equal treatment between men and women. Claimed reasons include inconvenience of sending women on business trips, lack of physical strength, and effects of pregnancy.

HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Convention Articles, 10, 12, 14 and 16

A women's group in Croatia seeks support for securing access to safe and legal abortion. The Croatian government has proposed a law which obliges women to consult either a priest, doctor or social worker before they can obtain an abortion. A women's rights group, "Be Active, Be Emancipated" (B.a.B.e.) warns that consultation would be biased in the present conservative climate in Croatia. The Government Program for Demographic Development was passed by the Parliament in January 1996, in order to increase the national birth rate. The program mentions that " human life should be protected from the moment of conception to natural birth." Anti-abortion organizations have been pressuring the Government to repeal the abortion law passed in 1978, which made abortion legal and accessible in Croatia. B.a.B.e. fears that the conservative majority in the Parliament will seek more restrictions. B.a.B.e is requesting to write protest letters to Mr. Franjo Tudjman, President of Croatia. Send letters to; B.a.B.e. Petreticev trg 3, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia. Fax: 385-1 41 93 02.

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Convention Articles, 5, 15, and 16

Tomama Constance Yai, a leader of the Ivorian Association for the Defense of Women's Rights, has begun a campaign against a proposed bill on adultery that sets different penalties for women and men. The bill, proposed by Justice Minister Faustin Kouame, states a woman who has an extramarital relation will be liable to up to one year imprisonment or a fine of the US$630 to US$2,100. However, "men shall be allowed to have sexual relations with other women ...provided they have the consent of their spouses and pay them compensation of one million CFA frances... (US$2,100)." Furthermore, the bill would grant a man the right to divorce on grounds of adultery with little more provocation than finding his wife engaged in seemingly intimate conversation with another man. For women to obtain divorce on grounds of adultery, their husbands would have to be caught in a sexual act at the couple's home with the same woman more than once. According to Ms Yai, such a legal change would further push women into a vulnerable position in society where the common practice of polygamy continues to perpetuates sexual privileges of men. Ms Yai and other women's rights advocates are the see the debate as an opportunity to bring attentions to the broader question of inequalities maintained by the legal system and traditions. They continue to seek mobilization of a mostly indifferent public.


ASSESSING THE STATUS OF WOMEN: A Guide to Reporting Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is now available from IWRAW. Intended for use by governments as well as NGOs, the 90-page Guide was produced in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat. Annexes include CEDAW general recommendations, the official guidelines for reporting under the Convention, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Price: US$15, payable in US dollars only; bulk rates available.

IMPORTANT: ADDENDUM TO ASSESSING THE STATUS OF WOMEN. The UN Division for the Advancement of Women has issued revised guidelines for reporting to the CEDAW Committee under Article 18 of the Women's Convention. The revision reflects the relationship between the Beijing Platform for Action and reporting under the Convention. A new guideline provision is to be inserted after paragraph 7 of the Guidelines Regarding the Form and Content of Initial Reports of States Parties (Annex C in Assessing the Status of Women). It will be included in second and subsequent printings of Assessing the Status of Women. The new guideline reads as follows:

8. It should be noted that, according to paragraph 323 of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995:

"States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are invited, when reporting under Article 18 of the Convention, to include information on measures taken to implement the Platform for Action in order to facilitate the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in monitoring effectively women's ability to enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Convention."

In preparing their initial and subsequent reports under the articles of the Convention or in supplementary oral and/or written materials supplied in connection with reports already submitted, States parties are therefore invited to take into account the 12 critical areas of concern in Chapter III of the Platform for Action. It should also be noted that those concerns are compatible with the articles of the Convention and therefore within the mandate of the Committee.

Centro de Estudios De La Mujer (CEM) of Argentina announced Nuevas Fronteras, a new program in association with UNICEF. CEM holds a national competition of innovative educational projects directed to empower girls, promote the idea of citizenship and stimulate social participation. CEM is also planning to develop a Network of Non Discriminatory Teachers. Contact: Centro De Estudios De la Mujer, AvSanta Fe 5380 (1425) Buenos Aires. Tel/Fax: 541 772 5837.

The International Human Rights Law Institute has published Sexual Violence: An Invisible Weapon of War in the Former Yugoslavia, on the establishment of the Commission of Experts and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Fomer Yugoslavia. The publication includes a summary of findings from the Final Report to the Commission. From: International Human Rights Law Institute, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, IL.

Women Living Under Muslim Laws has published Feminism in Turkey in the 1980's: An Interview with Ayse Duzkan, written by Meltem Ahiska, recounting the trajectory of the Feminist movement in Turkey throughout the 1980s. Contact: Women Living Under Muslim Laws, BP 23, 34790 Grabels, France.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights'"Domestic Violence in Albania," criticizes the Albanian government's silence and inaction in the face of high rates of domestic violence, as violating its international legal obligations. The report includes findings of a survey conducted by Minnesota Advocates, analysis of Albanian laws, and recommendations. Contact; Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 400 Second Avenue South, Suite 1050, Minneapolis MN55401-2408 USA. Tel: 612 341 3302, Fax: 612 341 2971, E-mail: mnadvocates@igc.apc.org


WOMEN'S WATCH subscriptions policy. Women's Watch is sent free to groups and individuals in developing countries and on an exchange basis with libraries and documentation centres. Subscriptions are US$25 per year payable in US dollars only or an international money order. Subscriptions are renewable as of January 1 of each year. If you renew any time in 1996, your renewal will keep you on the list through 1997. Checks in US dollars on a US bank should be made payable to: IWRAW, Humphrey Institute. Other subscription points: In Great Britain and continental Europe, send subscriptions in pounds or Eurodollars to: Marianne Haslegrave, Commonwealth Medical Assn., BMA House, Trafalgar Square, London WC1H 9JP United Kingdom. In Australia, send to: Hilary Charlesworth, Centre for International and Public Law, ANU, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia. In Canada, Susan Bazilli, METRAC, 158 Spadina Road, Toronto, Ontario M5R 2T8. In Japan, Japanese Ass'n of International Women's Rights, Bunkyo Women's College, 1196 Kamekubo, Ohi-machi, Iruma, Saitama 354 Japan.

WOMEN'S WATCH is published by the IWRAW project, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, USA. Editors: Marsha Freeman and Sharon Ladin. This issue was written with the help of Akemi Kinukawa, IWRAW Cram-Dalton Fellow. IWRAW is a global network of individuals and organizations that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty ratified by over 150 countries.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. The Humphrey Institute is hospitable to a diversity of opinions and aspirations. The Institute does not itself take positions on public policy issues. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the editors. IWRAW is grateful to the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Shaler Adams Foundation, the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcomed and are tax deductible for U.S. taxpayers.


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