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Volume 11, No. 2
September 1997



When the Taliban took over Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1996, the international community was stunned by the severity of the limitations immediately visited on women and girls in the name of Islam and by the ferocity with which the Taliban leaders defended those limitations. The international press has graphically reported every new restriction and every transaction in which the leaderships digs in its heels in the face of question or criticism. As we read these accounts we are struck not only by the extremity of the Taliban's views and practices, but also by the extreme difficulty of making an impact on a "government" that has so isolated itself ideologically and operationally from the rest of the world.

Women always are at the center of the debate on religion, custom, and human rights-if not participating in it, then as its named or unnamed subject. Afghanistan has provided us with examples of gender apartheid that would seem downright silly if they were not so vicious: prohibiting women from wearing white socks or making noise with their shoes in public on grounds that these acts are sexually provocative; arresting two French male aid workers who found themselves in the same compound as a group of women having a gathering in another part of the compound; eliminating women's access to even minimal health care by segregating them to a decrepit, unequipped, poorly staffed hospital; insisting that all aid to benefit women be channeled through male blood relatives.

The issues represented by these examples are not new. What is new is the opportunity to bring the debate to a very large stage and insist that a country that takes pride in its discriminatory policies not be allowed to participate in the world's most important international forum. Just as South Africa was deemed a pariah state for its apartheid policies and denied access to the UN and other fora, the Taliban must be reminded continuously and forcefully that a country that makes vicious, mindlessly enforced sex discrimination a central element of its domestic policies cannot be allowed to occupy a space in any international forum.

None of the methods classically used by human rights groups would seem to be suited to the Afghanistan situation. Campaigns, organized letter-writing, documenting and publicizing specific human rights abuses, and lobbying human rights bodies to pass resolutions and name special rapporteurs, depend for their success on governments' sensitivity to international public opinion. The Taliban do not care.

When the United Nations Secretary General in October 1996 threatened withdawal of UN programs in Afghanistan if the discrimination against women continued, the Taliban insisted that they were willing to pay that price in order to defend their version of Islam. Never before had the UN or its agencies stated so clearly a commitment to operate in a nondiscriminatory manner with respect to women. The Taliban were not impressed.

What does seem to impress this leadership is its continuing inability to obtain credentials and take the Afghanistan seat in the UN General Assembly. Only three countries have recognized the Taliban government. Access to the UN would give the Taliban legitimacy and a forum for making their case. They may not care what the world thinks of them, but they desperately want the opportunity to tell the world what they think of it.

Our role and our responsibility in this situation is to monitor our governments' policies with respect to Afghanistan and maintain pressure to withhold recognition of the Taliban government in any forum, formal or informal, as long as the Taliban authorities continue to withhold recognition of women's human rights. The Afghan Women's Network, a group based in Pakistan that includes exiled Afghan women and is in close touch with events inside the country, suggests that we also insist that foreign embassies in Kabul not be reopened unless the local authorities accept women's rights to emploment outside the home, to education, and to personal security.

IWRAW will continue to monitor developments in Afghanistan and at the UN. Information on the attitudes and policies of individual governments and NGO advocacy with respect to the recognition issue would be extremely useful for all of us. This is one issue on which having information about action in particular countries can make a real difference in others. Send information directly to IWRAW and to the Afghan Women's Network, e-mail pam@collet.sknpk.undp.org (Pamela Collet).

HUMAN RIGHTS AND DISCRIMINATION - Convention Articles 2, 3 and 5

In June 1997, an Egyptian court overturned ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in all state and private clinics. The ban on FGM was imposed last year by the Health Minster's decree. In striking down the Health Minister's ban, Judge Abdul Aziz Hamade said that his ruling did not deal with the practice of FGM but focused on the legality of the ban. According to him, the ban was a restriction on a doctor's right to perform surgery, and the restriction overstepped the authority of a ministerial decree. Islamic leaders, who have repeatedly used the courts as a weapon, celebrated the court's ruling. International and national human rights organizations and activists urged the Egyptian government to support the ban.

The new US immigration law will have a disproportionate impact on women. On April 1, 1997, the US Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) of 1996 went into effect. Under the law, asylum applicants are required to submit their claims within one year of arrival, and a system of "expedited removal" is set up for those deemed ineligible to enter the US. The strict time limit and lack of review will have a particular impact on victims of gender-based violence, who usually need significant time to heal before they can tell their stories and hesitate to tell their stories for fear of being shunned by family and community. The cumulative effects of the IIRAIRA provisions may well be denial of protection to women and the most brutalized immigrants.

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

An acid attack is the kind of violence Bangladeshi women most dread. Attackers are young men whose romantic advances are rejected, or dowry-hungry husbands, according to Nasreen Huq, convenor of a Dhaka-based feminist group that helps acid victims. The Coordinating Council Human Rights Bangladesh (CCHRB) reported 89 acid attacks in 1996, and according to Huq, many more incidents are not reported in the newspapers or brought to the notice of the law. Though the death penalty was introduced for acid attacks several years ago, implementation of the law has been slow. Human rights workers say such cases are difficult to prosecute because it is difficult to gather evidence and victims' families are often threatened with retaliation.

The Supreme Court of India has outlawed sexual harassment in the workplace. In a ruling on a petition filed by women activists after a social worker was gang-raped by her colleagues, the court banned both direct and indirect "unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature", including physical contacts, requests for sexual favors, suggestive remarks, and showing of pornography. In the absence of legislation prohibiting sexual harassment, the court outlined steps to be taken to deal with it: appropriately advertise the definition of sexual harassment, avoid retaliation for making claims, and give victims the option to seek their own transfer or that of the perpetrators. Complaints should be handed by a committee headed by a woman, and half of the committee members should be women as well. An employer is duty-bound to take supportive and preventive action on behalf of female employees even when sexual harassment comes from an outsider. However, the court did not recommend punishment for offenders.

Sexual offense charges will be brought against Rwandans who are facing trial in a the UN Rwanda tribunal for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity, prosecutor Louise Arbour said. Because witnesses have remained silent, it is very difficult to determine the scale of sexual violence committed during the 1994 massacres. Arbour was cited after a seminar which was aimed at finding the most effective way of prosecuting sexual violence in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia at the international human rights courts.

The first monument is erected in Japan for Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in World War II. Funded by public donations, the monument is covered with 5000 pieces of porcelain baked by volunteers on Tokashiki Island where it stands. Artist and fund-raiser Hamako Kitta hopes the monument will help Japanese people remember history. She became involved in the issue of sex slaves after she talked with a Korean woman who was brought to work as a prostitute on Tokashiki Island.

POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Articles 7 and 8

Massumeh Ebtekar has been named Iran's first female vice president. Ms. Ebtekar will also serve as head of Iran's Environmental Protection Organization, but the meaning of the appointment remains uncertain. Newly elected President Mohammed Khatami benefited from the votes of women and a younger generation that wanted to see more openess in Iranian government and society. The appointment reflects Khatami's debt to this sector of the electorate, but the electorate has yet to see dramatic policy change. The 36-year-old vice president received her education in the US and earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry. She was formerly editor-in-chief of Kayhan International, one of Iran's leading English newspapers. She has headed several Iranian delegations to international conferences, including the UN World Women's Conference in Nairobi and Beijing.

France has nearly doubled the number of women in Parliament. In the June 1997 election, women won 62 seats, or 10.7 percent of the 577-member National Assembly. The increase is partly attributable to the Socialist Party policy of fielding women candidates in 30 percent of all districts. In the previous parliament, women had just 32 seats, amounting to 5.5 percent of the total, the lowest proportion in the European Union. Socialist leader Lionel Jospin was named prime minister and promised to have more women in government, including the cabinet.

HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS - Convention Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16

Discrimination against people with AIDS puts a heavy burden on women in Tanzania. As in many other African countries, women have a high infection rate and face particular human rights abuses. One cause of this infection rate is that Tanzanian men have traditionally been encouraged to engage in extramarital and promiscuous sex, exponentially spreading the virus. Human rights abuses of those with HIV/AIDS are common in the form of inadequate medical treatment, discrimination in property inheritance, and mandatory HIV testing and disclosure of HIV status to employers. Employment discrimination in both private and government sectors is common. Without employment, a patient has neither income to pay for medical treatment nor access to medical insurance. Poverty and low social status give women no control over the sexual behaviors of their male partners nor the option to leave infected partners. Women patients are even more vulnerable in the case of rape because the Evidence Act requires female rape victims disclose their HIV status if they file a charge against the perpetrators.

EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11

Equal pay for equal work is the No.1 goal of working women in the US, according to a national survey by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). This poll found that 94 percent of women think equal pay is very important to them and over one-third believe they do not get it. The depth of the concern surprised the AFL-CIO Working Women's Department, which had expected that child care would come up as the primary concern.

Japanese women find their newly won right to work night shifts a bittersweet victory. In a purported attempt to guarantee women equality in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1987 was amended in 1997 to allow women work night shifts. However, some working women are afraid the reform will enable business to force them to overwork and experience the same drudgery that men do. Women are concerned that refusal to work night shifts and overtime, now that employers are allowed to request these hours, will reflect poorly in their job assessment. Meanwhile, some women workers look at the opportunity to work night shifts more positively because men who have worked at night are paid much more. Women's organizations worry that companies will switch full-time women employees to part-time status and force them to accept night shifts at reduced pay. They criticize the reform as a political favor to big business which are eager to further strengthen their competitiveness on the Asian markets.

Major lenders announced initiatives at the Microcredit Summit held February 2-4 in Washington, DC. The World Bank already had set up a Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest with a $200 million microfinance fund in 1995. The UN Development Program hoped to work with donor nations to expand its "MicroStart" program. The Inter-American Development Bank would invest $400 million in microfinance over five years. USAID allocated $120 million each year for microcredit in 1996 and 1997. And Hillary Rodham Clinton, the honorary co-chair, said the President's current budget would include $1 billion to be spent over five year on community development banking in the US. Forty commercial bankers and lenders attended the Summit and many said they would greatly expand their micro-loan services.

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Convention Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16

A married daughter's right to inherit is upheld by the Bombay High Court. Allowing an appeal filed by Ms. Usharani Narayan Haldankar against a trial court order, the judges held that the married daughter has a right to inherit her father's property even if she has severed her status from her parents' joint Hindu family. The lower court had held that the woman had no right to inherit her father's property since there was a status of severance upon her marriage. According to the High Court decision, under the Hindu Succession Act, residence in the matrimonial home does not prohibit a daughter's claim to inherit her father's property.

The Japanese Ministry of Education disapproves textbooks that advocate alternative family values. In Japan, all textbooks for elementary, junior high and high schools must be screened and approved by the Ministry of Education every four years. This year, four home economics textbooks did not pass the screening. All four were found "inappropriate" because they emphasize diversity in family structure and values, individual growth, ecological concerns and human rights issues. The "inappropriate" descriptions include a paragraph saying: "Home economics education in the past was intended only for girls who studied how a family should be. Today's students have come to appreciate life as human individuals." Ecological concerns were picked up for exceeding the scope of home economics. Advocates for coeducation in home economics are lodging a protest with the Ministry.


The July 1997 CEDAW session marks the first time that the Committee met for a second annual session, following the General Assembly's approval of the CEDAW Committee request to meet in two three-week sessions each year.

The seventeenth session saw a further development of the CEDAW's relationship with NGOs. Committee members met with NGO representatives in two informal meetings during lunch breaks and invited them to provide information pertaining to countries under review. Representatives of Armenian, Argentine, Australian, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs took advantage of this opportunity to indicate areas of concern that were not reflected in official governments' reports. Similar meetings will be organized during the upcoming session in January 1998.

The Committee reviewed reports of Namibia, Armenia, Luxembourg, Israel, Italy, Argentina, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, and Bangladesh and adopted draft concluding comments and recommendations at the end of the session. The concluding comments and recommendations are the most important communication from the Committee to the States Parties. The unedited version of the document is sent directly to States Parties as soon as possible after the close of a session. The edited concluding comments will be included in the official report of the session which will most likely be available from the UN sometime after December 1997.

Neither the Committee nor the UN Division for the Advancement of Women can facilitate circulation of the concluding comments beyond the government. Unless a government takes the initiative to publicize CEDAW's comments, it is up to national level NGOs to obtain this document and to make sure it is distributed. For this reason, IWRAW sends the unedited concluding comments after a session to all the NGOs on its database from the reviewed countries. IWRAW will also furnish copies of this document upon request.

Optional Protocol. CEDAW has been monitoring the progress of the drafting of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention that will provide a procedure for individual complaints to be brought before the Committee. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convened an Open-ended Working Group in March 1997 to work on the draft. Ms. Silvia Cartwright participated in the meetings as the CEDAW resource person. The Working Group completed the first reading of the draft, agreed to the text of some articles and incorporated several revisions into the document. The Working Group will convene again at the 42d CSW session (March 2 - 13 1998). For a detailed account of the status of the draft, see the June 1997 issue of Women's Watch.

Reports to be considered by CEDAW in 1998 and 1999. The following countries have been scheduled for review in the next three sessions:

Eighteenth Session 19 January - 6 February 1998. Initial Reports: Azerbaijan, Belize, Croatia, Zimbabwe, Czech Republic (reserve list); Second Periodic Reports: Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia; Third Periodic Reports: Mexico

Nineteenth Session July 1998. Initial Reports: Czech Republic; Second Periodic Reports: Germany, Greece (reserve list); Panama, United Republic of Tanzania; Third Periodic Reports: China, Belarus, Kenya, United Kingdom; Fourth Periodic Report: Peru

Twentieth Session January 1999. Second Periodic Reports: Greece, Nigeria, Thailand; Third Periodic Reports: Austria, Egypt, Finland, Spain, Sweden (reserve list).

Please note that the schedules frequently change and States Parties often ask for postponements. For the eighteenth session, if any scheduled countries decline or do not reply by the end of October 1997, the country on the reserve list will be asked to present its report in January 1998. For this reason, it is advisable for interested NGOs to begin preparing alternative reports as soon as possible, even if their countries are currently on the reserve list.

IWRAW strongly urges women's groups in the above countries either to produce a national "shadow" report or to submit information through IWRAW, or both. Reports sent by a coalition of organizations tend to be more persuasive than one submitted to the CEDAW Committee by a single group.

IWRAW submits independent reports to all of the CEDAW members, as well as to the country rapporteurs, at least one month prior to each session. These reports include information from individuals and groups as well as summaries, whenever possible, of national NGO reports. Please contact IWRAW with any questions concerning the reporting and review process, or with contributions of information for the CEDAW Committee. IWRAW will begin in January 1998 to prepare reports on countries scheduled to be reviewed at the July 1998 session. The deadline to submit information to be included in the IWRAW to CEDAW Country Reports is May 1, 1998.

Country Rapporteurs. The country rapporteurs are responsible for briefing the Committee in a closed session prior to the first meeting when a country is discussed and for preparing the concluding comments on that country. The rapporteur is responsible for providing the Committee with additional information, not merely summarizing government report.

New States Parties to the Convention. As of September 1997, 161 countries have ratified the CEDAW Convention. The newest States Parties are Andorra, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Mozambique, Switzerland, and Turkmenistan.


Women, Children and Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities in the CEDAW Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child

An IWRAW Consultation, Saturday January 24, 1997
Le Parker Meridien Hotel, New York
There will be a charge for this program. Information: Valerie Zamberletti, IWRAW.

See contact information on back page, or E-mail: vzamberletti@hhh.umn.edu



The Sixth Women's Global Leadership Institute will be held June 14-27, 1998 around the theme "Building a Culture of Human Rights." Contact: Institute Coordinator, Center for Women's Global Leadership, Douglass College, Rutgers University, 27 Clifton Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, USA. Tel: (1-732) 932-8782; Fax: (1-732) 932-1180. Email: cwgl@igc.apc.org (subject: WGLI'98).

The UN and Refugee's Human Rights: a Manual on How UN Human Rights Mechanisms Can Protect the Rights of Refugees is available from Amnesty International and International Service for Human Rights. Contact: Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ, UK, or International Service for Human Rights, 1 rue de Varembé, P.O. Box 16, 1211 Geneva 20 ch, Switzerland.

The Women for Women's Human Rights is an autonomous action-research project aiming to document and disseminate information on women's human rights in Turkey. Some of its publications are available in English, including Women's Movements in Turkey: A Brief Overview; The Legal Status of Women in Turkey; Domestic Violence and Family Life: Experiences of Turkish Immigrant Women in Germany. Contact the project at Plajyolu Sok. 12/9 Camlidag Apt. Suadiye 81070 Istanbul, Turkey. Tel: 90-216-357-21-42; Fax/Tel: 90-216-385-12-62. Email: WRP-IST@Fenestra.comlink.de, KIHP@info-ist.comlink.de.

The International Lesbian Information Service (ILIS) is an international network dedicated to fostering lesbian organizing. Its newsletter contains news from Poland, India, Australia and elsewhere around the world. Contact: ILIS, c/o COC, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 68-70, 1012 SE Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Tel: +31 (0)20 623 1192. Fax: +31 (0)20 626 7795.

The European Public Affairs Directory 1997 features contact information for 7500 decision makers in EU institutions, corporations, diplomatic corps, trade and special interest groups, law firms, consultancies and the media. Available from Landmarks Square Marie-Louise 49, B-1000 Brussels. Fax: (32-2) 280-6056. (Source: CREW Reports, v.17, n.3/4, 1997)

Arab Women Speak Out: An Empowering Self-Portrayal is a documentary, training and advocacy project designed to promote women's empowerment and engagement in social development throughout the Neat East Region. The Project features a documentary video profiling women from several Arab countries who have become agents of social change within their countries, together with a discussion guide, training module and case publication. Contact: Dr. Carol Underwood or Bushra Jabre or Lawren Goodsmith, Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, 111 market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Tel: (410) 659-6300; Fax: (410) 659-6266. OR Faiza Ben Hadid, Center of Arab Women for Training and Research, 44, Rue de Pologne - 1005 El Omrane, Tunis, Tunisia. Tel: 571-945 or (216-1) 571-867. Fax: (216-1) 574-627.

Equal Opportunities for Women and men in the European Union 1996 is the first report covering Community policies on equal opportunities as a whole. Copies of the report, available in the 11 Community official languages, can be obtained from ANIMA, technical assistance office of the Medium-Term Community Program for Equal Opportunities (61 rue de spa in 1000 Brussels. Tel: 32-2-230-90-31; Fax: 32-2-230-75-11).


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 centers. 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. 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, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK. In Australia: Hilary Charlesworth, Department of 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. Editor: Marsha Freeman. This issue was written with the help of Kasia Polanska, Research Fellow, and Liu Dongxiao, 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 161 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, Shaler Adams Foundation, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcome and are tax deductible for US taxpayers.


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