THE WOMEN'S WATCH
Vol. 11, Nos. 3 & 4
CEDAW UPDATE: NGOS MAKE THEIR MARK
As this issue of the Women's Watch goes to press, the CEDAW Committee has just completed its Nineteenth Session. This session was marked by a consistent welcome to the considerable NGO participation, supported in large part by UNIFEM, IWRAW Asia Pacific, and IWRAW (global). Many of the NGOs who were present at the Nineteenth Session were prepared for it by participating in an intensive NGO training session held in January 1998, organized by IWRAW Asia Pacific, UNIFEM, IWRAW (global), the International Human Rights Law Group, and CIMA (Concertación Interamericana de Mujeres Activistas por los Derechos Humanos). This training provided a dramatic NGO presence at the January CEDAW session as well as expanding the capacity and quality of NGO shadow reporting to the Committee.
The NGO participation in June started with presentations to the CEDAW pre-sessional working group. The pre-sessional working group met for five days prior to the opening of the official session, to review content of States Parties' second and subsequent periodic reports and formulate questions to be sent to the UN mission for response during the government presentations.* NGOs from countries presenting periodic (second and subsequent) reports who were able to be in New York at that time, were invited to make presentations to the working group. The working group responded by incorporating many of the NGO points into its questions to the governments. Many more NGOs were present during the full CEDAW session, monitoring their governments' presentations and working informally to make their concerns known to the Committee experts.
For their part, many of the CEDAW experts welcome the written information provided by the NGOs and use it in formulating questions to governments during the formal review sessions. In addition, the Committee has adopted the practice of holding midday informal meetings during the first two weeks of the session, to hear country-specific information directly from NGOs. The Committee uses NGO information and government responses to its questions to formulate concluding comments, which include an evaluation of the Convention implementation efforts and recommendations for additional action with respect to women's human rights.
As more NGOs become involved in the reporting process and in interaction with the Committee, the NGO community has become more expert in preparing information for presentation. They arrive with reports that thoroughly analyze the government's Convention implementation efforts and note the gaps and misstatements in the government reports. They also produce summaries of their reports, keyed to Convention articles and major issues for easy reference. They prepare for oral presentations and lobbying opportunities by isolating key points they want to make. They monitor the formal review sessions carefully, noting matters that have been left out of the discussion or appear to have been misstated. They have taken in stride the sometimes surprised reactions of government officials who find themselves in the UN meeting room face-to-face with the NGOs they have worked with-or ignored or maligned-at home. And they are prepared to use the results of the session to move their agenda forward when they get home.
IWRAW has just published Producing NGO Shadow Reports to CEDAW: A Procedural Guide, an eight-page set of suggestions for effective presentation of NGO information to the Committee prior to and during the session. The Guide is currently available only in English; translations are in process. NGOs in countries that are on the review list for 1999 should start the process of preparing information immediately. Price: US$5; free to NGOs in developing countries. Contact IWRAW at the address on the back page to obtain copies.
The list of countries to be reviewed by CEDAW in 1999 has been announced. NOTE that this list is subject to change as governments may fail to accept the invitation to be reviewed. If a country appears on the list it is likely to be reviewed within a year if not in the session designated. The countries currently listed for review are:
January 1999: Initial reports: Algeria, Jordan, Liechtenstein. Second periodic reports:: Chile, Greece (2d and 3d), Thailand. ¼Third periodic reports: Austria, China (including Hong Kong), United Kingdom. Fourth periodic reports: Colombia.
June 1999: Initial reports: Democratic Republic of Congo, Belize, Georgia. Second periodic reports: Ireland. Third periodic reports: Egypt, Germany, Spain.
New CEDAW Committee Members. On 17 February 1998 the States parties to the Convention elected eight new members and reelected four experts to serve four-year terms beginning January 1999. The newly elected and reelected experts are: Feng Cui of China; Naela Gabr of Egypt; Savitri Wimalawathie Ellepola Goonesekere of Sri Lanka; Rosalyn Hazelle of Saint Kitts and Nevis; Rosario G. Manalo of the Philippines; Mavivi Lilian Yvette Myakayaka-Manzini of South Africa; Zelmira M.E. Regazzoli of Argentina; and Chikako Taya of Japan. The re-elected members are: Charlotte Abaka of Ghana; Emna Aouij of Tunisia; Ivanka Corti of Italy; and Carmel Shalev of Israel.
The 11 members who will continue to serve on the Committee until 31 December 2000 are: Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real of Spain; Silvia Cartwright of New Zealand; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez of Cuba; Aida Gonzalez of Mexico; Salma Khan of Bangladesh; Yung-Chung Kim of Republic of Korea; Ahoua Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso; Anne Lise Ryel of Norway; Hanna Beate Schoepp-Schilling of Germany; and Kongit Sinegiorgis of Ethiopia.
CEDAW UPDATE, Part II:
OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION
As reported by Andrew Byrnes, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong
The efforts to adopt an Optional Protocol to the Convention that would permit complaints to be submitted by individuals and inquiries to be carried out by the Committee, made further progress at the March 1998 session of the Commission on the Status of Women. A specially formed working group of the Commission started work on the Protocol in 1996 with a general discussion and in 1997 began work on a draft prepared by Aloisia Woergetter of Austria, chairperson of the working group. In the 1998 session the working group made some progress in resolving some of the outstanding issues and developing a more concise draft.
The overwhelming majority of States that participated in the 1998 working group supported the effort to move forward, although not all agreed that a draft should be completed for adoption in 1998. However, a small group of States-led by Egypt, Algeria, Cuba, China, and India-tried to delay the work by opposing central provisions that the majority supported. This group proposed amendments to dilute or undermine the draft and engaged in simple filibustering. The result was that work on the draft was not completed and central issues remained unresolved. These include:
The chairperson's summary of the discussion and the current draft can be found on the UN Division for the Advancement of Women's Web site: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/chair.htm OR http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/scw/advance.htm.
The working group is scheduled to take up the draft again in the March 1999 CSW session. Supporters should start now to mobilize pressure on those countries that have been standing in the way of progress on this effort to add to the CEDAW Convention a mechanism that can only make it stronger.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND DISCRIMINATION - Convention Articles 2, 3 and 5
Month after month, dismaying reports on the treatment of women in Afghanistan cross our desk. Occasionally a bright spot is seen, such as the May 1998 Taliban signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations that allowed the UN to lift a two-month suspension of its activities in the southwestern part of the country. The Memorandum of Understanding established the Taliban's agreement to allow UN personnel to work free of harassment and to employ staff "without distinction based on race, gender, religion or nationality" and, according to a UN statement, outlined activities designed to enhance women's access to health and education. This agreement followed the April visit to Afghanistan by UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who warned that the UN would suspend all but life-saving programs if the Taliban failed to take concrete action to loosen restrictions on women's activities and to stop harassing international aid workers. Recent news reports indicate that some women have indeed been invited back to their jobs and that enforcement of dress restrictions has loosened a bit.
But in June the Taliban ordered the closing of all the private schools and vocational centers that were established in Kabul to educate girls after the public schools were closed to girls and female teachers were ordered off the job. The government insists that it will allow girls to be in school only to the age of eight and only to learn the Koran. On June 30 the Taliban ordered all foreign aid agencies to vacate their offices in Kabul and relocate outside the city, in an isolated hostel that lacks water and electricity. And despite protests, there is no indication that the government has modified its recent ban on allowing expatriate Muslim women into the country unless they are accompanied by a male guardian. The ban prevents aid agencies from employing women from other Muslim countries to work with them Afghan women.
Women in Nepal held a demonstration to demand equal rights to inheritance. Nearly 200 women from various organizations, representing 60 districts in Nepal, took part in the May 1998 demonstration to protest Parliament's failure to discuss a controversial bill which would give women equal rights in inheritance. The demonstration disrupted traffic for more than two hours. More than 100 women were arrested, dragged into police cars by female police officers, when they tried to force their way into the house of representatives. Several protesters received minor injuries when the police made a baton charge. The arrested women, including Nepal Communist Party chairperson and MP Sahana Pradhan, were released later in the day.
The San Francisco (California) Board of Supervisors has adopted a city ordinance to implement the CEDAW Convention in city policy. The law designates the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women as the implementing body. The Commission will conduct qualitative as well as quantitative gender analyses of employment, funding allocations, and direct and indirect service delivery practices of selected city departments. It will develop action plans to address discrimination as found, and will provide training for all city departments. Further information: Krishanti Dharamaraj, Women's Institute for Leadership Development, (415) 837-0795.
The South African Women's Budget Initiative is providing a model for other countries to closely examine the impact of national budget priorities on women's lives. According to a recently published study of the Women's Budget Initiative, in addition to looking at the budgets for programs specifically targeted at or including women, such as training, health programs, or employment recruiting, the examination must include analysis of general expenditures to determine their effects on women as a category. For example, if a high proportion of illiterates are women, allocations for literacy programs and adult education should be designated to reach a high proportion of women. South Africa's budget initiative has inspired similar exercises in other Commonwealth countries, and the Commonwealth has designated South Africa as a pilot country for assistance in engendering economic policy. The success of the Initiative thus far is largely attributed to the efforts of MP Pregs Govender, who has consistently advocated for it. The most recent analysis of the Initiative, edited by Debbie Budlender, is available from Community Agency for Social Enquiry, Cape Town; tel (27-021) 47 9852; fax (21-021) 448 6185.
Canada's reorganization of its budget and allocation of responsibilities for social welfare programs to the provinces has had a dramatic impact on implementation of equality rights, according to a new study by Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky. The authors conclude that the 1995 Budget Implementation Act (BIA), by eliminating federal standards and reducing federal contributions to social programs, violates Canada's obligations under the CEDAW Convention and its own constitution. Women and the Equality Deficit: The Impact of Restructuring Canada's Socia Programs is an important contribution to understanding the linkage between national budget policy and social and economic rights. Available from: Status of Women Canada, 360 Albert St., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1C3 Canada.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16
A Maasai woman in Kenya has asked the courts to formally outlaw wife-beating. Agnes Siyiankoi Risa was beaten frequently during her twelve-year marriage. In September 1997, after a five-hour beating during which her husband threatened to kill her, she decided to press assault charges. Because Kenya lacks laws specifically addressing domestic violence, Risa's husband was charged with "unlawful" assault under the criminal law. Traditionally claims of spousal assault have been met with a defense that the assault is "lawful" because customary law allows it. Risa also has sued in civil court, seeking an order that would eliminate custom as a defense for assault of one's wife, under the Constitutional provision protecting an individual from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Although the Kenyan constitution permits application of customary law only as long as it does not conflict with statute, and assault is prohibited by statute, the custom of wife-beating has been allowed to stand unchallenged until now. According to Ele Pawelski, who reported this case in an article written for an international journal, Risa's challenge has made the issue clear, with significant consequences to her. Women in the Maasai community are angry with her, and her own family has criticized her for challenging the status quo. The civil case will be taken up after the criminal case against her husband is decided.
Senegal President Abdou Diouf has appealed for a law to end FGM. According to a government statement, the President called for a national dialogue to raise consciousness regarding the risks involved in the practice of FGM. In 1997, women of Malikunda, a village in southwestern Senegal, enlisted religious leaders and local chiefs in a decision to stop practicing FGM. Citing this example, Diouf called for a national dialogue and village-level action to end the practice. The issue will be particularly difficult in the northern and eastern parts of the country, where it is widely practiced by several ethnic groups. The President said the fight against female circumcision was an important step to promote human rights and women's equality.
The South African courts no longer must assume that rape victims are lying in their testimony, according to a recent ruling by the Court of Appeal. In March 1998 the Court threw out the long-standing "cautionary rule," which had made it almost impossible for women to pursue charges against a rapist. The rule required the presiding officer to discount a woman's testimony as to the sexual assault on grounds that women were assumed to "habitually" lie about rape. The challenge to the rule, characterized by the Cape Attorney General as "chauvinistic, archaic and unfair," was taken up by a team of female prosecutors.
The government of Spain takes steps to suppress violence against women. In April 1998 Spain's cabinet passed new measures to deal with rising cases of spousal abuse. The measures authorize forcible separation of wife-abusers from their spouse, and automatic legal proceedings against abusers. Women's affairs units will be created in police stations. The Labor and Social Affairs Minister says the main goal is "for all forms of abuse to be reported, and for no more women to die." The authority reported 91 cases of women murdered by their husbands or ex-husbands in 1997, a significant increase from 64 cases in 1996. The worst case is one in which a man burnt his 60-year-old wife to death because she went on television to expose years of abuse by him. Meanwhile, 19,000 abuse complaints were received, compared with 13,000 the year before. Women's groups estimate that only one in ten cases is actually reported. The government also called for the creation of more shelters for battered women and training courses for police and is planning a public awareness campaign against domestic violence.
Five Filipina lolas rejected an apology from Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaryo Hashimoto in January 1998. "Lola" is a Tagalong word for grandmother that is also used to address Filipina wartime military sex slaves. Lola Fedencia David, president of Lila Filipina Metro Manila, said Mr. Hashimoto's apology was refused because it did not meet their demand for Japan to admit its official accountability for the war crimes of rape and sex slavery committed by the Japanese military. She said she only accepted the Asian Women's Fund (AWF) private donations because it came with sincere wishes from Japanese citizens. Lola Cristita Alcober has rejected the Y1.2 million Medical and Welfare Assistance for Lolas in Crisis Situation (ALCS) because it was not the same amount given to their Korean and Taiwanese counterparts. Lola Gloria Cayanan disagrees with the arrangement that the fund has to be given through the Department of Social Welfare and Development on a five-year installment plan. Survivors in South Korea and Taiwan each receive Y3 million in lump sum directly and immediately upon identification by AWF, according to Nelia Sancho, coordinator at the Manila office of the Asian Women's Human Rights Council. The five lolas have been active in local and international campaigns that demand state legal compensation and official apologies from the Japanese government.
The South Korean government has been considering compensating Korean comfort women directly and seeking payment from Japan after the fact, according to a recent news release. The Korean Foreign Ministry takes the position that the government of Japan must compensate the comfort women, and that a privately supported Japanese compensation fund allows Japan to evade responsibility for the actions of its wartime government. The direct payments from the Korean government would forestall Korean comfort women from relying on the private fund.
The office of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women requests information to be used in the next report to the UN Commission on Human Rights. This report will revisit the issue of domestic violence and assess state compliance with recommendations set forth in the Special Rapporteur's second report, which focused exclusively on domestic violence. The Special Rapporteur has asked states to provide a written account and copies of measures taken since 1994 with respect to (1) national plans of action; (2) statistics; (3) training for all members of the justice system; and (4) support services for victim-survivors. The report will focus particularly on violence against women resulting from social and economic policies and will examine the intersection between reproductive policy and violence against women. The Special Rapporteur notes that information is needed specifically demonstrating the linkage between economic and social policy and violence. Information should be carefully documented and should be either country-specific or provide specific examples to illustrate general theoretical pieces. Case studies are especially useful. Deadline is September 1, 1998. Send material to: Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, ICES, 2 Kinsey Terrace, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. Tel: (94 1) 685085/698048; fax (94 1) 698048 (attn: Lisa Kois).
SEX ROLES AND STEREOTYPING - Article 5
A major study by the Women's Media Centre of Cambodia has found that the nation's media promote stereotyped images that systematically degrade women. The majority of print and broadcast stories and programming portray women as in traditional roles, and as victims or sex objects, "sources of pleasure and pain," according to the Media Centre's monitoring group. In the surveyed media, women were the subject of only seven percent of the newspaper stories but appeared in 92 percent of the cartoons and drawings-and over three-quarters of those were found by the monitors to be obscene. Women who broke the stereotypes were portrayed as ultimately manipulative and troublesome, inviting tragedy for themselves and their families.
In Russia, changes in economic and political systems have had little impact on stereotypical views and treatment of women. Women who are "unknown" to hotel staff are prohibited from meeting in hotel lobbies-on the pretext that they could be prostitutes. Female drivers still are rare, and drinking is a primarily male activity (which largely accounts for the fifteen-year difference in male and female life expectancy). A bizarre sort of chivalry applies to protect women from some of the unsavory aspects of contemporary Russia-they rarely are asked to pay the standard bribes to traffic police who stop motorists on pretext, and they are less likely than men to be attacked for failing to pay protection money to the local Mafia.
Women journalists in China are monitoring media to fight negative stereotyping. "With a sense of duty and responsibility," a group of women journalists from various news agencies have established the Women's Media Monitoring Network. The Network calls for a women's perspective and gender-balanced coverage in the media. Commercials often indicate that a woman's personal value depends on her sexual appeal to men. Women are also portrayed in literature, movies, print media, and television as needing men's appreciation and protection. Even more worrisome, according to the women journalists, is that the negative stereotypes have taken deeper and deeper root in women's own minds. In addition to a monitoring hotline, the Network also publishes the results of its monitoring work in Chinese Women's News (CWN), the national women's newspaper. CWN has started two special columns, "Media in My Eyes" and "Women and Media" to publish discussions on sex discrimination in the media. As one reader wrote, "in this open and colorful world, women's roles are varied, yet the media always ask the same question to successful women: if you have to choose between your career and family, what will be your decision?" The Network's work has drawn considerable attention from social activists, government officials, and publishers and magazines that are criticized.
POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Articles 7 and 8
Unity Dow, a lawyer from Botswana whose 1993 nationality case became a critical precedent for application of the international right to nondiscrimination, has become a judge of the High Court of Botswana. Dow is the first woman to hold a judgeship in Botswana. She took up her duties as of February 1998.
Women's voices were heard only with difficulty in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, and the rules for election to the new body that will manage the peace threaten to exclude women altogether. According to Monica McWilliams, leader of the Women's Coalition that received enough votes to give women two delegates to the negotiations, the new rules will not guarantee representation by a wide variety of parties. Without such a guarantee, the larger parties will take all the seats. Northern Ireland has historically sent only men to the UK Parliament, and politics remains a male domain. The Women's Coalition mounted a visible campaign in support of adoption of the peace agreements in the May 22 referendum but struggles with lack of funds and organization as well as general suspicion of women in politics.
Sheikha Muza al-Mussanad, wife of Qatar's Emir, says that women's participation in politics is not a subject for debate but a "legitimate right," according to the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. The newspaper's interview was itself a news item, as Gulf leaders' wives rarely talk to the press. The Emir, Sheikh Hamad, promised to hold municipal elections shortly after he seized power from his father in a palace coup in June 1995. The plan to hold elections was approved in 1997. It gives women the right to vote and run for office. Though the date of election is yet to be set, Sheikha Muza has asked women to be prepared. A committee has been set up coordinate with international organizations and help women participate in the election. A few days after the interview, women were allowed to compete in as well as watch the track and field grand prix of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). IAAF found this breakthrough very encouraging since women's sports are generally banned in the Gulf countries.
Iranian women are competing in sports again, including the Olympics. Target shooter Lida Fariman carried the Iranian flag in opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She represents the two million women who now compete in some form of sports, grown from about 400,000 two years ago and as opposed to fewer than 10,000 who participated before the 1979 revolution. Much of this increase is due to promotion of sports by MP Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Hashemi believes that women can and should participate in a broad range of sports-but that they must be dressed modestly, their bodies fully covered, unless they are playing in private or sex-segregated facilities. While the requirement of long coats that hide the body hampers women from competing effectively in sports such as track and field, soccer, or downhill skiing, Iranian women have succeeded in international competitions in which the mode of dress can be adapted to allow them to perform. In addition to Fariman, the target shooter who aspires to the Sydney Olympics, about 30 women compete seriously as equestrians. Girls' soccer has been reintroduced in the schools, and a first round of classes has been held to train coaches and referees for women's soccer-although the sport remains banned for adult women, who also are prohibited from attending soccer matches.
In reaction to these developments, Mostafa Hashei-Taba, head of the physical education organization, was summoned by several conservative MPs to explain the situation as to women's soccer. Hashei-Taba is reported to have said that a decree from senior religious jurists will be needed in order to lift the ban on women's soccer. The edges of the revolutionary culture may have softened, but the conservative center holds.
The quota will be doubled for women's seats in municipal elections in Pakistan. The decision was made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government. There had been around 10 percent of seats reserved for women in local councils across the country. At a meeting in April 1998, Sharif's cabinet decided to increase women's seats by 100 percent. Feminist groups are also demanding 33 percent seats in the federal parliament, but no decision has been made regarding this issue.
Women's admission to a funeral prayer could redefine the relationship between state and religion in Turkey. In January 1998, a local religious leader in Izmir invited women to join the men in prayer because he could not bear to see them crying in the corner at a funeral. To his surprise, the gesture of kindness received immediate national attention. Although Islam is the dominant religion, Turkey is a secularly governed country; the muftis, local religious leaders, are appointed by the government's Department of Religious Affairs. The recent rise of the Islamic Welfare Party has created a great deal of tension between Islam and the state. Recently, state prosecutors charged the Party with attempts to overthrow Turkey's secular regime and obtained an order dissolving the Party. In this context, the government quickly acted to advocate for women's admission to prayer in the mosques. One day after the mufti's controversial action, the President of Turkey attended a funeral prayer where a woman was in the front row. The Department of Religious Affairs has gone even farther and suggested that women should be admitted to Friday prayers and Ramadan prayers as well. Despite sharp criticism from conservative forces, the Dean of the Theological Faculty at the University of Istanbul supports women joining the prayers, noting that "this was the practice in the lifetime of the Prophet."
Opportunities for women in the military are expanding in a number of countries. While human rights activists may or may not consider this to be progress, it is notable in terms of achieving equality and perhaps ultimately, reshaping "military" thinking. The developments:
The South African military is about to adopt a new code outlawing sexual harassment, unfair discrimination, and fraternization between different ranks. The changes are designed to conform to the requirements of the new South African constitution and international human rights instruments. They also deal with the realities of military life in which women serve side-by-side with men.
HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS - Convention Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16
New findings spur concern about female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States. More than 160,000 girl and women in immigrant communities may have been victims or are at risk of FGM, according to a report by New York State Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter, who is active in a campaign to prosecute practitioners of FGM. FGM has been illegal in the U.S. since 1997. However, women's organizations have received reports from women seeking help in avoiding FGM. There have been accounts of operations performed by immigrants themselves or by foreign practitioners who perform it in the ancestral country or in the U.S. at invitation of immigrant families. Officials say precise figures are difficult to collect because it requires physical examination. But they believe there is cause for concern based on anecdotal evidence. The New York State Health and Human Services department has been developing educational materials for health professionals encountering the problem for the first time.
In addition to Catholic churches, parents are another important obstacle to the right of teenage rape victims to obtain abortions. Recently two hard-won rulings allowing girls to have an abortion have been overruled by parents who decide the girl should not have an abortion after all. In Brazil, a father said that his eleven-year-old daughter would not have an abortion, after a judge approved the procedure, because it might endanger his daughter's life-although doctors said that it would be safe. Because the father is the legal guardian, his decision overrides both the court's approval and the doctor's opinion. At about the same time, in Ireland, the parents of a 13-year-old rape victim withdrew their support for her abortion after the court ruled to allow her to travel to England for it. The girl's father even asked the Archbishop of Dublin for financial support to seek reversal of the decision through appeal (the Archbishop refused). It was reported that the parents changed their minds under the influence of an antiabortion group.
A family planning program in Peru invades the lives of poor rural women. In 1995, the Peruvian Government launched an ambitious family planning program. The Government has offered promotions and cash incentives for state health workers who can meet sterilization goals. The workers use gifts of food and clothes to induce poor rural women to undergo tubal ligation. According to critics of the program, they do not tell the women about alternative methods of family planning or that tubal ligation is essentially irreversible. While the women are given a consent form to sign, they frequently are illiterate and do not understand Spanish. According to the critics, many state doctors are performing sloppy operations and cause serious health problems. Recently, the New York Times reported the case of Bernidina Alva, who died of complications of tubal ligation. Alva, who could barely feed her family, accepted two dresses for her daughter and a T-shirt for her son in exchange for her agreement to undergo the procedure. Ten days later, she died of complications, leaving behind three young children. The family was told they could not sue the government because Alva had consented to the operation.
The Algerian government is allowing abortions for women who are abducted and raped by Islamic militants, despite the official total ban on abortion. The Islamic Supreme Council, the highest religious authority, which usually reflects government policy, authorized the abortions in April 1998. The number of women abducted by Islamic militants since 1994 is officially estimated at approximately 1600, and many have been raped. Women who are raped cannot return to their families because of traditional attitudes. According to activists, the government also is providing funding for homes in which rape victims are placed.
Abortion is legally available to a majority of women in the world, but in some countries women are imprisoned for obtaining one, according to a major study carried out by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP). Recognizing the significant impact of law on the availability, accessibility and affordability of abortion services, CRLP recently reviewed abortion-related laws in 152 nations and dependent territories with populations of one million or more. The study also documented changes in these laws since 1985. According to this study, 61% of the world's people live in nations where induced abortion is permitted with few or no restrictions. Twenty-five percent of the world's population live in countries where abortion is generally prohibited. Since 1985, nineteen nations have significantly liberalized their abortion laws. The only exception is Poland, which has substantially limited legal access to abortion.
In countries where abortion still is criminalized, poor women are disproportionately affected. According to the study, for example, two-thirds of all women who are incarcerated in Nepal are imprisoned on the ground of undergoing an illegal abortion, and most of them are low-income. And, according to a separate CRLP report, under the oldest criminal code in Latin America, Chilean women regularly are sent to prison for obtaining abortions. Most of those who are prosecuted are single, poor, undereducated, and young. They usually are reported to police by hospital authorities when they come in for treatment of medical problems resulting from abortion. The Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997 and the separate report on Chile are available from CRLP, 120 Wall Street, NY NY 10005 USA; tel (212) 514-5534; fax (212) 514-5538.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Convention Articles 14 and 16
Women challenge polygamy in Uganda. Polygamy is legal and endemic in Uganda; by expert estimate, forty to fifty percent of all unions are polygamous. But women have begun to challenge the practice, which can cause the existing wife humiliation, loss of property and maltreatment of existing children when a husband takes a new wife. The challenge has become the center of a serious fight in the Law Reform Commission. The Commission initially recommended that a man be restricted to two wives and justify the "need" for taking a second wife before a Family and Child Court. This proposal caused heated and emotional debates between women and Muslim advocates. Miria Matembe, a legislator and member of the original Constituent Assembly, argues that restriction is of little use and that the practice must be outlawed entirely. Muslim advocates criticize the proposal as an imposition of Christian values on Muslims. Although the Muslim community constitutes just over 10% of the population of 21 million, its argument prevails at present. But women's advocates feel hopeful that with more women gaining access to power and education, the clash with polygamy is inevitable.
A state commission has recommended that Turkish law be changed to eliminate legal recognition of male dominance in the family. The commission recommended provisions stress equal rights and duties of both spouses and raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both males and females. The proposal would eliminate the designation of the husband as head of the family, having sole right to decide on matters relating to bringing up children and to decide where the family lives. The requirement of a husband's permission for a woman to work outside the home also would be eliminated. To become law, the recommendations must be adopted by Parliament. The public discussion is likely to be heated, as male power in the family is a strongly entrenched tradition in many parts of Turkey, and the continuing sociopolitical struggle between secularists and Islamicists will surely color the debate.
Child marriage is illegal but remains common in part of India. Indian law sets 18 as the minimum age for a woman to marry and 21 for a man. The Indian Parliament also adopted the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1978. However, the practice is still common in the northern states. In Rajasthan, a government survey of more than 5,000 women in 1993 showed that 56 percent had married before they were 15. Of those, three per cent were married before they were five years old and another 14 percent before they reached the age of ten. Extreme poverty has pushed parents to marry off girl children so that they will not have to support them, while in-laws receive the benefit of the girls' labor. To stop child marriages, the National Commission for Women once urged the government to unify the separate marriage laws for different religious communities and to require that all marriages be legally registered. But the government insists on not interfering in the personal laws of the distinct religious communities unless the initiative comes from the communities themselves.
RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The Human Rights Advocates Training Program at Columbia University is designed for lawyers, journalists, teachers and other human rights activists from non-industrialized countries where human rights advocacy is limited. Full fellowships are available for this one-semester program. Applications are due September 7 of each year. Information: Ms. Chivy W. Sok, Program Director, (212) 854-3014; fax (212) 316-4578; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The International Human Rights Internship Program supports staff development and training for human rights advocates and organizations from the global South, East Central Europe, and the former Soviet republics. Information: IHRIP, c/o Institute of International Education, 1400 K Street, N.W., Suite 650, Washington DC 20005 USA. Fax: (202) 326-7763.
A Graduate Scholarship in Reproductive Health Law is offered by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. The fellowship supports studies leading to an LL.M. or S.J.D. The degree requirements include a 12-month residence at the University. Information: Graduate Admissions Office, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, 78 Queen's Park, Toronto Ontario Canada M5S 2C5. tel: (416) 978-0213; fax (416) 978-2648.
Mapping Progress: Assessing Implementation of the Beijing Platform 1998 is a summary of actions and policies adopted by governments in compliance with commitments made in the Beijing Platform for Action. Available from WEDO, 355 Lexington Avenue, 3d Floor, New York NY 10017 USA. Tel (212) 973-0325; fax (212) 973-0335; e-mail email@example.com.
The Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Adolescent Girls and Their Rights is now available at http://www.un.org/dpcsd/daw/dawnew.htm. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the document and do not have access to the Web, please contact Lea Browning at W.E.A.R.E. for Human Rights. Tel: (US) (301) 270-0463; Fax: (301) 270-0321.
UNICEF has published Sharing from Zero: the Promotion and Protection of Children's Rights in Post-Genocide Rwanda, July 1994-December 1996. The report examines the actors involved in the reconstruction process and the impact of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has general application to the development of a coherent long-term policy on children's issues in post-conflict situations. Contact: International Child Development Center, Piazza SS. Annunziata, 12, 50122 Florence, Italy. Tel. 3955-2345258; Fax: 3955-244817.
Falling Short: The World Bank's Role in Population and Reproductive Health reviews the reasons for World Bank's lack of attention to population issues and the effectiveness of Bank projects on reproductive health and family planning issues. Contact: Sally Ethelston at Population Action. Tel: 202-659-1833; Fax: 202-293-1795. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Global Survival Network is facilitating an electronic mailing list focusing on trafficking in women. The list will focus on human rights abuses related to trafficking. To subscribe: send an e-mail to
In the body of the message write: subscribe STOP-TRAFFIC Your Name. To send a message to the list, send to .
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 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, Catharine Cram 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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* NOTE: The scheduling of the presessional working group will be changed for future sessions. The Committee will hold the presessional working group for each session immediately after the close of the prior session (example: the presessional working group for the January 2000 session will be held immediately after the close of the June 1999 session.) In transition, the presessional working group for the June 1999 session will be held as a special working group during the January 1999 session. NGOs that wish to submit information to be used by the presessional working group to prepare questions for June 1999 country reviews therefore must have their information ready by January 1999. This schedule change affects only those countries that are presenting second and subsequent reports. NGOs should note also that although information submitted after the working group meets will not be reflected in the questions sent to the government six months prior to the Committee session in which it will be reviewed, Committee experts will still be interested in having NGO information during the country review in the full Committee session. back
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