THE WOMEN'S WATCH
Vol.12 Nos. 3/4; Vol. 13 No.1
TWO STEPS BACK: Customary Law and the Zimbabwe Constitution
More than fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe became a beacon unto the world by passing a law that eliminated women's minority status under its multiple legal systems. The Legal Age of Majority Act (LAMA), adopted in 1982 shortly after independence, provided that all Zimbabweans-female, male, African, white-attain full adult status at the age of eighteen, "for all purposes, including customary law." A product of the independence revolution, LAMA was in itself revolutionary in addressing the central issue of women's disadvantage under African customary law: their total lack of capacity to act as legally recognized adults, capable of owning property, entering into contracts, and making legally enforceable decisions without male consent. In reporting to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1998, Zimbabwe proudly cited LAMA and was in turn congratulated by the Committee for having adopted it.
In 1999, the beacon was extinguished when the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled that the Legal Age of Majority Act does not in fact provide for women to be treated as adults under customary law. Ruling in an inheritance case, the Court overruled prior cases confirming women's rights to inherit under customary law, and indicated that cases allowing women to sue in their own right for seduction damages, consent to marriage on their own, and inherit property, were wrongly decided. The Court underscored the injustices suffered by women under customary law, stating that the inequities are justified by the patriarchal nature of the society and the necessity of maintaining a patrilineal tradition. The Court indicated unanimously that such injustice was not remedied by LAMA and is protected by the Constitution.
The facts of the case are fairly simple, but the Court's argument supporting the decision is convoluted. Venia Magaya is the only child of her father's first marriage. She has three half-brothers from his second marriage. When the father died intestate, Ms. Magaya claimed status as heir and was appointed by the community court. Her half-brother objected on grounds that not all the family had been notified of the proceedings. Ms. Magaya's appointment was cancelled, and upon application her half-brother was granted status as heir under customary law, as the oldest claiming male child. He proceeded to evict Ms. Magaya from her house. Upon Ms. Magaya's challenge, the Supreme Court held that as to intestate succession, the custom of male preference for heirship, even when there is senior female offspring, must be applied. In so holding, the Court overruled its prior holding in Chihowa vs. Mangwende (1987), in which the Legal Age of Majority Act had been applied to eliminate discrimination between male and female children as to intestate succession.
Having dealt a fatal blow to the specific cause of female inheritance rights, the Court went on to attack a series of its own earlier decisions that had applied LAMA to grant rights to females under customary law. The discussion centered on allegedly overexpansive interpretation of LAMA. The Court stated that Parliament did not intend the law to eliminate male preference and grant women rights that they had not had under customary law, but only to grant civil legal status to women so they could enter into contracts and bring lawsuits.
In a stunningly circular argument, the Court stated that the discrimination suffered by women under customary law is not a matter of perpetual minority but is a result of the "nature of African society, especially the patrilineal, matrilineal, or bilateral nature of some of them. . . . allowing female children to inherit . . . would disrupt the African customary laws of that society (original decision, p. 11) . . . I am also of the view that the finding in [cases applying LAMA to provide inheritance and other rights to women] is tantamount to bestowing on women rights they never had under customary law (p. 15)." That, of course, is precisely the point. The Legal Age of Majority Act does give women rights they did not have under customary law. It gives them the right to be treated as adults and to challenge men on an equal legal footing. What the Court really says in this opinion is that women are adult persons for some purposes in Zimbabwean society, regardless of custom, but not for others, where male power over property and over women's fate is threatened.
Since independence, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe has been notable as a truly independent and professional institution in a region in which such qualities have been rare at any level of government. While not all of its decisions have been positive in human rights terms, they have not appeared to be arbitrary. The Magaya opinion, however, and the reaction of the Chief Justice to criticism of the decision, are troublesome as an indication of a regression toward support of authoritarian attitudes.
National and international reaction to the Magaya decision was instantaneous and vocal. Zimbabwean women's groups, including many lawyers, wrote to the Chief Justice, questioning the reasoning of the case. The Chief Justice responded defensively, threatening with judicial discipline lawyers who dared to criticize the decision. Discussion on international networks was intense. Two senior members of the UN Committee on Discrimination Against Women, Judge Silvia Cartwright of New Zealand, and Dr. Charlotte Abaka, the senior African member and former Vice-Chair of the Committee, wrote to the newly established Constitutional Commission, urging elimination of the provisions of the Constitution that were cited to allow this discrimination and addition of provisions prohibiting discrimination in the name of custom.
As this newsletter goes to press, the Constitutional Commission has begun its work, preparing to report to the President on November 30. One of its members is an expert on women's human rights and customary law, with a deep understanding of the intersection of rights, tradition, and cultural change. We hope the Commission report reflects this understanding and moves the Constitutional process toward final and complete prohibition of discrimination against women, in law and in custom. Only then can Zimbabwe truly claim to have lived up to its obligations under the CEDAW Convention and reclaim its place as a country in which revolution truly brought freedom to all its citizens.
A February 1999 Indian Supreme Court decision could have a long-term, if not immediately dramatic, effect on women's family status. After a bank refused allow her to open an account or to sell her Indian government bonds for her son, on grounds that as a mother she could not be the natural legal guardian of the child, Gita Hariharan successfully challenged the law that imputes sole guardianship of children to their father as long as he is alive. While the Indian Constitution proclaims equality of the sexes as a general principle, the preservation of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian community laws with respect to family matters places women in a distinctly second-class status within the family. While it does not directly strike down Hindu family law, the Hariharan opinion attacks the cultural assumptions underlying its discriminatory provisions. Activists see some hope in the growth of a small group of educated women who will not accept second-class status and in the unusual speed with which the Supreme Court decided the case.
Women in US prisons suffer a shameful level of rape, abuse and medical neglect, according to a report released in March by Amnesty International. The report, Not Part of My Sentence, notes that the soaring female inmate population is subject to groping during searches, shackling during childbirth, and voyeurism by male guards. Minnesota, which is generally regarded as a progressive state, does not prohibit by law sexual contact between male guards and female prison inmates. The report cites twelve other states in which such contact is not illegal as well as specific instances of abuse in California, Arizona, and Chicago. Information: Amnesty International USA, 322 Eighth Avenue, 1st Floor, New York NY 10001 USA. Fax: 212 627-1451; e-mail email@example.com.
Chile has amended its criminal code to repeal the section criminalizing same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults. The change represents a victory after seven years of effort by the local gay and lesbian community. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the repeal brings Chile into line with a 1994 decision by the Human Rights Committee that found Australia's prohibition of same-sex relations violated the right to privacy and discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Information: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 1360 Mission Street, San Francisco CA 94103 USA; tel (415) 255-8680; fax (415) 255-8662; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although Ghana outlawed the practice in 1998, families continue to deliver young girls into a slave-like life of servitude in animist shrines as compensation for a crime committed by a male family member or in thanks for a blessing-and the priests continue to take them. Frequently abused by the priests, raped, prohibited from attending school and from access to wages they earn by petty trading or farming, the trokosi ("slaves of the gods") girls are supposed to serve in the shrines for five years but sometimes end up spending their lives there. Activists concerned about women's human rights characterize the practice as slavery; defenders insist that the girls are priestesses and are treated like queens. Failure to enforce the law prohibiting trokosi is attributed to the personal beliefs of government officials who sometimes worship at the shrines where the girls are kept. Information: Equality Now, PO Box 20646, Columbus Circle Station, New York NY 10023 USA; e-mail email@example.com.
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights has produced an analysis of the newly adopted Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including discussion of each article and suggestions for implementation. The recommendations focus on publicizing the Declaration and on monitoring and publicizing violations. For a copy: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 333 Seventh Avenue, 13th Floor, New York NY 10001 USA; tel (212) 845-5240; fax (22) 845-5299; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN
The United Nations Development Program has launched a program to combat trafficking in women in Southeast Asia. Funded by a grant from the Turner Foundation, the three-year program is designed to improve cooperation between the governments in the region in addressing the issue. Upon Cambodia's agreement to join the program, the Cambodian Minister of Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua, admitted that corrupt police and military are involved in the trade. Aid workers indicate that abusers include an increasing number of pedophiles, who have turned to Cambodia following a major crackdown in Thailand.
The Thai government, for its part, admitted in its report to the CEDAW Committee that social attitudes are so deep-rooted in support of using women in the sex trade that anti-trafficking laws are only part of the answer. The government has launched programs to change attitudes, but the battle is uphill. Thai men still are ridiculed for being virgins, a visit to a prostitute is considered a normal rite of passage, and men regularly patronize commercial sex workers as a group leisure activity. Burmese women are estimated to make up about ten percent of the 150,000 to 200,000 sex workers in Thailand, underscoring the need for regional cooperation in dealing with trafficking.
And in Europe, the Finnish government has called for greater cooperation between governments, police and NGOs in the Baltic states to stop the trafficking of women from that region into the rest of Europe. While a recent relaxation of visa requirements is unlikely to increase a trade that already operates outside the law, the need for intergovernmental cooperation does increase in the more open immigration environment. As elsewhere in the world, many of the trafficked women are young girls from small communities who are enticed into leaving home with promises of jobs or husbands and are brutally exploited when they arrive in the new country.
While governments and activists in Asia and Europe have targeted trafficking from and within those regions, Esmeralda Ruiz, General Secretary for the Interinstitutional Committee against Trafficking of Women and Children, estimates that 35,000 Colombian women work as prostitutes around the world and a similar number of children are used in the pornography industry. The lure is the familiar one: advertising offering scholarships, jobs as models or domestic service.
And now for some good news: in a remarkable victory for women who have been lured into prostitution, a US Federal court has awarded $1 million in restitution to 17 women who were smuggled into Florida by Mexican traffickers for purposes of prostitution. Cadena family members recruited the women, some merely adolescents, with promises of jobs as nannies and housekeepers. Upon arriving in the US they were forced to work in trailers in locations throughout Florida and in two other states, "servicing" men twelve hours per day, six days per week. The amount of restitution was determined on the basis of the hours and working conditions. While the Cadenas' lawyer insists that the family has no money to collect, the women will attempt to obtain a civil judgment in Mexico and find the assets there. Meanwhile, most are working at legitimate jobs in Florida, but their immigration status remains uncertain. The case has resulted in formation of a Justice Department task force on exploitation of illegal immigrants. Information: Human Trafficking Program, Global Survival Network, PO Box 73214 Washington DC 20009 USA; tel (202) 387-0028; fax (202) 387-2590; e-mail email@example.com.
WOMEN IN PUBLIC LIFE
Articles 7, 8
Kuwaiti women will have the right to vote and to hold public office if the new Parliament ratifies a Cabinet edict issued in May. The edict fulfills a long-standing promise of equality made by the Emir after the Gulf War. While women were not allowed to vote in the July 3 Parliamentary elections, enough liberal members were elected to provide a majority-when their votes are added to those of the members appointed by the Emir-in support of making the edict into law. While Kuwaiti women have pressed for rights since the 1960s, when the first elections for the National Assembly took place, Islamist opposition has been strong and remains so. The issue is afloat in ironies: Kuwaiti women outnumber men as students and teachers, including at university levels; many hold professional positions and top jobs in business; the country is the only Gulf state to have an elected parliament; and it ratified the CEDAW Convention (with a reservation to Article 7). Elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatari women went to the polls for the first time to vote in the March 1999 elections. Six women ran for a local council, in a country in which most women still wear the veil and do not drive. And in the United Arab Emirates, a woman was appointed undersecretary in the labor ministry, the highest rank to which a female has ever been appointed in that country.
In India, a bill reserving one-third of the seats in Parliament to women has finally been introduced, after being blocked for several years by male Members who argued that women belonged in the kitchen. The bill is favored by a large coalition of NGOs. No date has been set for debating it. Currently Parliament has 40 women, just over seven percent.
India currently has the largest quota system in the world for women's local political participation. A 1993 constitutional amendment requires that women constitute one-third of all local council (panchayat) seats in the country's 26 states and six Union Territories. A portion of these seats are reserved for women from the "Scheduled Castes," the official term for the lowest castes. Women were traditionally excluded from village politics, historically making up just four to five percent of village councils. The new law has dramatically changed this picture, and now about 300,000 women are involved in local governance and twelve village councils are all-female. While some women still defer to their husband's opinions in exercising their duties or even hand over their authority wholesale, many have taken on decisionmaking responsibilities, challenging village priorities and influencing local policies.
Mireya Elisa Moscoso, the new president of Panama, promises to end corruption and nepotism and pay attention to poverty and unemployment. But her biggest challenge will be overseeing the transfer this year of the Panama Canal from US to Panamanian control, while ensuring its continued efficient operation and fair use of its revenues. Moscoso came into politics as the widow of former Panamanian president Arnulfo Arias, but she has built her own career, becoming the chief opposition leader in 1994. While sexism and her lack of advanced education have been obstacles to success, she credits her late husband with teaching her most of what she needs to know for a political career.
The secular government of Turkey prohibited newly elected parliamentarian Merve Kavakci from being sworn into office because she insists on wearing a headscarf. As Kavakci entered the chamber of 2 May 1999, several members of Parliament stood up, clapped in unison and shouted "Out! Out!" A member of the religious-based Virtue Party, Kavakci maintains that the headscarf symbolizes her private commitment to Islam rather than a political statement. However, according to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, "No one may interfere with the private life of individuals, but this is not a private space. This is the supreme foundation of the state. It is not a place in which to challenge the state." The issue has been framed as one of freedom of expression versus Turkey's constitutional commitment to a secular state.
Three hundred female candidates were elected to city councils in the February 1999 municipal elections in Iran. The new councilors include three (out of fifteen) on the Teheran city council.
A record fourteen women were elected to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in May. Most of the women are from centrist parties, including Hosniya Jabarra, the first Arab woman elected to the Knesset. Despite this showing, however, the new Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has appointed only one woman to his cabinet.
"What a difference a century makes," noted Washington state Representative Mary Lou Dickerson as the sixty female members of the Washington state legislature posed for a photo next to the picture of the all-male nineteenth-century legislature. The state now holds the record for proportion of female members in a US legislative body: 41%. The national average for state legislatures is 22%, while the US Congress includes 9% women in the Senate and 12.9% in the House.
Not all the news in this area is upbeat. In Nigeria, the Constitutional Rights Project's analysis of the early 1999 elections determined that female voter turnout was disturbingly low, with women forming less than 20% of those who voted in some states. The issue of voting by women in purdah remains a special problem.
In response to a long-standing demand by conservatives the first university in Pakistan exclusively for women opened in Rawalpindi in December 1998. Financed by the province of Punjab, the university is backed politically by Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, brother of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Students indicate appreciation of the opportunity to pursue further education, and freedom of movement and expression within the walls of the university, that would otherwise be foreclosed to them because of their families' restrictive attitudes. Many are being exposed for the first time to ideas about freedoms and rights of women in Islam that are never discussed in their local communities. But according to Women Living Under Muslim Laws, questions remain about the quality of the education available in this facility. Universities in Pakistan generally suffer from a scarcity of staff with high academic credentials, and very few women have advanced degrees. WLUML asks where this new university will find adequately qualified staff, and how employable the graduates will be if the faculty is not properly qualified.
In April 1999 the Iranian education ministry banned female foreign language instructors from classrooms attended by boys over the age of ten. Male instructors also are not allowed to teach schoolgirls. The language instruction issue is provocative particularly at a time when the number of English language institutes is growing, while the government is attempting to hold the line on liberalization of social expression and prevention of perceived Western influence. Reinforcing conservative mores, the Iranian government is supporting a project to develop a locally produced doll designed to promote girls' identification with behavior favored by traditionalists-dressed in a chador.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in March 1999 that a general who had used his rank to force a sexual encounter with a young female soldier could not be promoted. The Army had investigated the incident, reprimanded Brig. General Nir Galili and held up a promotion for three years. The punishment was in keeping with the Army's action-oriented policy of dealing with sexual harassment, but the attempt to promote the general three years later suggested a separate standard for high-ranking officers. Acting on the woman's application for a restraining order, the Supreme Court refused to accept the Chief of Staff's claim, supported by the Minister of Defense, that Gen. Galili's promotion was essential to the best possible national defense because he was the best qualified to do the job. As the director of the Israel Women's Network noted, "A professionally outstanding soldier who has a low moral level is not an outstanding soldier."
Under Israel's new sexual harassment law, such behavior could well be subject to both criminal and civil penalties. The comprehensive statute, drafted and passed in a cooperative effort by the Government and experts from the Israel Women's Network, prohibits sexual harassment in the government and the military and other security forces as well as in private enterprise. Information: Israel Women's Network, P.O. Box 53186, Jerusalem, 91531, Israel; fax (972-2) 671 8887; e-mail IWN@netvision.net.il.
The British government has launched a program to promote women in science, with the long-term goal of achieving the same proportion of women in academic appointments as are recruited to undergraduate programs. Project Athena, as it is named, includes developing a register of women in higher education and data collection, both aimed at providing levers for change. Meanwhile, in contrast, women in India have cornered the field of biotechnology. Nearly 70% of students applying for and entering higher studies in the biological sciences are women. Many attribute this to men's lack of interest in careers in biological sciences. The government is supporting female scientists, with Department of Biotechnology laboratories allowing time off for marriage and child rearing without loss to their careers. The Department is establishing a "Women's Biotechnology Park" in Madras to support female biotechnology entrepreneurs and has made large loans to help women establish biotechnology businesses.
A male state police officer in the US has won the first sex discrimination case brought under the US Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Maryland state trooper Kevin Knussman was refused extended leave to care for his newborn daughter because he is male. His supervisor refused his application made under the Federal act and stated that because he is male he could not qualify for leave as "primary caretaker" under the Maryland parental leave law. Both state and federal laws allow for employees to use accrued paid sick leave, vacation or personal time as paid parental leave; the Federal law also allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child or for a very ill family member. The case essentially underscores the rights of fathers to be considered caretakers, despite employers' opposition to men taking personal time for their families.
The Working Women's International Network, a Japanese group supporting the plaintiffs in a major sex discrimination test case against the giant Sumitomo Companies conglomerate, has mounted a campaign to indicate global support for the plaintiffs. This lawsuit is particularly important because of the scope of the challenge and its linkage of the claims to the Japanese government's obligations under the CEDAW Convention. WWIN indicates that unlike many other countries, such petitions are appropriate and can be effective in Japan. Detailed information about the case is available on the WWIN Web site, www.ne.jp/asahi/wwn/wwin/, or e-mail Shizuko Koedo, firstname.lastname@example.org. A copy of the petition can be obtained from IWRAW. Deadline for returning them is October 31, 1999.
The largest discrimination settlement ever made by the US Department of Labor will result in $3.1 million in payments to 186 female Texaco (oil company) employees. The Department's investigation concluded that women in mid-level management positions were consistently underpaid relative to their male counterparts for many years. The settlement includes back pay and interest, as well as current salary increases. Shortly after this settlement, President Clinton announced an initiative to close the wage gap between women and men. US Labor Secretary Alexis Herman crisply summed up the issue: "I have yet to go to the grocery store to buy a $1 loaf of bread and have the cashier look up and say, 'since you're a woman, it's 75 cents.'"
HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
Articles 10, 12, 14, 16
The South African government has decided not to proceed with an AIDS treatment program for pregnant HIV-positive women. Despite the proven efficacy of anti-retroviral AZT treatment, which cuts the fetal transmission rate in half, the Minister of Health has stated that the treatment is not cost-efficient. Anita Kleinsmidt of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies AIDS Law Project argues that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide treatment, under articles providing for equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, the right to freedom and security of the person, and the right to make decisions concerning reproduction. As to all these rights, she states, the government cannot claim that failure to treat is a reasonable restriction, as care for a person (adult and/or infant) with a full-blown case of AIDS is far more costly than a short course of treatment with AZT. Information: CALS, University of Witwatersrand, PB 3, Wits 2050 South Africa; e-mail email@example.com.
While AIDS treatment remains out of reach of most women in the global South because of cost, more and more of them are gaining control of prevention by using the female condom. UNAIDS and other organizations have distributed seven million female condoms in Africa, Asia and Latin America and are finding increasing acceptance among men as well as women. Health workers have found remarkable acceptance in African countries, and particularly South Africa, where one provincial government has committed $700,000 to purchase them. However, researchers in a program designed to systematically introduce female condoms through selected clinics (using condoms contributed by the European Union) have found that, while women express interest in using the female condom, injectables remain the favored method of birth control. Since the cost is higher than that of male condoms, a South African hospital is experimenting to determine how often the female condom can safely be washed and re-used.
A long-standing policy of discrimination against women by the US health insurance industry is finally under attack by state legislatures-because of Viagra. The male impotence drug is almost universally covered by health insurance, while many insurers for years have refused to pay for contraceptives. Legislators who have supported insurance for contraceptives have been unable to force the issue because of heavy industry resistance and opposition on the basis of cost, but Viagra, when used regularly, is more expensive than contraceptives-and unwanted pregnancies are expensive indeed. At least six states have adopted legislation requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, many more are considering it seriously, and a measure covering all Federal employees has been passed in Congress.
An even more blatant example of the double standard on reproductive and sexual rights is the Japanese government's rapid approval of Viagra while it continues its nine-year stall on approval of birth control pills. The denial of Japanese women's access to oral contraceptives has become a national disgrace; the pill has been widely distributed to women throughout the world, and medically accepted, for decades. The government's defense of its policy is allegedly based on a fear for the pill's safety (apparently the deaths of 130 Americans who took Viagra since its introduction in spring 1998 was not deemed a safety issue). Legislators as well as activists and physicians have denounced the oral contraceptive delay as a ploy to support the official government goal of raising the birth rate.
With the fall of communism and introduction of the market economy in Russia, most health care services have declined seriously-but abortion, maternal mortality and infant mortality have fallen significantly. The explanation: after the change in regime, public discussion of birth control, which had been limited by the Communists, became common, and contraceptives began to appear in pharmacies. In 1993 the Health Ministry began a family planning program, including opening clinics around the country and retraining medical personnel. Western pharmaceutical companies moved in to supply a growing market. With fewer pregnancies, fewer abortions were performed, and they had accounted for one-third of maternal deaths. Still, the abortion rate is higher than in any European country except Romania, a combined legacy of Communist-era attitudes and fear of the pill. Currently, health officials and pharmaceutical companies are concerned that Russia's recent economic collapse has placed contraceptives out of the reach of many women, and some of the companies have cut the price of the pills.
In Calcutta, India, women in prostitution are beginning to take a proactive role in protecting themselves from AIDS. More than half the prostitutes in the Sonogachi red-light district have organized to challenge pimps and madams to require customers to use condoms. According to a report in the New York Times, condom use in Sonogachi has soared to 90 percent, and the rate of HIV infection is 5 percent (as opposed to Bombay, where over 50 percent of prostitutes are HIV positive). The movement has taken on the tone of a labor organization, as the women have formed a financial collective to avoid moneylenders, surrounded police stations to force attention to criminal assaults of prostitutes, and worked together to rescue young women who have been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The condom project has been expanded into other red-light districts in Calcutta and is now being established in Bombay, which has the highest HIV rate in the country and will present more obstacles to organizing, as the sex trade there is controlled by gangsters and the city lacks Calcutta's tradition of collective labor organizing. However, experts assert that the attempt is crucial, as Bombay is the front line for holding down the HIV infection rate in India.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
General Recommendation No. 19
A political marketing move by the state-owned General Insurance Company (of India) has underscored the government's insensitivity to violence against women. In March 1999 the company proudly announced that it was offering "rape insurance," covering injuries arising from rape. Female activists responded immediately to the move, noting that in providing for rape injuries in the future, the scheme recognized rape as inevitable rather than as a violation of rights that must be stopped. The initiative was touted by then Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee as part of his Hindu nationalist-led coalition's program to develop greater legal protections for women.
The Chinese government has announced that it is establishing a research center to investigate the cases of Chinese comfort women in World War II. The Chinese Center of Comfort Women Issue Studies will be housed at Shanghai University. Professor Su Zhilian of Shanghai University has discovered eighty comfort women sites in Shanghai alone.
A national debate on attitudes towards rape and towards sexual assault in general was generated in Italy when the government released a Supreme Court of Appeals decision in February overturning a rape conviction, stating that "jeans cannot be removed easily and certainly it is impossible to pull them off if the victim is fighting against her attacker with all her force." The ruling indicated that, despite a change in the law three years ago that finally criminalized rape, judges' attitudes have yet to match the attitude of the law. The judge who wrote the ruling professed to be shocked by the response, claiming that the issue was only one of adequacy of the evidence, but the tenor of the entire ruling was in fact highly inflammatory as to presumed proper behavior.
A Malian woman was convicted by a French court and sentenced to eight years in prison for performing genital mutilation in on forty-eight girls between the ages of one month and ten years. While the French government has prosecuted a number of women since 1991 for violation of the 1984 law against "mutilating" a minor, this case involved the largest number of girls and resulted in the longest sentence yet. It also was the first case resulting from the complaint of a victim. Twenty-seven parents of the girls were convicted as accomplices; they received suspended sentences of three to five years.
Burkina Faso is one of only six countries in Africa that bans FGM by law. The government has taken the issue seriously enough to work on educating chiefs, some of whom have told their communities that they are not excising the girls in their families. After years of effort the issue is no longer tabu and incremental progress is being made, with the percentage of females subjected to FGM decreasing from 70% to 66%.
In the last year the women's news networks carried a record number of items indicating increases in domestic violence. This is not really news, but the increase in reporting is. Governments finally are paying attention to the issue, and both governments and NGOs are documenting correlation with other social conditions. In Ireland, the National Network of Women's Refuges reported that the nation's fifteen shelters had seen a population increase of 35% over 1997. In Chile, a law providing for prosecution of abusers has resulted in increased reporting, although the record now indicates that two out of every three women between twenty-two and twenty-five years of age have suffered from violence. In Nicaragua, NGOs have reported that the frequency of domestic and sexual violence increased after hurricane Mitch, reflecting stresses resulting from losses of homes and jobs. According to a poll by the Tokyo government, 33% of the 1,553 women responding said they had been physically abused, and 56% of the women report emotional abuse. In the Philippines, according to Dr. Carmencita Banatin of the Office for Hospital facilities Standards and Regulation (OHFSR), the most common causes of hospitalization were rape and domestic violence. Of the total number of patients given treatment, about 50 percent of the sexual abuse cases were committed by mostly educated or professional men. In Korea, increases in domestic abuse correlated with a low point in last year's economic crisis.
Where women's virginity is valued above their lives, violence against them is excused as an exercise in maintaining social order. Recent reports indicate that in too many places, women are treated as sex objects in the worst way-in the name of "honor" based entirely on their voluntary or involuntary sexual conduct. Frequently they pay with their lives for imprudence, victimization, independence, or merely for being the subject of rumor.
Activists in Pakistan have begun a campaign against "honor killings," in which family members murder women they deem to have disgraced their families. Disgrace can be brought by seeking divorce, reporting rape, or attempting to marry a man of their choice rather than one chosen by the family. One would-be divorcee, Samia Imran, was killed outside the office of her lawyer, while talking with her mother. Police and Imran's lawyers say her parents were behind the murder. Women protested outside parliament; Imran's lawyer, human rights activist Asma Jihangir, says that she will build a monument for the victims of honor killings in Lahore.
Honor killings are not limited to Pakistan. Throughout much of the Middle East, women may be killed by their families if they have sexual relations with a man outside of marriage, and sometimes upon mere suspicion. Particularly in less-educated or nonurban communities, even rumors of unchastity can bring ostracism upon a family, rendering all the other daughters unmarriageable and excluding all family members from community life. Islamic experts point out that the Qu'ran does not suggest or condone a family's taking it upon themselves to "purge" perceived dishonor, requiring a finding of guilt by an Islamic court based on multiple confessions or testimony of four male witnesses. Indeed, while many families invoke Islamic law as justification for murder, the custom appears to be culturally based. In Jordan, where a number of girls are living in prison to protect them from family retribution, the late King Hussein and Queen Noor began a public discussion of honor killings that King Abdullah's government has promised to continue, although Parliamentary leadership insists that the killings are justifiable. The entire issue was aired at a conference held in Jordan in June 1999. Asma Kader, a Jordanian lawyer who is at the forefront of the battle against honor killing, suggests that given the social imperatives, the only solution may be for the women to leave the country as "social refugees."
And in Turkey, Women for Women's Human Rights has undertaken a campaign to change the law to appropriately punish honor killings. Honor killings are more prevalent in the less developed east and southeast parts of the country, but with labor migration the phenomenon has spread to the major cities and to Turkish immigrant populations in Germany and France. The pattern of honor killing is the same as in other countries where it occurs: a girl or young woman is killed by her male relatives for behaving in a manner deemed to bring "dishonor" to the family-which may include minor disobedience or being seen in the wrong public place. Frequently they assign a very young male to commit the murder, because the punishment is mitigated by law on grounds of his age. WWHR is campaigning to change the Turkish law that protects the young men and to allow women's organizations to become parties to the case. WWHR seeks information on laws and strategies from other groups involved in this issue. Contact: Ipek Ilkkaracan, WWHR, Istanbul, tel (90 216) 357 2142; fax (90 216) 385 1262; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent news reports also have focused on rape victims' additional suffering in the name of "honor" in Morocco and in Kosovo. In Kosovo, the issue has serious implications for investigation of war crimes, as women cannot state that they were raped for fear of being totally rejected by husband, family, and community. Victimized twice over, first by the Serb soldiers and paramilitary who assaulted them and then by families who refuse to accept them, Kosovar Albanian women have been willing to describe situations in which others were raped but have been unwilling to provide crucial first-person testimony for human rights groups seeking to determine the patterns of rape as a war crime. In Morocco, mothers of children born out of wedlock, whether as a result of rape, seduction, or of consensual relations, are outcast; their children cannot be registered by name, and their families throw them out, sometimes threatening to kill them.
Correction: In the December 1998 Women's Watch, the Chilean Ministry of Women was credited with launching a "Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence" campaign to change legislation and public opinion about sex crimes. The institution promoting the campaign is not the Ministry of Women; it is the Institute of Women.
Women in West Africa are engaged in an eight-country campaign to promote awareness of the grossly discriminatory and unfair African customary inheritance practices that deny women rights to property owned by husbands or family members. The campaign, an effort to focus national, regional, and international attention on the issue, includes a Day of Action (July 29, 1999) featuring marches on prominent national institutions, and presentation of draft model legislation on women's inheritance rights. The campaign also includes writing letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the Organization for African Unity Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights. The campaign was undertaken with the collaboration of the International Human Rights Law Group. Contact: IHRLG, e-mail email@example.com or WRAP@hrlawgroup.org.
At the request of her father, a powerful politician, Pakistani police early this year arrested a woman who was attempting to leave the country with her husband, whom she had married without her father's consent. Humera Butt married a naturalized American citizen despite her father's insistence on having a marriage to a cousin performed, to which she did not consent. The police acknowledged the arrest only after Ms. Butt's attorney, Hina Jilani, brought a petition to have the couple appear in court. The court released Ms. Butt but required her to reappear in court several days later.
A proposal for a civil marriage law in Lebanon has been endorsed by President Elias Hrawi, but is opposed by religious leaders since it would divert power from the area over which they exercise total jurisdiction. Personal status law in Lebanon is governed by religious tribunals in which women are consistently treated as unequal to men. The civil marriage bill must be passed on to Parliament by Prime Minister Hariri, who refuses to do it. Even if introduced, women's group fears that if would be struck down by the representatives of religious sects.
Under a proposed law in Egypt, a woman will be able to obtain a divorce, even over the husband's objections, in exchange for a sum of money or piece of real estate to be given to her husband, with the value being fixed by a judge, avoiding the lengthy legal proceedings now required if she requests the divorce. Feminist lawyer Ghada Nabil welcomed the draft law, but she pointed out that only a minority of women could benefit: "most women in that position possess nothing." Morover, the law does not change the essential inequality of a system in which men still can obtain a divorce by repudiation, while women must go to court and prove grounds or, under the new law, pay him off.
A new South African child maintenance law is designed to help women deal with the administrative system as well as to make maintenance orders more readily collectible. The new law provides for additional maintenance investigators and uniform standards for maintenance officers. Most importantly procedurally, it allows for an order to be issued if the father is notified and fails to appear at hearing. The law also provides for maintenance to be paid out of wages, directly to the custodial parent, and for attachment of property to cover maintenance claims. According to an account by the Gender Research Project, Center for Applied Legal Studies (University of Witwatersrand), while the law cannot in itself solve the serious administrative problems-delay and poorly trained maintenance officers-that place major obstacles in the way of maintenance collections, it is a good first attempt to make the system more workable.
CEDAW UPDATE: 1999-2000
Calendar 1999 has seen major accomplishments relating to the CEDAW Committee and the Convention. The Optional Protocol was adopted by CSW, and the new general recommendation on health was finished. The Division for the Advancement of Women began a series of events marking the 20th anniversary of the CEDAW Convention, which will continue over the next three years. Committee discussions have highlighted special concern over States parties' continued citing of traditional, religious and cultural beliefs as an excuse for the failure to implement women's human rights. Reproductive rights for women and girls have come under threat in a number of countries, accompanied by discrimination against adolescent mothers in education and employment.
Twentieth and Twenty-first CEDAW sessions
The CEDAW Committee reviewed Algeria, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Greece, Thailand, China and Colombia at the twentieth session which was held from 19 January to 5 February 1999, and the reports of Chile, Belize, Georgia, Ireland, Nepal, Spain, and the United Kingdom at the twenty-first session held 7-25 June 1999.
Representatives of nongovernmental organizations attended both sessions in considerable numbers. During meetings with CEDAW experts, the NGOs had an opportunity to voice their concerns and provide additional information on issues that were absent from official government reports. In January, in a new procedural development, the meeting of NGOs with the CEDAW Committee took place during the regular session time. This ensured a greater attendance of CEDAW experts and provided for official UN interpretation, allowing many of the NGO representatives to present information in their primary language rather than having to use English. In addition to international human rights groups, NGO activists from Algeria, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, China and Colombia presented in the January session, and June participants came from Chile, Georgia, Ireland, Nepal and the United Kingdom.
At the end of the sessions, the Committee adopted draft concluding comments and recommendations on specific measures to improve the status of women. The concluding comments and recommendations are the most important communication from the Committee to the States Parties, and the governments are obligated in subsequent reports to the Committee to report on progress in the areas indicated in the comments. The concluding comments are available at the Division for the Advancement of Women Web site. However, neither the Committee nor DAW can facilitate circulation of the concluding comments beyond the government and the Web site. 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. IWRAW sends the unedited concluding comments to all the NGOs on its database from the reviewed countries. IWRAW will also be happy to furnish copies of this document upon request.
The pre-sessional working group for the twenty-first session (June 1999) met at the conclusion of the twentieth session (January 1999). This is a permanent departure from the past practice of holding the pre-sessional at the beginning of each session. The pre-sessional meetings are designed to discuss official government reports and formulate questions to the government delegations that present second or subsequent reports to CEDAW. This change was introduced to allow additional time to the governments to prepare responses to the experts' questions.
New General Recommendation
At the January 1999 session, the Committee adopted General Recommendation No. 24 on Article 12 of the CEDAW Convention, relating to health. The new General Recommendation affirms the importance of States parties' compliance with Art. 12 to health and well-being of women.
20th Anniversary Celebrations
A day-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of CEDAW's adoption by General Assembly, which took place on the first day of the twenty-first CEDAW session, launched the three-year series of commemorative events related to the adoption, signing and the entry into force of the Convention.
Optional Protocol Adopted
The Commission on the Status of Women adopted the Optional Protocol (OP) to CEDAW on 12 March 1999, at the Commission's forty-third session. The OP introduces two separate procedures: a communications procedure that allows individuals or groups of women to submit claims of rights violations to the CEDAW Committee, and an inquiry procedure which allows the Committee to initiate inquiries into situations of serious or systematic violations of women's human rights. Complaints can be brought to the CEDAW Committee after the victims have exhausted all other means of redress available in their countries. The State has to be party to the OP and it is necessary to secure the consent of individual victims before bringing a complaint before the CEDAW Committee. Some activists have pointed out that the requirement of obtaining consent from the victim can make it difficult or impossible to intervene on behalf of women who have been detained or disappeared. Despite these drawbacks, however, the OP adds an important enforcement mechanism to the CEDAW Convention. The OP will be submitted to the General Assembly for Adoption in late 1999. It will enter into force as soon as at least ten States parties to CEDAW ratify or accede to it.
New CEDAW Committee Members
Eight new members and four re-elected experts began to serve four-year terms beginning January 1999. The newly elected 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.
Reports Scheduled for Review in 2000
Twenty-Second Session 17 January-4 February 2000: India, Jordan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Luxembourg, Germany, Belarus. Reserve List: Maldives, Lithuania
Twenty-Third Session 12-30 June 2000: Moldova, Lithuania, Maldives, Austria, Netherlands, Romania, Cuba, Iraq. Reserve List: Jamaica, Mongolia
IWRAW urges women's human rights groups in the above countries either to produce a national NGO shadow report or to submit information through IWRAW, preferably both. If you decide to produce a report on your own, you should be aware that the CEDAW experts prefer to have the reports one month prior to the session, as they do not have adequate time to read all the informatl submissions during the review sessions.
IWRAW submits independent reports to all of the CEDAW members at least one month prior to each session. These reports include information from individuals and groups as well as summaries, when possible, of national NGO reports. Please contact IWRAW if you have any questions concerning the reporting and review process, or if you wish to contribute information to the CEDAW Committee.
MEETINGS, EVENTS AND RESOURCES
IWRAW Consultation: The CEDAW Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action: Reaffirming the Promise of the Rights Framework. In June 2000 the UN will hold a five-year review of accomplishments and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The year 2000 also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. With 163 ratifications, the CEDAW Convention represents a near-universal endorsement of the principles of women's human rights-priniciples that were, through the efforts of the NGO community as well as many governments and United Nations actors, engaged as the framework for the language and commitments of the Platform for Action.
In recognition of twenty years of growth and accomplishment in applying the Convention, the International Women's Rights Action Watch will hold a public consultation in January 2000 on the use of the CEDAW Convention to foster implementation of and accountability for the commitments made in the Platform for Action. The CEDAW Convention, as well as other human rights treaties, represent the greatest hope for concrete action to maintain momentum for Platform implementation.
The Consultation will explore the original incorporation of the rights framework into the Platform for Action, the role of the CEDAW Convention and Committee in promoting Platform implementation and accountability, and the potential of the CEDAW Optional Protocol to reinforce rights. It is designed to underscore the importance of basing the Beijing + 5 review on rights as central to Platform implementation. The program will include sessions on the regional preparations as well as strategizing for effective presence at CSW in March and at Beijing + 5.
Dates: January 22-23, 2000, New York. Information: Valerie Zamberletti, Tel. (612) 929-8709; fax (612) 929-8737; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beijing + 5 Review, June 5-9, 2000, New York. Preparatory meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, New York, February 28-March 17, 2000. Information on NGO and UN activity: WomenWatch Web site, www.un.org/womenwatch/daw; e-mail email@example.com. For NGO information, International Women's Tribune Center, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A series of NGO Web sites have been established to facilitate information flow; information available from IWTC.
For information on hotel rooms in NY for February CSW and June Beijing + 5 contact:
Valerie Zamberletti, Zamberletti and Associates, Tel. (612) 929-8709, Fax. (612) 929-8737,
Rights of Women: A Guide to the Most Important United Nations Treaties on Women's Human Rights, is now available from the International Women's Tribune Center. An invaluable guide to context, content, and the framework for working with human rights instruments to advance women's status. Available from IWTC, 777 UN Plaza, New York NY 10017. E-mail email@example.com, Web site www.womenink.org, fax (212) 661 2704. This publication is complemented by the May 1999 issue of The Tribune, IWTC's quarterly publication, focusing on strategies and resources for using international human rights treaties.
The Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has issued a sourcebook on gender equality in development assistance programs. The book has been available in English for some time and recently became available in Spanish. DAC Guidelines and Sourcebook on Gender Equality is available on the Internet at www.mae.es/igualidadcad.
In the run-up to the Beijing + 5 review to be held in June 2000, Equality Now has launched a campaign to hold governments accountable for making changes in their laws according to commitments made at Beijing. A new publication, the Beijing + 5 Report, highlights discriminatory laws in 45 countries, with contact information for the relevant government agencies. The Beijing + 5 Report is available in English and will shortly be available in Spanish and French. From: Equality Now, 250 West 57th Street, New York NY 10107, fax (212) 586-1611, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the context of the five-year review, a look at the process leading up to the 1995 conference is instructional. An analysis of the pre-Beijing process in the Latin America/Caribbean region has been issued in Spanish and English by UNICEF, UNIFEM, and ediciones flora tristán. Edited by Virginia Vargas Valente, the regional coordinator for the NGO Forum/Beijing, Roads to Beijing includes accounts of the events and, most importantly, the issues and conflicts that characterized the preparatory process in the region. Available in Spanish and English: contact Center of Peruvian Women "Flora Tristán," fax (51 1) 433 9500; e-mail email@example.com.
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.
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