THE WOMEN'S WATCH
Vol. 13 No. 2
BEIJING + 5 AS A PLATFORM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Five years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women marked a major human rights accomplishment for women. It represented the convergence of political and legal processes to underscore, on a global scale, the centrality of human rights to the struggle for equality. The Conference Declaration and Platform for Action is built on a rights framework, invoking the substance and the language of human rights in every section, and referring specifically to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as to the other human rights treaties.
The Platform for Action must be brought into the new millennium as a reaffirmation of the global commitment to women's human rights made at Beijing in 1995. The Beijing + 5 review provides an opportunity to recommit to implementation of the Platform with specific reference to women's human rights as stated in the CEDAW Convention and the other international human rights treaties. Conversely, the CEDAW Convention provides a clear framework for pursuing and monitoring implementation of the Platform for Action for years to come.
World conferences such as Beijing are political events that mark global recognition of major issues and an attempt to find consensus among governments about approaches to those issues. The preparations and the conferences themselves are a major political process, engaging governments in discussion with their constituencies and with other governments to forge agreements on priorities and commitments. Human rights enforcement is a more legally oriented process, based on documents and obligations that have the force of law. The Beijing Conference brought the two processes together, engaging citizens and governments in a dialogue that was political in nature but informed by the legal precepts of the human rights enterprise. Platform implementation, therefore, should be informed by human rights principles, and assessment of human rights implementation should be made with reference to the commitments made in the Platform. And as to both, accountability must be the watchword.
The Beijing + 5 review to be held in June 2000 provides a critical opportunity for reaffirmation of women's human rights as central to the pursuit of equality. It also provides a challenge to governments, NGOs, and the United Nations to develop more useful methods for evaluating progress towards elimination of discrimination. The time for prescriptions and descriptions has passed-accountability under both the Platform and the CEDAW Convention is now a matter of clearly defined obligations, concrete measurement and pointed analysis of results.
The IWRAW project's contribution to Beijing + 5 is a new analysis of these issues and a rights-oriented comparison of the Platform and the CEDAW Convention. This document, discussed at a public consultation in January 2000, will be available by February 1 for use in working the CSW preparatory process. Contact Linda McFarland at IWRAW for information and copies.
WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
The concluding comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) issued by the most recent session (15 November to 3 December 1999) concentrated on women's human rights. CESCR brought attention to the particularly severe situation of women in Cameroon, where their unequal status is entrenched both in the law, including the Civil and Commercial Codes, and in prevalent customary practices, such as polygamy, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and the education bias in favor of boys. Countries reviewed at this session also included Bulgaria, Argentina, Armenia, Mexico, and Solomon Islands (without a report). The recommendations to governments focused on measures to combat violence against women, promote women's health, and provide support for women's employment and their participation in public life.
IWRAW has submitted reports on women's human rights in selected countries to CESCR for several years. For the last session, IWRAW prepared reports on all reviewed countries, with the exception of the non-reporting Solomon Islands. IWRAW Director Marsha Freeman and IWRAW Research Director Kasia Polanska attended the session and made oral presentations on Cameroon and Armenia during the informal Committee meeting with NGOs, which was held at the opening of the session. Genoveva Tisheva and Irina Mouleshkova of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation based in Sofia, observed the meetings on IWRAW invitation, and they presented their own shadow report to the CESCR members. The IWRAW reports were in some cases the only source of independent information and the only source on women's status.
The full text of documents issued by CESCR and other human rights mechanisms can be accessed through the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' website. For information on NGO participation in the CESCR review process, contact IWRAW.
Convention Articles 1-5
The first ever conference on "The Exclusion of Women in the Arab World from the Effective Protection and Benefit of International Human Rights Law" was held in Beirut, Lebanon from 26-28 November 1999. The discussion centered on the question of how and why the existing international human rights system, and the women's human rights system in particular, are ineffective in protecting human rights in the Arab world. The main goal of the Conference was to give experts and activists involved in the field of women's human rights in the region the opportunity to reflect across regional contexts and different experiences. The Conference was a culmination of a two-year project that included preparation of country studies on Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, and on Palestinian women living in the Occupied Territories and refugee women in Lebanon. The conference, attended by IWRAW Research Director Kasia Polanska, was organized by the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) in East Jerusalem. For additional information on the Conference, check the project website at http://www.nisaa.org,or contact WCLAC directly at the e-mail address email@example.com, tel.: 00-972-02234-2793, or fax number: 00-972-02234-2172.
The governor of Osaka, Japan has resigned after an extended battle against allegations of sexual misconduct. The resignation of Isamu Yamada is a major victory for women, a high profile result of a promising trend of more Japanese women reporting instances of sexual harassment and assault. The victim's identity is being kept confidential by the Japanese court system. The resignation follows close on the heels of new rules on sex discrimination and harassment introduced as a revision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law by Japan's Labor Ministry in April.
Twenty-four Muslim women were fined for disregarding a Malaysian state's dress code, requiring them to wear headscarves. They were reportedly warned several times before the fines were imposed. The dress code was instituted by the fundamentalist Islamic PAS Party after its rise to power in the Malaysian state of Kelantan in 1995. No other Malaysian states require headscarves.
A Mexican lingerie company has been ordered by the Federal Prosecutor for Consumer Affairs to change its advertising after it used part of a vulgar Mexican saying on a billboard. In response to the ad, television executive Anna Fusoni Ponthier began a powerful campaign against sexual violence in advertising. The campaign has consisted of letter-writing, a petition, and an appearance on a televised talk show. Though Vicky Form, the offending advertiser, painted large black X's over the billboard slogans in major Mexican cities, an advertising executive called the X's a protest against an attack on free expression, claiming that the slogans represent "folk expressions that are an accumulation of popular wisdom."
To draw attention to the US Senate's failure to consider CEDAW ratification, a group of nine female US House of Representatives members and several staffers led by Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey disrupted a committee hearing held by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms. The women had attempted unsuccessfully for three months to arrange a meeting with Helms to present him with a letter calling for hearings on the CEDAW Convention. The group stood at the back of the room holding enlarged copies of the letter and over 100 signatures urging the hearings. Helms requested that the Capitol Police escort the group out after he told Woolsey, "Now you please be a lady. . . .You are not going to be heard."
An Israeli Army officer has been discharged from the military for religious intolerance. A female soldier challenged Lt. Gamliel Peretz when he began a class on the status of women in Judaism with a traditional prayer in which men thank God they were not made women. He responded to her challenge by claiming that non orthodox Jews are not Jews and by further comparing Jewish assimilation to Nazi crimes. Though Jonathan Rosenblum, a spokesman for an Orthodox media resources center, condemned the comparison, he claimed that Peretz's dismissal resembled a witch hunt.
Despite extensive lobbying in Zambia to allow women the same freedom of movement and assembly as men, Justice Peter Chitendi has dismissed the case of Elizabeth Mwanza. Ms. Mwanza and a female friend were barred from entering the Lusaka Holiday Inn "unaccompanied" in 1997. The Judge claimed that the case did not amount to sex discrimination. This contradicts a ruling in 1992 against the Intercontinental Hotel for preventing Sara Longwe from entering the hotel under similar circumstances.
TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN
Convention Article 6
Sudanese authorities have established a "Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children" in response to a UN Commission on Human Rights report condemning slave raids. The Commission suggested that the government investigate reports of abductions and the cause of these abductions with the intent of prosecuting perpetrators and arranging the safe return of victims. The established Committee has been charged with addressing each of the Commission's suggestions.
A couple faces multiple charges, including charges of abuse, after keeping a young Nigerian girl as a servant for nine years without pay. The New York child abuse investigator and her husband brought the girl with them when they came from Nigeria, falsely claiming that she was their daughter. The couple had promised the girl's parents that they would show her a better life in the US, but instead cut all of her avenues of communication and threatened harm to her and her family. Neighbors called the police earlier this year when they heard the girl's screams.
A group of female foreign ministers from around the world drafted a letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan encouraging the UN General Assembly to continue to address the grave state of trafficking in women and children. In the letter, practices such as sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and debt bondage were foregrounded as troubling situations scarcely different from slavery. The foreign ministers meeting was hosted by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In November, a law to protect children by punishing acts related to juvenile prostitution and child pornography was enacted in Japan. The law extends to overseas violations. While the penal code makes punishment of overseas offenses difficult by requiring the victim to officially complain to the Japanese authorities within six months of the offense, the new law allows prosecution without placing the full burden of proof on the victim. The law also protects children by penalizing paid dating, which often results from "telephone club" calls, and prohibits the media from releasing specific information about victims. The law does not, however, penalize the possession of child pornography.
Six men were fined 20,000 yuan and then executed in the Shanxi province in China for trafficking in women. Seven others were fined and sentenced to life imprisonment. The men were sentenced early in December after being convicted of selling 52 women in 1997 and 1998 into marriage in rural China. The men abducted the women after promising to help them find work. Approximately 10,000 people attended the public trial.
WOMEN IN PUBLIC LIFE
Convention Articles 7, 8
Women suffered a double defeat in November when Kuwait's all-male Parliament rejected a decree issued by the Emir granting women full political rights, then within a week, rejected an almost identical draft law. Both the decree and the draft law offer women the right to vote and run for political office. Many deputies considered the decree, which was issued by the Emir after parliament was dissolved in May, unconstitutional. Sunni Islamist MP Ahmad al-Baqer referred to the Koran, in which he claims, God says men are superior to women. Even liberals who support the rights of women agreed to vote against the decree on the grounds that it "lacked urgency" as long as the similar draft law was guaranteed consideration. The vote against the draft law on November 30 was 32 to 30 with two abstentions. As it stands, Kuwait has only 113,000 voters-men 21 years and older who have been Kuwaiti citizens for at least 20 years.
In September, the first woman ambassador was named in Oman. Khadija bint Hassan bin Salman al-Luweti was appointed by Sultan Qaboos as Omani ambassador to the Netherlands. Luweti graduated from Baghdad University in 1974 with a degree in English. The only other Gulf state with a female ambassador is Kuwait.
In Malawi, the number of women in Parliament has risen from 9 to 16 as a result of their second multiparty elections. Sixty-two women had been on electoral lists. Malawi is a member country of the Declaration of the Development Community of East Africa, which calls for a quota of at least 30 percent of public posts for women by the year 2005. Currently, women make up 52 percent of the population in Malawi and hold only five percent of public posts.
A fund-raising organization has been established in Japan to support female Diet candidates. Women in New World, International Network (WIN WIN) offers financial help to women who run for the Diet and gubernatorial elections. Members of WIN WIN can show support by donating to female candidates who appear on a list composed by a recommendation committee.
Convention Article 10
Iranian Education Minister Hussein Mozafar has committed to changing the image of women portrayed by textbooks. This announcement came shortly after reformist President Mohammad Khatami called in August for women to have a more active political role. At the same time, he was careful to caution against denial of the biological differences between men and women. Though Mozafar has committed to change texts for older students in the near future, the precise nature of the changes has not been specified.
UNICEF reported in September that the status of women and girls in much of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union continues its downward spiral under free market governments. The worsening situation for women is marked by increased unemployment and abuse, as well as inadequate social services. More women are also facing part-time work and excessively low wages. UNICEF also expressed concern over women's reduced life expectancy in many of these nations and the nine-fold increase in H.I.V. cases over the past five years. Though the number of women entrepreneurs and organizations fighting domestic violence are rising, the average number of women lawmakers has declined by one-third to about ten percent in the countries UNICEF studied.
The German Economic Institute has found that a meager four percent of German working women are employed in management-level positions. Italy, Sweden and Denmark lag behind Germany on this issue.
HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
Convention Articles 12,14,16
Japan has approved the use of the birth control pill after nine years of debate. Though it will be available by prescription, education about the pill may also be needed before it is widely accepted, since many Japanese women have reported a reluctance to try it. Fears surrounding the pill have included erosion of national morals, side effects and environmental harm from the hormones contained in the pill. The pill will not be covered by public health insurance.
The United Nations released a report shortly before World AIDS Day on December 1 revealing that more women than men suffer from the AIDS virus in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UN officials, this is the first time the data have been available. African girls from 15 to 19 are five to six times as likely as boys of the same age to have the H.I.V. virus. Dr. Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Program on H.I.V./AIDS, calls on health workers to develop strategies to change men's actions, specifically in the area of sex education for boys. H.I.V. has been spread in Africa primarily through heterosexual sex and passes more easily from men to women than from women to men.
A government study finds a disproportionately high rate of depression among women aged 17 to 22 in the holy city of Qom, Iran. Zahra Shojaei, a women's affairs advisor to President Khatami, explains that the high depression rate stems from social restrictions that women there face, including a conservative dress code. Young women in Tehran reportedly violate the dress and make-up codes more regularly, expressing themselves through "self-claimed freedoms."
In Mexico, a toll-free 24-hour telephone hotline is now available offering information about emergency contraceptive pills. In conjunction with the hotline, the Population Council's Latin America and Caribbean office has developed a media campaign to further disseminate information. To reach the hotline from anywhere in Mexico, dial "01-800-EN-3-DIAS."
South Africa has adopted a program to encourage cervical cancer screening for every woman over 30. Implementation is expected to be a slow process, but the goal is to screen at least 70 percent of the target-aged women in South Africa within ten years.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
General Recommendation No. 19
Rodi Alvarado Pena had her asylum status taken away after it was granted by a US immigration judge in 1996. The Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the decision in her favor by a vote of 10-5. The original judge had been convinced by the argument that the Guatemalan government had failed to provide adequate protection for Pena. The new ruling provides evidence that women fleeing spousal abuse are not eligible for asylum in the US
The Combating of Rape Bill recently introduced in Namibia promises to be one of the most comprehensive pieces of rape legislation in the world. By making the definition of rape broader and less dependent upon the victim's lack of consent, it provides greater protection from a range of sexual violations perpetrated by spouses, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. The bill provides for highly specific penalties and victim privacy. For further information, contact Sister Namibia magazine at: P.O. Box 40092, Windhoek, Namibia, tel. 061-230618 or 230757; fax: 236371, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crackdowns on domestic violence, including mandatory arrest laws, have produced unexpected results in the United States. Some areas report that around 25 percent of domestic assault arrests are of women. Advocates of battered women and many academics claim that the high number of women arrested represents punished acts of self-defense. Other academics and many law enforcement officials claim that the arrests reveal a real increase in acts of violence perpetrated by women. Despite this arrest rate, female victims of reported violence outnumber male victims by more than five to one.
Check this website for special hotel rates for CSW, NGO Forum and Beijing +5: http://www.bestnychotelrates.com. Contact person: Valerie Zamberletti of Zamberletti & Associates.
Graduate Scholarship in Women's Rights at the University of Toronto, Canada
The award is designed to lead toward either a Master of Laws (LLM) or a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. The scholarship permits law graduates of outstanding merit from developing countries to complete advanced research and study in law. Application Deadline: February 1 of each year. For more information: Graduate Admissions Office, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, 78 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario CANADA M5S 2C5, Telephone: (416) 978-0213, Fax: (416) 978-2648.E-mail: email@example.com. Website: http://www.law.utoronto.ca/grad.
whrNET is a new women's human rights website launched by an international coalition of women's groups and is designed to strengthen advocacy for women's human rights through efficient utilization of information and communication technologies. The website is found at: www.whrNet.org.
Women, Ink. advertises and sells books and reference materials relevant to the Beijing +5 review process. They now send out a monthly e-mail bulletin with news about important books, conferences and websites. To subscribe to Women, Ink's Booklink, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type 'Subscribe Booklink' in the subject line. Include your name, organization (if applicable) and country in the body of the message. Print versions are available upon request. Women, Ink., 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA, Tel: 212-687-8633. Fax: 212-661-2704. Website: http://www.womenink.org.
Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, edited by Courtney W. Howland, is a collection of essays providing insight both on the views of women who consider religion hopelessly patriarchal and reject it completely, as well as other feminists who fight fundamentalism, while maintaining religious conviction. To order, contact Meredith Howard (212) 982-3900, ext. 267 at St. Martin's Press. E-mail: email@example.com.
Africa: Gender, Globalization and Resistance, published by the Pan-African NGO AAWORD, highlights the struggle for gender equity amidst imperialist globalization. Yassine Fall, the editor, has collected essays that address questions vital to African economic and social viability in the 2000s, such as whether trade can become a vehicle for gender equity in developing countries. The vivid portrayal of the grim socio-economic status of African women becomes the impetus for discussions of resistance and alternative options for attaining gender equity. For more information, send inquiries to Association of African Women for Research and Development, Sicap Sacre Coeur I, Villa No. 8798, B.P. 15367, Dakar, Senegal. Phone: (221) 824-20-53. Fax: (221) 824-20-56. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EU and Human Rights, an Oxford UP volume edited by Philip Alston, is a valuable resource with contributions by experts from every EU country. The entries explore humans rights bodies and policies across Europe with important chapters about gender equity, racism and refugee and asylum policies.
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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