THE WOMEN'S WATCH
Volume 9, Number 2
WOMEN, LAW, AND HUMAN RIGHTS - FORWARD FROM BEIJING
Long after the Fourth World Conference on Women has become a part of history, the connections and the words that emerge from it will remain alive in the world of women human rights. The Platform for Action will be scrutinized and invoked to support claims to full participation in all areas of human endeavor, and much of its language will be helpful. But while the Platform for Action-and the Programmes of Action adopted by the 1993 Human Rights Conference and the 1994 ICPD-represent global consensus on the human rights of women, they do not carry the force of international law. They can be used, but they cannot be enforced in national or international fora.
The legal obligation to eliminate discrimination and to ensure that women have full and equal opportunity to participate in political, economic and social development predates the Beijing conference-in fact, it predates the UN Decade for Women. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) provide that human rights shall be pursued without discrimination on the basis of sex. The Convention on the Elimnation of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Women's Convention) elaborates on the rights stated in these documents-and states the particular obligation to focus on these rights for women and to report on progress made in implementing them.
With 143 ratifications as of July 1995, the Women's Convention has become the international standard for protection and promotion of human rights of women. The standard of the Women's Convention can be used as a measure for monitoring compliance with the promises in the Platform for Action and every other world conference promise pertaining to women. The application of other human rights treaties to promote the human rights of women can be informed by reference to the Women's Convention-and the other hman rights treaties must be seen as clearly referring to women as subjects of their guarantees as well.
Recognition and implementation of women's human rights under all the human rights treaties was a major subject on the agenda of a recent Expert Group meeting held in July 1995 at the UN Centre for Human Rights. Co-sponsored by UNIFEM and the Centre for Human Rights, the Expert Group developed guidelines for inclusion of gender perspectives in United Nations human rights activities that will inform the agenda for human rights advocacy long after Beijing. And immediately after Beijing, the Centre will hold the sixth meeting of the Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies-with gender issues on that agenda. The results of the expert group meeting will be presented, with a discussion of how the treaty bodies can effectively increase their attention to the human rights of women.
But while progress has undoubtedly been made on international fronts, the real issues of monitoring and implementation of women's human rights can only be resolved effectively on the national level-using international standards and examples to back up local action. Ratification of the Women's Convention is a key element of both international and national-level action, the link between the vision and the achievement of women's human rights. No country's claim to favor women's rights can be taken seriously unless it has ratified the Women's Convention.
As of July 1995, entering the last weeks before the Fourth world Conference on Women, the ratification record for the Women's Convention is perhaps as close to universal as one could hope at this point, but not quite there. While ratification is by no means a clear indication of absolute intent to implement-witness the twenty-one countries that are four or more years behind in initial reporting and twenty-four others that have owed periodic reports for over four years-it is at least an acknowledgment that the standard is significant and permanent. After the Beijing conference, citizens of the following countries could ask their governments-forcefully-about the contradiction between participation in the Fourth World Conference and failure to ratify the Women's Convention:
COUNTRIES THAT HAVE NOT RATIFIED THE WOMEN'S CONVENTION - JULY 1995
Europe/North America West Asia (Middle East) Latin America/Caribbean Asia Pacific/Central Asia Africa
United States of America (S)
Syrian Arab Republic
United Arab Emirates
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Cote d'Ivoire (S)
Sao Tome and Principe
South Africa (S)
*non-member state of the United Nations (S) signed, not ratified or acceded
HUMAN RIGHTS - Convention Articles 2 and 3
The Unity Dow case continues . . . The Parliament of Botswana has failed to enact a measure proposed by the Government to amend the Botswana nationality law to eliminate discriminatory provisions. Botswana has been without an enforceable law concerning the nationality of children since the 1982 Nationality Act was declared unconstitutional in Dow v. Attorney General in 1992. The proposed new law provides that children take the citizenship of either parent and also includes nondiscriminatory provisions for citizenship of a foreign spouse. Until it is enacted, however, Dow's children and all those in similar situations remain in legal limbo.
Bangladeshi organizations demand the prosecution of three former Bangladeshi citizens for war crimes and gross violations of human rights committed during the Bangladesh wars of liberation in 1971. According to the International Solidarity Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the men, now British citizens prominent in Muslim fundamentalist activities in the U.K., are accused of inciting torture, mutilation and murder. Thousands of women were raped during the war, abandoned and rejected by their families and society. The Bangladeshi initiative is supported by the Algerian organization Family of Victims of Terrorism, the Algerian Rally of Democrat Women (RAFD), and other global women's organizations.
One step forward, one step back in Argentina. The National Ministry of the Interior has established an Anti-Discrimination Program (Programa Contra la Discriminacion), where women who feel they have been discriminated against can find information and support, especially for incidents that violate anti-discriminatory legislation passed during the presidency of Raul Alfonsin. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture and Education has withdrawn support for a major educational reform program that incorporated gender into the Basic Common Curriculum. The senior educators who worked in this program have resigned in protest-but after having trained more than 50,000 teachers, conducted three major national campaigns and numerous international seminars, and published educational materials, according to Gloria Bonder they "are sure that many of the seeds [they] have sown and seen as little trees will go on living in the everyday life in the schools."
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, and 16
In two recent judgments, the Colombian Supreme Court underscored the legal basis for protection against physical and emotional violence in marriage. According to Mujer Fempress, the Court advised the male abusers in these cases that threats or actual violence warranted State intervention, and possible fines and imprisonment. The Court added that any type of subordination in the relationship of a couple is indefensible before the law.
The 1993 Prevention of Family Violence Act has significantly reformed South African common law regarding sexual and physical violence between spouses. Reporting on the reforms, the Women's Health Project says victims will find it simpler and cheaper to bring charges against family members who commit violent acts. The Act also makes it possible for a husband to be convicted of raping his wife. However, Joanne Fedler, a law lecturer and member of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), argues that the new Act does not give women adequate protection against violence and places too much emphasis on maintaining family unity and "rehabilitating" abusers in instances where it may not be in the best interests of the women involved.
A Centre for Girls and an SOS Hotline were established in Belgrade in March 1994. Both are voluntary, non-professional services aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and providing support services, information and institutional contacts for girls. The Centre offers workshops, counseling and a gathering place for girls. The email address for the Centre and the hotline is: CENTRIC_BG@ZAMIR-BG.ztn.apc.org
Pakistani women hope the recent sentencing of an Islamic religious leader for abusing his wife will help change attitudes. The thirty-year sentence, the highest ever imposed for spousal abuse, was given after conviction for strapping his wife to a bed and torturing her with electric rods. The case was first publicized by the Progressive Women's Association.
PROSTITUTION AND TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN - Convention Article 6
Between 5,000 and 7,000 women and girls are taken each year from Nepal to Indian brothels. The sale of a woman or girl by her family can bring in as much as ten years' income. Maita Nepal ( Mother's House), an organization formed in 1993 by Anuradha Koirala, lends money to female beggars and prostitutes to help them operate street and runs a shelter for abandoned, abused and neglected women and children. The shelter lost UNICEF funding when she refused to return children to their families , arguing that the parents had not gone through any counseling or rehabilitation and the children would end up back on the streets.
Sixty-seven percent of the children reported missing in Venezuela are girls, and the number is steadily increasing. Mujer/fempress reports that the situation was the focus of a conference held in March 1995, which discussed the need for institutional collaboration to develop a National Plan to Prevent the Trafficking and Sale of Children. An estimated 40,000 girls are thought to be working as prostitutes in Venezuela and are vulnerable to further exploitation in the international network trafficking in women and girls.
The Japanese government will establish a fund to help the tens of thousands of World War II "comfort women." Most of the comfort women were Korean, but Dutch, Indonesian, Filipino and Chinese women were also victims. The New York Times reported in June 1995 that the "Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women" will support medical and social welfare projects for victims and will underwrite other projects to raise the general status of women in Asia. Estimates of the number of women forced into prostitution as "comfort women" range from 80,000 to 200,000, with an estimated 58,000 thought to be still living. The Japanese government said that this action was based on "remorse for the past," but stopped short of what victims have asked for-a statement of regret by the Japanese government. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has made public its recommendations for full restitution of "comfort women" and full disclosure of all information concerning them. For the complete text of the ICJ recommendations, see UNEWS No. 5, April 1995.
The Global Alliance Against Women-trafficking, launched in Thailand in 1994, brings activists, policy-makers, social workers, researchers and women trafficking victims together to work against the global trafficking in women. The Alliance will also work on a new UN Convention on trafficking in women. Information: Stichting tegen Vrouwenhandel, P.O. Box 1455, 3500 BC Utrecht, The Netherlands.
POLITICS AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Article 7
At Radio Nadezdha (Radio Hope), the first independent broadcasting station in Russia, all program presenters are women, though men share administrative and technical duties. The station first began broadcasting 3 hours daily in 1992 and has since increased to 23 hours daily. One of the founders of Nadezdha is the Women's Union of Russia. Editor in chief Tatiana Zeleranskaya claims Nadezdha is the largest women's radio station in the world, with an audience extending throughout the Russian Federation, the U.S., Australia and India, and more than 1.5 million listeners in Moscow alone. Information: Radio Nadezdha, 25 Pyatnitskaya Street, 113326 Moscow, Russia. Telephone: 095-233-65-88. Fax: 2302828.
As violence and gangland killings spread across the French island of Corsica, women have mobilized to protest and demand police crackdowns on illegal weapons, according to the New York Times. After four killings in one week in January 1995, 500 women joined to publish an anti-violence statement in the newspaper which they called "Manifesto for Life." Over 2,000 women have added their signatures to the statement, and women-led protests have spread across the island. The violence is linked to numerous groups involved in the Corsican nationalist struggle.
Women seeking equal participation in the transition to Palestinian self-rule were dealt a blow when the Palestinian authority gave 90% of the seats on its transitional committees to men. This may have serious implications for the future direction of gender relations and women's political and social participation in Palestine. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on the status of Palestinian women sees Palestinian leadership at a crossroads, where a choice must be made between building a nation based on equal opportunity and gender-based partnerships, or risking the loss of women's hard-won accomplishments.
EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11
Women in Taipei protested government policies discriminating against women workers. Carrying banners and armed with a petition bearing more than 30,000 signatures, 200 protesters marched to the gates of Taiwan's parliament to voice their opposition to government ordinances that prohibit married and pregnant women from working. The Solidarity Front on Women Workers and the Pink Collar Solidarity organized the campaign, demanding an equal right to work for all women. The Asian Women Workers Newsletter reports that women in Hong Kong, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Indonesia, China and Thailand also have launched strikes and protests against unsafe working conditions, poor pay, and lack of enforcement of international laws to protect the rights of women workers.
Despite constitutional protection against sexual discrimination, at least one Paraguayan company continues to blatantly discriminate against women in employment and training opportunities. Mujer/fempress reports that Laura Cibils, a student at the National Technical High School, was accepted for training at Aceros del Paraguay (ACEPAR) along with her male counterparts. Despite being approved by the Human Resources Department, Cibils was later rejected by the General Management explicitly because she was female. Cibils was refused training despite existing contracts between the National Technical High School and numerous businesses, including ACEPAR , to provide such opportunities for male and female students.
The Self-Employed Women's Union (SEWU) in Durban, South Africa helps to protect self-employed women from exploitation and harassment. As of October 1994, SEWU membership had reached nearly 300. In addition to raising women's awareness of their legal rights, SEWU faces the challenge of fostering women's participation in non-traditional areas such as carpentry and electrification. Many women are eager to learn non-traditional skills, and SEWU is negotiating with the Khuphuka Skills Training and Employment Project to run part-time classes for SEWU members.
HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Convention Article 12
Men participating in clinical trials to test male hormonal contraceptive methods found the injectable hormones highly acceptable as a method of birth control. Progress in Human Reproduction Research states that the majority of men who participated at centers in Australia, Scotland, Singapore and Thailand, as well as their partners, said they would consider using the method if it were available, and found it much more acceptable as a male method than condoms or vasectomy.
The abortion debate has intensified in Thailand with recent crackdowns on illegal abortions. Thai law allows a woman to terminate her pregnancy in cases of rape and forced prostitution, or if the pregnancy endangers the woman's life. The Friends of Women Newsletter reports that an estimated 300,000 women seek illegal abortions every year because of strict abortion laws. The government has established special clinics, but they cannot deal with the demand for abortions. At one clinic, of 500 women seeking services, four were given abortions and the remaining 496 were given counseling and referred to NGOs.
The Health Ministry of Brazil estimates that nearly 25 million women have been sterilized, and that sterilizations are most heavily concentrated in the poorest areas of the country, among Afro-Brazilian women. Sterilization rates surpass 70% in some states, and youth and adolescents undergo the procedure along with adult women. The Servicio Brasileiro de Justica e Paz reports that the high cost of birth control methods in Brazil, among the world's most expensive, has led to dependence on female sterilization as a simple, rapid, secure method of contraception. Many firms demand a pregnancy test at the time of an interview and even subsidize sterilization procedures, despite the fact that sterilization is prohibited by law and by the Brazilian medical ethics code.
Harsh restrictions on international family planning organizations are included in the June 1995 "American Overseas Interests Act" passed by the US House of Representatives. Unlike previous appropriations, the bill does not contain a specific line for population assistance, which would instead be disbursed from the development assistance account which has already been reduced by 40%. In addition, the bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to include as a ground for asylum as "persecuted," any person subjected to or fearing forced abortion or involuntary sterilization. The special consideration given to individuals prevented from bearing children is not extended to those forced to have children.
RURAL WOMEN - Convention Article 14
According to Mujer/fempress, 96.7% of rural women who migrate to cities in Ecuador must work daily to maintain their families, 92% have no form of social security, and only 4.7% receive support from a partner or husband. The majority of women who migrate to the cities live in conditions of extreme poverty, and work in the informal sector where they are unprotected by legislation governing the formal sector of the economy. These are some of the results reported in a recent study "Women Migrants in Ecuador," published by the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Investigaciones y Capacitacion de la Mujer (IECAIM), with support from UNIFEM.
A new ruling governing land purchases in the Malaysian state of Perak protects women's land rights. The Kinta land office issued a ruling which requires all applications for land within the district to be made in the name of the woman if she is Perak-born. The ruling would prevent local-born women from losing their land rights upon divorce, which previously resulted in at least fourteen women being displaced from their homes and land after divorce from non-local men. The ruling is effective beginning this year.
FAMILY LAW - Convention Articles 5, 15, and 16
Thousands of Filipina women have joined to file suit against the United States seeking support for the estimated 8,600 Amerasian children in Olongapo, a town located next to the former Subic Bay Naval Station. According to the New York Times, the class action suit claims that the U.S. Navy-including officers and retirees-had a direct role in encouraging and regulating the local bar and sex industry, fostering prostitution, live-in arrangements and marriages in which servicemen fathered thousands of children who have since been abandoned. The women filed the $68 million lawsuit arguing that the U.S. government has a moral and legal responsibility to provide for the education and medical care of children abandoned by U.S. servicemen.
Colombian lawyer Ester Villamizar denounced Family Court judges who allowed misogynist messages to be displayed, and in some cases participated themselves in such displays. According to Mujer/fempress messages such as "if women were good God would have one," and "a man is happy with a woman until the day he tells her he loves her" were among those displayed on bulletin boards in Colombian family courts. Villamizar called for these cases to be made public, along with information showing judges' lack of familiarity with the rights of women.
Militant Muslim lawyers in Cairo succeeded in June 1995 in persuading a court to annul the marriage of a university professor, arguing that his writings are an insult to Islam. Nasr Abu Zeid and his wife, Ibithal Younis, insist they want to stay married and are now unsure of what to do. Abu Zeid, a professor of Arabic literature at the University of Cairo, has been attacked for his linguistic analysis of the Koran, and was declared an apostate by the appeals court. According to the religious laws that govern Muslim marriages in Egypt, an apostate is not allowed to be married to a Muslim. The ruling was the first time the courts have been used in Egypt to force avowed Muslims to end their marriage, and it is still unclear how the ruling would be enforced and what the penalty for violations would be.
Turkish women are appealing to women abroad to help pressure the Turkish parliament to revise discriminatory family laws. A bill to abolish discriminatory legislation has existed since 1984, but has not been passed by parliament. When a recent petition with signatures of 100,000 women failed to move the bill, the Turkish Women for Women's Human Rights joined the struggle and is asking others to lend support by signing an international petition . For a letter with signature list contact: Women Living under Muslim laws, Boite Postale 23, 34790 Grabels, (Montpellier) France, or Women for Human Rights, fax 90-216-385162.
Nearly 1,500 NGOs present at the NGO Forum during the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development in March, 1995 signed an alternative declaration on social development. The declaration calls on the Summit to address the structural causes of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration, as well as environmental degradation and the cultural structures of gender inequality. The declaration is reprinted in the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights Newsletter 49, January-March 1995.
The Once and Future Action Network (OFAN) is a network of non-governmental organizations working in the areas of gender, science and technology. Information: OFAN Secretariat, Business District, 40 Duke Street, Kingston, Jamaica. Telephone: 809-967-2339 ext. 229, FAX 809-967-2397, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. OFAN has also produced, with UNIFEM and the International Women's Tribune Centre, Women: Science and Technology for Development: A Preliminary Guide to Who's Doing What. From: IWTC, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 USA. FAX: 1-212-661-2704.
The Center for Women's Global Leadership, UNIFEM, and the United Nations Development Fund have published Demanding Accountability: The Global Campaign and Vienna Tribunal for Women's Human Rights, by Charlotte Bunch and Niamh Reilly. A companion volume,Testimonies of the Global Tribunal on Violations of Women's Human Rights at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, is also available. From: The Center for Women's Global Leadership, Douglass College, Rutgers University, 27 Clifton Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08903, USA. Phone: 908-932-8782 Fax: 908-932-1180.
The Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) published a special issue of Sauti Ya Siti, Tanzania Women's Magazine, in March 1995 on the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) held in Copenhagen in May 1995. To obtain this and other issues of Sauti Ya Siti, contact TAMWA at: P.O. Box 8981, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Tel: (255-51) 29089/32181/26534. Fax: (255-51) 44939/44834. E-Mail: TAMWA @HNETTAN. GN.APC.ORG.
The relationship between women's health care needs and Catholic Church policy are discussed in "Health Care Reform Crossroads: The Gap Between Catholic Church Mandates and Women's Needs." From: CFFC Catholics for a Free Choice, 1436 U Street NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009. Tel: 202 986-6093.
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WOMEN'S WATCH is published by the IWRAW project, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, USA. Editors: Marsha Freeman and Sharon Ladin. IWRAW is a global network of individuals and organizations that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty ratified by over 130 countries.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. The Humphrey Institute is hospitable to a diversity of opinions and aspirations. The Institute does not itself take positions on public policy issues. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the editors. IWRAW is grateful to the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Shaler Adams Foundation, the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcomed and are tax deductible for U.S. citizens.
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