For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Egyptian women barred from new constitiution

Tags: , , , Categories: The Middle East

When the Egyptian People’s Assembly this week announced who would hold the seats in the committée responsible for developing the countrys new constitution, their decision caused many strong reactions. Only six of 100 committée members were women.

 

Protesters in the Tahrir square, Cairo, Nov 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

After the Constitution Committée’s participants were known, 14 of its members, all liberals, immediately resigned. They said that the group just isn’t representative since it marginalizes both women, young people and Christians.

On the International Women’s Day, 8th of March, women activists in Egypt presented a list to the parliament with over 100 names of women experts, more than qualified to be a part of the writing of the constitiution. Non of these women were appointed.

Shadow constitution

Saba Nowsari from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation is working with women activists in Egypt:

- The activists here have decided to form their own committée, with 100 women and men representing the groups that were excluded in the official process, and write a shadow constitution. To show a real representation of the Egyptian people, she says.

- The women’s movement is actually hopeful. They just say that they need solidarity, people who help spreading their issues internationally to make their voices stronger. And they are also trying to find ways to get men involved in the struggle for women’s rights.

Emergency meeting

Yesterday the People’s Assembly held an emergency meeting. Appointing the Constitution Committée was the newly elected Assembly’s first important mission.

Of the 100 seats in the Constitution Committée 50 went to parliamentarians and 50 to lawyers, religious leaders etc. Half of the parliamentarian seats went to the Freedom and Justice Party, an Islamist party led by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafi Al Nour Party got 11 seats.

The People’s Assembly has also had problems with its representation of women. In the last election women recieved only 2 percent of the seats.

More on women and politics in Egypt can be found on Women and the Arab Spring.

Worldwide protests after Moroccan rape law caused suicide

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A young Moroccan girl’s suicide has caused activists to take to the street. They are protesting against a law that makes it possible for rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. That’s what happened to 16-year-old Amina Al Filali who, five months after a judge ordered the marriage, drank rat poison after being repeatedly beaten by her then attacker, now husband.

Moroccan law punishes rape by 5-10 years in prison, 10-20 years if the victim is underaged. But Article 475 of the constitution declares that a rapist or attacker of a minor cannot be prosecuted if he marries the victim. This as part of the cultural belief that exists in several societies that the loss of a woman’s virginity shames her and her family. The marriage should thereby save them from this dishonour.

Hundreds of thousands protesting

Last weekend hundreds of women’s rights activists marched in the Moroccan capital Rabat and staged a sit-in at the parliament, demanding a change in the penal code, reports Globalpost.com. There have also been protests in other cities worldwide and in social media, where the case has gotten its own Facebook-page and twitter hashtag: #RIPAmina. Over 650 000 people have also signed an online petition, to the Moroccan government, asking them to repeal Article 475.

Minister wants to toughen sentences

Morocco has updated its family code in recent years, including raising the marriage age from 15 to 18 and making it illegal for minors to be forced into marriage. But loopholes still exists.

- We can’t ignore what happened, one of the things we are looking for is to toughen the sentence for rape. We are also looking to creating a debate on the cultural and social aspects to create a comprehensive reform, Moroccan communications minister Mustapha el-Khalfi told Al Jazeera.

CSW without conclusions to empower rural women

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The 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) ended in disappointment, as the participants were unable to agree on the proposed conclusions.
- Unfortunately we have (…) witnessed an inability to reach consensus on the agreed conclusions on our priority theme, empowering rural women. We have come to an impasse, which is deeply regrettable, commented Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women.

Michelle Bachelet, Marjon Karmara, CSW 56th session.

UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet delivers the introductory speech at the opening of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. To the right Marjon Kamara, Chair of the session. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

The session took place at the UN head quarters between 27 February and 9 March, and its  priority theme was rural women.

Usually these sessions end with the agreement on a number of conclusions concerning the priority theme, negotiated by all states. But this time, in spite of them continuing a week after the end of the session, the negotiations stranded.

“Discussions gave us hope”

- The discussions during the past two weeks gave us hope that stakeholders were ready to provide both priority attention and much needed resources to further women’s empowerment and gender equality in all its dimensions, including sexual and reproductive health, and access to technology, and other important areas. I sincerely hope that despite the failure to adopted agreed conclusions Member States will live up to their commitments and responsibilities to improve rural women’s and girls’ lives in all dimensions and ensure their rights, said Michelle Bachelet.

Draft resolutions adopted

So, no agreed conclusions, but at the end of the session CSW approved several draft resolutions including on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS; an end to the harmful practice of female genital mutilation; release of women and children taken hostage in war zones; indigenous women as key actors in poverty and hunger eradication; the elimination of maternal mortality and morbidity through empowerment of women; and gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters.

A draft resolution on the situation of, and assistance to, Palestinian women was also adopted after being put to a vote , with 29 in favour, two against (US, Israel) and 10 abstentions (Belgium, Colombia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden), reports IPS news.

More on the 56th session of the CSW on IPS news.

CSW is the body responsible for following up on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Strong reactions on acquittal for performing virginity tests

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Today, on the Egyptian Women’s Day, demonstrations are held in Egypt against the rule of the military court to acquit the doctor who performed so called virginity tests on women activists in March 2011. 17 Egyptian organizations are now planning to pursue the case outside of Egypt.

When the acquittance was announced last Sunday it caused strong reactions among women’s rights activists. It was on March 9th last year that the military arrested 18 female activists protesting on the Tahrir square. Seven of them, the ones who were unmarried, claim to have been subjected to virginity tests by the military doctor now on trial. Several members of the military, including General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has later publicly admitted the conduct of virginity tests. They were explained to be used as a way of protecting the army from allegations of rape by detainees, not acknowledging that the tests in themselves are a form of rape.

Virginity tests banned

In December 2011 The State Council Court in Egypt ruled in favor of the victims and banned the use of virginity tests. But in this trial the military court refused to hear the victims lawyers in the final session and it also refused to accept evidence, including testimonies from vitnesses. It presented no official reason for the acquittal.

Taking the case abroad

The organizations pursuing the case say that they have enough evidence and testimonies to get a conviction. What’s needed is an impartial judicial framework, and that is impossible with the military court, since the military itself was involved in the crime.

Samira Ibrahim, the activist who had the courage to take her case to court and to testify, says that she refuses to back down. Since the attempts to reach justice in Egypt now have been exhausted, the next step will be to take the case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Find out more on the trial and womens rights activists in Egypt on the Women and the Arab Spring portal.

USAID introduces policy on gender equality

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United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has launched a new policy on gender equality and female empowerment. USAID has a budget of over 50 billion US dollars and works with programs on humanitarian aid, democracy, economic development, sustainability etc in over 100 countries in the so called developing world.

Nishta Jehan, Swat, Pakistan.

One of the countries where USAID is present is Pakistan. Here Nishta Jehan, living in the conflict-affected Swat area, is working on a sewing machine provided by USAID, to help her earn an income. Photo: Usman Ghani/USAID

When presenting the policy USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah said:

-We know that long-term, sustainable development will only be possible when women and men enjoy equal opportunity to rise to their potential. But today, women and girls continue to face disadvantages in every sector in which we work, and in other cases, boys are falling behind. With this policy, we can ensure our values and commitments are reflected in durable, meaningful results for all.

Promote women’s participation

The policy states that USAID investments, in order to achieve the gender equality goal, will be aimed at three outcomes:

  • Reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities and services – economic, social, political and cultural;
  • Reduce gender-based violence; and
  • Increase capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes and influence decision-making in household, communities and societies.

It also specifically mentions USAID’s work in conflict-affected states and that it ”should promote women’s participation in all efforts to prevent, resolve and rebuild following conflict; prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence; and ensure that relief and recovery efforts address the different needs and priorities of women and men”.

Descriptions of implementation

But part from the equality goals in the field projects, one of the most promising things about the policy is the fact that it also contains detailed descriptions on how to get it institutionalized in all USAID’s missions, bureaus and offices. This should mean that the usual gap between talk and action when it comes to policy documents and their implementation, in this case should be able to keep significantly smaller.

Iraq passes anti-trafficking law

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On February 23rd the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a law to combat trafficking in human beings. It includes the establishment of coordination mechanisms for civil society, support to different ministries on victim of trafficking assistence and support to a proposed Higher Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.

- This legislation is crucial and has been long anticipated in its coming. In order to assist the vast number of displaced and vulnerable populations in Iraq, as well as the thousands of labour migrants in the country, who are all at risk of being trafficked, the legal grounds for protection from abuse is absolutely necessary, says Michael Pillinger, Chief of the IOM Iraq mission.

Processed by international working group

IOM’s (International Organization for Migration) mission in Iraq has been working with the law since 2008, and in 2011 they founded a Trafficking in Persons Working Group together with the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Working Group gathers representatives from the UN Country Team, NGO’s, universities, interested embassies and Iraqi ministries, to promote the legislative process and, at the next level, assist with its implementation.

Difficult to prosecute

Before this law the legal instrument to use was the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 from 1969 that included trafficking in women and children as well as so called white slave trade. But without a specialized law it has been difficult for prosecutors to define crimes as trafficking in persons and therefore pepetrators have been able to escape punishment. The absence of a clear legal framework has also made it hard for civil society to support the victims and for the state to work with prevention and protection.

With the passage of the law Iraq became the 13th Middle Eastern country to institute counter-trafficking in persons legislation, thereby joining Syria, the UAE, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon.

Visit the Protection Project to read different international anti-trafficking legislation.

Conference on Somalia – without women

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At the end of February an international conference on Somalia was held in London. The aim of the conference was to discuss the future of the country and the international support against its instability and powerty. Over 40 governments and multi-lateral organizations were represented, including the UN by its Secretary General. But the Somali women were nowhere to be seen.

For Women’s Views on News, British Somali women aired their worry over the lack of Somali women participants and the fact that documents leaked from the conference did not mention women’s rights or their place in the future politics of the country. And Asha Ahgi Elmi, of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, agreed:

- During all those years of conflict in Somalia, women have had to take up non-traditional roles as breadwinners and entrepreneurs, and it is the courage of women that keeps Somali society in existence. The London Conference must recognise the important role of women in building peace and stability in Somalia. If women are not part of the process they cannot be part of the outcome, she said to Women’s Views on News.

Communique on agreements

At the end of the day the conference released a communique on its agreements under the headlines Political, Security and Justice, Piracy, Terrorism, Stability and Recovery, Humanitarian. In between the talk of more support to the African Union peacekeepers, humanitarian aid shifting to long-term needs and measures to crack down on suspects of piracy or terrorism, women were mentioned two times – both under Political:

“We (…) endorsed the priority of convening a Constituent Assembly, and emphasised that the Assembly must be representative of the views of the Somali people of all regions and constituencies, and that women must be part of the political process.”

“We called for action to address in particular the grave human rights violations and abuses that women and children face.”

Unfortunately there were no mentioning of how these statements should be implemented. Nor were there any specifications on what was meant by “part of the political process” or included in “grave human rights violations and abuses”. The special needs of women’s security was not mentioned at all.

“Missed opportunity for peace”

A disappointment for Somali women’s right to equal inclusion in the development processes of their country, and, as expressed by Chitra Nagarajan, Director of Gender Action for Peace and Security UK, before the start of the conference:

- If the conference communique doesn’t include support for women’s participation and put in place ways to protect and promote their rights, it will be a huge missed opportunity to help build a real peace for Somalia, one that has true meaning for both women and men.

Hope of redress for survivors of rape during the war in Kosovo

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Kosovo 8 March, 2012

The manifestation on March 8th, for women who were raped during the war, gathered in front of the National Theatre in Pristina, Kosovo. Photo: Lina Andéer/The Kvd in inna till Kvinna Foundation

In Kosovo women activists celebrated the International Women’s Day with a manifestation for the women who were raped during the war 13 years ago. At the same time the first of these cases are being considered for trial.

The manifestation was organized by the Kosovo Women’s Network, KWN, that gathers over 80 women’s organizations. This was the first time the situation for the victims were being officially addressed. According to UN numbers tens of thousands of women were raped during the conflict in Kosovo, but so far no systematic investigation has been done and none of the offenders have been brought to trial.

KWN demand justice for the victims and want them to receive compensation from the State. Today these women are not covered by laws that give veterans a pension, health care and other support.

Important first case

The EU mission in place in Kosovo, EULEX, is investigating the first of these rape cases to possibly be taken to trial. The woman says she was raped for over two days in a house in the Dukagjini region. More than 70 women were trapped in the house by Serbian troops or militia groups during a period in 1999.

Women’s organization Medica Kosovo, that provides psychosocial support to women victims of sexual abuse, assists the woman.

- If the perpetrator is convicted more women will probably dare to testify. Therefore, this case is so important, says Veprore Shehu from Medica Kosovo.

Victims stigmatized

She explains that it was easier to get witnesses to come forward directly after the war. Women in refugee camps spoke out, even to media, but many of them regretted it afterwards.

- They got no protection and suffered hard from the stigma attached to rape. Many women don’t dare to talk about what happened to them of fear of being marginalized. It has happened that husbands have left their wives when they have told their stories. Due to the silence and lack of justice the trauma for these women has increased, she says.

Kosovo Women’s Network report that the Kosovo Parliament after the manifestation has held a discussion about sexual violence during the war. The Kosovo Minister of Integration also invited KWN to a meeting the 9th of March to ask their advice on how the government can support women in the future. KWN suggested that they’d start a parliamentarian group to look at the possibilities of a new legislation, and that they’d cooperate with EULEX and support their investigations.

Commission on the Status of Women focuses on rural women

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27 February-9 March the Commission on the Status of Women is holding its 56th session at UN’s headquarters in New York. The Commission is responsible for following up on the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and its mission to remove ”all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making”.

The 56th session is dedicated to the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. The aim is for the Commission to put forward actions needed to make a real difference in the lives of millions of rural women. These recommendations will also provide input into other policy forums, such as the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 (the 20-year-on review of the Beijing Platform for Action).

As the session reaches half-time the actions are yet to be presented. But in the meantime you can immerse yourself in background reports on the situation of rural women and follow the speaches live on the UN webcast.

We will get back with a report on the outcome.

Small arms in homes a lethal threat to women

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In the last eight years 25 people, 13 of them women, in Israel, have been killed in their homes by guns handled by security guards. A study made by the organisation Isha L’Isha shows that employees of security companies take their guns with them home at the end of the working day, thereby exposing their families to great risks.
To reduce the number of weapons in the Israeli society, and to save lives, Isha L’Isha has launched the campaign The Gun on the Kitchen Table.

"The Gun on the Kitchen Table" demonstation

"The Gun on the Kitchen Table"-campaign hosts a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Isha L'Isha.

There are 440 registered security companies in Israel, and a number of unregistered ones.
90 000 people work within these companies as security guards. That equals around 3 per cent of the working force in the country. Many of them are armed. The total amount of guns in the Israeli society, other than those within the military, have increased heavily during the last 15 years.

- Israel is a militarised society through and through. There are armed security guards standing outside restaurants, companies, official buildings and schools and weapons are everywhere. Noone questions it, it’s wholly accepted. The guards are considered necessary for our safety, says Rela Mazali, campaign co-coordinator at Isha L’Isha.

- Our government has commissioned private companies to uphold the nations security and thereby given up the responsibility for how the work’s being managed. We don’t have any real supervision of all these security companies and their way of working.

Women at most risk
The campaign is focused on the problem with security guards bringing their guns into their homes and thereby putting their family members at risk.
- There aren’t any public debates on how weaponalised our society has become. We know that women are the ones most threatened by guns in the homes, but women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel, says Rela Mazali.

After the occurance of several high profile violent crimes, involving guns from security guards, a law on regulation of guns was passed in 2008. It states that security companies are obliged to collect their employees guns at the end of the working day. But the law has not been implemented. According to the government it would be too expensive. The companies are said not to be able to afford creating safer routines for the handling of guns.

Meeting with politicians
Last December Rela Mazali, and other activists working with the campaign, had a meeting with the Parliament Committee on the Status of Women.

“Women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel”

They presented their demands on the law on guns being put to use and security companies having to control their guns.
- It was a very positive meeting. The committee has now demanded of the government to implement the law within two months. We don’t think it will happen that soon, but it’s a good start, says Rela Mazali.

Besides working politically, the campaign also targets the general public. On the occassion of 25 November, the International day on violence against women, they held demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They have also produced a film on the issue, that is being distributed via social media.
- Our goal is to get a critical review of the militarisation of our society. We have to raise the awareness of how big a security threat small arms are. Since people have shown to be very ignorant of the problems with guns handled by security companies, we are hopeful that we can make them aware and gain their support, says Rela Mazali.

The Gun on the Kitchen Table is run by Isha L’Isha. The 2011 campaign was also joined by ten other women’s, human right and civil society organizations.