Yesterday the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution to strengthen efforts to end impunity for sexual violence in conflict. Resolution 2106 is the fourth resolution dealing with sexual violence in conflict, the previous being 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1960 (2010).
According to the UN News Center, during the debate on women, peace and security in which the resolution was adopted, the Security Council emphasized “more consistent and rigorous investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes as a central aspect of deterrence, and ultimately prevention”.
There has been objections among women’s rights activists over the last years focus on sexual violence in the Security Council, critics claiming that although this is a heinous crime that needs to be dealt with, it is used to obscure other parts of resolutions on women, peace and security, namely the need for women’s equal participation in peace processes.
However, resolution 2016 contains some strong writings on this subject too, like “emphasizing that acts of sexual violence in such situations not only severely impede the critical contributions of women to society, but also impede durable peace and security as well as sustainable development” and “expresses its intent to employ, as appropriate, all means at its disposal to ensure women’s participation in all aspects of mediation, post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding and to address sexual violence in conflict“.
“The resolve of this Council and the international community as a whole has set us firmly on the path of accountability and prevention. We must stay the course, until we achieve the ‘critical mass’ of action that will turn the tide on history’s oldest and least condemned crime” said UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, during the debate.
Yesterday, parliamentary elections were held in Albania. However, women’s diminishing role in politics was decided upon already in the beginning of the election campaign.
”Despite the advocacy conducted by civil society and promises from the leaders of political parties, the 30 percent gender quota for candidates’ lists wasn’t met” says Armela Bejko, Project Director for the Albanian women’s rights organisation Association of Women With Social Problems.
Prior to the official start of the election campaign, Albania’s three main political parties – the Socialist Party (SP), the Democratic Party (DP) and the Socialist Movement for Integration – all spoke of their positive view on gender equality and of the necessity of increasing women’s participation in decision-making. Therefore the lack of women candidates on the party lists came as quite a surprise, says Armela Bejko
Armela Bejko, Project Coordinator, Association of Women With Social Problems.
”The reality revealed that their promises were not serious and the lists reflected gender inequality and proved once again the discrimination and patriarchal attitudes of the political leaders. This was unexpected for the women’s movement and women in general, who have worked continously for the improvement of legal framwork on these issues and with encouraging women to be involved in politics on the local and national level.”
Instead of putting more women on their lists, the parties chose to pay the fines connected with not fulfilling the quota.
Ranked low on the lists
Many of the women who made it onto the lists are also ranked so low that they basically have no chance to get into parliament. And not many of them have run any campaign of their own.
”Women candidates for MPs (Members of Parliament) generally have supported the top candidates on their lists. Partly this can be explained by the fact that you vote for the political party and not the specific candidates. But it also reflects women’s limited power and independence within their own parties” says Armela Bejko.
Important for EU
Sunday’s elections were marred by a shooting near a polling station in the northern city of Lac, where a candidate for the Democratic Party was wounded and an opposition supporter was killed. A tragedy in itself, this, together with an election campaign characterized by political tension and hostile comments between opponents, is a clear problem for a country trying to show its readiness to join the European Union. According to Armela Bejko, the election process is seen as a key test of the democratic progress in Albania and a determining factor in the country’s efforts to take its seat in Brussels.
After polling stations closed, both the ruling Democrats and the Socialist opposition declared they had won, while an exit poll gave the opposition a nine-point lead, reports the Balkan Insight. So far the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, only has announced partial results representing less than two per cent of the national vote. These results put the left-wing opposition in the lead.
But no matter which party wins, the political participation of women seems to have lost. In the last election women recieved 15 percent of the seats in the parliament, and Armela Bejko is not optimistic regarding the outcome of this election.
”Analyzing the ranking of women candidates in the first places of the candidates’ lists we foresee a decrease of the number of women MPs” she says.
Protests against the adoption of the abortion law outside the parliament building in Skopje in the beginning of June. The sign reads "My body, my decision". Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emilija Dimoska.
Despite strong protests from civil society organisations and the political opposition, June 17th Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov signed a decree for restrictions of abortions. Still, activists have not given up hope of overturning the decision.
What were the reactions on the draft law from the women’s movement and civil society organisations?
”Many women’s and human rights organisations were active in trying to stop the adoption of this law. In just one day, 72 organisations signed a request to the Minister of Health and members of parliament not to vote for the law and to ensure a transparent and consultative process in writing a new one, involving interested parties like gynecologists and civil society organisations (CSOs). At the parliamentary public hearing, organised by the Health Commission, CSOs were also very active, putting forward the same request.”
Are you planning any new actions to protest against the law?
”H.E.R.A sent a letter to the President asking him not to sign the law, using many arguments. We have also had a meeting with collaborators of the President, to thoroughly explain why the law is harmful from a human rights perspective. Now, CSOs are looking into the possibilities to send a submission to the Constitutional Court to dispute the law. Most probably there will be a working group established to coordinate this work.
We are also planning on doing more international advocacy. All parliamentary groups on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the European Parliament sent a letter to the President not to sign the law and we will look into how these groups perhaps can influence our decision makers further on. The Center for Reproductive Rights will also provide support in terms of human rights analysis of the new legislation and especially in relation to all international obligations that our country has ratified.”
What do you think will be the consequences of the law? Do critics see this as a first step to criminalize abortion?
“The law will definitely obstruct women’s access to legal abortion services as they will have to go through a lot of bureaucratic procedures, which are non-scientific and not in line with international human rights treaties. There is off course also the possibility that the number of non-safe abortions will increase and that could be lethal for women. We have seen this conservative government trying to introduce many pro-natal politics that stigmatizes and delegitimize women’s rights and it will not stop here.”
”Reject the recently-issued draft electoral law, since it does not ensure equal gender representation in the Constitutional Assembly that will draft Libya’s new constitution”. This was the message from The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, to all Libyans after the proposed law was presented in the end of May. A recently published reportby Human Rights Watch also underlines the close connection between future women’s rights in Libya and women’s equal participation in the constitution writing process.
The draft electoral law is the work of a committee assigned by the Libyan General National Congress (GNC). It sets the rules for the popular elections that will be held to fill the 60 seats of the Constitutional Assembly that will be responsible for drafting the new constitutaion. LWPP has identified several areas of concern regarding the electoral law, among them the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure representation of both men and women, and the simple majority vote system, which affects both female candidates and candidates from all kinds of minorities negatively.
“The electoral law of the Constitutional Assembly reminds us of the National Transitional Councils’ first draft of the electoral law of the GNC. Both mindset is basically exclusionist. Again this runs against the spirit of the 17th Feb revolution in which women and men fought together to foster equality, justice and democracy. Democracy entitles that all voices are represented, those of the majority as well as those of the minority especially if we are addressing the process of drafting the constitution which is basically the establishment of the social contract.” said Zahra’ Langhi, Cofounder of LWPP in a statement.
”Failure to deal with these issues (one of which is equal representation, editor’s comment) properly will set back the progress women have made over the past two years, and hinder respect for women’s rights in the future. (…) Women’s voices are critical to prepare a constitution that meets international standards for women’s rights” the report states.
Egypt warning example
Another recent report, Women and Equal Citizenship: Analysis of the New Constitution of Egypt by the Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition, FACT, also focuses on the clear connection between the writing of constitutions and future equality. It examines the final draft of the Egyptian constitution that was signed into law last December. The report states that important rights regarding the status of women were muddled in vague text in the constitution and written with a conservative vision for the society. Subsequently Egypt’s constitution lacks proper mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights and has no mechanisms to address discrimination based on sex or mentions any creation of agencies to oversee such cases.
The report also states that these gaps in ensuring full equality among Egypts citizens, were the possible results of the clear lack of female voices in the constitution’s formation (there were only 6 percent women in the Constitutent Assembly).
One important part of the Right to Heal campaign is to try to prevent future wars, says Yanar Mohammed from Women's Freedom in Iraq, OWFI. Photo: Right to Heal.
A wave of deadly attacks has once again hit the Iraqi civilian population. But at the same time, new peace initiatives emerge. Anti-war activists from Iraq and the United States have launched the joint campaign Right to Heal.
Still, there are beacons of light in the darkness.
“As human rights activists, we are determined to scrutinize all the wrongdoings of the war and also try to prevent future wars” says Yanar Mohammed, chairwoman of the organisation Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).
Yanar Mohammed is one of the founders of the Right to Heal campaign, which was launched outside the White House in New York on March 19. Marking the ten-year-anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the campaign seeks to hold the US government responsible for the long-term effects of the war.
“We demand reparations for the people of Iraq, who have suffered because of this war, as well as for the war veterans. All of us need to heal” Yanar Mohammed says.
Investigates humanitarian crisis
But the Right to Heal campaign is not only about seeking reparations for civilians and war veterans – it’s also about investigating wrongdoings of the war. For several years, OWFI has been trying to highlight the humanitarian crisis in the city of Hawijah, where several of the inhabitants have been diagnosed with brain damages, poliomyelitis paralysis and cancer and over 600 babies have been born with disabilities. In a report released in 2011, OWFI claims that a US army base situated in the city is behind these illnesses.
When American anti-war activists came across the report, they contacted Yanar Mohammed and an exchange of ideas and information began. That’s how the Right to heal campaign started.
Today, the campaign consists of OWFI, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. The campaign also has a legal representative, Center for Constitutional Rights, who have filed a case regarding Hawijah to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Prevent future wars
The last part of the campaign is to try to prevent future wars. A delicate task, one might think. But Yanar Mohammed says that she cannot limit herself to defending the Iraqi people only; she wants to prevent sufferings of all people.
“In Iraq, the US government poisoned big parts of the country with white phosphorus. Our mission is to find facts about this so that we can prove that they have used internationally forbidden weapons. We will try to come up with legal grounds that make us able to prevent future American wars in other places around the world” she says.
More information on the campaign and interviews with activists can be found in this video clip made by Iraq Veterans Against the War:
Last Tuesday, Lithuania took its first step towards forbiding abortion. At the same time the government of Macedonia put forward a draft law to the parliament with the purpose of restricting the abortion right. Women’s rights organisations are now mobilizing to stop the proposal.
The draft law was put forward without any heads-up and is being pushed through in a speedy procedure, making it difficult to have a public debate about it. If the law is adopted, women will have to write to a committée appointed by the Minister of Health, to get approval to have an abortion. The father will have to be informed ahead of the procedure and the woman will not be allowed to have another abortion within the same year.
Campaigning for more children
At the same time, the Macedonian government is campaining for families to have more children, trying to persuade them by using financial benifits as incentive. The Orthodox church recently made a public statement accusing women who want to work to cause divorce. In the eyes of the church, women should stay at home and take care of reproduction and family.
“The draft law is very worrying. It limits women’s right to decide over their own bodies. If the law is adopted there will be an increase in the number of illegal abortions, which means great risks for women’s health” says Emilija Dimoska, working for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Skopje, Macedonia.
Demonstration outside parliament
Last Wednesday, around 100 people demonstrated outside the parliament against the law. Among them were women’s rights activists that The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation supports and cooperates with. Due to the swift and forceful mobilization of civil society, NGOs have managed to get a meeting with the ministry next Wednesday, to discuss the draft law.
The right to legal abortions is constantly being questioned. This past year there have been states who have put ”traditional values” high on their agenda. After an initiative from Russia, the UN Human Rights Council last autumn adopted a resolution putting traditional values in the center of the work for human rights. Among other things, the resolution highlights the role of the family and traditional values’ importance for humanity. Human rights organisations fear that this will have negative consequences on the work for women’s and LBGT persons’ human rights.
Nima Habashne and her daughter demonstrating for women to have the same right as men to transfer their citizenship to their children. Photo: Private.
According to Jordanian law, women don’t have the right to transfer their Jordanian citizenship to their children. That means that if you’re born to a foreign father, you’re closed off from civil rights like state health care, the educational system and the right to vote. Nima Habashne decided to take the fight for her children.
”It started a couple of months after my Moroccon husband had passed away. My then 8-year-old daughter had a heart condition and I didn’t have the money to pay for her medical care. I went to the Prime Ministry to apply for her to recieve care in one of the state hospitals. But the person I talked to just through the papers in my face and said ’This is not Jordan’s responsibility, your children should apply for care in Morocco.’ On my way home I decided that I was going to fight for my rights and the rights of my children.”
Almost seven years have passed since Nima Habashne decided to start the campaign My mother is Jordanian and her Nationality is My Right. Nima and the other 450 mothers that are part of the campaign, fight for Jordanian women to have the same right as Jordanian men to transfer their citizenship to their children. Tens of thousands of mothers and many more children are affected by this discriminatory legislation, which is a result of Jordan making a reservation to Article 9 in the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW.
No rights without money
For children whose mother has a Jordanian citizenship and whose father has a citizenship from another country, the consequences are serious. Without a Jordanian citizenship they are deprived of several fundamental rights within Jordanian society. They are not allowed to vote and don’t have access to state health care or to the educational system. Unless they have a lot of money that is. It’s always possible to pay your way into a university or state hospital. However, most of these families are living on the margins and several of the mothers in the campaign network are widows or divorced.
Without a Jordanian citizenship you have to apply for a special permit from the state to do almost everything, like taking your driver’s license or getting married and there are no guarantees that your application will be granted. You can not even be sure that you will be allowed to stay in Jordan. As a child of a Jordanian mother and a foreign father, you’re a guest in your own country and the state reserves the right to deport anyone who it considers a liability to Jordanian society.
Started on the internet
Messages from Jordanian mothers and their children without Jordanian citizenship, on a manifestation in Amman on the International Women’s Day, 8 March, this year. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Johanna Wassholm.
Nima Habashne’s campaign started on the internet, in a time when the political climate in the Middle East was different from today.
”For several years I ran this campaign through my blog and on Facebook. But after the Arab Spring it felt like we could risk to take it outside, into the streets” she says.
Before she started organising protests herself, Nima Habashne participated in the big demonstrations taking place for general reforms and increased democracy – to learn how a demonstration works and to talk to the participants about the citizenship issue.
”The first time I organised a demonstration outside the Prime Ministry, it was only me and my two daughters. That was March 24th, 2011. Now I have between 20 and 60 other mothers with me each time. And I feel that I have the support of the Jordanian people. I believe that 80 percent of the people in the streets support my campaign.”
Hot political topic
Her biggest opposition can be found on the governmental level. The citizenship issue is a hot political topic in a country that has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world, and where this discriminatory legislation affects around 500 000 people.
However, after many years of continous campaigning, Nima Habashne has gotten a lot of allies. Last month, 11 parlamentarians put forward a proposed law to grant these children civil rights. Not citizenship, but access to basic rights like health care, education and the labour market.
”It’s a first step. You have to start somewhere. But I will not rest until our children enjoy full citizenships” says Nima Habashne.