For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Political transition – hope or defeat for women?

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In times of political transition, gender equality often balance between gaining ground or losing even earlier achievements. The will of the incoming government, the language of the new constitution and effective measures to make family responsibilities easier to handle, shows the 2013 report from the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

The Working Group (WG) was established in 2010, and is dedicated to ”identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women”.

In the beginning of the summer it presented its first thematic report which had a focus on political transition. According to this report, although there has been much progress since the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) entered into force in 1981, there are still huge gaps to fill before women are able to participate in political and public life on equal terms with men.

In fact, as recently as last year the United Nation’s General Assembly was so concerned by the marginalization of women, that it once again dedicated a resolution (66/130) to promote women’s political participation. And in Europe, where many countries pride themselves of being far ahead with women’s rights, the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, stated its alarm over the underrepresentation of women in the EU’s legislative council and leadership positions, as well as the stagnation of women’s representation at one third or less in parliaments across the region.

Gains and losses

When it comes to gender equality and political transition, experience has varied greatly between countries. In Eastern Europe during the 1990s, as well as in some of the political tranistions taking place recently in the Middle East and North Africa, key gains for gender equality and/or numerical representation of women was reduced. In contrast, the introduction of quotas within political transition in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, led to some of the highest percentages of women members of parliament.

According to the WG report, good practice in the latter states included ”the active engagement with the international community in the peacebuilding process and an emphasis on democracy, human rights and women’s rights as human rights”. This of course demands of the incoming government to have a responsive political leadership regarding women’s rights. In this work the report highlights the importance of autonomous women’s movements that can raise concerns regarding gender equality issues and that the government listens to and acts on these concerns.

Crucial areas

Among the several other areas crucial for women’s equal participation in political and public life that the report takes a closer look at, are:

Constitutions – ”A constitutional guarantee of equality for women,in line with international standards [like CEDAW] is essential” the report states, and exemplifies with the 2011 Moroccan constitution that expressly and systematically confers constitutional rights on women as well as men, and a constitution in the Latin American/Caribbean region which contains approximately 34 references to the rights of women.

Legislation – The report especially warns for family laws that, often with reference to religion, deny women equal rights to citizenship, owning property etc, or that deam their husbands or other family members to be women’s guardians, thereby hindering them from being full members of society. Here an explicitly written constitution also can be of help. Good practice mentioned in the report are some constitutions in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, which, where they incorporate recognition of religious values or traditional custom in the text, nevertheless provide that they will not override the right to equality.

Violence – Stigmatization, harassment and attacks have been used to silence and discredit women who are community leaders, women’s rights defenders, politicians etc, sometimes with the silent approval or even active participation of state agencies. As good examples to fight this, the report mentions legislation in the Latin America and Caribbean region prohibiting gender-based harassment and violence against a women candidate, as well as pressure on her family.

Unequal caregiving responsibilities – Women are disproportionately responsible for taking care of household and family. The report acknowledges that ”both the reality and the a priori belief that this is the way it should be put women at a structural disadvantage in entering and participating sustainably in political and public life.” To come to terms with this the report lists good practices like childcare support and institutional family-friendly scheduling, including some states changing the scheduling of parliamentary sessions to allow a work-life balance for Members of Parliament who have parental responsibilities. It’s also worth noticing that the highest performing countries in terms of proportion of women in public office have the most generous entitlements for maternal and parental leave.

Political parties – ”The most effective strategies for women’s political empowerment involve reforms to incorporate rules that guarantee women’s representation within political parties” writes the WG. It notes that good practice in this area includes ”a legislative, and preferably constitutional, requirement that political parties place women in realistic positions for election, apply quotas (…) and condition the funding (…) on their integration of women in realistic positions on their candidate lists” and especially mentions Ecuador, which has a constitution that includes the principle of parity in all policymaking mechanisms.

Download the 2013 report from the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

Women’s movement behind Liberian draft law on political quota

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Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Last Thursday, female parliamentarians in Liberia presented a draft law on equal representation of women and men in politics. A women’s movement more united than ever, is behind the draft.

In the last elections in Liberia, in 2011, women lost seats in the Parliament. The few female parliamentarians lost out to men, partly because they lacked knowledge of the political process and were not sufficiently organised. Male parliamentarians also joined together across party lines to shut women out.

But the women’s movement didn’t give up and now women’s organisations and women parliamentarians have produced a draft law, the so-called Gender Parity Bill, proposing that each sex must have a representation of at least 30 percent in decision-making bodies. Last Thursday, the proposal was introduced to the Parliament. A decision is scheduled to be taken in January 2014.

Wanted 50 percent quota

A quota law has been discussed for some ten years, but has been met with resistance from both men and women, explains Susanne Mannberg, Field representative in Liberia for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

”Part of the women’s movement was adamant to have a law with a 50 percent quota. They had to fold now. What this draft says is that there must be at least 30 percent from each sex.”

Susanne Mannberg believes that a draft law proposing a 50 percent quota would have faced too much resistance from men to be adopted.

Push through before elections

Support for the 30 percent quota law has been unusually high, among politicians and within the women’s movement equally. The latter is keen to push the law through the Parliament before it’s time for Senate elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016. The probability of the next president being a woman is not great.

”The women’s movement has realized that if it doesn’t move forward now, it will never happen. This is their only chance” says Susanne Mannberg.

Backed by high officials

Among the politicians who have backed the draft law are President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator and former First Lady Jewel Taylor, several influential male senators and the Speaker of the Parliament.

Many also expressed their support of the proposal when the new secretariat of the Women Legislature Caucus was inaugurated in the capital Monrovia last Tuesday. The Women Legislature Caucus is a group of women parliamentarians from all political parties and they have coordinated the work with the draft law. The group has existed in the Parliament for a long time, but has previously had limited influence.

”Now they are overjoyed to have the secretariat up and running” says Susanne Mannberg.

Trainings for women parliamentarians

The secretariat will review all key legislative proposals from a gender perspective. Its five employees will also help women parliamentarians to write speeches and provide training in negotiating and how to write formally correct answers to questions from committees etc.

”In Sweden, you automatically recieve this type of training when you are elected to the Parliament, but that’s not the case in Liberia. Without this type of training it can be difficult for women to really penetrate the political system. Liberia also has no local political bodies, which otherwise is a common way for women to get into politics” says Susanne Mannberg.

Another important task of the secretariat will be to strengthen the contact between the women’s movement and women parliamentarians.

Financial support

Among those who helped draft the parity bill were the organisations AFELL and MARWOPNET. The umbrella organisation WONGOSOL with 105 members, has also been involved since the beginning of the process.

In June, Kvinna till Kvinna co-hosted a donor conference to find financial support to the secretariat and to a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the bill.

”The campaign is for making people aware of what the law means and why it is important. The literacy rate is very low in Liberia, so you have to use many different channels to reach out” says Susanne Mannberg.

Karin Råghall

Egyptian women’s organisations fight to influence new agenda

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Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

After the Egyptian military removed president Mohammed Mursi from power in the beginning of July, following the wave of protests started by the popular movement Tamarod, it issued a roadmap for change. Egyptian women’s rights organisations have since then stepped forward, demanding that women and their rights should be part of this new agenda.

The roadmap suspended the Egyptian constitution and stated that a new, diverse, constitutional committee should be formed. It also contained passages on the installation of an interim coalition government and new presidential elections within six months.

But very little has been said or done to ensure that women take an equal part in these processes. As the women’s rights organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies pointed out in a statement in mid July, “current political developments do not seem to be promising with regards to their [women’s] right to being part of the process of policy formulation for the upcoming period”. According to Nazra the new governemnt’s awareness and desire could be questioned, since it has failed to “create spaces to integrate women effectively”.

Earlier this week Nazra followed up its warnings of exclusion of women, by presenting a list of 16 women nominees, all with prominent political records, to the up-coming constitutional committee.

13 articles for the constitution

Other women’s organisations have also been active in this debate. In the end of July, 16 women’s rights groups, forming the Alliance of Women’s Organisations, presented a document with 13 articles, which they demanded should be included in the new constitution.

The document is based on interviews with 10 000 women and was first presented last year, but its articles were never included in the constitution adopted last December. According to Amal Abdel Hady, head of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation – one of the member organisations – these articles would guarantee the future rights of women in Egypt and identify mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities and non-discrimination.

No amendments

Fouada Watch, which is the advocacy mechanism used by the women’s rights organisation ACT in order to influence the government on women’s involvement in the transitional period, has also issued a statement, calling for the drafting of a new constitution, instead of amending the old one. Fouadawatch’s spokesperson Fathi Farid said that civil society already ”has exerted great effort in the past two years in reaching the public and presenting their findings to the previous constitutional committees” and that these findings should be used to create the new constitution.

On the same day three other organisations, among them the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, ECWR, presented seven principles to guarantee women’s rights in the constitution, with using an explicit language, as in ”addressing men and women rather than using broad terminology such as ’citizens’ or ’persons’”, as one example. And in the beginning of August ECWR issued another statement, calling for women to make up at least one third of the upcoming constitutional committee instead of the proposed one fifth.

Change definition of rape

Besides from talking about political participation and the new constitution, earlier mentioned organisation Nazra also has highlighted the importance of integrating gender issues in the process of transitional justice.

In a statement with recommendations to the newly created Ministry of Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation, the organisation states that many human rights and feminist organisations, including themselves, since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution “have documented scores of testimonies of violations committed against women, which have not been officially investigated”. A major thing that needs to be dealt with is changing the definition of the terms “torture” and “rape”.

“One of the key problems of the system of justice is the lack of laws that provide protection for women. Nazra documented testimonies of violations against women that qualify as torture by virtue of the international definition of torture, but not according to Egyptian legislation” says the organisation.

20 percent women

The military interim president Adly Mansour has appointed a 10-member committee that will propose amendments to the constitution. This is scheduled to be finished on 18 August.

A second committee, comprised of 50 public persons including politicians, unionists and religious persons, then will have 60 days to review those amendments, before they will be voted on in a referendum. Yesterday the presidency released a statement confirming earlier sayings that the second committee should include at least ten women.

Malin Ekerstedt

Working for ban of guns in Iraqi Kurdistan

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Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.

Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.

Despite massive protests from the Iraqi women’s movement, last year a law was passed, making it legal for Iraqis to keep weapons in their homes. But women’s organisations in northern Iraq won’t give up. Now they are advocating for politicians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to enforce a ban.

“In our village, almost all men have weapons at home. Some show off their guns to gain respect” says a woman from a mountain village situated a couple of hours drive outside of Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan.

She and a couple of other women have come to a house used for common gatherings. The help organisation Wadi is visiting to talk about women’s health, but the conversation undulates back and forth and touches on violence and the presence of weapons.

“What can we do? The men have all the power and can do whatever they want with us. I’m often afraid, my husband has threatened me with his gun. I have no choice, I have to do what he wants” says a young woman, throwing her hands in the air in a gesture of defeat.

Common with guns at home

Having a gun or any kind of light weapon at home is very common in Iraq. According to statistics from Gunpolicy.org, based on research from the Sydney University among others, an estimated 34 percent of Iraqis own a gun. There is also an extensive illegal arms trade in the country.

This development has caused strong reactions among women’s organisations. They are concerned that more accessible weapons will lead to an increase in the deadly violence against women. The women’s rights organisation Warvin has warned about the risks, stating that most Iraqi women who get killed, are shot.

Counter campaign

When the Iraqi government a few years ago wanted to introduce a law allowing light weapons in homes, women’s organisations and concerned individuals joined forces in a counter campaign. The campaign called for a ban instead of a legalization and for the Iraqi government to gather all illegal weapons.

Despite the protests, in 2012 the new firearms legislation was introduced, making it legal for all individuals to own a gun and keep it at home. The only regulation is that it has to be registered with the police. At the same time the government urged all Iraqi households to keep a gun, to improve their safety.

“Question of mentality”

Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC, participated in the campaign. However, the organisation’s director, Ronak Faraj Raheem, is not convinced that a ban on guns is the right way to go to prevent deadly violence against women. Mainly because she doensn’t see a direct link between firearms and honor killings.

“As an organisation, we are of course against keeping guns in homes. But I don’t believe that the act of killing someone is closer at hand just because it’s easier to get hold of a gun – first and foremost it’s a question of mentality. When it comes to defending family honour men use what’s avaliable; knives, strangulation, pistols. A gun in the home makes no bigger difference” she says.

Family honour important

In the Kurdistan region as well as throughout Iraq, family honour is an important issue and the social control is strong. A woman receiving a text message from an admirer or stating that she wants to choose her own partner, are reasons enough for her to be accused of bringing shame and dishonour upon her entire family. For this she may be punished by death and the act is often carried out by her father, husband, uncle or brother.

“We’re campaigning against weapons in the home, but more important still is that this mentality changes” says Ronak Faraj Raheem.

Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

High hopes on a law

But Lanja Abdulla from Warvin has high hopes that a law banning guns in homes in Iraqi Kurdistan would reduce the deadly violence against women.

“Police officers, security personnel, members of political parties and ordinary people – everyone has a gun at home. Most killings of women are carried out with these weapons. If we got a ban, it would automatically reduce the number of women being killed” she says.

For example, with such a law, policemen and security agents would be forced to leave their weapons at work. According to Lanja Abdulla, that would make the men not being able to kill the women as easily in an aggressive domestic situation.

In the course of spring, Warvin has managed to get the five biggest political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to support a law on firearms. Now, the organisation will start working on drafting a bill.

Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist, freelance journalist

New UN resolution on sexual violence in conflict

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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.

Read the whole resolution 2016 text here.

Malin Ekerstedt

Albanian election: Parties chose fines over women

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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.

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.

Foresees decrease

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.

Malin Ekerstedt

Continuous protests against Macedonian abortion law

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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.

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.

The draft law was pushed through in a rushed procedure and many NGOs claim that the whole process has been a clear evidence of the lack of democratic capacities among Macedonian institutions. We talked to Bojan Jovanovski, Executive Director of H.E.R.A, Health Education and Research Association, which has been one of the most active NGOs organising actions against the abortion law.

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.”

More on the contents of the Macedonian abortion law.

 Emilija Dimoska/Malin Ekerstedt

Important fight for women’s participation in Consitutional Assembly in Libya

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”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 report by 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.

“Women’s voices critical”

Human Rights Watch’s report A Revolution For All – Women’s Rights in the New Libya is also adamant in its warnings about the consequences for gender equality in Libya if women aren’t equally represented in the constitution drafting process.

”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).

More about consitution writing and women’s rights.

Malin Ekerstedt

Footnote:

The Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition has also releasead a report examining several draft constitutions in Tunisia: Equal Citizenship in Tunisia: Constitutional Guarantees for Equality between Citizens.

Iraqi and American activists in joint campaign for peace

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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.

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.

Recently, the Iraqi population has experienced a period of increased violence, with recurrent deadly attacks against civilians. According to United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI, at least 1 045 Iraqis were killed in May and another 2 397 were wounded. That’s the worst numbers since 2008.

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.

Karin Råghall

 

More information on the campaign and interviews with activists can be found in this video clip made by Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Proposed law restricts abortion rights in Macedonia

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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.

Annika Flensburg/Malin Ekerstedt