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.
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.
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.
The landmark Arms Trade Treaty regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. Photo: worldislandinfo.com
On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the first ever Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This treaty would regulate the multi-billion dollar global arms trade and thus end the lack of regulations of cross-border conventional arms sales. Included in the treaty are binding provisions to prevent armed gender-based violence.
The treaty demands that conventional weapon-exporting states evaluate the risks of arms being used to “commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women,” (article 7.4) or whether weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, for acts of genocide, war crimes or terrorism. It also requires states to prevent conventional weapons to reach the black market. It is the first treaty that recognizes that there is a connection between arms and gender based violence.
It took seven years to negotiate the treaty, and Iran, North Korea and Syria had blocked its adoption by consensus last minute in March. The treaty’s adoption required agreement by all 193 U.N. member states. British UN ambassador Mark Grant found a way to get around the blockade by asking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to put it to a swift vote in the General Assembly. There the member-states voted for the treaty by 154 votes to three, with 23 abstentions.
These numbers reflect the growing international sentiment that there must be some kind of a moral standard for weapons trade.
The treaty also establishes an international forum of states that will review published reports of arms sales and publicly name violators.
Before the treaty will come into effect, it needs to be signed and ratified by at least 50 states. There is no specific enforcement mechanism, the hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by the agreement, and that the treaty’s standards will be used immediately as political and moral guidelines.
Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, welcomed the adoption of the treaty, stating that ”The global arms trade must not be a means of aggravating the already catastrophic levels of violence against women around the world, including during conflict and post-conflict. However, UN Women underscores that women are not just of importance to the Arms Trade Treaty as victims of armed violence, but also as peacebuilders and decision-makers. Women’s crucial role in promoting peace and security, recognized in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions, must be recognized in all mechanisms for the monitoring and management of the arms trade.”
Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
The findings from the Iraqi field study show that the US occupation increased secterian thinking within the country and severly crippled women's rights. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes. Another big part of the problem is that the international community gives priority to men for senior positions in peace operations. This according to the new report Equal Power – Lasting Peace made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace is based on field studies made in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia. Although the countries and conflicts differ, the patterns are strikingly similar.
In all the regions women and women’s organizations play important roles in resolving conflicts in local communities and in handling everyday life.
But when it comes to formal decision forums the doors are closed for women. This contrary to the statements of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes that women must participate on the same terms as men in all parts of peace processes, for the peace to be sustainable.
The exclusion of women is present both within the international missions and negotiating team at national level. Equal Power – Lasting Peace shows that very little has happened, despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Resolution 1325 was adopted.
– Peace Processes that excludes half the population are imperfect. Women’s needs and experiences are made invisible, says Lena Ag, Secretary General at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace’s survey shows that the most common obstacles for participation that women face are:
- Legislation and standards
- Rumours and threats
- Domestic violence, including sexual violence
- Poverty and corruption
- Ignorance of the international community
- As in other policy areas, the male dominance within the peace and security area needs to be broken. It is a question of democracy and a basic condition for sustainable peace processes. It is also important to push for the appointments of more women to key positions within the EU and the UN. How else can the international community credibly argue that equality is important? says Lena Ag.
No female UN Chief Mediator
Examples of the representation of women and men in key positions related to peace and security:
- At the 24 largest peace negotiations held between 1992 and 2010, only 7,6 percent of the negotiators and 2,5 percent of the mediators were women.
- The UN has never appointed a female Chief Mediator.
- 89 percent of the UN’s special representatives and envoys are men.
- 84 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations are led by men.84 percent of the UN member countries’ UN ambassadors are men.
- There are only men leading the EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy).
- 2 of the EU’s 10 special representatives are women.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, the report
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, summary
Statistics of women and men in key positions within the EU and the UN
According to the announcement made on the UN Women website regarding the communications procedure of the Commission on the Status of Women, any individual, non-governmental organization, group or network may submit communications (complaints/appeals/petitions) to the Commission on the Status of Women containing information relating to alleged violations of human rights that affect the status of women in any country in the world.
The Commission on the Status of Women considers such communications as part of its annual programme of work in order to identify emerging trends and patterns of injustice and discriminatory practices against women for purposes of policy formulation and development of strategies for the promotion of gender equality.
What the Commissions seeks is accurate and detailed information relating to the promotion of women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields in any country anywhere in the world.
The communications should advisably:
- Identify as far as possible the woman victim, or women victims
- Indicate clearly where (the particular country/several countries) the alleged violation(s) or pattern of violations have occurred or are occurring
- Provide, when available, dates and circumstances of the alleged violations
- Explain the context by providing relevant background information
- Provide, when available, copies of documentation
All claims must be submitted in writing and signed by e-mail, fax, or regular mail by 1 August 2012. It is worth mentioning that, the author’s identity is not made known to the Government(s) concerned unless she/he agrees to the disclosure.
In recent years the Commission identified a number of trends and patterns including among others; arbitrary arrests of women, death and torture of women in custody, violations of the rights of women human rights defenders to freedom of expression and assembly, domestic violence, virginity testing and lack of due diligence by States to adequately investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of violence against women.
For more information about the submission procedure, please visit the UN Women page.
A lot of men, and not so many women, met to discuss Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in Chicago. Photo: NATO.
NATO will appoint a Special Representative ”for mainstreaming UNSCR 1325 and related Resolutions into its operations and missions”. This was decided on the Alliance’s recent summit held in Chicago, USA. NATO also stated the importance of ”the full participation of all Afghan women in the reconstruction, political, peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan” and that this opinion is shared by the Afghan government.
The declaration released at the end of the summit, points out that the continued under-representation of women in peace processes, together with the widespread acts of sexual and gender-based violence, are severe impediments to building sustainable peace. NATO reaffirmed its commitment to UNSCR 1325 and related Resolutions, but also claimed that they ”in line with the NATO/Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) Policy (…) has made significant progress in implementing the goals articulated in these Resolutions”.
Besides from appointing a Special Representative, whom the member country Norway offered to provide, the Alliance also endorsed a Strategic Progress Report outlining NATO’s implementation of UNSCR 1325 to date and required the North Atlantic Council to provide a report on the status of implementation prior to the next NATO Summit.
The international development organization Gender Concerns International, GCI, welcomed the statements from the declaration, but raised concern over whether the words would translate into actual benefits for, for example, the women of Afghanistan, since it nowhere was mentioned how much of the budget, of 4,1 billion USD for the Afghan National Security Force, that would be allocated to recruit and train women.
GCI also stated that: ”The false notion that peace and security has little to do with women is exacerbated by the fact that while heads of state discussed issues which have a disproportionate affect on the lives of women in Afghanistan, Afghan women themselves were relegated to raising concerns at a shadow summit also held in Chicago”.
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.
23 February the UN Secretary General presented the third annual report from his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, for the UN Security Council. It contained some elements of hope, like the fact that over 150 members of the national army and national police of the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced for rape and other acts of sexual violence during last year. But Margot Wallström stressed the fact that, overall, these crimes are not being punished.
Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflicts. Photo: UN/Rick Bajornas.
- When I met with women in Bosnia and Herzegovina I thought we would be talking about the development and women’s role in politics. But 16 years after the war, what they wanted to talk about was the rapes they had been subjected to and kept re-living. The lack of redress and justice is staggering. An estimated 50 000 rapes has lead to just 30 prosecutions, she said.
- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences.
Arguing over mandate
Many of the Security Council’s members applauded the report and gave it their support. But some countries representatives objected to what they called the Special Representative “overstepping her mandate”. This due to the fact that the report also mentions incidents of sexual violence taking place outside the context of armed conflict – for instance women protesters in Egypt being arrested and subjected to so called virginity tests. But Margot Wallström withheld the importance of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict being able to address also these crimes.
- The word that kept coming back in the debate was “prevention”. And if we want to do prevention we can not only focus on armed conflict, but we should look at post-conflict situations and of course that situations that are being discussed regularly in the Security Council, she said.
In the end the Security Council decided that there would be no restrictions in the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the Representative’s mission, that was due to end in March, was also prolonged.
List of perpetrators
Besides mentioning crimes committed, the report for the first time contains a list of the worst perpetrators. According to Margot Wallström this is an important tool to show everyone that it’s no longer possible to get away with acts of sexual violence.
- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences. It has become more dangerous to be a woman fetching water or collecting firewood than a fighter on the frontline, she said.
Examples from the report:
- In April 2009 the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the Attorney-General’s Office to pursue investigations into 183 specific cases of sexual violence against women and girls. To date only four of those cases have been brought to trial.
- In Cote d’Ivoire an increase in rape and gang rape targeting civilians were witnessed during the resent post-election crisis. These crimes were committed by all parties to the conflict. Between January and September of 2011, 478 cases of rape were documented across the country. Only 13 arrests have been made and to date there have been no convictions.
- In Liberia post-war sexual violence has taken on new characteristics, such as gang rapes and the sexual abuse of very young children. Between April 2010 and March 2011 only 38 of 903 reported cases of sexual violence reached trial. 17 of the 38 ended in convictions.
- In Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), more than 16 years after the end of the conflict, only 30 cases of wartime crimes of sexual violence have been prosecuted. BiH’s definition of war crimes of sexual violence is also inconsistent with international standards, which results in leap-holes for perpetrators. And violence experienced during the war has manifested itself in increased and more severe cases of domestic violence in the country.
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo several incidents of mass rapes by elements of the national army were reported. These were said to be acts of retaliation against the population for their alleged collaboration with the “enemy”. A total of 625 cases of sexual violence, with different parties of the conflict as perpetrators, were documented during the reporting period.
Download the 2012 annual report by the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.