We received a blog post from Ylwa Renström, coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, who recently met with women’s rights activists in DR Congo and Burundi.
“Sitting outside the airport in Kigali, I think back on the last few days that I’ve spent in Burundi and in Uvira in DR Congo. In Burundi, I met women from the organisation MIFA (Ministère de la Femme en Action – “Ministry for women’s rights activists”).
One of them was Dina. Like some other members of our partner organisations in DR Congo, she was exposed to serious threats from unknown groups and had to leave her hometown of Uvira. I met her, her children and some other members of MIFA at the place where she now is living. Despite the threats, Dina is determined not to give up her struggle to improve women’s situation in DR Congo.
Dina told me about MIFA’s plans for next year’s support from Kvinna till Kvinna. They have received approval from seven churches in South Kivu in eastern DR Congo to push for more women on decision-making positions and in the church’s body for conflict resolution. MIFA has also received inquiries from church leaders in Burundi and Rwanda to start working with them. With few exceptions (Dina is one of them), women are almost totally excluded from the leadership of the church.
In the Great Lakes region, churches’ opinions carry great weight in society. Dina says that by working with church leaders and pastors to make them convey the message of women’s rights, many of the churches’ members would take this to heart. The pastors will also highlight passages in the Bible that defend women’s rights.
Dina also shared one of many success stories told by MIFA employees. This was from the High Plateau, which is mostly inhabited by the ethnic group Banyamulenge. An girl of 13 was married off to a 17-year-old in a traditional ceremony, including the payment of dowry. This type of marriage is common on the High Plateau.
The girl moved in with her husband and his inlaws, but almost immediately the groom went away. After months of waiting for his return, the bride didn’t want to remain in his house, but return to her parents. Her inlaws refused and the pastor who had wed the couple forbade her to move.
Some of MIFA’s employees got involved and were planning to report this to the police, since the marriage was not legally binding because of the couple being underaged. MIFA’s support to the girl got the pastor to annul the marriage, the dowry was paid back and the girl could return home.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Earlier session for raising awareness of women's rights among women, organised by ACCDL and held by a male preacher. Photo: ACCDL
In Egypt, Muslim women preachers often have a lot of influence over ordinary religious women. Therefore, the Arabian Company for Consultancy, Development and Law (ACCDL) decided to target this group with a project on women’s rights as part of a moderate Sharia view.
With the rising discussion about the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament in the wake of the 25 Jan. Revolution, 2011, another discussion rises on the political Islam and its implications on the Egyptian people, which faces key social and economical challenges.
Women face even greater obstacles like a high rate of illiteracy, domestic violence, sexual harassment and lack of economical empowerment. At the same time the legal system doesn’t fully support women’s rights as women have a limited influence over it, say women’s rights groups. Hence, ACCDL decided to act upon and tackle women’s issues through a religious perspective.
Religious perspective on women’s issues
With a project titled Muslims Sisters – Issues between the Conservative Thought and Shari’a, ACCDL addresses women’s issues from a religious perspective. It targets female religious preachers at mosques and in religious circles, important places where women gather. This is also were women turn for advice on religious issues.
The idea of this project was born in the wake of the 25 Jan Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the raise of the Muslim Brotherhood political party in the parliament. Its members have generally focused on excluding women in their statements and decisions and have also attempted to ban laws related to women’s rights, claiming that they were the product of the corrupt previous regime.
As a reaction to this, ACCDL had several meetings with Sharia experts to investigate Sharia’s take on women’s issues. “In those meetings, ACCDL found out that the claims the Muslim brotherhood are making are just an absolute patriarchal point of view that doesn’t belong to Sharia laws or Islam. In fact, the Islam religion is one of the most women friendly religions and supports women’s rights” says ACCDL’s Executive Manager, Hala Abdelqader.
“However, especially among poor and illiterate women, there is a lack of awareness of women’s rights based on a gender perspective and their rights mentioned in the international agreements that Egypt has signed”.
Biggest influence on women
So, in order to support women’s rights ACCDL last year held several training courses for religious preachers and imams about women’s issues from a moderate Sharia point of view. During these courses, the organisation realized that female religious preachers are the ones who have the most contact with women at mosques, and thereby also have the biggest influence on women.
“Those female preachers provide a sanctuary for many women, but they also lack in understanding of women’s issues. So, we decided to target them directly with trainings and meetings to raise their awareness with regards to human rights and women’s rights and to show that Sharia laws don’t contradict with women’s rights” says Hala Abdelqader.
Hala Abdelqader believes that it is important to work with women’s issues through the religious female preachers as a way to influence larger audiences.
“In Egypt, especially in areas where illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness prevail, like the Imbaba area where ACCDL is located, female preachers have a huge influence on women. We have heard from many women that the female religious preachers are their main reference for advice. For example, a woman would turn to a preacher regarding personal affairs between her and her husband, and she takes her advice as the constitution between her and her husband. Accordingly, if problems occur the wife would insist on sticking to the religious preacher’s words and the marriage might end in a divorce. To that extent, the preachers have an influence over the women. Usually the preachers are illiterate and their competence is only that of reciting the Quran after memorizing it through listening. Still, they give religious advice, which usually is very backward, on social, financial and political matters.”
According to Hala Abdelqader religion is a sensitive area for many Egyptians, and prevailing attitudes that suppress women and reject gender equality are further fuelled by illiteracy and a lack of awareness. ACCDL hopes that it will be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding women’s rights and Islam.
And their Muslim sister’s project has been successful. About 175 Muslim women preachers participated in the training and a large number of them showed changes in attitude and behavior towards women’s rights. ACCDL mentions some concrete examples in its evaluation of the project:
”Many of the preachers were also keen to volunteer work with us or transfer to us cases of family violence of women in need to listen or adopt their issues; others asked for advice on how to deal with issues of women who are frequent visitors to mosques from legal and social perspectives, and many of preachers asked us about the list of activities we offer to attend with us and actively participate therein.”
“The dialogue was about the referendum, they completely refused to talk about the referendum or the President as they largely support him, but with the end of the training three of them started, with the assistance of their husbands, to invite the villagers to work on claiming women’s rights in the new constitution. They admitted that before the training they were lacking the awareness and it led them to maintain and defend the Constitution as it is, but after the dialogues they admitted that their opinions have been changed and they would lead a campaign within mosques to discuss women’s rights in the Constitution.”
“There was a preacher who attended at the first meeting on participation of women in public life and she was refusing everything we were saying to the extent that she attacked the project coordinator and accused her of being bias to anti Islam movements. But with continuous dialogues and communication, she adopted an idea of forming a complete group of mosque preachers that she knows personally. She composed a group of 23 preachers and supervised their training and participation with them. She invited as well the project coordinator to deliver lectures at the mosque where she works and they agreed thereon.”
With this good result in mind, ACCDL is now planning a new series of trainings.
Edited by: Malin Ekerstedt
The fights in Syria started in March 2011, and, according to the UN, in February 2013 the death toll had reached 70 000. Here it's the city of Homs that is being hit by shelling. June 2012. Photo: UN Photo/David Manya.
The situation in Syria is critical, especially for women and children. Society is being destroyed by war and violence and the consequences will be long-term. The Iraqi women’s rights and peace organisation Warvin recently went to Syria and reports that women’s rights are being increasingly threatened.
In April, a representative* of the Iraqi organisation Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues visited Syria. For three days he travelled around and spoke to civilians living in various cities.
In Aleppo, all the people he met told him that living conditions are very hard and asked him for help to reach out internationally with their stories.
– The people I met told me that they haven’t had electricity for six months and that the mobile phones don’t work. Everything is expensive, if you want to buy 1 kilogram of potatoes, it costs more than 4 dollars. Also, they don’t have any gas or petrol. I saw many people who were sick, but treatment and medicine is very expensive, if available at all.
We’ve heard reports about sexual violence during the conflict. Did people say anything about that?
–Because of the situation it’s difficult to find any documentation. But people told me that many women were raped. One big problem is that if for example you are a sunni muslim man who rape a shia or Alawi muslim woman, it is seen as a success story.
You mean that rape is used as a tool to punish other religious or ethnic groups?
– Yes, exactly.
Conservative group in control
Another thing that worries the Warvin representative is the advance of the conservative military group Jabhat Al Nusra (”The support front for the people of greater Syria”), supported by Al-Quaeda. The group now controls the whole Aleppo area.
– Jabhat Al Nusra tells women and children to wear scarves. At checkpoints they stop the buses to check if the women inside wear scarves and if they don’t, they will be taken outside and punished. They cut the hair of one Kurdish girl at a checkpoint, because she didn’t wear a hijab.
The Warvin representative was also told that members of Jabhat Al Nusra throw stones on cars in Aleppo that are driven by women and that the group has forbidden women to wear jeans.
– They want to practice Islamic sharia law. In the city of Derezor, with a mixed population of Kurds, Christians and Turkomens, Jabhat Al Nusra has already established sharia courts.
No promotion of peace
He is not optimistic about the future of Syria. The different military groups are all supported by foreign actors, who push for their own interests in Syria rather than promoting peace and human rights, he says.
During his visit, he did not come across any specific peace initiatives. According to him, the Syrian opposition does not have a road-map for the future of Syria.
– They have no clear vision of what the country should be like after Assad’s regime has fallen, regarding for example human rights, women’s rights and rights of ethnic minorities.
He is disappointed about the fact that although more than two million Kurds live in Syria, the Syrian opposition has not yet recognized the difficulties this group faces. The situation for Kurds, as well as for Christians and other minority groups, was bad already under Assad, and it has not improved, he says.
– In Aleppo there have been systematic thefts taking place, supported by Jabhat Al Nusra and The Free Syrian Army. They ask Kurds and Christians to sell their houses to sunni people, and then force them to leave the city. No one looks after the rights of the Kurdish people.
International actors should take action
The Warvin representative would like to see international actors like the United States and countries in Europe to take action to solve the situation. In his opinion, European countries should force China, Iran and Russia to cut their funding to Bashar Al-Assad’s government. He also thinks that they should ask Saudi Arabia and Turkey and others to cut their funding of fundamentalistic islamic groups.
– This is crucial for democracy, women’s rights, human rights and freedom of speech. People wanted to get rid of Assad because of a lack of democracy. If fundamentlist groups take control over Syria, the war will continue, says the Warvin representative.
* For safety reasons the representative wants to be anonymous.
According to a study carried out by the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, inequalities are behind three major problems for women living in Area C of the occupied Palistinian territories’ West Bank: early marriages, lack of political participation and violence.
The study, named Inequalities facing Women living in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ West Bank, is based on interviews made with Palestinian women living in Area C. In addition, Kvinna till Kvinna held a meeting with representatives of national women’s rights organisations and international actors, to explore in specific the challenges to addressing violence against women in Area C.
150 000 Palestinian inhabitants
In accordance with the Oslo Accords from 1993, the Palestinian territories were divided in three temporary distinct administrative divisions, the Areas A, B and C, until a final status accord would be established. Area C constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank, with about 150 000 Palestinians living there, but who only have access to about 30 percent of the land.
The area was to remain under full Israeli civilian and military control for five years, but 20 years later, the Israeli military is still in control, and the number of Israeli settlers today by far exceeds the number of Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has no authority in Area C and no formal representation as an executive body. How are women affected by this construction?
As PNA is not represented in Area C, there are almost no public services, like medical treatment or police. The area is mainly rural and women work mostly in the agricultural sector, having farming as their primary source of income, very few have the opportunity to get higher education. Isolated as Area C is, school attendance for young women is difficult, there is hardly any chance of getting access to information, to meet women from other areas or countries, to get inspired, informed, empowered or to network.
Without permission from the Israeli government, no international organisations are allowed to operate facilities in the area; a fact that hinders economic development of the rural villages and an alteration of the predominant conservative attitudes. Additionally, heavy restrictions apply to building housing or development projects, and demolition happens quite often.
Many villages are located in close proximity of Israeli settlements and attacks from settlers on Palestinians are on the rise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, out of which the freedom of movement is restricted for women. Schools are oftentimes located at great distances, which means that pupils have to walk far every day. Thus parents are very hesitant to let their girls attend school.
In some cases, this perceived insecurity – along with other factors, such as financial constraints – become reasons for which parents seek to marry their daughters off at an early age. This in turn means that women are not allowed to leave the house and to get an education. One interviewee in the study said: “My dad made me get married when I was 16 to protect me, because at that time Israeli soldiers were coming every night claiming that they are looking for wanted people.”
Lack of political participation
Security threats, a lack of space and presence, a lack of education and conservative attitudes block women’s political empowerment, including the chance to gather knowledge about political processes. All of this contributes to controlling and limiting women’s participation.
Violence against women
As there is no police service in Area C no protection strategies can be implemented. Due to this lack of health-, social-, judicial and policing authorities, women are exposed to violence without any means of protection or justice. The level of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners is high and in the patriarchal and conservative society regarded as a private matter. Customary or traditional response fills the vacuum of absent laws and policies.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in March 2013 that Israeli “right-wing parties view Area C as a primary area of struggle against the Palestinian Authority.” And again: women bear the brunt of this struggle.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 14 requesting the European Union to stop financial support to Egypt if the country doesn’t make considerable progress in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Members of European Parliament (MEP) asked the EU to set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt, applying the ‘more for more’ principle. High representative Catherine Ashton had been vague about the EU’s policy towards Egypt at a debate on March 13.
”While we have to show ‘strategic patience’ with the political developments in the country, we will not remain silent on issues like fundamental freedoms and human rights. At the same time we have to help meet the socio-economic expectations,” Ashton said.
With both subsidies and loans from European financial institutions taken into account, EU aid to Egypt totals 5 billion euros in 2012-2013. The European Parliament reminded the EU that part of this package is conditional on respect of human rights, democracy and economic governance, thus the EU should “set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt.” The MEPs wanted to see a focus on civil society, women and child protection.
Saba Nowzari, working with Egypt for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation, stated, that “Egypt’s institutional channels do not work, the government itself is facing lots of challenges, so the allocation directly towards women’s rights could be difficult. But nevertheless the EU should always make demands regarding human rights and specifically allocate money for women, not only for their human rights, but also for their economic growth, job opportunities and access to public space.”
The European Parliament also expressed ”deep concern” about the rise of violence directed towards women in Egypt, especially towards activists and female protesters, and urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. Another demand was the abolition of all laws allowing police and security forces to make unlimited use of violence and to pass a moratorium on the death penalty.