Tag Archive for UN Women

Tackle root causes of violence against women, UN rapporteur

Rashida Manjoo

Report of Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations urges India to end the culture of impunity and the inequality and discrimination so as to eliminate violence against women in India

By Team FI

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur for the United Nation for violence against women, its causes and consequences, in the conclusive statement of her fact-finding mission in India, stated that violence against women was both a cause and consequence of de facto inequality and discrimination.

Mandated by the Human Rights Council to gather information on the causes and consequences of violence against women and recommend measures to eliminate the same, Manjoo urged the Government of India to link the violence against women with the “other systems of oppression and discrimination prevalent within societies.” In her statement delivered on May 1st 2013, Manjoo pointed out that creating legislations and policies alone will not bring about the needed change, “if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the empowerment of women, social transformation, and the provision of remedies that ultimately address the continuum of discrimination and violence, and also the pervasive culture of impunity.”

In her mission in India, Manjoo held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu. She met with civil and human rights activists, representatives of state and centre authorities, human rights institutions and United Nation agencies and shared the experiences of individual women who suffered from the loss of their human rights.
Manifestations of Violence.

Manjoo described the various manifestations of violence against women as per the information gathered as sexual violence, domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour, witch-hunting, sati, sexual harassment, violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, forced and/or early marriages, deprivation of access to water and basic sanitation, violence against women with disabilities, sexual and reproductive rights violations, sex selection practices, violence in custodial settings and violence in conflict situations, among others.

The statement also recognised information about the forms of violence experienced by women with disabilities “including sexual violence, forced sterilization and/or abortions and forced medication without their consent. In addition, their experience of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation reinforces the need for greater attention and specificity.”

“One interlocutor described violence against women and girls as functioning on a continuum that spans the life-cycle from the womb to the tomb,” said Manjoo. She stated that these manifestations are strongly linked to women’s social and economic situation, and the deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices linked to notions of male superiority and female inferiority. “The current focus by state actors on preserving the unity of the family is manifested in the welfare/social approach and not in the human rights based approach. It does not take into consideration the nature of relationships based on power and powerlessness; of economic and emotional dependency; and also the use of culture, tradition and religion as a defence for abusive behaviour,” informed the statement.

While she welcomed the Centre’s speedy response after the Delhi rape incident in the appointment of the late Justice Verma committee, she regretted that the new amendments did not fully reflect the Verma Committee’s recommendations. Describing it as unfortunate, she stated that this was an opportunity was lost that could have addressed the de facto inequality and discrimination of women. “This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework which is underpinned by transformative norms and standards, including those relating to sexual and bodily integrity rights. Furthermore, the approach adopted fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women,” said the statement.

Though the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a positive development, Manjoo pointed out that one of the recurring complaints availed to her was the discrepancy between the provisions of the laws and its effective implementation. “Despite provisions intended to offer legal, social and financial assistance to victims, many women are unable to register their complaints. Furthermore, prevention of violence, as a core due diligence obligation of the State, does not feature in the implementation of this law,” the statement said.

She reiterated that despite the recent amendments, “the unfortunate reality is that the rights of many women in India continue to be violated, with impunity as the norm, according to many submissions received.” Manjoo stated that women experience violence not just in situations of conflict, post-conflict, and displacement but also in situations of peace. “The denial of constitutional rights in general, and the violation of the rights of equality, dignity, bodily integrity, life and access to justice in particular, was a theme that was common in many testimonies,” she said.
Conflict-related Sexual Violence.

The statement also said that it in relation to conflict- related sexual violence, it was crucial to acknowledge that violations are perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. She pointed out that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly. “In the testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms – including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States.” She said that it was unfortunate that peaceful and legitimate protests often elicited a military response.

The statement recognized that the victimization of women from the Dalit, Adivasi, other Scheduled castes, tribal and indigenous minorities. “Their reality is one where they exist at the bottom of the political, economic and social systems, and they experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression – thereby perpetuating their socio-economic vulnerability across generations.”

Manjoo heard anguished stories of young women disappearing without a trace in Manipur. The police she was informed are generally apathetic and are likely to put the cause as elopement. However Manjoo expressed concern that these disappearances could be linked to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking.

“Generally tribal and indigenous women in the region are subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence. They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens,” the statement informed.

Testimonies also highlighted child marriages and dowry-related practices, sorcery, honour killings, witch-hunting of women, and communal violence perpetrated against cultural and religious minorities. On the issue of communal violence, the statement remembered the women “who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.”
Manjoo also expressed concern over the declining female sex ratio in India. “The implementation of (government) interventions is resulting in the policing of pregnancies through tracking/surveillance systems and is resulting in some cases in the denial of legal abortion rights, thereby violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women,” she said.

Workplace violence
The Special Rapporteur’s statement also marked the widespread sexual violence and harassment “perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace. There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces/amenities/transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.”

The statement expressed dismay at the numerous violations faced by female domestic workers including sexual harassment by their employers. “Many of them, often migrant and unregistered women, work in servitude and even bondage, in frequently hostile environments; performing work that is undervalued, poorly regulated and low-paid,” said Manjoo.

Conclusion
The statement concluded with several recommendations which included the ones from human rights organisations.

The negative effect of personal status laws on the achievement of overall gender equality (CRC, CCPR, and CEDAW) was noted with the statement that such laws need to be reformed to ensure equality in law (CEDAW).
The statement has asked the government to ensure that all victims of domestic violence are able to benefit from the legislation on domestic violence. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code must be enforced effectively (CESCR).

The statement recommended the repealing of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Public Safety Act and the National Security Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act should be repealed, as it perpetuates impunity, and is widely used against Human Rights Defenders, .
The statement noted with grave concern the culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women, the failure to properly register and investigate complaints of violations against scheduled castes and tribes, the high rate of acquittals, the low conviction rates, and the alarming backlog of cases related to such atrocities. The statement expressed that the impact of mega-projects on the rights of women should be thoroughly studied, including their impact on tribal and rural communities, and safeguards instituted.

The statement exhorted the government to expedite the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 “with the incorporation of: sexual and gender-based crimes, including mass crimes against women perpetrated during communal violence; a comprehensive system of reparations for victims of such crimes; and gender-sensitive victim-centred procedural and evidentiary rules, and to ensure that inaction or complicity of State officials in communal violence be urgently addressed under this legislation.”

The comprehensive findings from Rashida Manjoo’s mission in India will be discussed in the report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.

UN Commission commits to women’s rights

United Nations Flag

UN Women welcomes the outcome of 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, this week

By Team FI

The UN Women today welcomed the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concluded on Friday. In a press release, the UN Women have appreciated the document adopted by the Commission, which not only condemns the pervasive violence against women and girls but also focuses significantly on prevention – “through education and awareness-raising and addressing gender inequalities in the political, economic and social spheres.”

According to the press release, the document has underlined the importance of “multi-sectoral services for survivors of violence, including for health, psychological support and counseling, social support in the short and long term.”

Referring to the outcome as a testimony to the commitment of UN Member States to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls, the UN Women stated that by adopting this document, the respective governments “have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century.”

In 2003, when the Commission took up violence against women and human rights, Member States had failed to reach to an agreement.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday had called the proposed document un-Islamic. According to women’s rights activists, the Vatican, Russia and some Muslim nations had formed “an unholy alliance” to weaken a UN statement calling for tough global standards on combating violence against women.

Women’s organizations across the globe had expressed their alarm at the “constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document”. Women’s human rights are not to be negotiated away, said the press release endorsed by over 200 women’s groups and organizations and more than a hundred individuals, insisting that negotiations should not be re-opened “on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights.”

The 57th CSW had also seen the organizations and individuals of Arab Caucus express their concern over the positions taken by some Arab governments on violence against women. They accused their leadership of “increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence, discrimination and allow the violations against human rights and continue with impunity.”

The Arab Caucus representatives from non-governmental organizations underlined the fact that “the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies.”

AFP news report suggests that western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the agreement after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 UN member states.

Some 6,000 non-government groups were present in New York for the CSW meeting.

Women’s Rights: Divided they Stand

UN women's rights

India stood amongst the conservative governments in opposition to the progressive governments in the debates on women and girls’ human rights issues during the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which ended without any agreed conclusions in March 2012

By Team FI

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held this year at the United Nations Headquarters, New York was one of the most controversial and divided sessions in the history of the commission. The session began on 27 February and continued to 9 March 2012.

The following is an analysis of the session by the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR).

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women witnessed ferocious debates on several issues related to women’s and girls’ human rights. The debates between the conservative and progressive delegations were so polarized, that at the end, for the first time in CSW’s history, the governments could not reach an agreement. Thus, there was no “Agreed Conclusions” at the end of the two-week meeting.

Egypt had a major impact on this final situation, as the Egyptian delegate continuously underlined that he was speaking on behalf of the African group – 27 countries. Caribbean Communtiy (CARICOM) had also a very blocking effect, although it did not express a clear position on many of the issues. Jamaica, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, very often took the floor to intervene on behalf of the conservative block.

Moreover, the delegates could not reach an agreement on the “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” resolution either. Consequently, there was only a “Procedural Resolution” on “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” .

Most Contentious Issues

Opposition of conservative governments to the term “Harmful Traditional Practices”

“Harmful traditional practices,” is a major source of women’s human rights violations and since the Beijing Platform for Action, is mentioned as a women’s human rights violation in many UN negotiated documents. The term had come under attack by some conservative governments at the 2010 CSW meeting. The 2011 CSW witnessed a much stronger and coordinated effort by conservatives to have the term deleted from all new documents, signaling a significant backlash.

Countries that wanted to have the word “traditional” deleted, and instead revise the term as “harmful practices” were the Russian Federation, Syria, Egypt, India and Chile. Those who strongly supported the retention of the term in various resolutions and the conclusions were Turkey, Mexico, Uruguay, EU, Switzerland, South Africa and Israel.

Unfortunately, in the 2011 “Maternal Mortality Resolution,” harmful traditional practices has come to be narrowed down to Female Genital Mutilation, which is detrimental not only because it negates many other traditional harmful practices defined in other UN negotiated documents such honor crimes, early and forced marriages, dowry related deaths among others, but also such a limitation can imply a stigmatization of African cultures.

“Early and forced marriages” vs. “Child marriages”

There was a coordinated effort by Iran, the Holy See (Vatican), Russian Federation and India to delete any references to “early marriages,”. They have instead proposed the term “child marriages.”

The recognition of “early and forced marriages as a harmful traditional practice” has been there since Beijing+5. The term “child marriage” is very confusing, as the definition of the “child” varies a lot based on geography and culture. For instance, states within the US define “child” differently. According to the culture of many Muslim countries, a girl child is one who has not yet had menstruation.  Thus, in many Muslim countries, “child marriage” can be interpreted as the marriage of a girl who has not yet reached puberty. The countries that strongly voiced their support for the retention of the term “early marriages” were Turkey, Switzerland, Australia, the US and the EU.

“Reproductive rights and sexual health” as human rights

Until the very end opposed by the Holy See, supported by Norway, US, Australia, Japan,  Ireland, Uruguay, Australia, Turkey and Switzerland.

“The central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV”   

SADC wanted to insert the term “reaffirming the central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV,” as a main issue in the preambular paragraphs. This was opposed by many countries such as Australia, Canada, US, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which demanded evidence for it – which could not be provided by SADC – and most importantly, because such an assertion would imply that the family should be responsible for the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS, which is very detrimental for women, as women are the main unpaid caregivers in many countries.

“Negotiating safer sex”

Firmly opposed by the Holy See and the Russian Federation.  The Holy proposed “responsible sexual behavior” instead.  Supported by the EU and Canada.

The reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS

Although Iran was the only country that opposed the reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS – accepted by the UN General Assembly – this insistent opposition provided a major obstacle to reaching a consensus on the HIV/AIDS resolution. Strong statements supporting the declaration were made by Australia, the EU, Turkey, the US and SADC.

PETITION

Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD), a network of feminist organisations and women with 180 members representing groups of diverse women from 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, initiated a petition campaign –  “Say NO to safeguarding “traditional values” over women’s human rights!” The campaign which ended on 5th April 2012 has got over signatures from over 5400 organisation and individuals from all over the world.  The petition is to be sent to the governments who participated in the session and to the United Nations.