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Volume 11, No. 1
June 1997



the CEDAW Convention is a powerful instrument for change. A courageous group of Japanese women is showing the world how the Convention can make a difference.

Japan ratified the CEDAW Convention over ten years ago. In a tentative first effort to comply, the government in 1986 enacted an extremely limited employment discrimination law. The law required employers to "endeavour to give women equal opportunity" in recruitment and hiring (Sec. 7) and "endeavour" to treat women workers equally with men workers" as to assignment and promotion (Sec. 8). Discrimination was unequivocally prohibited only as to vocational training and fringe benefits.

The only remedy under this law is mediation by the prefecture (provincial) authorities. An employer accused of discrimination under the law had to consent to the mediation in order for it to go forward.

Major Japanese employers have met the challenge of dealing with sex discrimination by attempting to evade the issue. They eliminated sex-based job classifications and replaced them with a two-track system, with tracks labeled such as "clerical," "management," etc. Jobs held primarily by women were generally classified in lower-level tracks, with minimal opportunity for advancement or for changing tracks. Women are consistently hired into these lower-opportunity tracks. Women still are expected to leave their jobs upon marriage, although the law prohibits employers from requiring resignation upon marriage, pregnancy or childbirth. Married women who remain in their jobs experience discrimination as to wages and promotion.

In 1995, the CEDAW Committee stated in its review of Japan's combined second and third periodic reports, that the relative status of women in Japan is far lower than the country's relative economic status in the world, "demonstrate[ing] the State's indifference to integrating women fully in the economic development process." The Committee specifically suggested that the government address the issue of indirect discrimination. Twelve Japanese NGOs had submitted information to counter the government report, and the Committee's observations reflected the impact of the NGO reporting.*

Encouraged by the CEDAW review, twenty-one women have sued four companies of the giant Sumitomo conglomerate, claiming wage discrimination and failure to promote. They also claim that allowing separate employment tracks under the EEOL violates the terms of the CEDAW Convention. The Government of Japan also has been brought into the suit because the Osaka Prefectural Commission refused to recognize the claim against Sumitomo Electric as appropriate for mediation, stating that the alleged wage gaps between men and women are the result of different career tracks and not of sex discrimination.

In taking on these companies, the women are challenging the entire social and commercial order. They have refused to accept the government's contention that its policies should only reflect rather than attempt to remedy the current social and economic situation. In a culture in which litigation is extremely rare and employers have traditionally played an enormous role in defining the conditions of individuals' lives, they dare to bring the companies and the government into the courtroom. They risk retaliation at work and ostracism in their communities. And they fully expect the case to take up to ten years to resolve.

The plaintiffs are supported by the Working Women's International Network (WWIN), an organization of over 700 women based in Osaka. Every hearing in the case brings out at least twenty-five women who sit in the courtroom, silently supporting the plaintiffs, and meet afterwards to discuss the results as well as current legal and policy developments. Other women's groups and activists associated with organizations such as the Japanese Association for International Women's Rights also offer support. And now, because of linkages with these groups-and the good fortune to have been present in Osaka at a hearing in April 1997-IWRAW is providing support to the plaintiffs as well.

WWIN has established an English-language Web site devoted primarily to employment discrimination issues and cases. Direct contact: WWIN, Syouzuien 2 Floor, 1-11-12 Honjyou-Higashi Kitaku, Osaka, Japan.Tel/fax: 06-359-3434.


The time to prepare for CSW 1998 is now. At the March 1997 session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Open-Ended Working Group on the Optional Protocol made significant progress in preparing a draft Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention. The Optional Protocol will provide for the submission of individual complaints to the CEDAW Committee concerning States Parties' failure to live up to the obligations of the Convention. The Open-Ended Working Group process is based on a draft prepared by its Chairperson. The drafting process is moving more quickly than anticipated, and the 1998 CSW session may well result in production of a final draft to be submitted to the General Assembly.

NGOs concerned with advocacy for and monitoring of CEDAW Convention implementation have a major stake in the contents of the Optional Protocol. While the language of the Protocol and the complaints procedure itself are somewhat technical, the availability of the procedure and the types of complaints that can be brought are of general interest. NGOs will need to know enough about the procedure to lobby effectively for Optional Protocol ratification, as the complaints procedure will only be available to claimants in countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol in addition to their Convention ratification.

NGOs that expect to attend the 1998 CSW session (Mar 2-13) and wish to participate in the drafting process-the Open-ended Working Group has been open to NGO observers in past sessions-should be well prepared to follow the technical discussion. IWRAW's experience suggests that the most effective NGO participants with respect to the Optional Protocol are lawyers or those who have extensive experience in working with the wording of international legal instruments. The most comprehensive review of the elements of the Optional Protocol and developments up to the beginning of 1996 are in a law review article by Andrew Byrnes and Jane Connors, "Enforcing the Human Rights of Women: A Complaints Procedure for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?" 21 (3) Brooklyn Journal of International Law 679 (1996).

According to a post-CSW update by Andrew Byrnes, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong, the major elements of the Optional Protocol and their current status in the drafting process are:


    Who may lodge a complaint. The Chairperson's draft proposed that complaints could be lodged either by (a) individuals, groups or organizations claiming as to their own rights, or by (b) an individual, group or organization claiming that it has a sufficient interest in the matter to make the claim, even if its own rights are not at stake. Option (b) would allow a complaint to be submitted by a third party if women in a particular country are not in a position to lodge one, for political or practical reasons. Option (b) is the source of considerable controversy.


    What claims may be made. The issue as to types of claims under the CEDAW Convention arises because many of its provisions require States parties to take "appropriate" or "necessary" measures to eliminate discrimination, rather than stating absolute rights or protections. This is known as the "justiciability" issue, is fairly technical, and is the subject of considerable controversy.


    Provision of an inquiry procedure. This would allow members of the Committee to undertake an inquiry on their own, without submission of a complaint, where circumstances warrant. There is also controversy over this provision, and it is likely that the final draft will contain an option for States parties to reject this type of procedure.


    The effect of the Committee's determinations under the procedure is controversial. The Chairperson's draft suggested that the determination be an obligation, while traditionally, in other treaty bodies that allow the complaints procedure, the determinations are merely "high authority." Many delegations strongly opposed the "binding effect" provision.


    Whether States parties can enter reservations to the Optional Protocol remains a confusing and unfinished discussion.


    Other issues that remain controversial or are yet to be determined are: the test for exhaustion of remedies (what do complainants have to establish as to the unavailability of relief in their national system); whether the Committee could take into account material other than that specifically provided by the parties; requirement to publicize the Committee's determinations; Committee's power to request interim measures while a complaint is under consideration; how much of the procedural details should be included in the Optional Protocol and how much left to be determined by the Committee as rules of procedure (which could be altered more readily); and resource allocation to service a complaints procedure.

For additional information on the Optional Protocol, contact IWRAW. Information on general planning for CSW is available from the International Women's Tribune Center, fax (212) 661-2704.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16

Yet another study has confirmed that more women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends than in any other crimes during which murder occurs. After studying the case file for every woman killed in New York City from 1990 to 1994, the New York City Department of Health determined that, in the 484 cases where the victim's relationship to the killer could be determined, nearly half involved current or former husbands or boyfriends. Nationally, the figure is 40 percent, compared with 6 percent of men killed by wives or girlfriends. The incidence of domestic violence has not dropped as precipitously as the overall crime rate, and a disproportionate number of the killings in the study were in the poorest parts of the city and among racial minorities-an indication that class and race may be more significant risk factors than previously acknowledged by many experts and activists, and that domestic violence prevention programs are not reaching many of the most vulnerable women.

Tokyo has finally introduced a bill to criminalize sex with minors. Tokyo and Nagging are the only major cities in Japan without such a law. While laws in other areas prohibit indecent acts with minors, the Tokyo act would punish as a crime only "obscene" acts for which money is exchanged. The city rejected enactment of such an ordinance nine years ago because, according to city officials, the term "obscene" is too ambiguous and the law would invade individual privacy. Pressure to enact the law has risen because an increasing number of school girls have taken up part-time prostitution.

Early this year the Bond Society, a powerful secret women's group in Sierra Leone, performed genital mutilation on about 600 girls in the Grafton Camp for displaced persons near Freetown. Health workers said 100 of the girls, who are between the ages of 8 and 15, suffered severe complications. Several girls' parents said they had been approached by women in the name of Mrs. Kabob, the first lady of Sierra Leone. President Kabob has been accused by activists of condoning genital mutilation and last year received a group of Bondo women who demonstrated in favor of FGM. During the election campaign in 1996, Bondo women pledged to vote for Mr. Kabbah in return for his promise to counter lobbying against genital mutilation.

After a 25-year debate, Germany has made marital rape a criminal offense. In a vote without party constraints, 1997 the German Parliament approved a cross-party bill, the fifth launched since 1972. Its passage brings Germany into line with most of its European Union partners. The law sets a maximum jail sentence of 15 years for rapists and widens the definition of rape to include sexual abuse apart from penetration. The bill also uses gender-neutral language to make rape of a man by either sex punishable and acknowledges that a person could be forced into sex with emotional rather than physical violence.

POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Articles 7 and 8

Indian women are demanding reservation of 33% of the seats in Parliament for women. The demand was spelled out in the 81st Constitution Amendment Bill and referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee in 1996. The Committee, headed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Geeta Mukherjee, recommended that the Bill be passed at the earliest possible time. The Committee wanted: a) one-third of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) be reserved for women; b) one-third of seats reserved for women in the legislative assembly of every state to be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes; c) one-third of seats to be filled by direct election to the legislative assembly of every state to be reserved for women. Rebutting arguments about quality being compromised by imposing quotas for women, MP Margaret Alva asked that voters take note of the number of "silent men" in the parliament who have never voiced their opinion on any issue.

Iran's incoming President Mohammad Khatami has indicated that the Islamic republic might get its first woman minister. Khatami had highlighted women's issues during his campaign, gaining him wide support among female voters. He said he hoped to be able to use all the experience available in the country and the government had a clear duty to provide equal opportunities to women. Iranian analysts have speculated that if Khatami appoints a woman as a minister it could be the country's most prominent female politician, Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was elected on her own landslide of votes in last year's parliamentary elections.

Women are playing a prominent role in the experiment with democracy that has begun in Yemen since unification of North and South in 1990. They are organizing voter registration and promoting female candidates. The strong Islamic party, Islah, has been signing up women voters (assuming they will vote as their husbands do). Saudi Arabia views with some alarm the involvement of Yemeni women in politics and the general developments toward democracy, and has suggested that the elections be canceled as a threat to regional stability.

EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11

According to the highly influential Women's Union of Vietnam, economic reform to open markets has left many women worse off than they were under the old system. The Confucian heritage of women's subservience has always been a powerful cultural counter to the gender equality principles of the Marxist revolution, and now, says the United Nations Development Program, those values have made a marked comeback during the past decade. Women carry about 60 percent of the agricultural workload, in addition to working in the household, but earn just 72 percent of the average male wage. In rural areas, where 90 percent of the country's poor live, women's workloads are increasing as more men migrate to cities in search of employment.

The Italian Council of Ministers has proposed a bill that would allow housework-related injuries to be covered by insurance. The proposed law would allow women to claim compensation for housework-related injuries such as severe cuts and burns. It provides for an annual compulsory contribution of less than $15 to a state-administered compensation fund. A woman whose injury cuts productivity by at least 33% and who can prove that her main occupation is in the home will receive a monthly check based on the minimum wage. Men whose main activity is cooking and cleaning will also qualify. If Parliament approves the bill, Italy will be the first country in Europe to have such a law. Currently, all workplaces in Italy must be covered by insurance for injuries, and this bill represents the first effort in Europe to recognize the home as a workplace.

HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS - Convention Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16

A male politician has taken on the cause of reproductive rights in Nepal, introducing a bill to liberalize Nepal's rigid ban. Because abortion is considered as homicide under current law, desperate women who undergo abortions can be imprisoned. Upon release they frequently are rejected by their families. MP Sunil Bhandari has introduced a bill to make abortion legal under any circumstances in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and thereafter to allow it in cases of rape, incest, life-threatening situations, and where the fetus is diagnosed as being severely handicapped. The current harsh law, which is unusual in a Hindu country, results in a high rate of maternal mortality, related directly to medically disastrous illegal abortion attempts.

On April 25, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador amended the abortion law to ban abortion under any and all circumstances. Under the new enactment, to take effect next year, it will be illegal to have, procure, or perform an abortion for any reason. The prior law allowed abortion in cases in which a woman's life was endangered and no other option existed for saving it, when a pregnancy resulted form rape, or in cases of serious fetal anomaly. The revised code increases the penalties for violations, providing for prison sentences for any persons involved in procuring or having an abortion-including anyone found to have induced a woman to seek an abortion, helped her pay for a procedure, or otherwise facilitated a pregnancy termination; if that person is the father of a fetus, the penalty if to be increased by one-third. Catholic leaders have stated that Archbishop Seance Locale will seek to have the constitution amended to establish that every person has a right to life from the moment of conception.

Doctors and AIDS activists are concerned that the effect of AIDS on women's bodies, and the testing of treatments for women, has been largely ignored by the research community. Discussions at the (US) National Conference on Women and HIV in May 1997, pointed out that, according to 1996 statistics, the death rate among male AIDS patients fell 15 percent but increased 3 percent in women. Statistics also show that women were less likely to have access to the most advanced treatments available. Better targeting of research to benefit women would take into account women's different drug absorption rates and the effects of hormonal changes on immuno-suppression. With the availability of new treatments that can transform AIDS into a disease that can be managed over several decades, or potentially cured, it is essential that women's specific treatment needs be understood. But although about 20% of AIDS cases diagnosed in the US have been female, the average AIDS study includes only about 12% women.

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Convention Articles 15 and 16

A new domestic relations Bill in Uganda promises to increase women's options for escaping violent relationships. The Bill, which regulates such family issues as marriage, divorce, custody, and maintenance, is expected to be approved during 1997. It includes provisions for women to inherit matrimonial property and to receive maintenance in the case of divorce. Under current law, women have neither property rights in marriage nor efficient legal means to secure maintenance upon divorce. Women cannot sue for divorce on grounds of infidelity (while men can), and marital rape is condoned under the law. While the current bill does not specifically cover domestic violence, or marital rape, as a crime, it does eliminate some of the economic barriers that prevent women from leaving violent relationships. Information:

The Government of Zimbabwe has promised that an inheritance bill dealing "acceptably" with women's inheritance rights will be submitted to Parliament by December 1997. The promise is included in Zimbabwe's Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST), approved by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as an outline of the second phase of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). Rumbidzai Nhundu of the Women's Action Group said the promise means that the bill could possibly become law by 1998. Any bill promises to be controversial, as the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs points out that there is no "common view" on the government's white paper on inheritance. Women are also fighting for a non-discriminatory land allocation policy. ZIMPREST also promises that government will allocate to women at least 15% of resources set aside for business people. Information:

A young woman has challenged the treatment of women under tribal tradition in Papua New Guinea. Under tribal custom, 18-year-old Miriam Wilngal was supposed to be part of the compensation for the killing of a clan leader. As her clan gathered cash and pigs to complete the transaction, Wilngal said no. She has sought refuge from the shocked the elders of both clans by moving in with a clansman in Port Moresby who is a professor at the University of PNG. In many parts of PNG, women have been transmitted as property to their husbands' families for centuries. Wingal said no because she wanted to accomplish her personal ambition: to finish high school and have her own money. "I don't want to have to depend on a man," she said. Her refusal has served more than her personal ambition and led to a landmark case in recognition of women's rights to equality and freedom. A national court judge ruled in Wingal's favor, saying her personal freedom and equal status had been violated. However, the court battle is not yet over since Wingal's case strikes at the root of the tribal order.




The Cram-Dalton Fellowship is available to support study for a master's degree at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, the University of Minnesota. Applicants must show demonstrated interest in women's human rights in the international context.. Non-US students are encouraged to apply. The fellowship pays full tuition plus a 25% assistantship working with IWRAW. Applicants must qualify for admission to the Humphrey Institute program. Information: Admissions Office, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, 301 - 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis MN 55455 USA (fax: 612 625-6351).

Students interested in human rights, social change, development and building institutions in developing countries also are encouraged to apply to the University of Minnesota MacArthur Fellowship program in International Peace and Cooperation. Applicants must be accepted into a graduate (Ph.D. in most departments; Master's in the Humphrey Institute) program in a University of Minnesota department. MacArthur Fellowship holders in the Humphrey Institute Masters programs frequently are assigned to work with the IWRAW project. Information: MacArthur Program, 214 Social Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN 55455 USA. Fax: (612) 626 2242. E-mail: macarth@gold.tc.umn.edu.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows Program provides mid-career professionals from developing countries one year of study in American universities, including the University of Minnesota. This program is administered by the USIA Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Applicants must apply through their home country's US Embassy, USIS office or Fulbright Commission.

The International Agriculture Center (IAC) at Wageningen, the Netherlands announces a series of international courses on gender, development, environment and land use for 1997 and 1998. Contact: the Director, IAC, P.O. Box 6700 AB Wegeningen, the Netherlands. Fax: 31-317-418552. Email: iac@iac.agro.nl.

Alliance of Women in Slovakia is a new civic initiative committed to legal change and active community participation. One of its first major undertakings is the publication of She and He in Slovakia: Gender Issues in Public Opinion based on a sociological survey on women's issues. Contact: Mgr. Katarina Farkasova, Alliance of Women in Slovakia, Nabelkova 2, 841 05 Bratislava, Slovakia. Tel: 42-7-728-147.

SANHITA is a gender resource center working for the empowerment of grassroots women in Eastern India. The organization publishes a quarterly newsletter in Bengali. Contact: SANHITA, 89 B raja Basanta Roy Road, Calcutta - 700029. Tel: (9133) 466-2150; Fax: (9133) 473-0687.

The World's Youth 1996 is a global profile of young people published by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. Contact: Population Reference Bureau, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 520, Washington, DC 20009-5728, USA. Tel: 202-483-1100; Fax: 202-328-3937. E-mail: popref@prb.org. [Source: International Dateline, Feb. 1997, p.8]

The State of the World's Children 1997 explores the situation of child labor in the light of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. From: UNICEF, 3 UN Plaza, NY 10017 USA, or regional offices.

Village Banking: the State of the Practice, co-published by UNIFEM and the Small Enterprise Education and Promotion Network, is available from Women, Ink, 777 UN Plaza, Room 3C, New York, NY 10017, USA. Tel: 212-687-8633; Fax: 212-661-2704.


WOMEN'S WATCH subscriptions policy. Women's Watch is sent free to groups and individuals in developing countries and on an exchange basis with libraries and documentation centers. Subscriptions are US$25 per year payable in US dollars only or an international money order. Subscriptions are renewable as of January 1 of each year. Checks in US dollars on a US bank should be made payable to: IWRAW, Humphrey Institute. Other subscription points: In Great Britain and continental Europe, send subscriptions in pounds or Eurodollars to: Marianne Haslegrave, Commonwealth Medical Assn., BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK. In Australia: Hilary Charlesworth, Department of International and Public Law, ANU, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia. In Canada, Susan Bazilli, METRAC, 158 Spadina Road, Toronto, Ontario M5R 2T8. In Japan, Japanese Ass'n of International Women's Rights, Bunkyo Women's College, 1196 Kamekubo, Ohi-machi, Iruma, Saitama 354 Japan.

WOMEN'S WATCH is published by the IWRAW project, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, USA. Editors: Marsha Freeman and Sharon Ladin. This issue was written with the help of Liu Dongxiao, IWRAW Cram-Dalton Fellow. IWRAW is a global network of individuals and organizations that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty ratified by over 160 countries.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. The Humphrey Institute is hospitable to a diversity of opinions and aspirations. The Institute does not itself take positions on public policy issues. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the editors. IWRAW is grateful to the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, Shaler Adams Foundation, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcome and are tax deductible for US taxpayers.

* In June 1997, the law was amended to eliminate the word "endeavour," indicating a stronger prohibition of discrimination-but it remains without adequate remedies. At the same time, protective legislation was repealed. Many activists have expressed concern that without adequate remedies in the employment discrimination law, lifting the restrictions of protective legislation will give employers increased opportunity to exploit women's labor with no counterweighing increase in nondiscrimination rights. back


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