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Volume 9, Number 3
January 1996



This first post-Beijing Women's Watch coincides with the annual session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women-and with a new level of attention to the Women's Convention. The Platform for Action represents an advance of light-years since the Forward-Looking Strategies, and the essence of the advance can be seen in its stated goal of universal Women's Convention ratification by the year 2000. The premises of the Convention form a subtext for the entire Platform, a reaffirmation of the fundamental principle that the human rights of women are universal and indivisible and that "the full enjoyment of all human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all women throughout their life cycle" must be protected and promoted. The Platform unequivocally states women's rights to full participation and outlines what must be done for those rights to be realized.

The Platform reads this way because long before the Beijing meeting, women all over the world made their governments understand that they are a constituency to be reckoned with. The draft Platform that was presented to the Commission on the Status of Women in March 1993 was a basic outline of problems, but it contained few references to rights. In eighteen months the document changed dramatically, in direct response to the demands of governments-who were listening to their citizens. From the very beginning of the preparatory process, NGOs were active in articulating the equality and rights issues, working as responsible participants in the process. They succeeded because they showed that they knew what they were doing. By the time of the Beijing Conference, it was clear that governments had recognized a constituency of women - the official delegations were full of NGO representatives. We worked with IWRAW friends and colleagues in the delegations of Malaysia, The Philippines, Mali, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Colombia, Bangladesh, Australia, Canada . . .

The Platform for Action represents only a list of promises. It will only mean something for women when they make it mean something. Certainly the performance of the women's community at Beijing indicates that we know how to do that. The Women's Convention provides a framework for monitoring government action in every section of the Platform as well as a legal obligation to back up the commitments made at Beijing. Everywhere in the world governments know now that women are watching them, and that they must meet both the promises of the Platform and the premises of the Convention.

An acknowledgment. Those who have worked with the IWRAW project know that we could not have carried out the IWRAW program through Beijing without wonderful support from staff, only some of whom were visible on site. Thanks to Valerie Zamberletti, Sharon Ladin, Linda McFarland, Johanna Bond, Karen Brown Thompson, Akemi Kinukawa, Christine Avenarius, and Keith Vargo.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Convention Articles 2 and 3

An Algerian feminist living under a fatwa, or call for death, for the past two years urges greater awareness and activism to counter the campaign of death that Algerian fundamentalists are waging against individuals who speak out for human rights. Khalida Messaoudi, formerly a mathematics teacher and member of the Algerian interim parliament, has been living underground in Europe and elsewhere for the past two years, unable to work or stay in the same place for more than two consecutive nights. Her recently released book, Une Algerienne Debout, includes a translation of the death threat issued against her by a fundamentalist group that identifies her as an enemy of their efforts to establish an Islamic state. Messaoudi is reportedly disappointed and distressed that the world pays so little attention to the fear and human suffering caused by continual, indiscriminate death threats against so many people.

IWRAW receives frequent Urgent Action Appeals concerning individuals who are living under the threat of a fatwa, not only in Algeria but elsewhere in the world. The most recent concerns Zara Mahamat Yacoub. Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WMUML) issued an Appeal in October 1995 on Yacoub, who has had a fatwa pronounced against her after the showing in Burkina Faso of her very successful film Dilemme au Féminin, (Feminine Dilemma). The film shows nudity (during an excision), and other things determined to be blasphemous by the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Ndjamena in Chad, where Yacoub lives. In a letter addressed to the Chadian people, an association calling itself the Union of Young Chadian Muslims has declared that the film is against good morals, human values and divine law. They have demanded that severe administrative sanctions be taken against Yacoub and against the Director of Television in Chad. Despite the death threats, no official action has been taken. WLUML asks that people react as soon as possible by writing to: His Excellency Monsieur Idris Deby, President of the Republic of Chad, BP 74, Ndjamena, Chad. Fax: 235 51 45 01; or Monsieur Maldome Bada Abass, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Chad. Fax: 235 52 58 85. Ask for anulment of the fatwa against Yacoub and official protection for her and for others involved in the film.

The pressure exerted by the fundamentalists affects even Tunisia, which has a reputation for being liberal and open-minded. Two well-known human rights activists, Alya Cherif Chammari and Khemais Chammari, have been prohibited from leaving the country. Their passports were taken away as they were about to embark for Malta in October 1995 to participate in a colloquium of the Mediterranean Center for Human Rights. Mrs. Chammari is a Tunisian lawyer well known for her work for women's rights, and her husband is one of the founders of the Arab Institute of Human Rights. Mrs. Chammari was to go from Malta to Abu Dhabi, to attend the trial of Sarah Balabagan on 30 October. According to WLUML, this attack against the Chammaris "is one of the numerous signs of the phenomenon, and we are deeply worried that attacks against liberal personalities followed by a reign of terror would develop in Tunisia, as it has done in Algeria."


A landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice limits affirmative action programs. According to The New York Times, the Court ruled that governments could not impose affirmative action programmes that give women absolute priority for jobs and promotions, because such programs violate European Union equal opportunities law. The case was brought by a male landscaper from northern Germany who was passed over for a promotion in the Parks Department of the city of Bremen. He was contesting a state law that required public agencies to give preference to female candidates with the same qualifications as male applicants for posts where women were underrepresented. The Court's decision is likely to affect other job preference programs in the 15 EU member states. Women's rights groups in Germany condemned the ruling, and several German state-level women's affairs ministers joined to issue a statement asking the federal government to lobby for a change in European policy.

In contrast to the European action, Israel's Knesset amended the Civil Service Law in July 1995, obligating the Civil Service Commissioner to implement affirmative action. The new law, to assure "appropriate representation of both sexes wherever this does not as yet exist," applies to all government offices, national nongovernmental institutions, and government-owned companies. According to the Israel Women's Network, it will soon undoubtedly affect the private sector as well. Coincidentally, one day after the law was passed, a committee on women in the public service appointed in 1993 by the Minister of Economic Planning announced wide-ranging recommendations, referring to the civil service, political positions, the armed forces and the police.

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

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has issued new guidelines that formally recognize gender-based persecution as a potential ground for asylum. Refugees can now cite gender-specific abuse such as domestic violence, rape or genital mutilation in making their cases for asylum. Asylum is not guaranteed, however, for all battered women from countries where such violence and sexual abuse is tolerated. Like any other claimant, a woman must demonstrate that she cannot avail herself of the protection of her government because of "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

Effects of the new guidelines have already begun to appear. In May 1995, an immigration judge for the first time granted asylum to a Jordanian woman on the ground that the Jordanian government had failed to protect her from physical and verbal abuse by her husband. The Immigration Law Center in Lynn, Massachusetts reported to IWRAW in September 1995 that an asylum petition by a woman from Zimbabwe was approved based on her claim of domestic violence. The key evidence in the case was a detailed statement from the Musasa Project, the domestic violence project in Harare, concluding that the legal system of Zimbabwe fails to protect women from domestic violence and sexual abuse. Legal counsel for the Musasa Project stated that in practice a "binding over" order (an order to appear in court to respond to an accusation of violent behavior) will be issued based only on actual abuse and not on threats of violence, and that the courts do not have the power to oust a spouse from a matrimonial home.

The US guidelines ultimately affect only a few women, but they represent a critical step in addressing gender based asylum claims. A Harvard Law School instructor, Nancy Kelly, explains its importance as establishing "the principle . . . that the harms women face because of their gender must be recognized and taken seriously." In the past, gender-specific claims may have been dismissed or overlooked, but now the INS is expected to increase its commitment and its ability to make accurate decisions regarding such cases. In doing so, the INS-and the US government-go on record as recognizing and condemning the failure of other governments to protect the human rights of their female citizens.

Gross violations of women's human rights, including deliberate use of rape, were perpetrated and condoned by the Cedras coup regime in Haiti, according to a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights report. The Minnesota Advocates delegation visited Haiti in July 1995 to investigate violence against women during the three year reign of the coup regime and to evaluate possible mechanisms to respond to those human rights violations. Although women and their families still suffer from the trauma and other effects of the violence, Minnesota Advocates claims that the Haitian justice system is not being used effectively by or for the victims. Haitians lack access to and confidence in the system. Prosecution for rape has been extremely difficult and rare; no trial for rape has been held in Port-au Prince since at least 1985. The Ministry on the Status and Rights of Women has focused on meeting the immediate needs of individual women or providing social, psychological and medical assistance, rather than on seeking legal redress. A copy of the report is available from Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 400 2nd Avenue South, Suite 1050, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA. Phone: 612 341 3302.

The United States' Violence Against Women Act of 1994 has been used for the first time, reports The New York Times, June 4, 1995. Because he crossed a state border, Christopher Bailey faces up to 20 years in prison for locking his wife, Sonya, in the trunk of a compact car for six days. He is the first person convicted of violating this new federal law that makes crossing a state line to assault a spouse or domestic partner a federal crime. The new law allows victims of violent crimes "committed because of gender" to bring civil lawsuits even if the perpetrator has not been charged with a criminal act. Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of the National Judicial Education Program of the National Organization for Women (NOW), points out that the law breaks new ground in recognizing women as a group against which crimes are committed solely because they belong to that group, much as civil rights laws historically have addressed crimes against racial minorities.

Swazi men recently called for non-discriminatory laws that would protect men as well as women from rape. According to an article that appeared on 7 November, 1995 in The Namibian, a daily newspaper, MPs in Swaziland have asked Justice Minister Chief Maweni Simelane to introduce a law to protect men from rape and sexual harassment by women. One MP, Mr. Robert Mbhawali, said that, while the existing laws provided for tough penalties for men rapists, especially for offences against girls under 16, the law was silent regarding women raping men or young boys.


The Women's Health Project has called on South African women to join women throughout the world to oppose the Vatican's United Nations status as as a Non-member State Permanent Observer. The role of the Vatican in the International Conference on Population and Development and in the Fourth World Conference on Women exceeded the appropriate scope of activity for an observer state. During the preparatory process for Beijing, the Vatican opposed the expansion of women's sexual rights, the promotion of women's reproductive and health rights, the usage of the term gender, and the use of the word equality rather than that of equity. While its views ultimately did not prevail, the Vatican's actions created major difficulties and disruptions in the negotiating process, deflecting energy and attention from the primary purposes of the World Conference. Information: Women's Health Project, PO Box 1038, 2000 Johannesburg SA. Tel (011) 489-9917. Fax (011) 489-9922.

UNICEF has suspended its support for education programs in two Afghan cities to protest the closure of girls' schools by Islamic radicals known as the Taliban, and warned that it may suspend other aid programs in areas controlled by the Taliban. According to an Associated Press release, in announcing the action UNICEF director Carol Bellamy said, "the principle of non-discrimination has guided UNICEF's work since its inception nearly fifty years ago. UNICEF is committed to girls' education as a human right." Self-appointed Islamic councils backed by the Taliban have also threatened women going to work in United Nations workplaces in Jalalabad, and the agencies have kept women at home rather than risk collapse of the UN programs, according to the New York Times.

The British Council newsletter, Women's Network, reports that the political and administrative decentralization under way in many Latin American countries is providing opportunities to promote a gender perspective in local development planning. Two large municipalities in Ecuador, Quito and Cuenca, ran workshops recently on 'Gender Policy and Planning in Local Development' for municipal officials, decision-makers and NGOs. One case study used in the Cuenca workshop was municipal legislation for eliminating street vendors from the city center. A gender diagnosis surprised workshop participants, who were largely ignorant of the ways this particular law affected poor women and children. The workshops were extremely well received and have resulted in many requests from other municipalities in the months ahead.

EMPLOYMENT - Article 11

The 1995 ILO Annual Conference has provisionally voted to adopt a convention on homebased workers. Because of the ILO's tripartite structure, however, a final decision to adopt a convention is far from certain and will have to be taken over the next two years. The Asian Women Workers Newsletter reports that the ILO workers'group has been solid and expects a renewed wave of support at next year's conference, but the national representatives of employers' federations have declared themselves totally opposed to the creation of a convention for homebased workers. These workers are virtually invisible -- they work in the privacy of their homes, and about eighty percent are women. For this reason they are susceptible to the same degree of exploitation whether they work in rich or poor countries, and the increasingly international nature of homebased work has attracted the attention of the international trade union movement that constitutes one part of the tripartite ILO body. The move to adopt a convention rather than a simple recommendation is significant, because it means that ratifying countries will be obligated to convert its provisions into national laws.

El Mercurio newspaper in Chile reports that a bill to prohibit pregnancy tests for work applicants has been presented to the Congress. The initiative was drafted by Josefina Bilbao, head of the national women's ministry, Sernam. According to El Mercurio, the proposed legislation targets a common Chilean business practice of demanding pregnancy tests from women applicants in order to avoid paying pre- and post-natal expenses. Bilbao said testing was becoming increasingly common in Chile and that "it is discriminatory and undignified for women."

The U.K. plans to achieve equality in the pensionable age of men and women-by extending the work requirement for women. Women are currently eligible to receive pensions at 60 years of age, while men receive pensions at the age of 65. The change, which brings the age for both up to 65, will be phased in over ten years, beginning in 2010. No women now aged 44 or over will be affected. According to Network News, newsletter of the Global Link for Midlife and Older Women, this change in policy was unthinkable in 1979, when the EU Council of Ministers adopted the first directive on equal treatment of men and women in social security. The conventional assumption at that time was that equality would only be achieved by lowering the men's pensionable age to that required for women.

HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16

The Women's Health Advocates on Microbicides (WHAM) will work with the scientific community to "provide advice and comments on all stages of their clinical research on microbicides, including scientific matters such as protocol design and the selection of research sites." This new advocacy group grew out of discussions of issues surrounding microbicides and a women-controlled technology that would prevent infection from Sexually Transmitted Diseases, especially HIV/AIDs, at a May 1995 international meeting held by the Population Council, the International Women's Health Coalition and the Pacific Institute for Women's Health Scientists. Information on WHAM: Susan Wood, IWHC, 24 East 21st., New York, NY10010, USA. For more information on microbicides research, contact: Sue Petronis, The Population Council, 1 Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, New York, NY10017, USA.

In Brazil, male responsibility in reproductive health is being addressed through a media campaign and discussion groups, according to a report from the UN Population Fund. PRO-PATER, a Sao Paulo family planning clinic that caters to males, bases its work on the idea that discussion among people is necessary to raise awareness to a level at which change in attitudes and behavior is possible. PRO-PATER's activities aim to address the rooted traditions and prejudice that prevent people from changing their behavior, despite information given through the media. While demand for vasectomies did increase exponentially after PRO-PATER used television to publicize the procedure, media campaigns generally have limited effect: members of the Brazilian Health Institute, which also uses group discussions, contends that the media/reality gap can best be bridged through "men from the same background discussing their problems within the same space."

The Minnesota State Supreme Court (US) ruled in December 1995 that refusal to pay for therapeutic abortions for women using medical assistance (health coverage for poor people) is contrary to the Minnesota Constitution. The Court stated that the ban on state payment violates a woman's fundamental right to choose whether to have an abortion because it adds financial considerations to a decision that is "intimate, personal and profound." Out of the fifty states in the US, nine other states have ruled similarly and three have ruled that the funding prohibition is acceptable under that state's constitution. Because it is a state constitutional ruling, the decision is unlikely to be reviewed by the US Supreme Court.


Women's rights to property will be a major issue in the next large UN conference: the World Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). As reported in autumn 1995 by WEP International, Habitat II, to be held in Istanbul from 3 to 14 June 1996, is being called City Summit because it will deal mainly with the problems of the cities. Some of the themes to be discussed are affordable housing, safe living conditions, education, health care and public transport. Two preparatory meetings have already been held, and the third is planned for January 1996 in New York.

The International Alliance of Women and GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating in Sisterhood) have formed a coalition on women's concerns in Habitat and drawn up recommendations for the conference. The main recommendations are: ensure the right of women to own, inherit and administer land and buildings; equal access to housing credits; organize training to enhance the influx of women into the building and housing sector; gender training to stimulate "women-friendly building." The NGO secretariat for the conference is located in Canada: HIC Habitat II Secretariat, Rooftops Canada Foundation, 2 Berkeley Street, Suite 207, Toronto ON, Canada M5A 2W3. Tel: (416) 366-1445. Fax: (416) 366-3876.

The Kerala High Court in India liberalized divorce for Christian women in a ruling early in 1995. According to the Manavi Newsletter, published by an organization that promotes grassroots women in South Asia, prior to this ruling Christian women could seek divorce only on the grounds of incest and adultery. Two women challenged these provisions of the Marriages Act for communities of minority religions, and according to the new ruling, Christian women in India now can seek dissolution of their marriage on the grounds of desertion, cruelty and adultery, without having to prove adultery as they had had to do under prior law. The Manavi newsletter remarks that this is hopefully "an impetus for bringing about comprehensive changes in the laws governing marriage and divorce in all communities in India." Contact: Manavi, P.O. Box 614, Bloomfield, NJ 07003.

In an extraordinarily close decision, in November 1995 Irish voters approved the removal of the constitutional ban on divorce. The divorce prohibition, the only one in Europe, has left about 80,000 citizens in legal limbo, separated from their spouses but unable to remarry. Statistics show that most separations have been sought by women, many trying to escape abusive spouses.

The Japanese Supreme Court in 1995 rejected an attempt to invalidate a Civil Code provision that the children of unmarried parents can inherit only half the amount of property inherited by the children of a married couple. The Court upheld the discriminatory clause against illegitimate children, reports Japanese Women Newsletter. Five of the fifteen judges on the Court stated that the clause was unconstitutional because the Constitution prohibits discrimination in political, economic or social relations based on the social status of the family of origin.


The United Nations has established a Human Rights Hot Line and a 24-hour fax line for victims of human rights violations, relatives of victims, and nongovernmental organizations. The hot line will be especially useful for women attempting to establish contact with the Special Procedure Branch of the Centre for Human Rights. The number in Geneva is 41-22-917-0092. In addition, the Centre for Human Rights is working on a database with information on religious intolerance, torture, racism, and repression of free expression. The database will be available electronically when completed.

How have women used global institutions to assure equality and a full partnership with men? Women, Politics, and the United Nations, edited by Anne Winslow, offers various perspectives on the history of women's worldwide networking efforts at the United Nations and at international conferences. It includes analyses of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the politics of the first three world women's conferences, the evolution of institutions set up to resolve key issues related to women, and the changing conditions for women in the UN Secretariat and specialized agencies. Also included is an article on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women written by Arvonne S. Fraser. For further information contact GreenWood Publishers, 88 Post Road West, P.O. Box 5007, Westport, CT 06881-5007. Tel: 203 226 3571. Fax: 203 222 1502.

A Thematic Guide to Documents on the Human Rights of Women provides a systematic guide to international human rights standards relating to women. It is the first volume in a new series, The Raoul Wallenberg Institute Human Rights Guides, designed to provide orientation in international human rights standards. Future studies in the series will focus on groups such as children, minorities and migrants. From: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN: 90-411-0095-4.

FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales) in Chile has published a comparative regional study, including statistics and other forms of information, concerning the situation of women in 19 Latin American Countries. The volume, Mujeres Latinoamericanas en Cifras, contains information relating to economics, demography, labor, education, health and socio-political participation. Available in Spanish and English, the book costs US$50, including mailing. Tel: (562) 2259938/2256955 or Fax: (562) 274 1004.

An English-Chinese Lexicon of Women and Law has been published by UNESCO and released at the Beijing Conference. Authors Sharon K. Hom of City University of New York and Xin Chungying of the CASS (China) prepared the Lexicon as a tool to facilitate understanding of "the struggles and dreams woven from different languages and cultures" and a catalyst for further development of women's human rights and social change. From: UNESCO, 7 Place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris, France.


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 centres. 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: IWRAW/Marianne Haslegrave, c/o Commonwealth Medical Association, BMA House, Trafalgar Square, London WC1H 9JP, United Kingdom. In Australia, send to: Hilary Charlesworth, University of Adelaide, Law School, Adelaide, South 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. 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 149 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, Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Shaler Adams Foundation, the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcomed and are tax deductible for U.S. citizens.



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