Brussels, March 30, 2013 (PPI-OT): The International Council for Human Rights (ICHR) and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) hosted a full day conference entitled Protecting and Promoting Women’s Rights at Palais des Nations in Geneva on 7th of March 2013.
The conference explored international women’s human rights issues in general and within conflict areas in particular, as well as the applicable international legal framework, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the context of violence against women, rape, and women human rights defenders. Following the conference, the Chair and two Rapporteurs prepared and compiled the recommendations that came from the two sessions and submitted the following recommendations:
Dr Krishna Ahoojapatel, Permanent Representative Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
There were multilayered recommendations presented by the panel on how to reduce sexual violence against women and make women more aware of their human rights. However, what was lacking in the analysis of some knowledgeable statements during the session was the deeper cause of why sexual violence – particularly rape – occurs and its direct impact on women’s health, well-being and social and economic structure. Whilst there are several philosophical and political reasons that can be analyzed to explain this, we need to delve deeper into the mindset of the male in order to understand how and why there is frequently a need for them to control women’s bodies to show power and privilege.
The recommendations made by the various speakers differed in methodology and ultimate solutions. Despite this, some common features did emerge from the speakers’ statements, most notably the role of the media in portraying violence and the age old habit of women to submit to and to be subordinate to men.
It appears that no systematic effort is being made by any society to integrate and teach males to respect women and to learn to behave in a manner which accorded dignity to women. The serious consequences of violence on health were also discussed. Intergenerational conflict and traditional teaching by women themselves perpetuate the problem as irrespective of the education of the mother, by habit, by tradition, by religious practices, women as mothers continue to discriminate against their daughters.
Professor Fozia Nazir Lone, women’s rights expert University of Hong Kong
Women’s human rights in the Kashmir conflict were presented as being different to those experienced by women in Rwanda or Bosnia as this is a conflict which is still continuing, which made it more difficult to find solutions.
The speaker mentioned that sexual violence is a weapon of war and is used as such in Kashmir. In addition to rape, other crimes are also committed by the state authorities and administration, such as those carried out whilst conducting body-searches of women. Similar kinds of atrocities took place in Rwanda where acts of genocide where committed against women.
Professor Lone recommended in the context of the Kashmir conflict that women’s concerns are included at all stages of pre-conflict and peace process so that they are included and implemented in the post conflict agreement. A transitional justice system needs to be created, such as truth commissions and other tribunals, to hear and address the concerns of Kashmiri women in conflict, since it is impractical to wait until the conflict ends as this is unlikely in the immediate future.
Dr Lale Say, World Health Organisation (WHO)
Dr Lale explained that violence against women inflicts much psychological and emotional harm which in turn could lead to further violence and depression and also includes acts such as rape and genital mutilation. Statistics were presented highlighting the widespread prevalence of violence by intimate partners in many societies as well as their consequences on women’s health across cultures.
Accurate statistics are difficult to compile because they differ from continent to continent and from country to country and are also not always reported by women who undergo violence, but the percentages for intimate partner violence are high worldwide. Studies reporting violence in conflict settings or non-partner violence show that these are also highly significant forms of violence against women. Some of the health consequences of violence included: femicide, suicide, AIDs related mortality, maternal mortality, pregnancy complications, abortions, low birth weight, and perinatal problems which could later develop into physiological and behavioural risks.
Speaking on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), Lale stressed the need to promote gender equality and the need for a multi-sectoral response in order to reduce the human rights violations that occur. She conveyed these points through quoting rigorous but disturbing statistics, including the high percentage of physical violence on pregnant women.
Mary-Ann Mills, Vice-Chair the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Tribal Court Judge
Mary-Ann stated that Alaska has been overlooked by the rest of the world as it struggles with very high rates of violence against indigenous women and described the situation in Alaska as a crime scene. Around one third of all women have been raped: Alaskan women have among the highest rate of sexual violence in the world.
There were also high rates of trafficking and death; 86% of raped women have been raped by non-Alaskan men. Mothers prepared their daughters for what to do in the event they were raped. She stated that the US has obligations under international law to protect all people of America, including the women from Alaska. Mary-Ann Mills suggested ways for preventing such atrocities against indigenous women. For all these reasons she stated that Alaska needs self-determination at the top of the Human Rights Council agenda.
Professor Frances Heidensohn, gender and justice expert London School of Economics and Political Science
Professor Heidensohn presented six steps for improving women’s rights and made some recommendations which included having more women in law enforcement and the criminal judicial system. For example, she advocated more women in police stations and the creation of special courts to hear rape and domestic violence cases by specially trained lawyers. She also recommended more social measures for the empowerment of women to reduce the number of forced marriages and greater access to education.
Professor Heidensohn stressed that crimes against women were often not taken seriously, women themselves often did not report such incidents for fear of shame and they attracted light sentences. She suggested that urgent steps must be taken to tackle these inequalities wherever they exist and that gender violence is to be made a high priority. She also emphasized the need for more research from a feminist perspective and stressed that welfare should be considered as a part of judicial procedures. She specifically recommended that Western media should not be copied on the way they portray gender violence.
Professor Veerle Draulans, gender studies University of Leuven, Belgium, Tilburg University, Netherlands
In her statement, she stressed that awareness of our own personal views is a precondition for true dialogue. It should not be forgotten that men and boys can also be victims of violence, although less in number. Unfortunately several countries continued to train children to become soldiers and to kill early in their lives, some as young as seven or eight years of age. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRG) children’s work and remuneration in mines were means of financing conflicts.
Professor Draulans highlighted the tension between the media’s positive role in spreading messages related to women’s rights and gender issues and its negative role in sensationalizing sexual and physical violence since such stories sell. She recommended that media should not portray the woman’s body as a symbol of subordination but rather as a signifier of resistance.
Dr Suzanne M. Clisby, women’s rights and gender studies University of Hull
In her analysis, Dr Clisby suggested that violence against women should be considered as a continuum ranging from minor acts to the more serious acts of violence which occur during conflict. She stressed the need to look closely at patriarchal societal norms to analyze the exact relationship between gender and power and how this affects people’s life chances. She described it as a relationship embedded in society, and noted that there had been a large shift from the denial of violence to its existence. She noted that violence was underpinned by gender differences.
Dr Clisby believed gender based and minority organizations from local to national levels needed continued support to translate good policy rhetoric into good practice. This required resources through funding and capacity building over long periods.
Professor Melissa Rancourt, Chairperson and Founder Greenlight for Girls, Head of Faculty, Boston University
An estimated 10 million girls each year are married before the age of 18. It is necessary to encourage education for girls in less advantaged communities, as the NGO Greenlight for Girls does. They have met girls whose families decided that they must fetch water and do the washing rather than to go to school.
The girls indicate that they must stay home when they begin their menstruation as their families are worried that their safety is at stake if they left the home unattended, they fear their girls will be the victims of violence and rape. Hence, the main recommendation is:
The creation of an education programme to teach the importance of equal rights, to instil confidence and the importance of role models and to inspire children around the world that anything is possible. And to lead or support any initiative to educate boys and girls, men and women about equal rights and non-discriminatory practices.
Echoing Professor Lone, Professor Rancourt recommended the UN to extend the promise to protect Kashmiri women whose voices remain muted in a never-ending conflict.
Dr Mazahir Osman, Chairperson International Muslim Women Organization Women in conflict areas are the most vulnerable of all as regards to discrimination and violations of rights; therefore:
1. In order to combat violence against women and minorities there must be a special Commission of minority issues to address the needs of minorities -in particular women minorities and their day to day abuses inflicted upon them;
2. There must be provision of psychosocial services through well trained social workers as well as social provision of development services through women development centres;
3. The UN should exert more pressure on the rich industrialized countries of the North to be committed to the agreed upon on the 7.7 percentage of their GNP, and be more generous in donating more money and technical assistance to the areas of conflicts and wars – for it is wiser to spend for peace than to spend for war;
4. Governments in areas of conflicts and war are advised to be more transparent and wiser in their policy making. Furthermore, these Governments should have effective mechanisms to monitor and ensure that these assistance and aids reach those intended for;
5. The civil society organizations themselves have to foresee, monitor, follow-up and expose any kind of violations and exert pressure on Governments. A very essential role of these organizations is also to raise awareness; and
6. Mass media’s role is to expose violations on the local level, whereas at the international level it is to call and appeal for more humanitarian assistance and financial aids, while exposing those who incite conflicts and wars, and to expose all extremists from all sides and have their efforts failed and aborted.
Dr Emma Brannlund, women activism in Kashmir, NUI Galway University
Kashmir Valley, in occupied Kashmir, is in a state of insecurity. The more than 60 years of international conflict has had immense impact on Kashmiri society; among many concerns are unemployment, destroyed infrastructure, low economic development, broken families and widespread depression, anxiety, as well as other mental health problems. The conflict has had disproportionate effect on civilians and over 70,000 people have been killed since the insurrection started in 1989 (Butalia, 2002).
The gendered nature of conflict has resulted in different impact on women and men respectively. Since 2010, there has been renaissance in civil activism in Kashmir; the socio-political climate in Kashmir is now conducive to support and engage pro-actively with groups working on the ground, supporting women activists, especially the younger generation. Therefore, according to the following issues, it is necessary to:
1. Work towards a gender sensitive police and judiciary;
2. Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA);
3. React against new proposed Police Bill;
4. Have more women’s police stations in Srinagar and urban Kashmir; and
5. Create and implement a Women’s Reservation Bill.
1. Raise awareness around gendered violence in specific Domestic Violence and eve teasing;
2. Support organisations dealing with half-widows and widows;
3. Organise workshops on gender roles for both boys and girls/men and women;
4. Improve Sex education;
5. Work to empower girls and women in different ways;
6. Support girls’ involvement in after school activities, such as arts classes and sports; and
7. Support structures for women’s meetings, roundtables and conferences, where women from different sections of society and ages can meet and share experiences.
Sylvia McAdam, Co-founder Idle No More
The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements in Canada meant that First Nations Peoples in Canada would share the land while retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. However, this has not occurred and the taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned. This has affected negatively the communities’ life style in the light of their own laws, thus obstructing people’s exercise of their rights, especially women who need the land for medical purposes. Measures must be taken to address this trespass:
1. Oppose Omnibus Bill C45 and any other legislation that extinguish the Treaty of Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and
2. Help expose the devastation in land, water, animal welfare and human life in the Treaty territories in the Canadian State in order to improve women’s rights and the community altogether.
Princess Micheline Djouma, President, OCAPROCE
Cases of violence against women are the most frequent and most pernicious matter of violation of human rights. Sexual violence and rape are considered the most undeclared crimes in the world. Furthermore, genital mutilation is one of the many violent acts against young women and girls which leads to health problems, not only physical ones but also psychological, and it increases – according to specialists – the risk of HIV infection. Despite several international declarations there is still a lack of the necessary political initiative and will to tackle these violations. Hence it is necessary to:
1. Empower women at the negotiation table and within the state institutions;
2. There must be a simplification and a following promotion of texts relating to women’s rights to make these legal instruments accessible to the citizenry;
3. Plans must be made in the political, economic, social and jurisdictional scope;
4. The access to judicial procedures must be free of charge and simplified for women to fully exercise their right to justice;
5. Prevention must be primary, multi-sectorial and multifaceted;
6. Prevention must not only be targeted to women and girls but also to men and boys; and
7. There must be campaigns and a policy of sensitization to make society realize the negative impacts violence has over the health of the victims.
Dr Mareike Schomerus, justice and security research London School of Economics and Political Science
Transformative change needs a determined shift: away from normative values, away from frameworks that are too general to be implementable. Instead, specific understanding of contexts and situations in which a whole range of women find themselves needs to be analysed and understood to develop measure that can bring about substantial change.
Professor Shamim Shawl, International Muslim Women’s Union
Kashmiri women contributed a lot in all aspects of life during the ongoing armed conflict in the region. But here is not enough International and intellectual debate on this subject, their movement has not found much voice beyond the Kashmir Valley. According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report on India in 2012, impunity for abuses committed by Indian forces continue in Jammu and Kashmir. Government report states that only one person has been convicted of rape there in the last five years and the majority of cases are still undergoing investigation. According to authentic international organisations, over 10,000 women have been raped in Kashmir between 1989 and 2013. As such it is recommended:
1. There must be specific focus on the situation in Kashmir with further investigation on the violent rapes that have taken place in Indian Held Kashmir as it is clear that the officers from the Indian military are responsible for war crimes, and the Indian government needs to hold perpetrators to account for their actions;
2. There needs to be a system of accountability for such crimes, and the Acts such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), should not be used to exempt officers for such crimes;
3. Accusations of rape need to be taken seriously, and prompt investigation by local police should be supported. Special training should also be provided to police officers in order to help them collect sufficient evidence that can be presented at any trial. Human Rights Watch recommends allegations to be tried in civilian courts rather than military ones in order to promote transparency, and that those convicted of such crimes should be punished and named openly, in order to serve as a deterrent to any would be rapists;
4. Police and doctors; who would be the first point of contact with victims of rape should also be trained in dealing with victims in a sensitive manner, whereby they can be guaranteed some form of privacy, in order to avoid them becoming stigmatized;
5. Human Rights organisations and the media must also be sensitive to the victims of rape, as they often have to recount their tragedy which can be traumatic. Many have had their pictures taken by the media, which may be counterproductive for many women, as they can be easily identified and singled out for harassment. Such reporting also needs to be followed up by organisations;
6. The lack of psychological rehabilitation clinics and camps for women in Kashmir is very important and must be addressed;
7. The absence of women from negotiations at conflict zones is another reason to advocate women victims;
8. Impartial and independent investigation of all cases of rape in Kashmir; and
9. Special Rapporteur on violence against women needs to undertake a visit to Kashmir.
Dr Neil Buhne, UNDP-Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery
Women remain under-represented in the political, economic and social (including legal) spheres in conflict and post conflict contexts. In terms of programming, in general, the international community has failed to deliver adequately for women and girls and this arena of work is poorly financed. The SG Report on Women’s Participation in Peace-building (2010) has a seven point action plan for gender-responsive peace-building in three of areas, namely:
1. Inclusive economic recovery: given that there are suggestions that a relationship between jobs, social cohesion, female employment and peaceful decision-making;
2. Inclusive governance: Women often participate in movements for change in diverse roles but rarely enjoy participation and voice in post-conflict interim and permanent institutional structures. While UNDP and partners have contributed significantly to women’s political participation in post-conflicts, current trends in the world suggest that we need to protect the gains for women in those settings and address possible regression of women’s rights in many other regions; and
3. Access to Justice, especially for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, with a strengthening of the Rule of Law given that many national laws and judicial systems continue to discriminate against women, both in law and in enforcement.
Overall, there must be more emphasis on the implementation not only on monitoring and reporting. There must be recognition that there are issues with gender differences in resilience when dealing with crisis and these issues need to be addressed. Women are affected differently in conflict than they are in war; conflict can further marginalize women.
The recommendations have been conveyed to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as to all the relevant institutions that integrate the European Union.
For more information, contact:
Kashmir Media Service
Phone: 92-51-4435548, 4435549