Women's Natural Individual Rights Must Be Recognized & Respected In Order For Them to Achieve Economic & Political Freedom
By Lawrence Kogan
A survey of global trouble spots marked by internal civil war, civil unrest and/or foreign intervention, places such as Central Europe, Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, where social order and the rule of law have broken down, is likely to reveal a myriad of human rights abuses suffered disproportionately by local women and children (especially girls). Studies prepared by the United Nations and human rights groups confirm that women are particularly vulnerable to violence, rape, famine, disease, poverty, unemployment, displacement, etc. in these situations because of their subordinate status in society and their dependence on men for their very livelihoods and survival, whether for historical, cultural and/or religious reasons. That these conditions still persist in a world as affluent and technologically advanced as the one in which we live today, should be repugnant to each and every person who considers himself or herself ‘civilized’. That they can be tolerated by a world led by the United States, in which a Universal Declaration of Human Rights is acclaimed as ‘the foundation of the human rights doctrine’ and a Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women remains open for ratification, is morally reprehensible.
Based on the readings and Mr. O’Flattery’s lecture, it is possible to see how a ‘morally legitimate’ and ‘universal’ organization such as the United Nations can be both successful and unsuccessful in its efforts to arrest both the problem and the conditions that give rise to it. While women are indeed the primary victims of armed conflicts, they have yet to be fully accepted as meaningful participants in the processes that ultimately can lead to the resolution of the conflicts and to the subsequent rehabilitation, reconstruction and governance of their war-torn countries. The United Nations and its agencies have studied and recognized the contributions to civil society that women are capable of, and are currently pursuing, with the assistance of NGOs, a number of initiatives aimed at empowering women in peacemaking. Of the six principal organs established pursuant to Chapter III, Article 7 of the U.N. Charter, four of them are individually and collectively pursuing measures that should eventually lead to the full realization by women of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. As Mr. O’Flattery suggested, these measures represent a new phase in the implementation of previously developed human rights law.
Chief among these initiatives is Security Council Resolution 1325, which is “the first Resolution to give political legitimacy to women’s struggle for a seat at the negotiating table, to provide a political frame-work within which women’s protection and their role in peace-building can be addressed, and to be supported by a vibrant women’s movement”. (See “Women, Peace and Security, Progress on UN Security Council Resolution 1325” October 31, 2001, UNIFEM website). Res. 1325 is considered more than a statement of intention. It is viewed, rather, as a process that requires implementation. “It powerfully called for women’s full access to power structures and their central role in all efforts to resolve conflict. It also illustrates the vital importance of bringing gender perspectives to the center of attention to all U.N. peacekeeping, peace-building , rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts…There is a dynamic need for women to be adequately and fairly represented in peace processes and in UN peace operations. A woman’s participation in U.N. missions empowers local women and may inspire them to organize for the achievement of a democratic society.” (See Introductory Remarks of Brian Cowen, Pres. Of Security Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland, at First Anniversary of S.C. Res. 1325, U.N. Inter-Agency Panel on Women, Peace and Security, 10/31/01, at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/IAMWGE/activities/res1325/intro_cowen.html ).
S.C. Res. 1325 imposes a duty upon both Member States and the United Nations system to fulfill these mandates. The Secretary General, furthermore, is charged with two critical assignments. First, he is obliged to provide to Member States training guidelines and materials on the protection, rights and the particular needs of women, as well as on the importance of involving women in all peacekeeping and peace building measures. (par.#6). Second, he must carry out a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution. The results of the study are to reported and submitted to the Security Council and to be made available to all Member States. (par.#16).
S.C. Res. 1325 is based, in part, upon the commitments of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is an agenda for women’s empowerment that called upon governments to remove all obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. Its main premise was that equality between women and men is not only a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice, but is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace. The Platform for Action identified twelve critical areas of concern, including ‘the effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women (e.g,, those living under foreign occupation)’. (See “Fourth World Conference on Women, Platform for Action”, held in Beijing, China, September 1995, pars.# 1;44;). The recommendations contained within the “Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly” entitled, “Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century” (A/S-23/10/Rev.1) were also incorporated into Res. 1325. This report identified actions needed to be taken by the United Nations system, international and regional organizations and governments to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The Platform for Action upheld the goals set forth within the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, adopted by the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace”, held in Nairobi, Kenya, July 15-26, 1985. (See G.A. Res. 44/77, Dec. 8, 1989, endorsing and reaffirming the importance of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the period up to 2000; G.A. 48/108, Feb. 28, 1994, adopted on the report of the 3rd Committee on the “Implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women”). The Forward-Looking Strategies recognized the interdependence and inseparability of the goals of equality, development and peace as regards the advancement of women and their full integration in economic, political, social and cultural development. They prescribed long-term measures for global action, including the elimination of sex-based stereotyping, which is at the root of continuing discrimination. The strategies and measures were to be implemented according to the nature of the political process and the administrative capabilities of each country, and were to serve as guidelines for a process of continuous adaptation to diverse and changing national situations. Particular attention was given to especially vulnerable and underprivileged groups of women, including women in areas affected by armed conflicts, foreign intervention and international threats to peace. (Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies, par.# 41).
At least one U.N. agency is working to assist the Secretary General in conducting the study on the impact of armed conflict on women and children, and to implement the mandates of Res. 1325. The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) organized and convened a meeting on the “Impact of Conflict on Women and Girls” during November 2001, which led to a set of recommendations to ensure that refugee care and peace building efforts consistently addressed reproductive health concerns and gender based violence, and that gender concerns become an integral part of U.N. agencies and international NGOs. (See “Refugee and Peace-Building Efforts Must Address Women’s Needs, Meeting Stresses”, United Nations Population Fund, (11/15/01, at www.unfpa.org/news/pressroom/2001/bratislava.htm). In fact, the keynote speaker of the meeting, Ms. Elisabeth Rehn of Finland, was appointed by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to study conflicts and post-conflict situations throughout the world in order to recommend ways to enhance women’s role in peace processes. Although Ms. Rehn found in her missions to ten countries ranging from East Timor to Macedonia, that lack of education, rape and domestic violence were common in each of the conflicts she studied, she also found positive signs that “all over the world, women have the strong will to take responsibility for the future of their countries”. (See “Peace Process Must Include Women, UN Expert Tells Meeting”, 11/13/01, at http://www.unfpa.org/news/features/womenpeace.htm ).
UNIFEM, which has for many years assisted and educated women in conflict and reconstruction situations and supported their participation in peace processes and law-making, is also working in the field within different countries to mitigate the impact of conflict on women and to facilitate their participation in peace building. UNIFEM, part of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), operates at the country level as a U.N. Resident Coordinator, which is the Secretary General’s designated representative for development cooperation at the country level and the leader of the U.N. country team. UNIFEM’s successful activities in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor and Latin America, for example, have been well documented. (See: “UNIFEM at Work Around the World”).
Recently, UNIFEM sponsored two historic consultations that provided Afghan women from different backgrounds and political beliefs with a forum to discuss how Afghan women could participate in rebuilding their country. An international roundtable consisting of Afghan women from within and outside Afghanistan was organized and convened in Brussels, Belgium. It resulted in the Brussels Action Plan, which outlines 47 concrete recommendations to protect women’s rights in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, and requests support from the international community, donors, the United Nations, and NGOs to implement them (See Brussels Action Plan, “Roundtable on Building Women’s Leadership in Afghanistan”, convened by UNIFEM and the Government of Belgium, December 10-11, 2001).
UNIFEM also facilitated the first National Afghan Women’s Consultation in Kabul, during March 5-7, 2002, which consisted of 60 indigenous Afghan women who developed a list of needs and priorities that called for a 25% female representation in the Loya Jirga, women’s participation in the drafting of the new constitution and women’s access to healthcare and education. In response to these dialogues, UNIFEM formulated an agenda that will assist the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs in focusing on re-integrating Afghan refugee and displaced women into mainstream society, raising awareness of Afghan women’s issues and empowering Afghan women to participate in the political process. (See “Women’s Leadership Role in the Reconstruction of Afghanistan”, at http://www.unifem.undp.org/afghanistan ; “Afghan Women’s Minister Envisions Active Role for Women in Upcoming Loyal Jirga”, UNIFEM Press Release, April 25, 2002) at http://www.unifem.undp.org/press/pr_afghan_minister.html .
Furthermore, efforts have been made by a number of U.N. departments and agencies related to peacekeeping to implement the mandates of Res. 1325 within their internal operations and activities. These efforts were reported during a recent Inter-Agency Meeting on Women and Gender Equality, convened by the U.N. Interagency Panel of Women, Peace and Security. The Inter-Agency Meeting works actively to promote gender mainstreaming throughout the work of the United Nations. The heads of four U.N. departments reported to the panel. The Meeting’s chairperson is Ms. Angela King, Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women. Ms. King also heads the Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security that is responsible for the implementation of the study and report that the Secretary General must prepare pursuant to S.C. Res. 1325. (See Statements by Mr. Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary General, Department of Political Affairs, Statement by Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary, Department of Disarmament Affairs, Statement by Mr. Jean-Marie Guehenno, Under-Secretary General, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Statement by Mr. Kenzo Oshima, UnderSecretary General, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at the First Anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, U.N. Inter-Agency Panel on Women, Peace and Security, 10/31/01, at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/IAMWGE/html ).
The Inter-Agency Meeting also established a taskforce chaired by Ms. King that successfully facilitated the incorporation of relevant gender perspectives in each of the areas that were prepared for the International Conference on Financing for Development. For obvious reasons, it is believed that the protection of women in areas of armed conflict and their inclusion in the reconciliation and reconstruction processes can only further a country’s development objectives, since conflicts deter development. (See par.#s 8, 11,12,16, and 18 of the Draft Outcome of the International Conference on Financing for Development, ‘The Monterrey Consensus’, March 1, 2002; Inter-Agency Task Force for Development, of the Inter-Agency Meeting on Women and Gender Equality, at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/IAMWGE/activities/tf_fin_dev.html ).
In an attempt to eliminate the root causes (attitudes) that give rise to the poor treatment of women, S.C. Res. 1325 also calls upon Member States which are parties to armed conflict “to respect fully international law applicable to the basic rights and protection of women, especially as civilians”, including the obligations contained within the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979. (par.#9). The CEDAW, which is often described as an international bill of rights for women, defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to eliminate such discrimination. By accepting the convention, Member States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including legislation and temporary special measures so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was established pursuant to Article 17 of the CEDAW, and operates under the auspices of the General Assembly. It acts as a monitoring system to oversee the implementation of the Convention by those States that have ratified or acceded to it. On June 17-21, the Committee convened a meeting to address a number of women’s issues. (See Press Release, “Country Reports of Seven States Parties Considered; Provisional Agenda for Extraordinary August Session, 28th Regular Session Adopted. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Concludes 27th Session”, at http://www.unhchr.ch/ ). The U.S.’ failure to ratify the CEDAW, in the view of some members of Congress, is cause for embarrassment. U.S. Representative Connie Morella (R.Md) recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging the Senate to ratify the treaty known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Agnst Women (CEDAW):
“The Senate has already agreed to the ratification of several important human rights treaties, including…CEDAW. Yet the U.S. has neglected our responsibility to participate. The U.S. is among a small minority of countries which have not ratified or acceded to CEDAW…Our overdue ratification of CEDAW would allow the U.S. to finally nominate a representative to the CEDAW oversight committee. Our vocal support for the human rights of every individual and our role as a world leader, should mandate our support for CEDAW, and our lack of action is nothing short of embarrassing …Women are not only victims. They are taking the initiative to reach across the conflict divide and foster peace. In some countries they join together to collect arms. In others they create joint community development projects. Yet despite women’s positive roles in fostering peace, they are excluded from most peace negotiations. The U.S. should actively engage in ways to eliminate the brutality women face around the world. One of the first and most basic steps is to adopt the objectives of CEDAW.” (See “Morella Asks Senate to Ratify Treaty on Discrimination Agnst Women” , Washington File, June 14, 2002, at http://usinfo.state.gov/ ) .
Several other U.N. bodies which are responsible for promoting women’s rights and gender mainstreaming throughout the U.N. system are assisting countries to implement the mandates of S.C. Res. 1325. The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) operates within the U.N. Secretariat and advocates the improvement of the status of women throughout the world and their equality with men. It aims to ensure the participation of women as equal partners with men in all respects of human endeavor. It conducts research and develops policy options, fosters interaction between governments and civil society and provides substantive servicing for UN intergovernmental and expert bodies.
The DAW also provides substantive servicing to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the functional commission of the ECOSOC with the mandate to elaborate policies, and the expert treaty body that monitors the implementation of legal standards in the CEDAW. And, it assists the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Agnst Women to achieve equality btwn women and men. The mandate of the CSW has been expanded to integrate into its program a follow-up process to the Beijing Platform for Action, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the U.N.’s activities.
The Commission on Human Rights, as well, operates under the auspices of the ECOSOC. It is charged, as stated by the U.N. Charter, with the enforcement of the human rights conventions, including CEDAW. It also has the important task of elaborating human rights standards. Since it concluded work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it has developed standards relating, inter alia, to the right of development, civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the elimination of racial discrimination, torture, the rights of the child and the rights of human rights defenders.
The Commission devotes much of its time to examining issues of implementation. Its network of mechanisms – experts, representatives and rapporteurs (persons who make reports) plays an important role in reporting to the Commission annually. The Special Rapporteur on Violence Agnst Women, Its Causes and Consequences, falls under the Commission on Human Rights. (See Report of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Cause and Consequences, “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective Violence Against Women”, April 10, 2002, at http://www.unhchr.ch/ ).
The Commission of Human Rights can take action to address identified problems. It regularly answers requests from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, a part of the U.N. Secretariat, to provide assistance to governments through its program of advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights. This assistance takes the form of expert advice, human rights seminars, national and regional training courses and workshops, fellowships and scholarships, and other activities aimed at strengthening national capacities for the protection and promotion of human rights. (Ibid).