Saturday, March 1, 2008

Is it Time for the U.S. to Revisit the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women??

CEDAW: Treaty for the Rights of Women

The Treaty for the Rights of Women would amplify the U.S. voice in saving women's lives worldwide.

Why a Treaty? Why Now?

Americans are united in supporting basic human rights for women around the world. A global consensus is growing on the need to address the most pressing issues affecting women and girls, especially on providing access to education and health care and ending violence.

The Treaty for the Rights of Women, formally named the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is the most comprehensive international agreement on basic rights of women. The treaty has been ratified by 182 nations and has become an important tool for partnerships among nations to end human rights abuses and promote the health and well-being of girls.

In many countries worldwide that have ratified the treaty, women have worked with their governments in partnership to change inequitable laws: to help girls receive a primary education; to enable women to get micro-loans to set up small businesses; to stop sex slavery; to improve health care services; to secure the right to own or inherit property; and to protect women and girls against violence. (See The Treaty at Work Worldwide in this kit for examples.)

The Treaty has always enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, but has never come before the full Senate for a vote. This unfinished business puts the United States in the company of only a handful of nations that have not ratified the treaty, including Iran, Sudan, and Somalia. As a party to the treaty, the Untied States will have a seat at the table where decisions are made about

· Women’s lives around the world and, with all other ratifying nations, will file regular reports on our progress.

· U.S. law already complies with the treaty, and to ratify it will not require the passage of a single new law. The Treaty for the Rights of Women provides us with a useful framework for improving the human rights and the rule of law internationally.

The United States should strive to be a leader and set an example for the rest of the world in its commitment to women and expanding women’s rights. The Senate and President George W. Bush should lead the United States toward joining the overwhelming majority of other countries in ratifying the Treaty for the Rights of Women, adding our strength to the work of ensuring basic human rights for women everywhere.

What is the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women?Exactly how does the treaty work? How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?What is the treaty's U.S. status?

What is CEDAW?

The Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women. Created in 1979, it is an important tool for all those who seek to end abuses of women and girls throughout the globe.

Because of the CEDAW Treaty, millions of girls are now receiving primary education who were previously denied access; measures have been taken against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women; women's health care services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women have secured loans or the right to own or inherit property.

Exactly how does the treaty work?

Nations that ratify the treaty commit to overcoming barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, politics and finance. Like all human rights treaties, the CEDAW Treaty sets benchmarks within traditional enforcement mechanisms that respect sovereignty and democracy. In many of the 182 countries that have ratified the treaty, it has guided the passage and enforcement of national laws. For example:

· Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and others have incorporated treaty provisions into their constitutions and domestic legal codes;

· Ukraine, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines all passed laws to curb sexual trafficking;

· India developed national guidelines on workplace sexual assault after the Supreme Court, in ruling on a major rape case, found that CEDAW required such protections;

· Nicaragua, Jordan, Egypt and Guinea all saw significant increases in literacy rates after improving access to education for girls and women;

· Australia and Luxembourg created health campaigns promoting awareness and prevention of breast and cervical cancers; and

· After ratification, Colombia made domestic violence a crime and required legal protection for its victims.

Much remains to be done:

· Sex trafficking: 80% of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 victims trafficked across international borders are female and nearly half are under the age of 18;

· Education: two-thirds of the world's 771 million illiterate adults are women;

· Maternal mortality: 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications;

· HIV/AIDS: women are four times more vulnerable than men, and 1.3 million die each year;

· Violence: an estimated 25 to 39 percent of all women experience domestic violence;

· Discrimination: millions of women lack full legal and political rights;

· Poverty: 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people living in dire poverty are women; and

· Female genital mutilation: 130 million women are victims.

How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?

The United States has long been a world leader on human rights. But, U.S. failure to ratify the treaty allows other countries to divert attention away from their neglect of women and undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions. Until the United States ratifies CEDAW, our country cannot credibly demand that others live up to their obligations under this treaty. Our failure to ratify puts us in the company of Sudan, Iran and Somalia; every other industrialized country has ratified the treaty.

Ratification does not require any change in U.S. law and would be a powerful statement of our continuing commitment to ending discrimination against women worldwide. It would allow us to join with other countries to work toward the common goal of women’s equality. The U.S. already has laws consistent with the CEDAW Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, the U.S. would submit regular reports to an advisory committee, which would provide an important opportunity to spotlight our best practices and assess where we can do better.

The United States has a bipartisan tradition of support for international standards through human rights treaties. Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, race and civil and political rights. This treaty continues that proud tradition. What is the treaty's status in the U.S.?Treaty approval requires a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate, or 67 votes. Ratification does not require consideration by the House of Representatives.

The treaty is languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who has indicated he is waiting for the Bush Administration to complete a review of the treaty. In 2002, the State Department notified the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women was "generally desirable and should be ratified." Nevertheless, the Administration has not yet taken further action on the treaty; it awaits a Justice Department review about what Reservations, Understandings and Declarations may be necessary.

A coalition of over 190 U.S. religious, civic, and community organizations remain committed to supporting ratification. They include the AARP, American Nurses Association, National Education Association, National Coalition of Catholic Nuns, American Bar Association, The United Methodist Church, YWCA, and Amnesty International. In addition, a bipartisan consensus of U.S. voters has consistently supported human rights for women, showing overwhelming support for efforts to secure the rights of women and girls.

Algeria: Patriarchal May Soon Be a Thing of the Past

A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women


New York Times

May 26, 2007

ALGIERS, May 25 — In this tradition-bound nation scarred by a brutal Islamist-led civil war that killed more than 100,000, a quiet revolution is under way: women are emerging as an economic and political force unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.

Women make up 70 percent of Algeria’s lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.

In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.

Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.

“If such a trend continues,” said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, “we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women.”

The change seems to have sneaked up on Algerians, who for years have focused more on the struggle between a governing party trying to stay in power and Islamists trying to take that power. Those who study the region say they are taken aback by the data but suggest that an explanation may lie in the educational system and the labor market.

University studies are no longer viewed as a credible route toward a career or economic well-being, and so men may well opt out and try to find work or to simply leave the country, suggested Hugh Roberts, a historian and the North Africa project director of the International Crisis Group.

But for women, he added, university studies get them out of the house and allow them to position themselves better in society. “The dividend may be social rather than in terms of career,” he said.

This generation of Algerian women has navigated a path between the secular state and the pull of extremist Islam, the two poles of the national crisis of recent years.

The women are more religious than previous generations, and more modern, sociologists here said. Women cover their heads and drape their bodies with traditional Islamic coverings. They pray. They go to the mosque — and they work, often alongside men, once considered taboo.

Sociologists and many working women say that by adopting religion and wearing the Islamic head covering called the hijab, women here have in effect freed themselves from moral judgments and restrictions imposed by men. Uncovered women are rarely seen on the street late at night, but covered women can be seen strolling the city after attending the evening prayer at a mosque.

“They never criticize me, especially when they see I am wearing the hijab,” said Denni Fatiha, 44, the first woman to drive a large city bus through the narrow, winding roads of Algiers.

The impact has been far-reaching and profound.

In some neighborhoods, for example, birthrates appear to have fallen and class sizes in elementary schools have dropped by nearly half. It appears that women are delaying marriage to complete their studies, though delayed marriage is also a function of high unemployment. In the past, women typically married at 17 or 18 but now marry on average at 29, sociologists said.

And when they marry, it is often to men who are far less educated, creating an awkward social reality for many women.

Khalida Rahman is a lawyer. She is 33 and has been married to a night watchman for five months. Her husband was a friend of her brothers who showed up one day and proposed. She immediately said yes, she recalled.

She describes her life now this way: “Whenever I leave him it is just as if I am a man. But when I get home I become a woman.”

Fatima Oussedik, a sociologist, said, “We in the ’60s, we were progressive, but we did not achieve what is being achieved by this generation today.” Ms. Oussedik, who works for the Research Center for Applied Economics and Development in Algiers, does not wear the hijab and prefers to speak in French.

Researchers here say the change is not driven by demographics; women make up only a bit more than half of the population. They said it is driven by desire and opportunity.

Algeria’s young men reject school and try to earn money as traders in the informal sector, selling goods on the street, or they focus their efforts on leaving the country or just hanging out. There is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.

Increasingly, the people here have lost faith in their government, which draws its legitimacy from a revolution now more than five decades old, many political and social analysts said. In recent parliamentary elections, turnout was low and there were 970,000 protest votes — cast by people who intentionally destroyed their ballots — nearly as many as the 1.3 million votes cast in support of the governing party.

There are regular protests, and riots, all over the country, with people complaining about corruption, lack of services and economic disparities. There are violent attacks, too: bombings aimed at the police, officials and foreigners. A triple suicide bombing on April 11 against the prime minister’s office and the police left more than 30 people dead.

In that context, women may have emerged as Algeria’s most potent force for social change, with their presence in the bureaucracy and on the street having a potentially moderating and modernizing influence on society, sociologists said.

“Women, and the women’s movement, could be leading us to modernity,” said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers.

Not everyone is happy with those dynamics. Some political and social analysts say the recent resurgence in radical Islamist activity, including bombings, is driven partly by a desire to slow the social change the country is experiencing, especially regarding women’s role in society.

Others complain that the growing participation of women in society is a direct violation of the faith.“I am against this,” said Esmail Ben Ibrahim, an imam at a neighborhood mosque near the center of the city. “It is all wrong from a religious point of view. Society has embarked on the wrong path.”

The quest for identity is a constant undercurrent in much of the Middle East. But it is arguably the most complicated question in Algeria, a nation whose borders were drawn by France and whose people speak Berber, Arabic and French.

After a bitter experience with French occupation and a seven-year revolutionary war that brought independence in 1962 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the leaders here chose to adopt Islam and Arab identity as the force to unify the country. Arabic replaced French as the language of education, and the French secular curriculum was replaced with a curriculum heavy on religion.

At the same time, girls were encouraged to go to school

Now, more than four decades later, Algeria’s youth — 70 percent of the population is under 30, researchers said — have grown up with Arabic and an orientation toward Middle Eastern issues. Arabic-language television networks like Al Jazeera have become the popular reference point, more so than French television, observers here said.

In the 1990s radical Islamist ideas gained popular support, and terrorism was widely accepted as a means to win power. More than 100,000 people died in years of civil conflict. Today most people say the experience has forced them to reject the most radical ideas.

So although Algerians are more religious now than they were during the bloody 1990s, they are more likely to embrace modernity — a partial explanation for the emergence of women as a societal force, some analysts said.

That is not the case in more rural mountainous areas, where women continue to live by the code of tradition. But for the time being, most people say that for now the community’s collective consciousness is simply too raw from the years of civil war for Islamist terrorists or radical Islamic ideas to gain popular support.

There is a sense that the new room given to women may at least partly be a reflection of that general feeling. The population has largely rejected the most radical interpretation of Islam and has begun to return to the more North African, almost mystical, interpretation of the faith, sociologists and religious leaders said.

Whatever the underlying reason, women in the streets of the city are brimming with enthusiasm.“I don’t think any of this contradicts Islam,” said Wahiba Nabti, 36, as she walked through the center of the city one day recently. “On the contrary, Islam gives freedom to work. Anyway, it is between you and God.”

Ms. Nabti wore a black scarf covering her head and a long black gown that hid the shape of her body. “I hope one day I can drive a crane, so I can really be financially independent,” she said.
“You cannot always rely on a man.”

Giving Rights to Women Starts with AIDS Prevention

World AIDS Day Focuses Spotlight On Links Between Sexual Violence, Broken Justice Systems And HIV/AIDS Pandemic

02 Dec 2006 In recognition of World AIDS Day, International Justice Mission calls upon the U.S. and other international donors to help AIDS-burdened countries in Africa build judicial capacity to investigate and prosecute sexual violence against women and girls.

"Rape is an HIV risk factor for tens of millions of African women and children and yet in many AIDS-burdened countries public justice systems are broken or virtually inaccessible to poor girls and women," says Holly Burkhalter, vice president of government relations at International Justice Mission, a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization that strives to bring immediate relief to victims of oppression, slavery, trafficking and violence while pursuing prosecution for perpetrators.

"Defeating the AIDS pandemic requires that African women and girls have the right to protection under their own countries' laws. In addition to continuing successful campaigns to combat HIV/AIDS, these countries need hands-on help in getting rapists and batterers off the street and into jail."Burkhalter cites a June 2005 initiative announced by President Bush -- the "Women's Justice and Empowerment in Africa" program -- that pledged $55 million over three years to showcase successes in four African countries (Benin, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa) in creating judicial capacity to address sexual violence and increase services to victims.

Burkhalter notes that to date, only $1.2 million has been spent (in 2005), less than 3% of the money pledged in the program. No funds were used in 2006. (Initiative:"We urge the administration to fully implement the Women's Justice and Empowerment in Africa program with the same effectiveness as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). That program's success demonstrates how quickly and effectively billions of dollars in foreign aid can be mobilized if an issue is prioritized.

It is past time to make protection from rape, child abuse, and domestic violence that kind of a priority," added Burkhalter.An international consensus has emerged that violence and degradation of women and girls are key factors in the rapid spread of HIV among this group; and yet, investment in protection for children and women is not on the international radar screen, says IJM. The organization proposes a "build it as we go" approach to strengthening national judiciaries in AIDS-burdened Africa. This includes ramping up investigations, prosecutions and convictions from the dozens to the hundreds, then thousands, while simultaneously training, equipping and recruiting police, prosecutors and judges.

As in the case of health systems, the greatest need of judiciaries is for skilled human resources, according to IJM. Local police need training, management, salary support and deployment to underserved rural villages and towns. Scaling up of rape cases requires DNA labs, rape test kits, witness protection capacity, referral systems, vehicles and computers. Corrupt or abusive police and judicial staff should be fired and prosecuted; incentives and benefits should reward excellence and confer prestige on police and prosecutors who take on sexual violence."When it comes to women and HIV, access to justice has to be considered AIDS prevention," added Burkhalter. "Functioning judicial systems are the next frontier in confronting the AIDS pandemic and preventing its spread."

About International Justice Mission

International Justice Mission is a human rights organization that brings immediate relief to victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression. A multi-national team of lawyers and law enforcement professionals conduct criminal investigations and collect evidence to relieve victims and bring perpetrators to justice, and IJM social workers secure appropriate aftercare for victims of abuse. IJM was founded by Gary Haugen who was the Officer in Charge of the U.N. investigation into the Rwandan genocide. IJM has 11 overseas offices in Africa, Latin America and Asia.International Justice Mission
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“AIDS prevention”