International Women’s Day 2013

Economic & Social Rights, International Women's Day (IWD), Justice and the Rule of Law, Statement, Violence against Women, Women’s rights and gender justice

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Sidelined after the Revolution: Worsening Plight of Women in Transition Countries

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) commemorates International Women’s Day. This comes in the worrying context of increased human rights violations against women and women human rights defenders in countries engaged in transitional democratic processes in the South-East Mediterranean region and in a general atmosphere of economic crisis affecting first and foremost women in the Euro Mediterranean region.

The EMHRN remains concerned by the evidently cosmetic commitment from the majority of the governments of the southern Mediterranean region to protect, promote and fulfill women’s human rights and to decide and implement legal provisions and policies ensuring gender equality. The result is a deteriorating situation of women’s rights in countries going through transitional processes and an accrued impoverishment of women in Europe.

While women were, and still are, pivotal during the uprisings that ousted dictators in various countries of the southern Mediterranean region, a pattern of marginalizing them is emerging from recent legislative and practical developments.

The EMHRN strongly condemns the use of gender-based sexual violence against women, women human rights defenders and political activists. Violence is used as a conscious political and social strategy aiming at scaring and shaming women away from participating to the shaping of the new political system in Egypt.  Cases of sexual violence have steadily been reported over the past two years, culminating in cases of gang rape and mob harassment during demonstrations celebrating the second anniversary of the revolution[1].

The EMHRN is extremely concerned by the intense brutality used against women practicing their human rights to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly and of expression[2]. This trend is furthermore replicated in the new Egyptian constitution that doesn’t explicitly ban discrimination based on sex and the fact that no perpetrators have been prosecuted.

The use of gender-based sexual violence as a weapon of war is also a worrying trend in Syria. Many reports indicate that the number of women raped while they were detained by governmental security forces, sometimes in front of their relatives, is on the increase[3]. This is in contravention with the Rome Statute that explicitly classifies rape as a war crime and as a crime against humanity. Patriarchal and traditional values render Syrian women even more vulnerable to sexual violence as both family and society cast them aside afterwards, leaving them abused, traumatized, isolated and resourceless.

The deteriorating security environment in transitional countries and weak rule of law such as in Tunisia and Libya is also a worrying trend for women’s rights and gender equality. While Tunisian women are mobilizing to retain their vested rights and improve their situation in a context of political instability and rise of religious fundamentalism nurtured by the current government, Libyan women carry out their struggle for political participation to ensure women’s representation within the upcoming constitutional committee and to secure provisions in the future constitution safeguarding gender equality and outlawing discrimination based on sex[4].

Palestinian women have to bear the double burden of violence and discrimination from the occupying power and from patriarchal values and behavior within their own society. Their considerable contribution to resistance and to the cohesion of the Palestinian social fabric remains somewhat marginalized.

The EMHRN remains concerned by the lack of commitment by some governments of the South Mediterranean area to grant women the same citizenship rights as their male counterparts. Indeed, the nationality laws in several countries of the region such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan remains discriminatory towards women, preventing them to pass on their nationality to their families.

Women in Europe are the first to be hit by unemployment, impoverishment, precariousness and budgets cuts in health and education caused by austerity measures decided by governments[5]. Besides, gender equality measures and policies are not perceived as a priority in a context of economic hardships and resources are diverted from women’s rights towards rescuing companies and banks. These economic austerity measures are coupled with the rise of extremist movements whose ideologies put women back into traditional family roles and whose policies are harmful to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Patriarchal beliefs and practices are thus strengthened by weak rule of law, lack of will from governments, austere economic measures and the rise of religious extremism, leading to serious women’s human rights violations and increased threats against gender justice and equality.

We recall international commitments made by states to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and to the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action.

We also recall Istanbul and Marrakech Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conclusions on the role of women in the society 2006 and 2009, the EU guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them[6], as well as the 2011 “renewed European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)” based on new features, including a “more for more” approach, the importance of mutual accountability between the EU and its partners, the need for partnerships not only with governments but also with civil society  and a recognition of the special role of women in reshaping both politics and society.

On this basis, the EMHRN calls on:

Governments, provisional governments and transitional bodies in the Southern Mediterranean:

  1. To explicitly state gender equality and ban discrimination based on sex in the newly established constitutions and legislations and those recently amended and establish/ activate institutional mechanisms to guarantee them, as well as to abolish all discriminatory articles in laws, adopting the CEDAW definition of discrimination.
  2. To ensure the equal participation and representation of women in legislative, judicial and executive bodies and decision-making positions, by adopting affirmative measures like parity provisions or quotas of 30 % minimum, empowerment programmes, providing financial support and gender mainstreaming of all policies and projects, etc.
  3. To urgently enact /activate laws against domestic violence and laws against sexual violence as well as establishing gender sensitive criminal justice systems to which women can have full access.
  4. To ensure Palestinian and women In transitional countries’ full and equal participation in conflict resolution and mediation efforts in compliance with their commitments to the United Nations Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010).

European governments[7]

  1. To create jobs in the public sector and invest in education and health sectors which would decrease women’s burdens enabling them to participate in the labor market
  2. To implement measures to combat feminisation of poverty, which is on increase, due to recession
  3. To carry out systematic gender sensitive analysis of the impact of the crisis and prior to implementation, the responses thereof
  4. To sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
  5. To implement strong measures to combat violence against women instead of making budget cuts to institutions that provide services to women victims of violence
  6. To stop cuts in public expenditure which jeopardize public services where many women work and use, especially those related to health and small children
  7. To mainstream gender in public authorities responses’ to the economic crisis

The European Union (EU):

  1. To raise the issue of violence against women in dialogues with its southern partners and take specific measures to combat it complying with the EU guidelines on violence against women and girls
  2. To systematically raise gender equality issues with Southern Mediterranean governments and make public statements when women rights are violated
  3. To systematically raise gender issues in all political and technical dialogues with Southern Mediterranean countries with some concrete and measurable objectives to reach
  4. To systematically mainstream gender in all its policies and programmes
  5. To systematically include gender equality as a matter of priority under the “deep democracy” section of the 2013 ENP progress reports and add concrete recommendations, as well as gender mainstream all sections of the ENP progress reports
  6. To urgently adopt the human rights country strategies for Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries and ensure that they systematically and coherently include a specific section on gender equality as well as gender mainstreaming of all their chapters.
  7. To make sure that ENP Action Plans, “matrices” for their implementation, ENP Progress reports and EU human rights strategies are coherent and consistent, in particular with regard to gender equality issues
  8. To adapt the renewed ENP and ensure that new ENP Action plans with Southern Mediterranean countries address current pressing challenges referred to above. New “matrices” for the implementation of the Action Plans should prominently include specific measures for gender equality with a time-table and benchmarks. Gender mainstreaming throughout each Action Plan and “matrice” should also be guaranteed.
  9. To coherently and consistently apply the “more for more” principle of the “renewed ENP” and clearly and consistently include progress with regard to gender equality as an essential benchmark to assess if the EU will further support a country. These benchmarks should feature recommendations referred to above.
[1] Egyptian NGOs have recorded some 23 cases of gang rapes on the 25th and 26 of January 2013:

http://www.elaph.com/Web/news/2013/2/790260.html?entry=Egypt#sthash.WK4GkPvE.dpbs

[2] http://nazra.org/sites/nazra/files/attachments/nazra_one_year_of_impunity_2012_en.pdf

[3] http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/resource-file/IRCReportMidEast20130114.pdf

[4] http://libyanwomensplatformforpeace.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/libyan-activists-issue-recommendations-on-the-constitutional-drafting-process/

[5] http://www.womenlobby.org/spip.php?article3812

[6] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload/16173cor.en08.pdf

[7] For more information see European Women’s Lobby’s study “The price of austerity-the impact on women’s rights and gender equality in Europe”:  http://www.womenlobby.org/spip.php?article4257