women's rights

 

  • AUSTRIA: ‘Unfortunately, times of crisis have rarely proven to be a catalyst for gender equality’

    CIVICUS speaks about International Women’s Day and civil society’s role in combatting gender-based violence (GBV) in Austria with Hannah Steiner and Sophie Hansal of the Network of Austrian Counselling Centres for Women and Girls.

    The Network of Austrian Counselling Centres for Women and Girls is a civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at improving women’s and girls’ lives through the development of training programmes, the provision of free counselling and campaigning and advocating for women’s concerns to be addressed by public policies.

    Hannah Steiner and Sophie Hansal

    How did the work of the Network change under the pandemic?

    The Network of Austrian Counselling Centres for Women and Girls is an umbrella organisation encompassing 59 counselling centres all over Austria. We build our internal network by organising training activities, exchange and communication among counselling centres. We represent the concerns of our member organisations externally and are therefore in constant contact with funding bodies, politicians, the media and the public. We advocate for a society in which all human beings, and particularly women and girls, can lead a free and safe life.

    The Network and all its counselling centres have no affiliation with any political party or religion. Our member organisations provide various forms of support, from career guidance, training and reintegration to work after parental leave, guidance regarding employment laws and residence status, to partnership and support on child-rearing issues, divorce and custody, physical and mental health issues, all the way to violence in all of its forms.

    The pandemic had a major effect on our work, particularly at the beginning, when uncertainty was highest and the availability and accessibility of counselling was very limited. Many women and girls were unsure where to seek advice. Counselling centres tried to react to this as quickly as possible, for example by offering counselling online, but also by actively contacting women and girls who had registered with them earlier to ask how they were doing and whether they needed anything.

    As in many other areas, counselling embraced new technologies during the pandemic. However, some women and girls didn’t have – and still don’t have – the equipment or skills to access these opportunities. At the same time, some organisations have told us that there are women and girls who find it easier to ask for advice or help in an online setting. And women who live in rural areas, far from the next counselling centre, found access to counselling easier via phone or email. The ways the pandemic impacted on our work cannot be summarised so easily, because its effects were multifaceted.

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated GBV in Austria, and how has civil society reacted to this?

    Studies have shown that all types of violence against women and girls intensified during the pandemic. Political measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 affected women and girls in specific ways: financial worries, movement restrictions, often cramped living conditions and – in cases of domestic violence – isolation in close quarters with abusers all made the situation especially dire for many women and girls.

    It is important to note that the pandemic has also affected many people’s psychological health. Only the future will show the pandemic’s long-term effects on a social level. Unfortunately, times of crisis have rarely proven to be a catalyst for gender equality.

    What is key for achieving equality and social justice is an active civil society. Civil society gives a public voice to those who are often not heard. During the pandemic, CSOs have pointed out how the crisis affected the most vulnerable groups in society. They have continued to offer advice and support to those who need it and have developed new offers to address pandemic-induced economic and psychological stress.

    Counselling centres for women and girls play a special role in protection from GBV. We can recognise violence early on and in cases where it is hidden behind other problems. Even – and especially – in times of crisis such as this, counselling centres are crucial contact points for women and girls.

    CSOs have always been key figures in advocating for gender and social equality in Austria, and will certainly continue to do it in the aftermath of the pandemic.

    What should the Austrian government do to curb GBV?

    Austria ratified the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence – in 2013. Since then, its implementation has been evaluated by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO). In its evaluation report, GREVIO has included many CSO demands. Full implementation of the Istanbul Convention would be a milestone in the elimination of GBV.

    One of the most important political steps would be an increase in funding for CSOs working in the field. Due to the ongoing crisis and the increased need for advice, women’s and girls’ counselling centres need more support. There is often no long-term funding that can ensure CSO sustainability, only project-based funding. This does not allow for long-term actions and makes planning difficult.

    Furthermore, the knowhow and wide experience of women’s CSOs should be considered and included to a higher degree when it comes to policy-making at the national and regional levels. The government should make use of and rely on the expertise of women’s organisations and the long-existing services they built when planning new measures or setting up new institutions.

    Further research on the specific situation of young women and girls should be conducted so that their needs are taken into consideration when new measures are designed.

    The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it in the communities you work with?

    The Network of Austrian Counselling Centres for Women and Girls works 365 days a year to create a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, by offering counselling for women and girls in difficult situations; by making sexism, gender stereotypes and GBV a political issue; by advocating for women’s and girls’ rights on a daily basis; by developing training programmes, quality standards and working documents; by connecting feminist CSOs and by positioning ourselves as experts for the issue of gender equality. Our aim is to improve the living conditions of all women and girls living in Austria.

    Due to the pandemic, we have not organised an event on 8 March, but some of our member organisations have planned events and we are joining the International Women’s Day protest in Vienna.

    Civic space in Austria is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Network of Austrian Counselling Centres for Women and Girls through itswebsite ofFacebook page, and follow it onInstagram. 

     

  • BANGLADESH: “To address rape we need a thorough reform of the legal system”

    CIVICUS speaks to Aparajita Sangita, a Bangladeshi human rights activist and an international award-winning independent filmmaker. Aparajita has worked on several films on discrimination against women and women’s rights and has been involved in various social activities including street children’s education and food banking. In response to her activism, she has been harassed by the police. She was also sued for harassment under the draconian Digital Security Act for her online activism. The case was withdrawn in the wake of widespread protests on the streets and online.

    Aparajita Sangita

    What triggered the recent anti-rape protests in Bangladesh?

    On the evening of 5 January 2020, a student at Dhaka University (DU) was raped after getting off a university bus in the Kurmitola area of the capital, Dhaka. DU students were disturbed by this incident, which led to protests and the organisation of several other events.

    Despite widespread protests against the rape, sexual violence against women persisted and even increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On 25 September, a woman who was visiting MC College in Sylhet with her husband was raped in a hostel on campus by political activists linked to the ruling party. As protests erupted over this, a video of a woman being abused in Begumganj, Noakhali on 4 October went viral on social media. The video clip showed a group of men entering the woman’s house, stripping her naked and physically assaulting her, while capturing it all on video.

    These incidents are just a few of the numerous cases of rape and sexual violence against women that have been circulating on social media in Bangladesh. The perpetrators of this violence include fathers, close relatives, law enforcement officials, public representatives, political leaders and religious actors.

    All of this led to the mass anti-rape protests of October 2020, when people from all over the country came together to protest against violence against women. The anti-rape protest movement started in Shahbag, known as the ‘Movement Square of Bangladesh’, but soon spread to every city, even villages, across Bangladesh. This includes Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainababganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira and Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    People from different walks of life, including members of political parties, writers, cultural activists, online activists, national cricket team players, women’s rights activists and journalists, converged in the anti-rape protest movement. For the first time in Bangladesh, women marched against rape in the middle of the night. In Dhaka, they marched from Shahbag to Parliament House, carrying torches and shouting slogans.

    What were protesters’ main demands?

    The anti-rape protest movement raised nine demands to stop rape and sexual violence. They included the introduction of exemplary punishment for those involved in rape and violence against women across Bangladesh and the immediate removal of the home minister who had failed to deliver justice.

    Protesters also demanded an end to all sexual and social abuse of tribal women; the establishment of a committee to prevent sexual harassment of women in all government and private organisations as well as in educational institutions, following High Court orders; and the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). They also urged the abolition of laws and practices that create inequality towards women.

    Other calls included putting a stop to the mental harassment of victims during investigations and ensuring their legal and social security, the inclusion of crime and gender experts in Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals, and the establishment of more tribunals to ensure the quick processing of cases.

    Finally, they urged the amendment of Section 155(4) and other relevant sections of the Evidence Act to end the admissibility of character evidence of complainants in rape trials and the elimination from textbooks of all materials deemed defamatory of women or depicting them as inferior.

    How did the authorities respond to the protests?

    On 6 October, protesters marched from Shahbag to the Prime Minister’s Office with black flags but were stopped by the police at the Hotel Intercontinental Junction. Several leaders and activists of a left-wing student body were injured by the police.

    In addition, a section of a statement issued by the police headquarters on 10 October attempted to vilify the protesters. It stated that “vested quarters” were trying to use the protest “to serve their interests” by undermining law and order and “creating social chaos.” The police warned protesters to avoid any “anti-state activities” and announced that the police were committed to ensuring internal peace and order at all costs. This statement caused panic among protesters, who feared a crackdown.

    Besides facing police repression, several women activists, including the leader of the Left Students’ Association, who participated in the anti-rape movement, were threatened with rape over the phone and on Facebook Messenger. Some of the activists were also threatened with criminal cases.

    What has happened to the movement since? Has the campaign stopped?

    After the protests against rape and sexual assault spread across the country, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Law was amended. The death sentence was imposed as the most severe punishment for rape. Previously, the maximum punishment for rape in Bangladesh was life imprisonment. The death penalty was only applied in cases of gang rape, or rape that resulted in the victim’s death.

    Following this the protests halted, as many thought that the death penalty would see a reduction in rape crimes. However, many women’s rights campaigners insist the death penalty is not the answer and demand a thorough reform of the legal system and more education to address what they say is an epidemic of violence against women in Bangladesh.

    What can the international community support the movement?

    In the wake of the various cases of sexual violence and rape committed against women, we have seen an important protest movement emerge within the country. However, some protesters and activists have faced threats when they have raised their voices. The solidarity of the international community is essential for those protesting against human rights violations and making fair claims.

    Bangladesh is an extremely patriarchal society, and there have been numerous attempts to restrict women’s lives and voices for years. Rape is an expression of this environment. It is a fundamental right for a woman to live in safety and it is the responsibility of all citizens, as well as the international community, to ensure this right.

    Civic space inBangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • BULGARIA: ‘Women’s rights organisations are working together towards the goal of a feminist Europe’

    Iliana BalabanovaCIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Bulgarian civil society’s role in eliminating gender-based violence (GBV) with Iliana Balabanova, founder and president of the Bulgarian Platform of the European Women’s Lobby (BPEWL). 

    BPEWL was founded in 2005 by a group of civil society organisations (CSOs) working for gender equality and social justice, and against violence towards women. Since its inception it has organised at the community level to raise gender issues and push them up the agenda, promoted petitions, organised workshops, implemented projects and collaborated with civil society in other European countries on joint advocacy initiatives against gender inequality.

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated GBV in Bulgaria?

    As reported by civil society, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a significant increase in violence against women and children. One of the main challenges in preventing violence has been the lack of a coordinating body bringing together both government and civil society. There is need for much better coordination among all institutions to review cases of violence and identify the best ways to deal with them.

    According to the office of the World Health Organization in Bulgaria, at least seven women lost their lives at the hands of a partner or family member since pandemic-related confinement measures were put in place. The national helpline for children received 80 reports of a parent abusing another parent in March 2020 alone. This indicated that violence against women and children doubled compared to the months before the pandemic.

    The pandemic impacted very negatively on the work of the centres that provide assistance to GBV victims. The impact was dramatic on victims of domestic violence and rape in need of emergency support. Assistance had to be provided exclusively through the phone, while phone calls for consultations increased by 30 per cent.

    In addition, the interaction with public institutions – judicial, health and municipal bodies – was difficult. And the pandemic had a negative effect on the justice system, as it delayed court decisions. During lockdown periods, applications for protection orders in domestic violence cases were submitted by mail to the regional or district courts, and most other applications could not be sent due to the huge backlog.

    What role has Bulgarian civil society historically played, and continues to play, to tackle GBV?

    Bulgarian women’s organisations have worked against GBV and domestic violence for decades. At the very beginning, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we started to work on domestic violence by counselling victims and we opened the first shelters for victims of domestic violence in Bulgaria.

    At that time there was no legislation to prevent domestic violence or protect victims, and Bulgarian women’s CSOs – joined later by other human rights CSOs – drafted the first such bill. The lobbying campaign and the advocacy work to get the bill passed lasted almost five years. 

    Thanks to this work, in 2005 the Bulgarian parliament passed the Law for Protection against Domestic Violence, which defined domestic violence quite widely, encompassing all forms of violence – physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and economic – committed by family members or partners in a formal or de facto relationship or cohabitation. The process was hurried by the fact that Bulgaria had started harmonising its legislation with European Union (EU) regulations, and women’s CSOs took advantage of the momentum to exert pressure for a new legislative framework to protect women from domestic violence.

    By then the Bulgarian women’s movement had gained enough experience, knowledge and expertise, and we started to work to change societal attitudes and create an understanding of domestic violence as an expression of unequal power relations at the personal, community and societal levels. We tried to shine a light on the link between social domination, economic control, power inequalities, stereotypes and GBV. The BPEWL and its member organisations have worked on disrupting the continuum of violence against women and girls ever since.

    After 2011, one of our main goals was to get the Bulgarian state to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention. Unfortunately, mostly because of the rise of populist, nationalist and transphobic politics, Bulgaria rejected the Istanbul Convention. Moreover, in 2018 the Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled that the concepts of gender and gender identity were irrelevant for the Bulgarian constitutional and legal system. They said they have no clear and precise legal content and would have dangerous legal consequences.

    As a result of this decision, Bulgaria does not keep official statistics on domestic violence and other forms of GBV. The number of complaints registered by the police and cases submitted to the courts are not counted in publicly available statistics. Murder, the most serious form of intrusion against a person, is also not captured through a gender-specific lens – that is, as femicide. So it fell on civil society to do this work, and so far information on GBV has been gathered by CSOs and some social agencies.

    According to this data, one in three women in Bulgaria are subjected to GBV and approximately one million women experience domestic violence. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, every two weeks a woman is killed in Bulgaria, a third of whom have been subjected to systematic violence by their murderer, and a tenth of whom have sought police protection against their murderer. Civil society reported that between 2014 and 2017, over 5,500 women sought protection from women’s CSOs providing victim services and over 700 women and their children were placed in crisis centres.

    As I mentioned, during the pandemic domestic violence increased. Worryingly, however, the number and capacity of shelters remained very limited, and no progress was achieved in systematically collecting and analysing statistical data on GBV, including registering femicides. So women’s CSOs continue to lobby for the government to increase the number and capacity of state-funded crisis centres and other services, provide adequate support for CSOs offering shelter and care to victims, collect administrative data on all forms of GBV and ratify the Istanbul Convention.

    How is the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) working at the regional level?

    The EWL is the largest European women’s rights network, involving more than 2,000 organisations throughout Europe. It brings together the European women’s movement to influence the public and European institutions to support women’s human rights and gender equality. The Bulgarian Platform became a member of the EWL in 2005 and ever since we have worked together with member organisations at both national and EU levels. Our vision is that of a society in which women’s contributions are recognised, rewarded and celebrated, and in which all women have self-confidence, freedom of choice and freedom from violence and exploitation.

    The EWL works towards the goal of a feminist Europe. In a policy brief published in April 2020, ‘Women Must Not Pay the Price for COVID-19!’, we called on governments to put gender equality at the heart of their response. We call for a universal social care system with infrastructure to provide social and quality care services that are accessible and affordable for all women and girls.

    The 2022-2026 EWL strategy was developed during the pandemic, as all aspects of our work and our mission were being impacted on significantly. Over the course of this period, the EWL adapted to the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, sharpened its actions in a radically changed world and enabled online spaces for the women’s movement to come together, analyse and strategise about the significant and long-term impacts of this crisis, which will surely be shouldered disproportionately by women and girls.

    What are your plans for International Women’s Day? 

    This year’s International Women’s Day in Bulgaria will be focused on peace. We are working on providing support to women and girl refugees coming from conflict areas in Ukraine.

    Civic space in Bulgaria is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Bulgarian platform of the European Women’s Lobby through itswebsite or itsFacebook page.

     

  • Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

    By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

    Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • CHILE: ‘Domestic and care work still falls overwhelmingly on women’

    CeciliaAnaniasCIVICUS speaks about International Women’s Day and civil society’s role in combatting gender inequalities in Chile with Cecilia Ananías Soto, founder of Amaranta, an independent civil society organisation (CSO) based in the Chilean city of Concepción, in the Biobío region.

    Amaranta is a feminist space made up of women from the social sciences, humanities and social activism aimed at promoting gender equality and human rights in the spheres of education, health, culture, technology and media. It was founded in early 2018 to give visibility and response to the everyday problems of women, and specifically lesbian, bisexual, transgender, working, migrant, displaced, poor and Indigenous women. Taking a critical, local and decolonial perspective, it carries out training, dialogue, research and advocacy work.

    What impacts has the COVID-19 pandemic had on Chilean women and girls, and how has civil society responded to it?

    The pandemic affected women and girls differentially and disproportionately. In the case of Chile, in the first year of the pandemic there was an explosive increase in requests for help for gender-based violence (GBV). This happened because, in the midst of mandatory quarantines, women and girls were locked in their homes together with their aggressors.

    In addition, because there was no school for a long time and even kindergartens were closed, women were on their own to care for children and sick family members, often having to abandon their work and studies to support their households. Just before the pandemic, female participation in the labour market had reached an all-time high of 53.3 per cent, while after the pandemic it fell back to 41 per cent. It will take a long time to recover women’s participation in the labour force. 

    Faced with this scenario, women and women’s groups built support networks. At the neighbourhood level, women’s groups organised community kitchens and sales or exchange fairs, among other initiatives. Many women’s groups set up helplines because the official ones were not sufficient or did not always respond. Amaranta received hundreds of requests for help with GBV in digital spaces and, despite having a small team, contributed by providing initial support and communicating basic self-care strategies.

    The pandemic forced us to move much of our work into the digital sphere. On the one hand, this allowed us to continue working, to do so safely and to reach much further. But on the other hand, not all people have access to the internet or digital literacy, so we had to find other strategies as well. Now we work by mixing face-to-face and distance gender education with educational and activist materials that we hand out in the streets, such as fanzines and stickers.

    What are the main unresolved women’s rights issues in Chile?

    A big problem is that domestic and care work still falls overwhelmingly on women. This has profound effects on women’s quality of life, because it results in them either abandoning their studies or leaving their jobs to do this unpaid work at home, or trying to become ‘superwomen’ who must be able to do everything, even if they can no longer take it because they so tired.

    This was made clear in a report published in the magazine Revista Ya in late 2020, ‘An x-ray of the zero man‘, so titled because according to the study on which the article was based, 38 per cent of men spend zero hours a week doing housework. Similarly, 71 per cent spend zero hours helping their children with schoolwork and 57 per cent spend zero hours taking care of children. In contrast, the women surveyed spend 14 hours a week more than men caring for children under the age of 14.

    Another major pending issue is that of sexual and reproductive rights. Our right to decide over our own bodies is still not recognised. Abortion is only permitted on three grounds: danger to the life of the pregnant woman, foetal malformations incompatible with life and when the pregnancy is the result of rape. At the same time, there are no comprehensive sex education programmes to prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence. During the pandemic, many instances of failure of oral hormonal contraceptives were documented. Many of these had been provided free of charge in public health facilities; as a result, many vulnerable women ended up pregnant, without being able to choose to have an abortion and without receiving any kind of monetary compensation.

    What should be done to reduce gender inequality in Chile?

    At Amaranta, we believe that we must start with non-sexist education, including comprehensive sex education. This is the only way to stop repeating stereotypes that perpetuate inequality from an early age. This is an important element in preventing GBV.

    Laws and public policies that pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive society are also important. Since 2019, Chile has gone through multiple social protests, which have included the feminist movement in a very prominent role. As a result of these protests, we now find ourselves drafting a new constitution which, if approved, we already know will include gender-sensitive justice systems. This is a tremendous step forward for our country, and even a first at the continental level.

    The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it?

    Our ongoing campaign as an organisation is about breaking down biases and overcoming prejudices and stereotypes. We do this through education, which can take many forms: from a relatively formal talk or workshop, to recommending a book or handing out a feminist fanzine, to disseminating content through a TikTok video.

    In terms of mobilisation, we remain attentive to all calls from feminist organisations in the area and we will participate in women’s meetings, marches, bike rallies and ‘pañuelazos’ – that is, large gatherings of women wearing green scarves – that are being organised.

    Civic space in Chile is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Amaranta through itswebsite and follow@AmarantaOng on Twitter.

     

     

  • CHILE: ‘The drafting of the new constitution is a historic opportunity for women’

    CIVICUS speaks with Mariela Infante Erazo, director of Corporación Humanas, about the impacts of the pandemic on women and girls in Chile, and about her hopes for advances coming from the inauguration of a new government and the process to develop a new constitution.

    Founded in 2004, Humanas is a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to advocating for the deepening of democracy and the inclusion of women.

    Mariela Infante

    What has been the impact of the pandemic on women and girls in Chile?

    The pandemic has had a very serious impact on the human rights of girls and women. Women regressed more than a decade in terms of their labour market participation. When schools closed, they had to take on most of the domestic and care work, both for their children and for sick or older relatives, so many had to stop working. Those who continued to work – including by working from home – were overburdened, which had an impact on both their physical and mental health.

    Gender-based violence also increased shockingly, as confinement and restrictions of movement were quite strict in Chile. According to official statistics, domestic violence calls from adult women tripled. But the situation also affected girls facing family abuse.

    The most feminised fields of work, such as education and health, were the most in demand during the pandemic. Women are in the majority in the professions that fought the pandemic – nurses, health workers, service workers, educators – but were not given much recognition. Female educators had to undertake virtual teaching and this undermined learning, at least among economically and culturally disadvantaged people. In Chile, there is no universal access to a basic internet service, and this has been detrimental for access to education.

    A full recovery is a long way off: unemployment remains high and women’s employment rates are not recovering at the same speed as men’s. A gendered approach is needed to ensure that women can return to the labour market and regain economic autonomy, which is key to exercising our rights.

    How has civil society in general, and Humanas in particular, responded?

    In the first months of the pandemic, and especially during lockdown, there were high levels of activity among feminist organisations: many seminars, meetings and discussions took place. There was a lot of reflection and an eagerness to share. But virtual interactions are very challenging and these spaces eventually ran out of steam: the first year’s participation was reasonably high, but then it began to decline. The format is now a bit worn out; I think we need to think of new forms of participation.

    During these two years, we at Humanas have all been working from home, with the difficulties this sometimes entails for communication among co-workers. Opportunities for informal communication were lost and work slowed down. Regarding our outward work, we had to rethink workshops, seminars and training events, because it is very difficult to do interactive and motivating training sessions via computer. Of course we had to cancel all trips, which was limiting for our regional networking strategy.

    But we learned a lot about how virtual interactions can replace face-to-face ones, and we adapted.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Chile?

    As in the rest of Latin America, there are multiple challenges. In the field of employment, a major problem is precarious work: women have more precarious, informal and lower-paid jobs, as well as higher unemployment rates.

    Women also bear the bulk of the burden of family care. This limits our free time, harms our health, limits our job prospects and hinders our political participation. That is why the feminist movement, of which we are part, prioritises the establishment of a national care system in Chile.

    In terms of sexual and reproductive rights, abortion – which used to be prohibited in all circumstances – has been legal since 2017 under three grounds: when the life of the pregnant person is in danger, when the foetus suffers from malformations incompatible with life and when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

    But during the pandemic, limitations on the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights increased: contraceptive distribution decreased, defective contraceptives were distributed through the public system and the number of preventative gynaecological examinations decreased. Many people stopped making medical consultations because health centres were overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 cases, which left many pathologies undiagnosed and untreated.

    Chile does not have a comprehensive law to prevent violence against women in various spheres and manifestations. There is a draft law on the subject that has not made any progress for many years. The number of femicides – and attempted femicides – is very high. Violence levels are very worrying, and they increased even further under lockdown during the pandemic.

    In addition, Chile has become one of the main host countries for Venezuelan migrants and has adopted a restrictive policy towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, particularly women. As applying for a visa has become virtually impossible, people are entering Chile irregularly. This has led to an increase in human trafficking and smuggling, the main victims of which are women and girls.

    Irregular migration has also had an impact on labour exploitation. Without documentation, many migrant women do not even dare to go to health centres for fear of being expelled from the country. According to the principles of the Cartagena Declaration, which establishes a broad definition of asylum, Venezuelan women should be considered subjects of international protection, as they are fleeing a law-and-order crisis. But they are not recognised as such and are denied labour and health rights, among many other rights.

    Moreover, racism has increased along with xenophobia. Migrants of African descent, mainly from Colombia and Haiti, have experienced racism and xenophobia. The same is true for the Indigenous population. In the context of the territorial conflict with the Mapuche people in southern Chile, institutional and police violence have differentially affected Indigenous women, for instance during violent raids in their communities.

    How is civil society working to bring these issues into the public agenda?

    At the moment, the Constitutional Convention is the space through which we are channelling the feminist agenda. We have high expectations and are working so that the Convention will produce a general normative framework for the recognition of women’s rights, which will then have to be implemented through laws and public policies.

    I believe the current Constitutional Convention is the first of its kind in the world, with gender parity and reserved seats. The Convention does not reflect the composition of the Chilean elite – white heterosexual men – but the real Chile: it includes Indigenous people, women and people of all educational levels and professions, rather than purely lawyers as is the case with parliament. This diversity of perspectives makes it incredibly rich.

    The process of drafting a new constitution for Chile is a historic opportunity that we are trying to take advantage of to channel women’s rights issues. This process was the product of a massive social mobilisation demanding rights, justice and dignity. It embodies an institutional solution to the discontent and fragmentation of Chile’s social fabric.

    After 40 years, today we have the possibility of reshaping a constitution made during the dictatorship, which does not guarantee social rights. We are only a few months away from having a draft that will be put up to a plebiscite, which is why this current process is for us a great political moment that entails the prospect of progress on women’s rights. 

    How could gender gaps and inequalities be reduced in Chile?

    The pandemic exposed a care crisis that is structural. The private and domestic realm continues to be women’s responsibility, on top of which comes paid work. We want a paradigm shift establishing that this is a shared social responsibility, which should not fall exclusively on women. The creation of a national care system in which the state, the private sector and families – but whole families, not just women – take on family care could bring about a real transformation of the sexual division of labour.

    Attention to the issue of care is a first step in advancing a structural issue such as the sexual division of labour: taking women out of a single role, valuing their roles and even generating new sources of work for women. We need a cross-cutting care paradigm that fosters bonds of respect and solidarity. This is of enormous importance: none of us would be here now if someone had not taken care of us.

    The issue of care is also very relevant in relation to nature, water and the commons, if they are to serve to improve the quality of life for all people, rather than generate wealth for a few. What is important is that the focus be on the common good and not on extraction and accumulation. The current extractivist development model reproduces inequalities and is at the root of violence against women defenders of land and territory.

    Feminism is currently taking a much more holistic perspective and is making alliances with other social movements. We are feminists, but we are connected with other worlds – those of environmentalism, Indigenous women, women defenders of land and territory – which makes us understand that inequalities and exclusions come from the intersection of various systems of domination: those of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. In order to generate a profound transformation, we must take a holistic view.

    What are the expectations of Chilean feminists as a new government is inaugurated?

    Our expectations are high but realistic, not excessive. We know that four years is a short time for so many challenges and we will not be able to transform everything in such a short time, but we believe that there is political will to move forward with laws on care, equality and non-discrimination, social rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender violence.

    President Gabriel Boric, who took office on 11 March, self-identifies as a feminist. He has already given a positive signal by placing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs within his political cabinet, indicating that he does not understand gender as a sectoral issue; we hope that this will translate into real mainstreaming of the gender approach to permeate all policies.

    The new government’s cabinet is more than gender-balanced: it includes more female than male ministers. Several of the ministers – those of women, justice and national assets – are feminists. This is more important than the fact that there are more women, because it will allow us to make important progress on our agenda. 

    We know that, as in the rest of Latin America, there are very difficult times ahead, with a looming economic crisis and very high inflation. We will have to face a process of life becoming more precarious, in a pandemic context that continues to be somewhat uncertain. We do not know how much of a ‘normal life’ we will be able to recover, nor what it will be like.

    The new government will have to protect the work of the Convention, which is being heavily attacked and criticised by mainstream media, which rejects any redistribution of power. The new government will have to give the Convention budgetary and institutional support to continue its work. It will then receive the draft of the new constitution – which will apparently be quite transformative and will hopefully be ratified through a plebiscite – and will have to undertake the enormous task of gradually implementing parity norms in various spheres.

    Civic space in Chile is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Corporación Humanas through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow @corphumanas on Twitter. 

     

  • CIVICUS at the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

    CIVICUS at UN65 Banner2

    Women civil society leaders, activists, protesters and human right lawyers are central to shaping public life - through campaigns, protests and policy interventions. Across the world, women and girls are at the forefront of mobilising - for equality, meaningful democratic processes, their freedom to express themselves, safer spaces, and a protected environment, to name just a few. The theme of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), running from 15 to 26 March 2021, is Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision-Making.

    Recognising the important work of women activists worldwide, CIVICUS, working together with members and partners, will:

    • Profile women in mobilisation, protest and civil society, and their role in public life;
    • Make recommendations to multilateral bodies and governments to help realise SDG5 and SDG16 - reflecting and based on women’s lived realities;
    • Renew calls for meaningful participation, resourcing, care work and visibility for women working in civil society.

    HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED?

    Building on our 16 Days of Activism campaign, CIVICUS will showcase inspirational stories, amplify member voices, draw attention to women human rights defenders at risk, and find out more about how Covid-19 is impacting women’s rights to protest.

    We invite you to:

    1. During CSW65, from 15 - 26 March 2021, talk about your work on social media - as a women human rights defender, activist, protester - using any of these hashtags: #Wedefend #SheDefends #CSW65
    2. Follow and tag CIVICUS Alliance (Facebook|Twitter) when posting during CSW65. We will promote and share as many of your activities as we can.
    3. Share stories of arbitrarily detained women human rights defenders as part of our #StandAsMyWitness campaign by filling out this form to share documented cases of currently detained women human rights defenders.
    4. Add your signature to our Global Statement calling for support and protection of women in civil society

    READ MORE

    Powerful personal stories from women activists and journalists who are facing online harassment.  CIVICUS has partnered with Global Voices to produce this article series: https://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/op-eds/4951-harassment-goes-virtual-women-activists-and-journalists-speak

    How Women Human Rights Defenders face greater risks because of their Gender by Masana Ndinga-Kanga http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/women-human-rights-defenders-face-greater-risks-gender/\

    REPORT: In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications/3791-in-defence-of-humanity-women-human-rights-defenders-and-the-struggle-against-silencing

     

     

     

     

  • Commission on the Status of Women: The Streets Have Already Spoken

    By Inés M. Pousadela, Senior Researche Specialist at CIVICUS

    The 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was just launched. Due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the main annual global forum on gender equality is once again taking place in a hybrid format – both at the UN’s New York headquarters, where government delegations will be meeting, and online, where most civil society activity will take place.

    For more than two years non-stop, the pandemic impacted disproportionately on the rights of women and girls. Gender-based violence raged and femicides increased. The burden of unpaid work on women’s shoulders multiplied, economic hardship differentially affected women, who are heavily employed in the informal sector, and the virus itself disproportionately affected women who are over-represented in frontline jobs.

    When women most needed a space where they could advocate for their rights and demand that the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery were tackled through a gendered lens, the main such global space almost completely collapsed.

    Read on Inter Press Service News

     

  • COVID-19: ‘We need public policies that reduce and redistribute unpaid care work’

    CIVICUS speaks about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender inequalities and civil society responses with Gala Díaz Langou, director of the Social Protection Programme of the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento, CIPPEC). CIPPEC is an Argentinian civil society organisation dedicated to producing knowledge and recommendations towards the advancement of public policies aimed at fostering development, equity, inclusion, equal opportunity and solid and effective institutions.

     

  • CSW66: ‘Advocacy for policy change takes time and a long-term commitment’

    Helen McEachernCIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Helen McEachern, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

    Established in 2008, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women works with women entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries. It has already supported more than 200,000 women to start, grow and sustain successful micro, small and medium-sized businesses in over 100 countries.

    What does the Cherie Blair Foundation do, and what challenges have you faced?

    The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women works with women entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries. We are committed to eliminating the global gender gap in entrepreneurship and creating a future where women entrepreneurs thrive.

    As a UK-based charity working in international development and women’s economic empowerment, we are very concerned about the decision the UK government made in November 2020 to cut the UK overseas aid budget from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP. The impact of this decision on women and girls has been devastating. We welcome the commitment late last year to restore the women and girls’ development budget to what it was before the aid cut. The government should swiftly act on this commitment and restore the overseas aid budget, which will save lives and protect the rights of women and girls. We are also very much looking forward to the new gender development strategy due out from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office later in 2022.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda?

    It is estimated that it will take 268 years until women have equality in economic participation and much remains to be done to address economic gender injustices in women’s entrepreneurship, and more holistically when it comes to women’s economic empowerment. In real terms, this statistic means millions of women and girls are exposed to exploitation and are not able to increase the education and health outcomes of their children or enjoy their rights and the choices that come with financial independence.

    The review theme of this year’s CSW was ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work’. Our current advocacy efforts are focused on tackling gender stereotypes that affect women’s entrepreneurship. Gender stereotypes undermine women’s economic rights in multiple ways: they affect their aspirations, sources of support, opportunities, perceptions and access to resources such as finance and markets, and impact on the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    We wanted to use the 66th session of the CSW to recognise how gender stereotypes undermine women’s rights and embed strong calls for action in the session’s Agreed Conclusions.

    Based on detailed survey responses from 221 women entrepreneurs across 42 low and middle-income countries, our recent report, ‘Gender Stereotypes and their Impact on Women Entrepreneurs’, reveals that gender stereotypes are part of the social background for women entrepreneurs, with 96 per cent of respondents saying they had directly experienced them. Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said that gender stereotypes have negatively affected their work as entrepreneurs. Nearly a quarter – 23 per cent – also experienced gender stereotypes or discriminatory remarks while trying to access finance for their business, and more than 60 per cent said they believe that gender stereotypes impact on their business growth and affect how seriously they are taken as business owners.

    We also raised concerns about the challenges women face around entrepreneurship in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. For women entrepreneurs, the pandemic has meant further reduced incomes, temporary and permanent business closures, dismissal of employees, missed business opportunities and reduced access to often already limited finance and capital. 

    Women-owned firms face additional barriers to accessing government support, and are more likely to close, with many citing difficulties with managing additional unpaid care work. Women-owned enterprises are overrepresented in sectors most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 – such as retail, hospitality, tourism, services and the textile industry. That’s why we wanted to advocate to ensure that a strong focus on women’s economic empowerment and gender-transformational post-pandemic recovery was embedded in the CSW session’s final conclusions.

    We also highlighted the unpaid care work that disproportionately affects women. Before the pandemic, women already spent about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men. The pandemic has increased the unpaid workloads – both for women and men – but it is women who are still doing the lion’s share. This impacts on the everyday lives of women in multiple ways, including by undermining women’s economic rights and opportunities, for instance, to access and pursue education, formal employment, entrepreneurship and leadership positions.

    These themes are critical when we consider the enormous gender economic gap.

    To what degree were your expectations regarding CSW met?

    This was the first time the Foundation undertook advocacy at CSW, so it was definitely a learning experience for us – but a very positive one.

    Our objective was to ensure that women’s entrepreneurship and gender stereotypes that affect women’s entrepreneurship and economic participation were raised, and that in addition to addressing gender justice, CSW’s final elaborations included commitments on these issues.

    We decided to do this by organising a side event and by sharing our advocacy calls with permanent missions by email and through social media. I am very grateful for the collaboration and support from the excellent colleagues at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, who hosted a side event with us. The side event was co-sponsored by the permanent missions of the Philippines and Sweden. We found many missions and colleagues receptive to this topic and willing to get involved.

    As our advocacy focused largely on tackling gender stereotypes as a critical barrier for women’s rights and economic empowerment, we were delighted to see multiple references to gender stereotypes in the final agreed conclusions of CSW’s 66th session. Also, it was great to see commitments to adopt measures to reduce, redistribute and value unpaid care work.

    Did you have the opportunity to participate fully, or did you experience any access issues?

    We did not travel to New York but decided to undertake advocacy virtually given the pandemic. I think that being present in New York would have enhanced our advocacy. Yet I know the virtual format has also enabled more people to join, as advocating in person in New York is beyond reach for most civil society organisations (CSOs).

    It is important to support partners from low and middle-income countries to attend and join these platforms – and provide sustained financial support to multi-year advocacy work in general. Changes in policies and practices rarely happen in a 12-month cycle or if you attend a global platform like CSW only once – advocacy takes time and a long-term commitment. It is only possible with funding to support a longer-term agenda.

    As participation was fully virtual this year, we lacked direct engagement with UN member states as well as opportunity to connect, share and network with advocacy targets and other CSOs. Time zones can pose a challenge too, but many side events provided an option to receive the recording afterwards, which was a really great way to learn about different key themes if people weren’t able to make an event.

    There is no way that online engagement can match in-person engagement, but if everyone is online then access is equal, and it does open more cost-effective avenues for many more grassroots organisations to join.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    I think the rhetoric of commitment to women’s political leadership and integrating women in decision making is there. Yet the right of women to participate politically and lead refers to participation in all levels and there are definitely gender gaps. I learnt at the CSW that only four women have been elected as president of the UN General Assembly in its 76-year history. Also, the UN has never had a woman Secretary-General. So there is more work to do to ensure women’s equal share and representation in decision-making processes at all levels. We also must make sure that the voice and agency of the most vulnerable women and girls is shaping the decisions of these international platforms. We have seen a rollback in advances in women’s rights in many areas, and thus feminist leadership and women’s political participation in UN processes are so critical. We know women’s political leadership can have an impact across many other areas where women lack opportunities and equal access.

    One way to do better is to tackle gender stereotypes more effectively as they undermine women’s rights, opportunities and confidence. It is important to increase the understanding of how gender stereotypes shape women’s lives, including their access to decision making and leadership, and take concrete measures to prevent and eliminate gender stereotypes and their negative impacts, both in private and public spheres. Further efforts are also needed to promote women’s leadership and agency to address the underrepresentation of women and girls in policy-making platforms and processes.

    Get in touch with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@HelenMcEachern and@CherieBlairFndn on Twitter.  

     

  • CSW66: ‘Global-level policy-making is disconnected from women’s realities’

    CIVICUS speaks about women’s human rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Wanun Permpibul of Climate Watch Thailand (CWT) and Misun Woo of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

    APWLD is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) committed to building feminist movements to advance women’s human rights and development justice in Asia and the Pacific as well as globally. CWT, a member organisation of APWLD, is a CSO that works with local communities and women to call for urgent climate action and climate justice.

    Thailand CSW66 interview

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in Thailand and the Asia Pacific region, and how does APWLD work to address them?

    Women in Thailand still do not have access to political spaces. Women work on farms and take care of their families, but when policies are made regarding farm work and domestic work they are not engaged in policy discussions, either in the planning process or the implementation stages.

    We tend to look at the symptoms of issues, in this case of the violations of women’s human rights, but we need to look at both the structural causes and the consequence of these violations and injustices. The exclusion of women in policy formulation and decision-making processes perpetuates gender injustices and rights violations. We need to shift power relations so that every person can exercise their inherent power with dignity. Most women do not have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and access political leadership because they are systematically undermined.

    APWLD’s work consists of identifying the systems of oppression – patriarchy, fundamentalisms, militarism, colonialism and capitalism – and fighting to dismantle them while finding alternative solutions to advance women’s human rights and development justice. Through our work we have been able to build capacity and solidarity among feminist movements.

    We focus on several thematic areas, including climate justice. Part of our work is about identifying and promoting the adoption of mitigation and adaptation strategies to advance women’s human rights as well as address the loss and damage and historical responsibilities. We see women experience the impacts of climate change disproportionately and they must be a source of solutions to help deal with the climate crisis. However, the reality is that they are not sufficiently engaged and the policies implemented in most instances do not cater to their needs and concerns.

    What issues have you tried to bring into the CSW agenda this year?

    This year’s focus for CSW’s 66th session (CSW66) was on the impact of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters on women’s human rights. We have highlighted the ways women have been experiencing the impacts of climate change and the solutions they have devised. What we really wanted to see highlighted at CSW66 was the acknowledgment of the root causes and consequences of climate change on women and their effects leading to widening inequalities and increasing violations of women’s human rights.

    A very critical point we wanted to see addressed was loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change and delays in mitigation efforts. It would have been good if CSW66 had supported a financial mechanism to address loss and damage due to the climate crisis as well as an accountability mechanism to hold accountable those responsible for causing the climate crisis, particularly large fossil fuel industries. We need to address the root causes of climate change for our societies to achieve sustainability.

    Another issue we wanted to highlight at CSW66 was the ongoing attacks against women human rights and environmental defenders in Asia and the Pacific in the context of the climate crisis. They are at the frontline of climate crisis, working day in and day out to raise awareness about and resist the catastrophic impacts of extractive industries and fossil fuel burning, and they must be protected.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    We had high expectations, even though so many restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic. We viewed CSW as a space or momentum to elaborate on the causes and the consequences of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters on women’s human rights. We expected it to meet the dual missions of advancing global commitments to address climate change and advancing women’s human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

    Unfortunately, CSW66 failed us on both counts. It did not look into the deeper causes of the climate crisis and the extent of its impacts on women’s human rights and gender equality. Mostly what it did was just add wording on climate change, environmental degradation and disasters at the end of the existing text of CSW66 conclusions. It failed to address the structural causes of the crisis, so the conclusions and recommendations are not designed to address and rectify those structural issues.

    We need to pay attention to, for instance, how CSW66 Agreed Conclusions effectively let governments off the hook from their human rights obligation to regulate the private sector. Instead, they seek to strengthen the roles and responsibilities of the private sector and just encourage them to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, where appropriate.

    Another practical example is the net-zero goal included in the text. Most states are welcoming this goal that seeks to balance the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. In doing so, they are placing the responsibility of determining the future in the hands of those that are causing climate change.

    If CSW66 were serious about addressing climate impacts and really thought this is a climate emergency, it would not go for a net-zero goal, which is buying time for those exploiting fossil fuels and polluting the planet to continue their business as usual, and would instead focus on the just and equitable transition to decentralised and renewable energy systems.

    Did you have the opportunity to participate fully, or did you experience access issues?

    We made a political decision to attend CSW66 in person, even though we were concerned about COVID-19 restrictions and there were lots of uncertainties regarding CSO participation in CSW66. The decision came from the fact that we, women from the global south, have lost significant opportunities and access to influence multilateral processes during the COVID-19 crisis.

    Our experience is that CSW66 was not well organised, especially from the perspective of CSOs from the global south. It was all very uncertain and CSOs were not provided with enough information, while UN Women continuously advised us against traveling to New York. We were given access to the UN building only two or three days before CSW66 started. Only through an informal announcement we got to know that special event tickets would be distributed to two representatives per organisation with ECOSOC accreditation to access the conference room to observe. If the announcement had been made officially by the UN in time, it could have reached a larger audience of CSOs that had the right to be there.

    We were also disappointed to see that CSOs continued to be excluded from the negotiation room. Civil society in the global south faces many structural restrictions on participation, including time constraints and language barriers. We really wanted to see CSW66 facilitate women’s meaningful and democratic participation, particularly because this year saw the negotiation of a Methods of Work resolution. However, this was yet another failure. To us, it was a further indication of how disconnected from women’s realities global-level policy making is.

    If we compare CSW66 to other UN spaces, such as climate conferences, the lack of engagement between CSOs and national governments in CSW66 becomes readily apparent. It was challenging to have a dialogue with government representatives and negotiators because of the travel restrictions and the inability of some countries to participate in person.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    If we look at UN climate conferences, for instance, we will find that the proportion of women delegates is always low. Even though it has been increasing, it is still significantly small. We have seen attempts in successive climate conferences of the parties (COPs) to try and have a gender and climate focal point for every country, but the UN has not supported the initiative to introduce a protocol for national governments to implement it. The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions reiterate the need to have a gender and climate focal point in national governments. Thailand still does not have one.

    Arrangements may be better for women in the global north, but from our global south perspective they are pretty bad. The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions note the importance of women’s and girls’ meaningful participation in decision making. However, the reality of women’s participation at CSW is far from encouraging.

    It’s easier to say that UN Women or the CSW methods of work resolution encourage member states to include CSO representatives on their delegation. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific have seen a rise in autocratic and misogynistic leadership, and having CSO representatives on such government delegation is not something that will happen at all or in a meaningful way. It is not enough to hear the voices of women; women must be given actual power to make policy decisions grounded in women’s realities. This is the only way structural changes will happen.

    Civic space in Thailandis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor
    Get in touch with APWLD through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@apwld on Twitter. Get in touch with Climate Watch Thailand through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@ClimateWatchTH on Twitter. 

     

  • CSW66: ‘Grassroots environmental defenders are highly underrepresented in decision-making’

    interview MALAWI CSW66CIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Joy Hayley Munthali and Dorothy Kazombo Mwale of the Green Girls Platform.

    Founded in 2018, the Green Girl Platform is a female-led civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for climate justice for women and girls in Malawi by building capacity, providing leadership skills and promoting sexual and reproductive health rights.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Malawi, and how does Green Girl Platform work to address them?

    In Malawi, women and girls are highly affected by the effects of climate change and environmental degradation due to their role in society. Girls are expected to help fetch firewood and get clean water for their households. Due to the effects of climate change, including erratic rains and depletion of natural resources, women and girls often have to walk long distances to find clean water and firewood. Because of these challenges, most girls are forced into early marriages and some drop out of school.

    The vulnerability of women and girls to environmental degradation, as well as to sexual violence and exploitation and gender-related violence, is on the rise. This is happening due to a lack of understanding of the implications of climate change for their lives, lack of information, lack of leadership skills, low participation in governance structures, limited women-led climate-related platforms and a lack of understanding and application of their rights.

    Women and girls are left out of decision-making processes although they are the ones who are most affected. The Green Girls Platform was founded to address the violence against women and girls that emanates from climate change and increase the number of women and girls engaged with climate change issues.

    The Green Girls Platform is working to ensure that gender and women’s rights are placed on the local, national and global environmental and climate change agendas by advocating for gender-responsive governance and policies. We conduct capacity-building workshops and training on climate change to equip girls with skills and knowledge on climate justice and all it encompasses. Through our initiatives, we have been able to reach around 5,000 young women and girls in Malawi, increasing their active participation in addressing climate change.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda this year?

    As an organisation we noticed that there is underrepresentation of young women and girls in decision-making processes. Their participation and active engagement in climate change governance structures is minimal. Structural changes are needed so that more women are included in decision-making bodies.

    Climate change is affecting young women’s access to education, and we need to come up with adaptation strategies that work for girls and young women in their specific contexts. Strategies have to be sustainable and demand-driven to build the adaptive capacity of women and girls and enhance their access to education.

    We are aware of the violence that girls and young women environmental defenders face either within their homes or in their communities. We would like to see the adoption of measures to protect the rights of adolescent girls and young women from climate-related violence. Civil society donors could help us navigate these challenges.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    Our expectations were that our concerns would be listened to and we would collectively come up with solutions to some of the overarching challenges. Although our needs were met to a good degree, we were not highly impressed by the output. But we are positive that things will improve.

    In terms of access, we faced some challenges. Only one of our staff was able to attend the CSW sessions in person, and she did so for only three days due to insufficient funding. We also attended some online events, mainly side events, but we had issues accessing main events due to time differences and late notices, and because some of them were not open to civil society.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    UN Women has taken steps in the right direction in terms of integrating women into decision-making spaces. However, we still have challenges getting all voices represented at the table. Women and girl environmental defenders working at the grassroots level are highly underrepresented in decision-making spaces, even though they are the ones working at the local level and facing the adverse impacts of climate change. Access to climate financing for girls and young women working on climate issues is still minimal and inaccessible, leading to more issues falling through the cracks and not reaching decision makers.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Green Girl Platform through itsFacebook page and follow@GirlsPlatform on Twitter.

     

  • CSW66: ‘UN member states should make efforts to honour their commitments at home’

    Eucharia AbuaCIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Eucharia Abua, Senior Programme Officer on Gender and Reproductive Justice at African Girls Empowerment Network (AGE Network).

    Founded in 2015, AGE Network is a young feminist civil society organisation (CSO) committed to advancing gender equality in girls’ education and promoting young women’s bodily and economic rights and leadership in Nigeria. It works to end child marriage and keep girls in school, and provides support to rape survivors, teenage mothers, victims of domestic violence and female genital mutilation, LGBTQI+ women, sex workers, women and girl refugees from Cameroon, internally displaced women and girls, and other economically disadvantaged and vulnerable women and girls.

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in Nigeria, and how does AGE Network work to address them?

    One of the main issues is women’s right to pregnancy by choice. In Nigeria, there’s an imbalance in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls. This is evident in the country’s discriminatory abortion law, which only allows medical abortion under certain circumstances. This strict law, alongside shame, social stigma and a lack of access to timely and non-judgemental information about safe, self-managed medical abortion and legal support, steers young women towards unsafe abortions.

    Many young women with unintended pregnancies, particularly those in vulnerable settings and displaced communities who are pregnant as a result of sexual violence, rape or incest, and those with critical medical conditions who cannot carry a pregnancy to term, seek unsafe abortions from quack doctors in hideouts and become vulnerable to irreparable harm or death. This has contributed to the current maternal mortality ratio of 512 per 100,000 live births, according to a 2020 report by the Federal Ministry of Health.

    To address this situation, AGE launched the #BellebyChoice campaign, an initiative to advance women’s and girls’ bodily rights and autonomy by securing their rights to pregnancy by choice, not by chance. The campaign seeks to curb unintended pregnancies by improving access to and uptake of family planning and modern contraception and end unsafe abortions through the provision of timely and non-judgemental information and legal support so that women can access safe and self-managed medical abortions. We have a dedicated hotline and use local and pidgin languages to address communication barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services among women and adolescent girls.

    Additionally, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, AGE has stood in solidarity with vulnerable young women, including female sex workers, and has helped them access timely sexual and reproductive health services. We partnered with Women First Digital and incorporated their AllyChatBot for safe abortion via WhatsApp into our campaign. So far they have supported our efforts to end abortion stigma and help young women access non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health information and care through their mobile phones.

    In the face of COVID-19, we have also advocated with the Nigerian government to relax the discriminatory abortion law. We have campaigned and engaged with key stakeholders to call on the government to set aside laws and policies that restrict access to safe abortion and allow the use of telemedicine and self-managed abortions in line with the guidelines put forward by the World Health Organization.

    Why do you think the Nigerian government is not sufficiently responsive to women’s rights demands? 

    Here is where another major women’s rights issue comes in: there’s a great imbalance in female representation and too many obstacles prevent women from having effective political participation. Inclusive governance is still a pending issue in Nigeria, and it continues to face strong resistance. For instance, just this March, Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives rejected proposed bills to grant additional legislative seats to women and other forms of affirmative action.

    This is also apparent in the area of climate justice and environmental protection: rural women form the majority among farmers, but they have not been fully integrated or carried along in the process to develop the national climate change mitigation and adaptation action plan.

    What issues have you tried to bring into the CSW agenda this year?

    This year AGE has called for climate justice, in the form of a more inclusive climate change mitigation and adaptation action plan. This was the official theme for International Women’s Day 2022 (IWD 2022), to which the priority theme for the CSW’s 66th edition (CSW66) was closely aligned.

    We carried out an online campaign, joined our civil society partners’ side events at CSW66 and hosted a virtual summit to commemorate IWD2022, in which we reflected on climate change and its disproportionate impact on women and girls, reviewed the progress made so far in mitigating climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa, celebrated women’s achievements, raised awareness of gender bias, engaged leading feminists working on climate justice and environmental protection in both government and the private sector in discussion and called for investment in Nigeria’s renewable energy sector.

    Against all odds, women in Nigeria have played a key role in addressing the impacts of climate change and advancing climate justice. However, in spite of their contributions, women and girls – and particularly those in vulnerable settings and displaced communities – are still being disproportionately affected by the lack of climate action.

    What were your expectations of CSW and to what degree have they been met?

    Our expectations were to be able to connect, collaborate with and learn from women’s rights organisations and activists from around the world, joining together in a unified call for climate justice.

    We re-echoed the achievements and contributions of our women, reviewed the reality and impacts of climate change on women, and called for a more level playing field and gender-responsive climate change mitigation and adaptation for a sustainable future for all.

    But we were unable to participate fully due to internet connection problems and time zone differences during most of the events.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women into their decision-making processes?

    As the leading international body, the UN has created an enabling environment for women’s participation in leadership and decision making and inclusive governance, including through Sustainable Development Goal number 5 on gender equality. However, UN member states should match this with efforts to honour their commitments at home, reducing gender inequalities, tackling human rights violations, and upholding the rule of law.

    Civic space in Nigeria is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the African Girls Empowerment Network through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@TheAGENetwork on Twitter.

     

  • CSW66: ‘Violence against women continues at pandemic levels in the UK as elsewhere’

    Zarin HainsworthCIVICUS speaks about women’s participation and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Zarin Hainsworth, director of the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO), a UK civil society network that works for women’s empowerment by advocating for women’s rights at the national and international levels.

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in the UK, and how does NAWO work to address them?

    In the UK there is a lack of an institutional mechanism for the advancement of women’s rights. The Women’s National Commission, which used to be an independent advisory body that represented women and made sure their views were heard by the UK government, was closed by the Conservative government in December 2010. 

    The Government Equalities Office (GEO), established in 2007, is identified by the government as the institutional mechanism although the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee continues to question this. The GEO is a department of government, with employees who are civil servants and all communications must abide by the usual government codes with all reports agreed by ministers. It cannot therefore claim to be independent. Some civil society members have complained that there is a lack of consultation with them and this affects how women are included in the policy-making process. Furthermore, GEO does not have remit in devolved nations, meaning it does not cover Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. The CEDAW Committee has raised concerns about the UK not being compliant with the treaty, but the government responded that they are adequately provisioned by the GEO.

    The UK Civil Society Women’s Alliance has a good relationship with the GEO, especially in regard to CSW, which we believe to be an example of best practice. However, many would argue that in light of the recommendations of CEDAW and the definition within the Beijing Platform for Action, there is still need for an independent body representing the voice of women and girls to government. NAWO would suggest that it is well placed to be such an organisation. 

    Violence against women continues at pandemic levels in the UK as elsewhere in the world. Sexism is institutionalised in the police force, but this is still a postcode lottery – how women are treated depends largely on where they live. Rape is still underreported and too few cases get to trial, and adolescent girls are not taught about gender-based violence. NAWO is part of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which seeks to create awareness of these issues and urge the government to address them. Recently a number of members of Parliament have raised awareness on this issue and the government is keen to state it is in the process of effecting positive change in this regard.

    We are aware that the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The government says that the new Domestic Violence Bill covers the same ground as the Istanbul Conversion, but civil society groups working on women’s rights and gender-based violence claim that the Bill does not robustly cover all the areas of the Istanbul Convention. NAWO is part of IC Change, a campaign pushing the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention; in the past, we also participated in advocacy work towards legislation to implement the Istanbul Convention across the UK.

    Regarding employment, occupational segregation continues to hinder women from progressing and becoming leaders in their workplaces. Despite efforts to increase the presence of girls in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), women still do not occupy equitable work positions because of pre-existing structures put in place to accommodate men rather than women.

    Finally, there is evidence that women’s voices are not heard in the health sector and that women are suffering the most when services and budgets are cut. Health education is biased towards the male experience and female indicators of stroke or heart attack are only slowly starting to be taught in medical school. Most drug trials are based on male responses.

    NAWO raises awareness of these issues through coalition-building and advocacy work. We also engage government stakeholders to ensure they are aware of these issues and put mechanisms in place to promote women’s equity and rights.

    To address these issues at CSW, NAWO has helped establish and worked within the UK Civil Society Women’s Alliance, seeking ways of working with the government to promote equality and ensure that women’s rights are advocated for at CSW. As an organisation, we have understood the need to develop a good relationship with the GEO and we are developing relationships across the government to advance our advocacy work.

    What issues did you try to bring to the CSW agenda this year?

    We are aware that CSOs are not adequately involved in the decision-making process, and we highlighted a need to involve grassroots organisations in policy formulation stages because they are the ones that truly know what people’s needs are. We wanted to bring to attention the fact that many CSOs are restricted by their national governments and cannot carry out their work effectively. Governments and international bodies must support CSOs and integrate them into policy-making processes.

    We have seen COVID-19 affect marginalised women and girls disproportionately, so this is an issue we emphasised at CSW this year. The pandemic revealed pre-existing gender gaps regardless of mechanisms put in place to promote women’s empowerment. Women from marginalised groups did not have access to proper healthcare and their employment chances have severely decreased. Pandemic recovery structures are not working for them because they are being put in place with little to no consultation with them.

    We also raised the concern of women’s access to decent work. There is a need to promote the participation of women in the labour force, but this should be done in an inclusive manner and with respect for human dignity. Many women still struggle with sexual harassment at work and there are not enough measures in place to counter this. Women have much lower prospects of advancing at work than their male colleagues. We hope CSW will see the need to help women in the workforce and find sustainable and realistic ways to protect them.

    As we have done every year since 2005, we enabled a youth delegation and we are keen to ensure the informed voice of young women is present at CSW.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    We wished to work and collaborate with other CSOs with the aim of bringing women’s issues to the forefront and promoting women’s empowerment. In our opinion, we were successful in that regard. We also wanted to reach out to UN member states, and to some extent we were successful in that regard as well.

    We hosted side events that offered young people a space to talk about the issues they experience and how they affect them. In these side events we were able to discuss how women experience climate change and their views and demands concerning gender equality, sustainable development and women’s empowerment.

    We participated virtually and faced some issues concerning broadband and connectivity issues. We believe there were challenges with the online platform and most CSOs had problems accessing it.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    We believe women are still not adequately integrated in decision-making processes both at the national and global levels. Many plans have been put in place to ensure women are in decision-making positions. These are always good in theory, but their implementation does not necessarily go accordingly. This could be due to lack of commitment and accountability from international bodies. Hopefully as time progresses, we will see real change. But for the time being we believe the UN system needs reforming.

    Civic space in the UKis rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with NAWO through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@NAWOorg on Twitter. 

     

  • CSW66: ‘Women need more access to real political decision-making power’

    CIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Terry Ince, founder, and convenor of the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (CCoTT), a civil society organisation (CSO) focused on advocacy, education, and public awareness on and for the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

    The CCoTT seeks to ensure the mandates of the CEDAW are upheld and the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women are implemented. To do so, it partners with a wide range of stakeholders in the government, private sector, and civil society.

    Terry Ince

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in Trinidad and Tobago?

    On the surface, you see women in high-profile positions in every area of society in Trinidad and Tobago. However, when you scratch beneath the surface, you realise these women are not the real decision makers.

    In 2010 we elected our first woman prime minister. Women make up 38 per cent of the current cabinet. We currently have a woman president for the first time in the history of the country. There are women in the positions of speaker of the House, president of the Senate and Ombudsperson. There are women assisting the Superintendent of Commission of Police. Women lead ministries including trade and industry, planning and development, housing and urban development, public administration, education, gender and child affairs, social development and family services and sports and cultural affairs, and Legal Affairs in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs. And this is just in the public sector. In politics, you find women on the ballot; political parties actively recruit women to run for political office.

    However, women are still not getting enough support. They certainly do not get the required support to run for political office. They may be selected as candidates, but the road to success is often steep and filled with deterrents. Women candidates are often asked to run in districts their parties find particularly difficult to win, so they are almost guaranteed to lose. Women are running but not necessarily winning. To win, they would need financial and coordination support.

    On top of this, many of these women are often mothers, wives, care givers, so they have additional duties that nobody is helping them with either. They are playing all these roles simultaneously and expected to be successful at all of them. 

    Women need more access to political decision-making power. It is not just about being in the room, but at the table, contributing, being listened to, and having their ideas examined, pushed forward and implemented.

    It is not enough to have a woman on the ballot. It is also not enough to elect a woman without providing an enabling environment which values her unique perspective on issues. 

    There continue to be barriers, but I think women can leverage their positions to make headway. I also think that women can and should support other women more within their capacity.

    How does the CCoTT work to address these issues?

    The CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago advocates for sustained implementation of CEDAW, a convention that Trinidad and Tobago signed in 1985 and ratified in 1990. More generally, we advocate for women’s development and empowerment. CCoTT’s work is grounded in human rights and CEDAW. We focus on advocacy, public awareness, sensitisation, and education on the Convention, with the overarching mission of achieving the implementation of its mandates and all the recommendations made to the state by CEDAW’s monitoring body.

    CEDAW addresses all aspects of women and development, including political engagement, so we work on the understanding that our government’s obligation is to ensure that the appropriate policies and laws are in place for women to have an equal opportunity to access political office. Our citizens, and particularly women, need to know and understand this. And governments must honour its responsibility for having signed this Convention and held accountable. Achieving substantive equality is the goal and CCoTT collaborates with stakeholders to achieve that goal.

    So, among other things, we campaign to improve female participation and representation at all levels of governance. We focus on preparing women to claim those spaces and offer training for female candidates. We collaborate – locally, regionally, and globally – with other organisations to bring good global practices to women in Trinidad and Tobago. For example, we have collaborated with the Women’s Human Rights Institute to bring CEDAW training to Trinidad and Tobago.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda this year? 

    Not only did we bring the issues I just mentioned, but also climate-related issues – the climate crisis, disasters, and risk mitigation. This was the first time that CSW focused on the nexus between women’s empowerment and climate change, climate justice and disaster management. As a Caribbean country, we are acutely aware of the impacts of climate change and disaster, as we have recently witnessed a volcanic eruption in St Vincent and the Grenadines and floods in Dominica and other countries, which wiped-out whole communities.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, we have seen unprecedented levels of flooding. How are women prepared for this? How are women empowered to navigate these kinds of crises when they occur? How are we ensuring that girls’ and women’s needs are addressed appropriately? For example, when disaster hits, how do you ensure their safety in shelters? Do your emergency kits include menstrual products? Who is thinking about these things? These are the kinds of questions we are bringing to the table. Therefore, it is so important that women have a voice when decisions around these issues are made.

    We also need to assess how emergencies are managed after the initial cause has been assessed – because the fact that a volcanic eruption has ended, for example, does not mean everything goes back to normal. What happened to the communities most impacted by the eruption? How are they coping? We must rethink the mechanisms we use to ensure people get back on their feet.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    Fortunately, we were able to have meaningful discussions of all these issues at this year’s CSW. CCoTT hosted a parallel event examining women’s empowerment in times of crises – climate crisis and Covid-19.

    Our expectations included gaining access to a wide variety of discussions, hosted by other Caribbean and Latin American countries as well as cross-sectional discussions with countries from other parts of the world – because climate change and climate justice impacts all of us, and we all need to understand this. If something is happening in Latvia, for example, it does not mean it may not happen in Trinidad. We can learn from how the issue is/was addressed in Latvia. Whatever the climate action is, we can use it as a mitigating factor to prevent or better manage adverse effects. 

    Were you able to participate fully, or did you experience any access issues?

    The virtual nature of this year’s CSW made it possible for more people and CSOs to attend. It was different from past editions because there were none of the usual barriers involved in getting visas, traveling to the USA, and gaining access to the UN’s headquarters – which you cannot do if you are not an organisation accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

    Those barriers were eliminated this year. From this perspective, virtuality made it much more accessible. CSW66 opened many doors and raised several questions that now must be answered. The UN should assess its own barriers to women’s access, such as the need to have ECOSOC accreditation to get inside UN headquarters during CSW.

    Because CSW66 was virtual, participants had the opportunity to hear about different solutions, network with global peers, learn from their stories and share globally what is occurring in Trinidad and Tobago and how we have successfully addressed issues at a local level. In this regard, CSW66 met my expectations.

    However, having access to high-level discussions was not easy. Even though they were virtual. Often this required registration which closed at certain number of attendees. Time zones were also a challenge. Events hosted by countries that are 12 hours ahead required some creativity. These were specific challenges of a virtual event, which would normally not be an issue during in-person gathering.

    Overall, it was remarkably successful. If it continues to be virtual, we will learn how to navigate the challenges based on this years’ experience.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women into their decision-making processes?

    In 2020 the UN acknowledged it was behind in terms of women’s integration in leadership and aggressively implemented changes. However, in 2021, when it had the opportunity, a woman was not elected as its Secretary-General, despite qualified candidates. 

    With recognition comes responsibility. Global eyes are on the UN, so it needs to set an example throughout its bodies, divisions, and units. However, as I already said, just selecting women is not the answer. We also hear ‘get youth more involved,’ but young people should be prepared, mentored, encouraged, and supported. Similarly, we need to help women along the way and ensure that when they occupy a space where they can contribute, their contributions are valued. The gap is shrinking.

    This is a work in progress, and the UN is trying. One way to ensure this happens properly is to involve civil society more – and not just lawyers or PhD holders. Learning does not only occur in the classroom. Application takes place on the ground in communities often led by community organisers or members of organisations. We need the academics collaborating with the community and others to strengthen capacities. Making room for grassroots, women and youth led initiatives. In this regard, there is more work to be done.

    Civic space in Trinidad and Tobago is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. 
    Get in touch with the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CCoT_T on Twitter. 

     

  • ECUADOR: ‘Women’s rights have experienced an emergency situation since well before the pandemic’

    CIVICUS speaks with Virginia Gómez de la Torre, president of Fundación Desafío, about the progress made and the challenges remaining in the area of sexual and reproductive rights in Ecuador. Virginia tells us about the significance of the breakthrough that took place in April 2021, when abortion was decriminalised in cases of rape. Active since 2000, Fundación Desafío is a feminist coalition dedicated to the defence and promotion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and the right to a life free of violence in Ecuador.

    Virginia Gomez de la Torre

    What are the challenges for women’s rights in Ecuador?

    Women’s rights in Ecuador continue to be a challenge because in every area there are unresolved issues due to discrimination, exclusion and sexist violence. In terms of access to work and opportunities for economic and personal development, for example, women have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic and the slowdown in activity; the elimination of small businesses and the reduction of opportunities for informal sales hit them hardest, and it has been difficult for many to regain those spaces.

    Inequalities affect women from different social groups in different ways. Ecuador has a large Indigenous population and there is a large female peasant force, but women do not own land. There is a lot of discrimination, and Indigenous and Afro-descendant people have much more difficulty accessing opportunities. Indigenous and Black peasant and internal migrant women are more vulnerable because they suffer the violence of a system that devalues Indigenous and peasant lives.

    In Ecuador there is also a large presence of women in a situation of mobility, mostly young women of reproductive age. They arrive without papers and enter through unauthorised migratory passages, which exposes them to situations of trafficking, sexual exploitation and rape, as well as xenophobic violence. In this sense, women’s rights have experienced an emergency situation since well before the pandemic.

    All these exclusions are accompanied by violence, and Ecuador has yet to develop a strategy to confront this violence. Although psychological violence remains the most prevalent, all forms of violence have increased. For instance, obstetric violence – that is, the actions or omissions by health personnel that violate women’s rights during pregnancy or childbirth – is extremely high, affecting 42 per cent of women, and is much more prevalent in rural areas and among certain ethnic groups. The state makes little effort and does not give priority to the issue of femicide; last year we had 118 cases. This year we have already had 131, including violent deaths of women related to gang or criminal vendettas. Violence against women is a very serious problem in Ecuador, and as long as it does not deal with it, the government will be noncompliant with the rights enshrined in the constitution.

    The Ecuadorian state should issue protection and restraining orders and investigate femicides. It should also combat the violence that is present in all areas of daily life, and which manifests itself very strongly in the form of sexual violence, as well as other forms of violence such as political violence.

    This is the context for sexual and reproductive rights. Only on 28 April 2021 was abortion decriminalised in cases of rape. The fact that is something so basic and so long fought for shows the extent to which the Ecuadorian state is tied to the interests of economic power groups that are strongly linked to religious power groups. Every year, between 2,000 and 3,000 girls become pregnant in Ecuador. In 2019 there were 4,000 under the age of 14, and under the pandemic there were about 3,000; according to the Criminal Code, these pregnancies are the result of rape.

    What was the process that led to the legalisation of abortion in cases of rape?

    Until April 2021, abortion was only permitted when a woman’s life or health was in danger or if the pregnancy was the result of rape of an intellectually disabled woman. In response to several unconstitutionality lawsuits filed by women’s rights organisations, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador decriminalised abortion for all cases of rape.

    This has been a struggle of many years. Women’s rights organisations have been defending therapeutic abortion and abortion in cases of rape since 2008, when the new constitution was drafted and when anti-rights groups tried to repeal therapeutic abortion. They wanted to deprive Ecuadorian women of access to abortion under any circumstances.

    Within this framework, the proposal to legalise abortion in cases of rape was brought forward in 2012, when a new Criminal Code was drafted. In 2013, then-President Rafael Correa – the most powerful of anti-rights activists – excluded this possibility. He threatened to resign and used the typical cliché that the constitution guarantees and protects life from the moment of conception.

    In 2019, the issue of the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of rape was raised again as a result of a legislative initiative coming from the Public Defender’s Office. The National Women’s Coalition of Ecuador (CNME) and Fundación Desafío once again worked for decriminalisation in cases of rape. But at the last minute, during legislative negotiations, the issue was used as a bargaining chip, and we lost the vote. We had the 70 votes needed to pass a motion in the Assembly, but several Assembly members from parties that had pledged their support ultimately voted against it. We got 65 votes against 59 for the anti-rights side. We lost and the process took another course, that of the Constitutional Court.

    Two months before the vote, Fundación Desafío and CNME had already filed a complaint of unconstitutionality and a complaint of non-compliance with the Constitutional Court, because women of this country have no confidence that the powerful will look after our interests. In December 2019 these two lawsuits were admitted and in November 2020 other women’s organisations joined in, as well as the Ombudsman’s Office.

    Following the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the determination of time limits remains an immense challenge. We proposed that there should be no time limit, but some doctors and health professionals are already putting them into the bill, so this is something we are going to have to fight for in the Assembly.

    What roles has Fundación Desafío played in the process?

    In addition to filing the claims of unconstitutionality and non-compliance, we have played a leadership role in legislative lobbying. This work was in addition to the contribution of many other organisations that worked with the population, holding workshops, organising networks to accompany women undergoing abortions and opening up spaces that give women the possibility to decide, even if in a context of illegality.

    In the legislative processes of 2013 and 2019 we did all kinds of things. We ran communication campaigns, we produced short videos with people who have great public visibility, we worked in networks and we presented our research. We played a day-to-day role in the Assembly’s Justice Committee, which worked on the two reports that were later passed on to the plenary. We channelled the presence of Human Rights Watch, which from a comparative law perspective urged the Assembly to move forward on legalisation, and of several women who gave their testimonies, including a woman who had been raped and another woman who worked in the area of violence against children. We also campaigned for the passage of the Health Code, which included several articles on sexual and reproductive rights. Following eight years of debates, the Health Code was passed by the Assembly in August 2020, but it was fully vetoed the following month by then-President Lenín Moreno.

    Lastly, we supported the constitution of the Ecuadorian Faith Network, formed by progressive evangelical Christians. This group made public presentations and statements. The trade union movement and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador were also in favour of the process. All this documentation was submitted first to the Assembly and then to the Constitutional Court.

    What impact do you think this legal change will have?

    For those of us who have devoted our lives to this and will continue to do so, this change has a great symbolic impact, even though it is a small step. Obviously, the legalisation of abortion in cases of rape is something huge for raped girls, of whom there are many in Ecuador, and more generally for the women who can now end a pregnancy that is the result of a crime, if they choose to do so. And although no progress has been made in recognising the right of all women to decide about their own bodies in any circumstance, symbolically it is a huge step forward because it demystifies abortion and the possibility of making decisions about the course of a pregnancy in cases of rape. It is now legal to make decisions about the body of a pregnant woman who has been raped; the state has given its approval and for the first time has put the victim at the centre of the debate. So why shouldn’t women who have not been raped be able to make similar decisions about their bodies? I think these are the shifts that are implicitly taking place.

    The next step in the very short term will be to also decriminalise abortion in cases of lethal foetal malformation. The scenario of total decriminalisation needs to be raised in the Assembly, as has happened in other countries. The Assembly may say no, but that is the way forward and someone needs to do it.

    Civic space in Ecuador is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Fundación Desafío through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@DesafioDerechos on Twitter.

     

  • EL SALVADOR: ‘Patriarchal justice persecutes, tortures and abuses women’

    SaraGarciaGrossCIVICUS speaks with Sara García Gross about the recent judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) against the Salvadoran state, and the struggle of Salvadoran women for the right to abortion.

    Sara García Gross is advocacy coordinator of the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in El Salvador. Founded in 2009, the organisation promotes public awareness to change abortion laws, provides legal support to women who have been convicted or charged with abortion or related crimes and disseminates information on the importance of women receiving adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare to prevent them resorting to unsafe, life-threatening abortions.

    What is El Salvador’s feminist movement demanding when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights?

    As feminists we are fighting to change the law that criminalises abortion under all circumstances. In El Salvador women are unjustly persecuted. Women’s reproductive rights are violated, especially for younger women and those who live in poverty and in the country’s rural areas. In this sense, we in the feminist movement are fighting to change a restrictive, absolutist and absurd regulatory framework.

    We are also fighting for women’s freedom. There are currently 12 women in prison serving sentences that are extremely unjust. Our fight is for women’s freedom and women’s lives. We want abortion to be legal in El Salvador. We fight for women to have the right to build our own lives. We denounce forced pregnancies; this is a form of torture. There are girls as young as 10 years old who face forced motherhood. There are young women who have not received any sexual education and do not have access to contraceptive methods. We are fighting for the right to comprehensive sex education.

    We also fight for the recognition of the rights of LGBTQI+ people, because hate crimes are another cruel form of torture that the state imposes or condones.

    What tactics does the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion use?

    In our struggle for women’s freedom, we have pursued multiple strategies, starting with strategic litigation to obtain everything from commutations of sentences to sentence reviews. Our focus is on achieving freedom, putting into practice the feminist slogan ‘I believe you sister’. We fight for the recognition of the innocence of women facing unjust and absurd sentences.

    But the legal route has not been our only key strategy; social mobilisation at national and regional levels has also played a major role. The feminist movement has organised and spoken out in relation to the cases of criminalised women. Sit-ins have been organised in front of embassies in El Salvador and other countries, letters have been sent to the courts and campaigns for reproductive justice have been carried out, including the ‘We are missing 17’ campaign.

    Another very important strategy has involved the Inter-American human rights system. We brought the case of a woman known as Manuela to the IACtHR, which recently condemned the Salvadoran state for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Strategic litigation in the Inter-American system has allowed us to address the problems of persecution, torture and judicial and police abuse faced by women in El Salvador. Justice in El Salvador is patriarchal justice.

    Another strategy has focused on collecting evidence. We have carried out an investigation called ‘From hospital to prison’, which allowed us to make this problem visible. Through a review and analysis of case files, sentences and investigations, we have been able to understand who anti-abortion legislation targets and who it persecutes: young and poor women living in rural areas. This constitutes intersectional discrimination.

    The campaigns, dialogues and debates we promote in academia as well as grassroots communities have also been part of our strategy. Advocacy processes are key, so that when we are able to identify windows of opportunity in the Legislative Assembly or other state institutions, we can promote the submission of new initiatives.

    In the past, several bills were submitted to reform article 133 of the Criminal Code to decriminalise abortion on four grounds. These bills were far from getting passed; in some cases they were quickly shelved and in others they languished for years in legislative committees. Women’s organisations were met with great hostility. However, our advocacy strategies allowed us to place the issue of abortion on the public agenda.

    What does Salvadoran public opinion think about abortion and what work are you doing to present an alternative narrative to criminalisation?

    Among public opinion, there is broad acceptance of abortion when it’s needed to save a pregnant woman’s life: more than half of the population has said so in various surveys.

    We live in a conservative country, with some fundamentalist groups calling themselves ‘pro-life’. The reality is that they are in favour of clandestine abortion, criminalisation and women dying. These groups maintain a double standard that we, as organised feminist civil society, work to expose. While women living in poverty are criminalised, those with economic resources are able to travel and access safe abortions. This double standard is unacceptable.

    For us, it is important to visualise other narratives and make women’s realities known. Reducing stigma requires showing, humanising and talking about life stories. These are women who had hopes and plans for their lives that state violence prevented them from realising.

    Talking about the issue in different places, humanising this reality and questioning this system that imposes the mandate of motherhood – a gender stereotype – allows us to address the issue without stigma or prejudice and, above all, from a human rights perspective.

    What are the implications of the IACtHR ruling in Manuela’s case?

    This ruling came after years of work and struggle. We started working on the case in 2011, providing psychosocial, political and legal support to Manuela’s family.

    Advocacy in the Inter-American system was key. The ruling in Manuela’s case is historic: the IACtHR has recognised that Manuela was innocent, that she really faced an obstetric emergency and that gender stereotypes, starting with the mandate of motherhood, permeated the entire process. The IACtHR has understood that the absolute ban on abortion results in criminalisation and obstacles to access to reproductive rights.

    The judgment will have both national and regional effects. The main regional effect is the establishment of jurisprudence that obliges both El Salvador and the rest of the countries in the region to take a series of measures. First, to guarantee professional secrecy of health personnel so that no woman seeking reproductive health services is denounced for alleged abortion-related crimes. Second, to ensure that gender stereotypes are not applied in the judicial sphere, including those claiming that women must act according to a reproductive role and, therefore, with maternal instinct. Third, to implement adequate protocols to attend to obstetric emergencies with accessible and quality health services.

    The Salvadoran state will have to carry out some additional actions in compliance with the IACtHR ruling. First, while it is in the process of regulating the obligation to maintain medical professional secrecy and the confidentiality of medical records, it must eliminate the practice of medical professionals denouncing women who seek reproductive health services. Second, it must provide full reparations to Manuela’s family. Third, it must make legislative and policy changes to ensure non-repetition, so that no one else goes through a similar experience, for instance by guaranteeing comprehensive care in cases of obstetric emergencies and adapting pre-trial detention so that it is only used in exceptional cases.

    We continue to fight so that women are never again criminalised. There are still 12 women who remain in prison, but we believe that Manuela’s case shines a light on these injustices and gives us the strength to continue fighting. For us, Manuela means justice and hope.

    What kind of support do abortion rights groups in El Salvador need from their peers around the world? 

    We believe feminist solidarity is key. We want to make this issue visible in the region and the world. We want people to talk about what is happening here. We want people to talk about the consequences of the absolute prohibition of abortion. We want people to talk about how this punitive system does not solve anything.

    It is not acceptable for the exercise of a reproductive right – a right to health – to be treated as a crime entailing prison sentences. We need to shine the spotlight on El Salvador and make the Salvadoran state feel it is being watched. Every chance we get, we must demand freedom for women, freedom for the 12 who are still in prison and reparations for all the women who have faced this kind of criminalisation. We must demand that abortion be legally recognised as a right.

    Civic space in El Salvador is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in El Salvador through itswebsite orFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@AbortoPORlaVIDA on Twitter. 

     

  • Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

    Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    UAE Infographic

     

  • Harassment goes virtual: Women activists and journalists speak out


    Harassment goes virtual series

     

    Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are originally published onGlobal Voices through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.

     

    Inday Espina VaronaFor this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

    There has been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public. In this first part of the series, Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story.

     
    Evgenija CarlCalled a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story (Ler em portugues)

    Evgenija Carl is an investigative journalist from Slovenia. After she produced a television report about the opposition SDS party in 2016, a leading politician at the time, Janez Janša, called her a “prostitute” on Twitter. When Janša later became Slovenian prime minister, the online abuse intensified. Read Evgenija Carl's story here.

     

     

    Maya El AmmarOnline rape threats connect Lebanese activist to ‘thousands of other women’ facing abuse (باللغة العربية)

    Since October 2019, anti-government protests known as the “October Revolution” have erupted across Lebanon. Protesters have called for the removal of the government and raised concerns about corruption, poor public services, and a lack of trust in the ruling class. Protests have been met with unprecedented violence from security forces. Feminists have been at the forefront of the revolution and have stepped up to provide assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. In the third part of this series,Maya El Ammar, a Lebanese feminist writer, activist and communications professional, tells herstory and the online abuse she continues to face. 

     

    Chantal MutamurizaPersonal attacks follow Burundi human rights defender into exile in Uganda (Lire en français)

    Under the regime of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, journalists and rights defenders continue to face challenges. The arrest of political activists and the recent public announcement of the sentencing of 34 exiled people—including journalists and human rights defenders—to life imprisonment illustrate the obstacles to free expression in the country. Chantal Mutamuriza, a feminist, human rights defender, and founder of the Light For All NGO, tells us her story of the continuous online harassment she faces day in and day out.

     

    Weaam YoussefIntimidation, censorship, and defamation in the virtual sphere

    In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists, and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is the story of Weaam.

     

    Lindsey Kukunda GV 768x786Herself a victim of cyberbullying, Lindsey Kukunda fights online violence against women in Uganda

    More than half of Ugandan women experience physical violence, while one in five is subjected to sexual violence; many also face psychological abuse, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation. In 2014, Uganda introduced a law against pornography that has been used to target and prosecute women, especially women whose nude photos have been shared online without their consent. Lindsey Kukunda is a feminist, writer, and human rights defender. She is also the managing director of Her Empire, a feminist organization that runs two programmes: Not Your Body and The Mentor’s Network. Lindsey tells us her story

     

     

  • International NGOs should ensure women are at the centre of daily operations

    By Mouna Ben Garga (CIVICUS) and Ngozi Izuora (Innovation for Change- Hub Afrique)

    Many states are known for their strategy to exploit women’s rights for political purposes. But, the international community practices are not that different either–not to the same end for sure. If international NGOs (INGOs) keep using the strategies and approaches they are using now to fight against gender inequality, progress on gender parity will surely grind to a halt and we will need another 200 years to close the gap.

    Read on: Disrupt and Innovate