Women’s Human Rights: World Report 2002 – events of 2001

Women’s Human Rights: World Report 2002 – events of 2001 – Women and Human Rights


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“Introduction // Human Rights Developments // Women’s Status in the Family // Labor Rights // Trafficking // Women in Conflict and Refugees // Violence Against Women // The Role of the International Community: United Nations // United States // European Union // Council of Europe // Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) // Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports // Relevant Human Rights Watch Missions // About Human Rights Watch // The Women’s Rights Division.”


“One of the greatest challenges of governments in 2001 was to make respect for women’s rights a more permanent and central part of the international human rights agenda. Women’s rights activists made notable progress on several fronts – leading governments to condemn sexual violence against women in armed conflict, holding governments accountable for failing to protect women from domestic violence, and forcing governments to acknowledge and treat trafficking as a human rights crisis. However, governments’ reluctance to promote respect for women’s rights systematically and thoroughly undercut these gains every day. Many governments’ commitment to women’s human rights remained at best tenuous and at worst nonexistent.

The international women’s rights community moved forward, pressing to protect women’s bodily integrity and right to sexual autonomy, to examine the ways that race or ethnicity and gender intersect to deny women human rights, and to protect women from gender-specific violations of the laws of war.

The September 11 attacks on the U.S. triggered an international debate about the motivation of the attackers and a just response. The U.S.-led military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan focused international attention on the plight of Afghans generally, and in particular on Afghan women. Governments in the U.S.-led coalition argued that the Taliban’s behavior toward women – including banning women from most types of work, forcing women to wear a head-to-toe enveloping garment, and banning women from education beyond primary school – was unparalleled in severity and constituted a systematic attack on women’s human rights and dignity. Yet, while the international community recoiled at these abuses, the women’s human rights record of other governments with similar practices, such as Saudi Arabia received minimal criticism.

Critics of the Taliban virtually ignored Saudi Arabia, where women face systematic discrimination in all aspects of their lives: they are denied equality of opportunity in access to work, forced to comply with a restrictive dress code, and segregated in public life. Religious police punish infractions of the dress code with public beatings. Kuwait’s record on women’s rights is also dismal: the Kuwaiti government denies women the right to vote, segregates them, and requires them to veil in public.

The international community’s lack of complaint about women’s human rights underscored what women’s rights activists grapple with everywhere: women’s rights must still be negotiated, and violations of women’s rights often generate only fleeting interest. Many governments attack women’s rights in ways that essentially strip women of their legal personhood. For example, the governments of Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, and other African states deny women equal inheritance and property rights. The Thai government denies women who marry non-nationals the right to buy and own property in their own names. Egypt discriminates against women who marry non-nationals by refusing to allow them to transfer their nationality to their children. Syria conditions a woman’s choice in marriage on the consent of a male family member.

Jordan and Pakistan condemn domestic violence but offered reduced sentences to males who commit ‘honor’ crimes against female family members. South Africa condemns sexual violence, but fails to take adequate steps to protect girls in school from widespread sexual violence at the hands of teachers and students. Guatemala passed sophisticated domestic violence legislation but lets stand discriminatory labor law provisions that deny tens of thousands of female domestic workers equality under the labor code. Nigeria deplores the treatment of trafficked Nigerians abroad, but does little at home to stop domestic trafficking of Nigerians.

The international women’s human rights movement functioned as the antidote to government lack of commitment. In every arena, women’s rights activists challenge governments’ cursory commitment…

“Toward the end of 2000, in part as a result of an ongoing campaign by women’s rights and peace activists to highlight the particular insecurity of women in times of armed conflict, both the U.N. Security Council and the European Parliament adopted resolutions on women and peace building, that explicitly called on governments to ensure that women participate both in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction planning.

Women’s rights activists in Peru caused the government to modify its domestic violence law in January 2001 so that conciliation sessions between abusers and victims were no longer mandatory. At the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), women’s rights activists successfully worked to have the final document reflect how sex and race intersected to render women vulnerable to sexual violence in armed conflict and to trafficking, and reinforced women’s right to transfer their nationality, on an equal basis with men, to their children. In mid-October 2001, activists rallied to press the Ethiopian government to lift a ban on the only women’s rights organization advocating for women’s rights in Ethiopia.


Laws and practices governing women’s personal status — their legal capacity and role in the family continued to deny women rights. While the type of discrimination varied from region to region, women throughout the world found that their relationship to a male relative or husband determined their rights.

Sub-Saharan African countries continued to use statutory and customary law to discriminate against women with regard to property ownership and inheritance. The explosive increase in numbers of young widows with children as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and wars in the region starkly exposed the critical link between denial of women’s rights and extreme poverty. Zambia provided an example of a country devastated by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty where the majority of women continued to live under customary law that denied them the right to inherit property from deceased male relatives.

Although Zambia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the mid-1980s, and its constitution outlawed sex discrimination, the constitution itself gave primacy to customary law in matters of inheritance. War widows in Sierra Leone faced similar prohibitions in customary law. In Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, statutory law reforms over the past twenty years gave women equal rights to inheritance but judges in these countries continued to apply customary law.

Personal status laws in Syria and Morocco, among other countries, continued to curtail women’s rights entering into marriage, during marriage, and at the dissolution of marriage. In Syria, the minimum age for marriage was eighteen for boys and seventeen for girls. If a woman over the age of seventeen married without the consent of a male guardian, the guardian could demand the annulment of the marriage… Further, a Muslim Syrian woman could not marry a non-Muslim, while a Muslim man had absolute freedom to choose a spouse.

Syrian law also assigns different rights and responsibilities for women and men during marriage. A wife’s ‘disobedience’ could lead to forfeiture of her husband’s responsibility to provide support. A man could legally have up to four wives simultaneously, while a woman could have only one husband. Women did not have the same rights as men to end marriage.

Women’s rights activists in Morocco continued their long standing campaign to eliminate discriminatory provisions in the personal status code under which Moroccan women continued to be discriminated against with respect to legal standing, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.

Women’s rights activists welcomed a long-overdue development in Brazil: in August 2001 ,the Brazilian Congress adopted a law that, after twenty-six years of protest and debate, removed the most discriminatory provisions of the 1916 civil code. Most significant, the new code gave both women and men equal authority in the family, abolishing paternal power, the legal concept that men had total control over decision-making in the family. . . The Chilean civil code continued to grant husbands control over household decisions and their wives’ property. In countries such as Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia, the civil codes established lower marriage ages for girls than for boys. . . Nationality laws in such disparate countries as Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Bangldesh denied women the right to transfer citizenship to their children…

Other Chapters cover:

Labor Rights // Trafficking // Women in Conflict and Refugees // Violence Against Women


The war in Afghanistan mobilized international attention to women’s human rights in that country, with the U.S. government and its allies giving women’s rights a prominent place in the propaganda war against the Taliban. In 2001, however, there seemed to be a disconnect between the U.S. and the international community’s rhetorical commitment to equality and a willingness to adopt and implement policies that fully integrated attention to women’s human rights.

In 2001, U.N.-sponsored meetings addressed critical issues such as the gender dimensions of racism, gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum, and an international protocol on the collection of forensic evidence in cases of sexual violence. At the same time, the U.S. and the European Union took steps on trafficking, international treaty ratification, funding for women’s health, and trade that marginalized or ignored women’s human rights. Women’s rights activists found that many of these steps were tentative and inconsistent, and hoped that the international community’s concerns for women s rights in Afghanistan would be long-lasting and would result in stepped-up efforts to recognize women’s human rights violations and curtail them also in other parts of the world.


The United Nations // The United States // The European Union // Council of Europe // Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).”


“Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world… We address the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions… Our goal is to hold governments accountable if they transgress the rights of their people… Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds…


Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights division was established in 1990 to monitor state-sponsored or state-tolerated violance against women and sex discrimination in all regions of the world that traditionally have been overlooked.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Women’s International Network

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group