Women still facing global discrimination

Women around the world are still facing discrimination, according to a report released Wednesday by UN Women detailing the legal and humanitarian struggles of women across the globe. The report, "Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice," is the first out of the UN's new agency, which is devoted to reducing gender inequalities around the world. Part of the report examined how, internationally, the rule of law discriminates against women:

[F]or millions of women and girls, the reality is that the rule of law means little in practice. While law is intended to be a neutral set of rules to govern society, in all countries of the world, laws tend to reflect and reinforce the privilege and the interests of the powerful, whether on the basis of economic class, ethnicity, race, religion or gender. Justice systems also reflect these power imbalances. In all societies, women are less powerful than men and the two areas in which women's rights are least protected, where the rule of law is weakest and men's privilege is often most entrenched, are first, women's rights in the private and domestic sphere, including their rights to live free from violence and to make decisions about their sexuality, on marriage, divorce and reproductive health; and second, women's economic rights, including the right to decent work and the right to inherit and control land and other productive resources. There are challenges at every stage, starting with legal frameworks. In some cases, laws overtly discriminate against women, according them fewer rights than men. Examples of this include laws that limit women's rights within the family, or those that prohibit women from passing on their citizenship to their husband or children, impacting on their civil and political rights, and access to public services. In other cases, the protection of the rule of law is not extended to the private domain where millions of women work and where they are most likely to experience violence.

The report made a number of recommendations for governments to better work toward equality: supporting women's legal associations, implementing gender-sensitive reform, reducing attrition in the justice chain, putting women in more positions of power in law enforcement, training judges in gender sensitivity and monitor their decisions, increasing women's access to judicial processes, implementing gender-responsive reparations programs and using quotas to boost the number of women legislators.

Equality and women's rights continue to be an issue for much of the world. UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo released a report last month that said there is a continued prevalence of violence and discriminatory treatment of women in the US, with a heightened impact on poor, minority and immigrant women. In March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pressed Tunisia and Egypt on Tuesday to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection and to include women in the dialogue to shape the future of their countries. In January, a US Military panel recommended that women should be allowed to serve on the front lines of combat. Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Afghan government to protect the rights of women during integration and reconciliation efforts conducted with the Taliban and other militants. Earlier in 2010, India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, approved a bill to ensure that one-third of seats in parliament are reserved for women. The Women's Reservation Bill increased the number of women serving in the 543-seat legislature, which currently has no gender quota, from 59 to at least 181.

(Published by Jurist.org - July 6, 2011)

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