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GENDER: Laws, Budgets and Pigeonholes – Part 1

Miren Gutierrez* interviews INÉS ALBERDI, executive director of UNIFEM

ROME, Nov 14 2009 (IPS) - The fight for women’s rights came about hand in hand with the struggle for democracy, civil rights and national liberation in different countries and periods, says Inés Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM.

Inés Alberdi: "CEDAW is the means by which governments (can) advance gender equality" Credit: U.N.

Inés Alberdi: "CEDAW is the means by which governments (can) advance gender equality" Credit: U.N.

The time has now come for action on the effect of the global financial crisis on women, and other problems such as stereotyping, gender-based violence, unfair budgeting, lack of work opportunities and social protection for women, and the plight of women migrants.

On the eve of its 30th anniversary, Alberdi spells out the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for IPS. The first of a two-part interview.

IPS: How would you explain CEDAW to someone who has not heard about it? INÉS ALBERDI: Across the globe, women confront manifold violations of their human rights – when they cannot articipate in the decisions that affect their lives or claim fair political representation, when they face discrimination in employment, when they are denied entitlement to land and property, or when they suffer violence within their own home.

CEDAW is the means by which governments around the world have undertaken legal human rights obligations to combat these violations, and advance gender equality. It is the core international agreement on women’s human rights.

Ratified by 186 U.N. member states, CEDAW encompasses a global consensus on the changes that need to take place. Under CEDAW, states are required to eliminate the many different forms of gender-based discrimination women confront, not only by making sure that there are no existing laws that directly discriminate against women, but also by ensuring that all necessary arrangements are put in place that will allow women to experience equality.

IPS: It probably means a lot to a whole generation of women who fought for women’s rights. Could you mention some of the challenges faced at the time it was adopted? IA: This varied of course from country to country. In my own country, Spain, the struggle for women’s rights was part of the broader struggle for democratisation in the country.

Under the dictatorship, women had almost no rights, we couldn’t vote, or work outside the house without our husband’s permission for example. Reproductive rights were extremely limited, as they were in the vast majority of countries. This was very similar in countries in Latin America, where women’s rights movements emerged in the context of democratisation movements.

In the U.S., this movement came out of, and in connection with the civil rights movement, and later it was very much identified with the struggle for reproductive rights, while in many other places the women’s movement was linked to a movement for national liberation.

IPS: Do you think the time has come for the U.N. member states to fulfil the promises made since the first International Women’s Year in 1975, the adoption of the CEDAW, as well as the U.N. World Conferences in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995)? The 54th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in 2010 will undertake a 15-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action. What do you expect from it? IA: At the 15 year review of implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action, women’s rights groups and gender equality advocates will have an opportunity to celebrate the progress that has been made, and to seek government agreement on the challenges we must work to address.

We have already seen some of the things that women are identifying as priorities in the regional meetings for Beijing +15 which have happened already in the European and CIS region and will take place in Asia Pacific and Africa starting next week.

At the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) meeting for example, women from Central and Eastern Europe fought hard to get states to recognise the way in which the global financial crisis is affecting their lives – not only through lost jobs and livelihoods but through a tremendous strain on household coping strategies and an ever-growing burden of care-giving work in families to make up for cutbacks in government services and falling household income.

They wanted countries to recognise the plight of women migrant workers, who are being forced to return home to no jobs or go underground, where they are subject to violence and abuse. They also expressed impatience with the fact that despite decades of campaigns to put ending violence against women on the human rights and development agendas, the multiple forms of violence in women’s lives is still a daily reality for many women in all countries.

And they want countries not only to recognise all these things, but to say what they are going to do about them – so they can be held accountable for their promises.

In Africa too, where women have been hard hit by the economic crisis, women’s groups have identified decent work opportunities and greater social protection as their number one concerns, followed by protection from gender-based violence, not only in conflict but also when conflicts end.

It is important to recognise too that by raising these issues, they can take them into other important arenas, including the Security Council.

For example, with the passage of the Resolutions 1888 and 1889- which followed Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 from nine years ago, and SCR 1820 from 2008 – the Council strongly signalled its intention to advance accountability to women and girls in armed conflict, strengthen women’s protection from sexual violence and address their exclusion from peace building in post-conflict contexts.

Or for instance, advance women’s human rights in arenas like the International Criminal Court, which has recognised rape as a war crime and crime against humanity.

*Miren Gutierrez is IPS Editor in Chief. This is the first of a two-part interview.

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