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Human Rights

Women Often Forgotten In Cases Of Forced Disappearance

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS) - Governments must do more to address the impacts of forced disappearances of women, according to an international justice report released Monday.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented over 54,000 cases of such disappearances from all over the world.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in releasing its report ‘The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearances on Women,’ urged governments to better address the effects of such crimes on females.

The report states women are the minority of those who are forcibly disappeared, but “the majority of family members who suffer exacerbated social, economic, and psychological disadvantages as a result of the loss of a male family member who is often a breadwinner.”

In surveying 31 countries – mostly in Africa and Central and South America – the ICTJ urged governments to remember “the need to consider women’s experiences, including when implementing measures like truth commissions, prosecutions, and reparations.”

The report states while women who have been forcibly disappeared experience much the same treatment as men in detention – including torture and ill treatment – women are often subject to gender-based violence including sexual violence and separation from their children.

The ICTJ said women left behind when a family member or partner is disappeared experience “ongoing victimisation” including poverty, family conflict and psychological trauma, as well as often being forced into low-paying, dangerous or exploitative working arrangements to support their families. Women may also face difficulty in accessing bank accounts, social services or ownership rights of property, which may be held in their partner’s name.

Flow-on effects are felt by children and other family members, including impacts on education, health and general well being.

“Although women make up the minority of those who are disappeared around the world, in almost every country we studied… they make up the majority of those who suffer serious, lasting harm after a disappearance,” said Amrita Kapur, senior associate for ICTJ’s Gender Justice programme.

“When a loved one goes missing, most often women are on the forefront of the search for truth and vulnerable to further abuses, even as they take on the role of breadwinner while raising children. Women’s stories are not being told, making it harder for governments to respond effectively.”

The report is part of an ongoing project between ICTJ and UN Women.

The report posits a set of recommendations to better support women who are left behind after the forced disappearance of a partner or family member. Chief among the findings is a call for a new legal category allowing relatives of a disappeared person to access benefits, inherit wealth and assets, and to dissolve marriages even without the person being declared dead.

The report cites the fact that remaining partners are often unwilling or unable to have their disappeared partner declared dead, but that many social benefits or legal avenues for redress only become available upon declaration of death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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