âThe 21st century will witness women…
Dr. Shirin Ebadi
âŠplay a defining role in instigating peace in the Middle East and moving the region forward toward democracy and respect for human rights. Women throughout this conflict-ridden region will continue to refuse to remain silent in their struggle against absolutist rule. They will remain committed to fighting against the regionâs historically patriarchal character.
In my own country, Iran, women have been pursuing their peaceful struggle for womenâs rights and gender equality for decades. By all accounts, the womenâs movement in Iran is the strongest of its kind in the Middle East. Iranian women are conscious of the fact that their triumph can be an impetus for the victory of all women struggling to achieve the same goals in the region. The Iranianâs women movement is without a leader, headquarters or local branches; there is no such need, as its roots are ingrained in the souls of millions of Iranians who firmly believe in gender equality. Iranian men, for their part, have played a supportive role in this movement, not least because they recognize that democracy and womenâs rights are fundamental and indispensable sides of the same scale, and that the eventual triumph of the womenâs movement will pave the way for building real and sustainable democracy in the country.
Women constitute half of the worldâs population and, with minor exceptions, half of the demographic mass of every society. Ignoring this important fact means neglecting half of the potential of society in the advancement of peace, prosperity, democracy and development in any region, including the Middle East. There are slow but promising signs that women in the Middle East are gradually building networks to assist one another in a joint effort to struggle against repressive and violent policies for the attainment of gender equality across the region.
In the 21st century, let us hope that, thanks to the dedicated efforts of women in the region, peace and tranquility will once again return to the Middle East â making for a region bereft of tyranny and conflict, that promotes and nurtures all members of society irrespective of sex, race or religion.â
Â» Dr. Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (2003) and the Ordre national de la LĂ©gion dâhonneur (2006) for her work in advancing democracy and human rights, in particular the rights of women and children in Iran.
Fatoumata Dembele Diarra
âŠvaincre plusieurs obstacles dans leur marche vers lâaccession Ă lâĂ©galitĂ©, au pouvoir et Ă la jouissance pleine et entiĂšre des droits fondamentaux de la personne. Si le combat des femmes a Ă©tĂ© couronnĂ© au cours du siĂšcle dernier par lâacceptation de lâĂ©galitĂ© entre homme et femme et par la reconnaissance des droits politiques, civils, Ă©conomiques et sociaux aux femmes, beaucoup dâobstacles empĂȘchent lâexercice effectif de ces droits. La prioritĂ© du 21e siĂšcle est lâĂ©limination de ces obstacles. La tĂąche ne sera pas facile car les causes bien que rĂ©elles sont parfois insaisissables ou invisibles. Par delĂ ce constat, on relĂšve que les femmes du continent africain restent les plus affectĂ©es par les discriminations et les violations de leurs droits. Deux questions au moins doivent ĂȘtre posĂ©es: quelles sont les manifestations des discriminations Ă lâĂ©gard des femmes, malgrĂ© les textes internationaux relatifs aux principes dâĂ©galitĂ© et la non discrimination? Quelles stratĂ©gies faut-il pour combattre ce phĂ©nomĂšne?
LâaccĂšs Ă lâĂ©ducation: dans les Ă©coles et les universitĂ©s des pays Ă faibles ou moyens revenus, on compte 79 filles contre 100 garĂ§ons. Le droit au travail: le faible taux de prĂ©sence des femmes dans le monde du travail ou leur confinement dans les secteurs de bas niveau est le corollaire direct de lâaccĂšs rĂ©duit des filles Ă lâĂ©ducation. Les droits politiques: le droit de vote est universel, mais seulement 16 pour cent des siĂšges des parlements reviennent aux femmes. Sur les 52 chefs dâEtats Africains, seule une femme est prĂ©sidente, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (LibĂ©ria). Le droit Ă la santĂ©: il reste un mirage pour les femmes dans les pays en dĂ©veloppement, oĂč il y a 2 000 dĂ©cĂšs de femmes sur 100 000 naissances, alors que ce chiffre baisse de cinq Ă 30 dĂ©cĂšs pour 1 000 naissances dans les pays dĂ©veloppĂ©s. La sĂ©curitĂ© et lâintĂ©gritĂ© physique: les femmes continuent dâĂȘtre victimes de viols, de mutilations gĂ©nitales, de violences conjugales et de rĂ©pudiation. Les droits civils: ils sont discriminatoires au dĂ©triment des femmes notamment au niveau du rĂ©gime successoral. La polygamie et le lĂ©virat sont parfois tolĂ©rĂ©s dans certains pays.
AprĂšs la victoire de la reconnaissance de leurs droits, les femmes gagneront le combat de la jouissance effective de ceux-ci. Pour cela, elles disposent dâatouts importants que leur procurent leur prĂ©sence, certes encore limitĂ©e mais rĂ©elle, dans les hautes sphĂšres de la prise de dĂ©cision au plan national et international, ainsi que les pistes balisĂ©es par des personnalitĂ©s ou des institutions investies dâune autoritĂ©Â morale incontestable et engagĂ©es rĂ©solument pour laÂ justice sociale.
Dans ce contexte, Kofi Annan alors SecrĂ©taire GĂ©nĂ©ral des Nations Unies affirmait que lâĂ©galitĂ© des sexes qui est lâun des Objectifs de DĂ©veloppement du MillĂ©naire constituait une Â«condition indispensableÂ»Â Ă la rĂ©alisation des autres objectifs, Ă savoir lâĂ©radication de la pauvretĂ©, la rĂ©duction de la mortalitĂ© infantile, la mise en place de lâĂ©ducation pour tous et lâĂ©limination des fossĂ©s entre les sexes en termes dâaccĂšs Ă lâĂ©ducation dâici 2015. Dans le mĂȘme sens, dans son rapport Genre et dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique de 2001, la Banque Mondiale prĂ©conise la mise en Ćuvre de lâĂ©galitĂ© des Â«droits, de ressources et de participationÂ» entre les sexes et recommande la rĂ©forme des institutions en vue de la promotion de lâĂ©galitĂ©. Elle a aussi recommandĂ© lâadoption dâautres mesures audacieuses comme lâĂ©tablissement de bourses dâĂ©tudes rĂ©servĂ©es aux jeunes filles et lâinstauration de quotas en faveur des femmes au sein des parlements.
Les femmes ne manqueront pas de sâapproprier ces pistes afin que les droits chĂšrement conquis au siĂšcle dernier deviennent une rĂ©alitĂ© au cours du 21e siĂšcle.
Pour cela, lâoptimisme est permis lorsquâon porte un regard sur les rĂ©alisations dans le domaine de la sĂ©curitĂ© et lâintĂ©gritĂ© physique. Par exemple, le droit international pĂ©nal a intĂ©grĂ© les menaces spĂ©cifiques contre les femmes et les filles pendant les conflits. Autrefois nĂ©gligĂ©s et qualifiĂ©s dâatteintes Ă lâhonneur des femmes et exclus de la liste des infractions graves aux Conventions de GenĂšve, le viol et les autres formes de violences sexuelles sont dĂ©sormais considĂ©rĂ©s comme des crimes contre lâhumanitĂ© et des crimes de guerre par le Statut de la Cour pĂ©nale internationale, et ce aussi bien en temps de conflit armĂ© international que de conflit non qualifiĂ© comme tel. Ce Statut est entrĂ© en vigueur le 1er juillet 2002 et aujourdâhui dans la composition des juges chargĂ©s de lâappliquer, on compte note 10 femmes contre huit hommes. Cette rĂ©alitĂ© doit ĂȘtre reflĂ©tĂ©e dans dâautres secteurs, ce qui exige que nous restons mobilisĂ©es pour emporter dâautres victoires.Â»
Â» Fatoumata Dembele Diarra est PremiĂšre Vice-PrĂ©sidente Ă la Cour pĂ©nale internationale (CPI). Elle Ă©tait juge ad litem au Tribunal pĂ©nal international pour l’ex-Yougoslavie jusqu’Ă son Ă©lection Ă la CPI.
âŠ in Iran overcome many of the impediments standing in the way of realizing gender equality. Iran is a diverse society, where women from both religious and secular backgrounds recognize the need for legal reform to promote Iranian womenâs rights. Yet, alas, the hurdles are many. To begin with, the Iranian legal system not only fails to protect womenâs rights in conformity with international human rights standards, but worse, does not treat women as equals under national law. The system patently promotes patriarchy and a second-class citizenry for women. Since the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, many discriminatory laws have been forced upon women in the name of Islam. The revolution was meant to be a great march forward toward equality, justice and emancipation. Ironically, women played a most active role in the revolution â a revolution that promised so much, but failed with equal efficacy to deliver. It was an enormous shock when the new authorities ordered the forced veiling of women â a marked departure from the practice of the preceding decades during which women were free to choose whether or not to wear the veil.
Iranian women became increasingly irate as they witnessed their rights withering away. Countless demonstrations and strikes were organized in protest. Womenâs grievances and demands, however, fell on deaf ears at a time when the highly conservative patriarchal ideology of the ânew guardâ was shaping the Iranian Islamic theocratic experiment. Despite the innumerable challenges, the struggle for womenâs rights in Iran has persisted â indeed, gaining renewed vigour, as demonstrated during the post-presidential election crisis last summer. Iranian women have re-emerged, evincing their social weight, and garnering international support and admiration. Today, Iranian women feel more empowered than in any other period of their social and political lives in post-revolutionary Iran. Women constitute nearly half of Iranâs 74 million people. This enlightened and socially conscious mass on the march cannot be ignored. In the 21st century, Iranian women will push towards the fulfillment of the following aspirations: ensuring the release of all imprisoned womenâs rights activists; reforming laws that âlegalizeâ and promote gender discrimination; ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; adopting zero-tolerance policies for violence and/or abuse against women; and eradicating state violence against the people.
This new century will witness Iranian women â with the support of their courageous countrymen â promote an open society where progress and nation-building are made possible through the full and equal participation of men and women alike.â
Â» Mehrangiz Kar is an Iranian lawyer and activist specializing in womenâs rights.Â She has received numerous awards for her human rights work and efforts in promoting womenâs rights, including the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize (2002).
Nathalie Des Rosiers
âŠachieve equality in freedom of expression, religion or belief. The international human rights law framework mandates states to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals.Â While old challenges persist, new ones continually emerge, particularly in the milieu fashioned by the post-September 11th âwar on terror.â There are countless examples of states infringing freedom of religion and expression, and defending the violations in populist terms, while failing to show that these infringements are necessary, of minimal impairment, or proportional to the perceived harm. For women, the danger is twofold: unjustified limitations on these fundamental freedoms set the stage for religious intolerance and result in women consistently being targets and victims of discrimination and harm. A woman who is forced to choose between donning a religious symbol and participating freely in her society is a woman whose fundamental rights are being violated, as she is either condemned to exclusion and marginalization, or forced to relinquish expressing her belief. Such a choice strikes at the very core of a womanâs human dignity.
An example of this issue is playing out at this time in Canada. Bill 94 introduced in Quebec seeks to ban the niqab for women seeking services from public employees. In a free and democratic society, a government has no place to tell a woman what or what not to wear. Women must have the freedom of self-expression. It may well be that oneâs expression is repugnant to another personâs sense of equality, but telling a woman what is not good for her or impermissible, is similar to telling a woman what is good for her and mandatory.
I write optimistically that the obstacles standing in the way of women will change in the 21st century for the following reasons. There is today, ubiquitously, a movement for women to empower themselves by demanding access to, inter alia, mortgages, micro-credit and land titles.Â This trend should force shifts in current land and global trade laws, which will promote food security and sustainable development through the anchor of gender equality. When women are empowered at the grassroots level, and are in a position to make informed, independent choices regarding what is right for them, for their children and ultimately for their communities, the reverberations will be felt exponentially at the state level. This should result in more substantive protection of womenâs rights beyond official lip-service. By informing themselves, women can also use all of the mechanisms available in domestic and international law frameworks to force state accountability. Too many women are still victims of unlawful and vicious attacks in war, such as rape. The recognition in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of rape as a war crime is a necessary first step toward substantive equality in the framework of international human rights law; no longer is the normative human rights victim exclusively male. There are signs of a greater feminization of international law â something essential to meeting the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the inherent equality and dignity of every human being. In such an emerging environment, we can come together to ensure that real freedom of religion and belief and expression may flourish.â
Â» Nathalie Des Rosiers is the General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and past President of the Law Commission of Canada.
âŠ change the world from the bottom up, after first achieving equity top to bottom.Â Gender mainstreaming policies, inherited from the 20th century, tend to focus on the important objective of equity in employment and in politics, including, critically, breaking through the glass ceiling at the top.Â Such policies can be effective if they support, and are supported by, increasing womenâs empowerment throughout society.Â But we are also beginning to see, in diverse societies around the world, the profound benefits to human life that spring from equity at the âbottomâ â in communities and within families.Â These benefits herald a new kind of change â a shift that will play out in the 21st century. A shift to true equality for women that includes political, economic, community and family-level change can also mean an opportunity to reduce the deprivation and stress that kill millions of young children and blight the lives of hundreds of millions more worldwide.Â As children grow up in a more equitable environment, they in turn will have the opportunity to build, bottom up, a more just, more humane world.Â We who came of age in the 20th century cannot begin to predict the form this more decent world will take. Our job is to encourage the conditions that will let it develop, and to get out of the way.â
Â» James Radner teaches international development and policy analysis at the School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto. He also conducts action research and consulting projects that focus on enhancing the effectiveness of development interventions, including through civic learning, multi-stakeholder dialogue,constituency feedback and collaborative change.
Sam Sasan Shoamanesh
âŠincreasingly â and one hopes, fully â exercise their previously denied equal and naturalÂ rights in all aspects of society and, in so doing, elevate human consciousness to usher in the next eon of civilization.Â At the dawn of this new century, the archaic walls that have traditionally confined women to subjugated status are either cracking or increasingly beingÂ challengedÂ by female protagonists worldwide through theirÂ staunch efforts and sacrifices for the cause. While longstanding barriers areÂ slowlyÂ crashing down, lamentably, countless others remain firmly entrenched,Â acting as a reminder ofÂ an epic battle, yet to be decisively won. This present reality operatesÂ against the background of a human history of patent inequality between the sexes, which has served as one of the most regrettable impediments to the optimal advancement of humankind. It is hardly difficult to imagine how much further ahead we would be as a species â in the human experiment, as it were â if only the talents, energies and potentials of both sexes were fully unleashed without dogmatic restraint or otherwise pinned down by antediluvian logic. And so here we are, and where from here? Our cultural ethos as members of the same species should be to strive towards the advancement of a âkingdom of the enlightenedâ through the faculties of reason and rationality. The latter dictates, unequivocally, that it is long overdue for women, wherever they may be on Planet E, to finally and fully participate in all spheres of social, cultural, economic and political life, and for men to fulfil the honourable duty of promoting this natural state of human existence â âSo let it be written, so let it be done.â That is an ‘article of faith,’ to which I proudly proclaim my allegiance.”
Â» Sam Sasan Shoamanesh is co-founder and Managing Editor of Global Brief.Â The views expressed in this commentary have been provided in the authorâs personal capacity, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Criminal Court.
(Illustration: Steven Salerno)