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Nov 28, 2008
Focus: Women
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Location: Somalia

November 04, 2008

13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was killed on Monday, 27 October 2008, by a group of 50 men who stoned her to death in a stadium in the southern port of Kismayu, Somalia in front of around 1,000 spectators.

She was accused of adultery in breach of Islamic law but, her father and other sources told Amnesty International that she had in fact been raped by three men, and had attempted to report this rape to the al-Shabab militia who control Kismayo, and it was this act that resulted in her being accused of adultery and detained. None of men she accused of rape were arrested.

Some of the Somali journalists who had reported she was 23 have told Amnesty International that this age was based upon a judgement of her age from her physical appearance.

She was accused of adultery in breach of Islamic law but, her father and other sources told Amnesty International that she had in fact been raped by three men, and had attempted to report this rape to the al-Shabab militia who control Kismayo, and it was this act that resulted in her being accused of adultery and detained. None of men she accused of rape were arrested.

“This was not justice, nor was it an execution. This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo,” said David Copeman, Amnesty’s International Somalia Campaigner.

“This killing is yet another human rights abuse committed by the combatants to the conflict in Somalia, and again demonstrates the importance of international action to investigate and document such abuses, through an International Commission of Inquiry.”

Amnesty International has reported that:

  • Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was reported as being 23, based upon a judgement on her physical appearance, according to one of the journalists who had reported the stoning. Her actual age of 13 was confirmed to Amnesty International by other sources, including her father.
  • Her father said she had only travelled to Kismayo from Hagardeer refugee camp in north eastern Kenya three months earlier
  • She was detained by militia of the Kismayo authorities, a coalition of Al-shabab and clan militias. During this time, she was reportedly extremely distressed, with some individuals stating she had become mentally unstable.
  • A truckload of stones was brought into the stadium to be used in the stoning.
  • At one point during the stoning, Amnesty International has been told by numerous eyewitnesses that nurses were instructed to check whether Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was still alive when buried in the ground. They removed her from the ground, declared that she was, and she was replaced in the hole where she had been buried for the stoning to continue.
  • An individual calling himself Sheik Hayakalah, was quoted on Radio Shabelle saying:``The evidence came from her side and she officially confirmed her guilt, while she told us that she is happy with the punishment under Islamic law.'' In contradiction to this claim, a number of eye witnesses have told Amnesty International she struggled with her captors and had to be forcibly carried into the stadium.
  • Inside the stadium, militia members opened fire when some of the witnesses to the killing attempted to save her life, and shot dead a boy who was a bystander. An al-Shabab spokeperson was later reported to have apologized for the death of the child, and said the milita member would be punished.

What you can do

You can write a letter to the representatives of Somalia, the African Union, and various UN human rights offices to encourage them to take action by investigating this murder, bringing the perpetrators to justice, and denouncing the actions of these insurgents.

Sample Letter


Subject: Subject: Stoning of Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow in Somalia

Dear [Sir / Madam],

We are deeply concerned to learn about the stoning to death of Aisha Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a 13 year old Somali girl who was publically tortured and murdered Monday October 27 2008 in the local square in Kismayu, Somalia.

Accused of adultery, Aisha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was buried up to her neck in front of around 1000 people while stones were hurled at her head. Witnesses to the stoning said the militants, known as al-Shabaab, accused the woman of adultery and extracted a confession. Although all standard interpretations of “sharia” (or, collections of various Muslim laws and their interpretations) dictate that adultery must be proven by four eye witnesses in a court of law, the Somali Concern Group reported that the killing was extra-judicial, and that the woman did not receive a trial.

Stoning is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran and is considered by many respected Muslim scholars to be un-Islamic. Many Muslim nations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunisia, Algeria and others have banned death by stoning. Despite calls for abolition from around the globe, stoning still occurs in several countries, either under law or by the community.

Members of al-Shabaab apparently publicized the execution, killing the woman in front of hundreds of people at the town square. When a relative and others pushed forward to rescue the victim, guards opened fire, killing a child. Islamist leaders have reportedly apologized for killing the child, but offered no such repentance for the stoning of Dhuhulow.

Stoning is a grave and serious violation of International Human Rights Law. Stoning breeches the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (1966). Somalia acceded to the convention in 1990.

Article 6 of the ICCPR states that “in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”, of which adultery is not.

Article 7 of the ICCPR states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". This last injunction is reinforced in the 1985 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to which Somalia acceded in 1990.

Although the killing was carried out by non-state insurgents, Article 2 of the CAT states that “each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Somalia is one of the only countries in the world that has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We encourage you to use your influence and authority to promote and preserve human rights, peace and security in the region. We urge a prompt and impartial investigation into this grave case. Members of al-Shabaab as well as every individual who took part in the stoning must be brought to justice, and the African Union should take due diligence in taking every possible measure in order to prevent any such violation of women’s human rights from reoccurring.

We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

Yours Sincerely,

[Your name / your organization]


Representatives of Somalia

The Somali Prime Minister Office
HE. Ali Mohamed Gedi
P.O. Box 623 – 00606
Sarit, Somalia
Fax: +252-5-974242

Prime Minister's Secretary
Mr. Abukar Ali Abdirahman (Abukar Ga'al)
Fax: +252-5-974242

African Union

African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Roosevelt Street (Old Airport Area)
W21K19, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 78 44

Social Affairs Commissioner
Adv. Bience P. Gawanas
Fax: +251 11 550 49 85

Directorate of Peace and Security
Mr Geofrey Mugumya
Fax: +251 11-552 58 72

Directorate of Women, Gender and Development
Mrs. Litha Musyimi-Ogana
Fax: +251 11-551 78 44

United Nations Human Rights Bodies

Ms. Yakin Erturk
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +41 22 917 9006

Mr. Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +41 22 917 9006

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
c/o Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations Secretariat
2 United Nations Plaza
DC-2/12th Floor
New York, NY 10017
United States of America
Fax: + 1-212-963-3463

Ms. Navanethem Pillay
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: + 41 22 9179022

Ms Yanghee Lee
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: + 41 22 9179022

Please also copy all correspondence to


Somalia: Woman stoned to death for adultery
29/10/2008: Somali Islamists have stoned to death a woman accused of adultery, witnesses said, the first such public killing by the militants for about two years. (Independent / Reuters)

The woman was placed in a hole up to her neck for the execution late yesterday in front of hundreds of people in a square in the southern port of Kismayu, which the Islamist insurgents captured in August.

Stones were hurled at her head and she was pulled out three times to see if she was dead, witnesses said. When a relative and others surged forward, guards opened fire, killing a child.

"A woman in green veil and black mask was brought in a car as we waited to watch the merciless act of stoning," one local resident, Abdullahi Aden, told Reuters.

"We were told she submitted herself to be punished, yet we could see her screaming as she was forcefully bound, legs and hands. A relative of hers ran towards her, but the Islamists opened fire and killed a child."

The European Union's presidency condemned the stoning.

"The EU ... condemns a particularly vile execution, which the Islamist insurgents who took control of the city deliberately publicised," it said in a statement.

The Islamists last carried out public executions when they ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia for half of 2006. Allied Ethiopian and Somali government forces toppled them at the end of that year, but they have waged an Iraq-style guerrilla campaign since then, gradually taking territory back.

As when they ruled Mogadishu in 2006, the Islamists now controlling the Kismayu area are again providing much-needed security, but also imposing fundamentalist practices such as banning forms of entertainment seen as anti-Islamic.

Relatives of the woman executed in Kismayu, whom they named as Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow, were furious.

"The stoning was totally irreligious and illogical," said her sister, who asked not to be named. "Islam does not execute a woman for adultery unless four witnesses and the man with whom she committed sex are brought forward publicly."

Islamist leaders at the execution said the woman had broken Islamic law. They promised to punish the guard who had shot the child in the melee around the execution.

"We apologise for killing the child. And we promise we shall bring the one who opened fire before the courts and deal with him accordingly," one unnamed Islamist leader told the crowd.

28 October 2008

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Posted: Nov 28, 2008 7:25am
Nov 11, 2008



No podemos que expresar con sentimientos de rabia e impotencia como un estado mantiene su accionar de exterminio contra nuestro proceso, la imposibilidad de poder hacer algo frente a  lo que nos  anuncian es casi total, a lo que  si podemos acudir es a la memoria, a la constancia histórica, para que algún día ese sentido de humanidad en muchos lugares del mundo juzgue todo este terror.


-          Hoy sábado 1 de noviembre a las 2:30 p.m. en el barrio Ortiz de Apartadó fue víctima de un atentado por paramilitares auspiciados por la fuerza pública JESUS EMILIO TUBERQUA representante legal de la comunidad.  Jesús Emilio se encontraba en la puerta de un café internet cuando fue abordado por dos hombres de civil y reconocidos paramilitares, uno de ellos sacó un arma corta apuntándole a la cabeza y le dijo te vamos a matar, enseguida Jesús Emilio le cogió la mano en la que el paramilitar tenía el arma logrando empujarlo y así poder entrar dentro del establecimiento donde se encontraba una persona de la Comunidad de Tamera (comunidad hermana con la Comunidad de Paz ubicada en Portugal), allí se escondió.  Al correr y en el forcejeo a Jesús Emilio se le cayó el morral en el que portaba documentos y papeles de la comunidad, su identificación, dinero de la comunidad y el celular, los paramilitares  buscaron  a Jesús Emilio no lo encontraron, recogieron la mochila y se fueron. Hace varios meses como hemos dejado constancia Jesús Emilio ha sido víctima de varias amenazas por parte de los paramilitares y militares, al igual que varios miembros de la comunidad.


Pedimos la solidaridad nacional e internacional ante este hecho que es un claro atentado contra nuestra comunidad por parte del paramilitarismo y el estado que actúa en conjunto con ellos. Sabemos del riesgo de cada miembro de nuestra comunidad pues los sembradores de la muerte buscan exterminarnos,  pero creemos en la vida y esta no podrá apagarse cuando se camina por sendas de paz y de acciones alternativas como las que construimos diariamente.



Noviembre 1 de 2008

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Posted: Nov 11, 2008 4:18am
Oct 22, 2008
Focus: Corporate Responsibility
Action Request: Poll
Location: Belgium

Vote Now!
At the ‘Worst EU Lobbying’ Awards 2008, the annual award for deceptive, manipulative or unethical lobbying in the EU.

This year you can vote in two categories:
1. The ‘Worst EU Lobbying’ Award for the lobbyist, company or lobby group that in 2008 has employed the most deceptive, misleading, or otherwise problematic lobbying tactics in their attempts to influence EU decision-making.
2. The ‘Worst Conflict of Interest’ Award for the MEP, Commissioner or Commission official whose background, side-jobs or other liaisons with special interests raise the most serious concerns about their ability to act in public interest.

Select your winners now in both categories and cast your vote at

Best wishes,

The organisers of the ‘Worst EU Lobbying’ Awards 2008
Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, LobbyControl and Spinwatch

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Posted: Oct 22, 2008 5:30am
Jul 14, 2008

Last month, after receiving the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, Mohammed Omer was beaten and tortured by Israeli security personnel at the Allenby Bridge Crossing from Jordan to the West Bank.

Mohammed, the Gaza correspondent for the Inter-Press News Service and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and former translator for Global Exchange delegations to Gaza, received the award for outstanding work in exposing the realities of Israel's continued occupation and siege of the Gaza Strip.

Unfortunately, Mohammed's treatment as a journalist and Palestinian is not an isolated incident. According to Reporters without Borders, within the past 10 years, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has killed five journalists, including a Reuters cameraman killed in April.

The human rights organization, B'tselem, also regularly reports on the Israeli security forces' consistent acts of violence inflicted upon Palestinians.

We at Global Exchange would like to express our outrage at Mohammed Omer's abuse and torture, and extend our support and solidarity to Mohammed and his family.

Take Action!

Protest Mohammed's treatment and Israeli press censorship. Sign the Washington Report's petition to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

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Posted: Jul 14, 2008 11:20am
Jul 8, 2008

Last month, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 of
2008, which addresses sexual violence in situations of conflict. How
significant is this new Resolution?

By Kathambi Kinoti

On June 19, 2008 the United Nations Security Council adopted a Resolution
to end sexual violence in conflict. The passing of Resolution 1820 of 2008
was preceded by a day-long discussion on women, peace and security, chaired
by the United States - represented by its Secretary of State - which
currently has the presidency of the Council. On the longstanding dispute as
to whether sexual violence was an issue that the Security Council was
mandated to address, US Secretary Condoleezza Rice said: "We respond to
that lingering question with a resounding 'Yes!'" [1] While this may seem
obvious for the reason that there is no conflict in recent history where
girls and women have not been targeted for rape, the inclusion of this
acknowledgement into the Resolution was important because some members of
the Security Council, in particular China and Russia, have previously held
the position that sexual violence was not the business of the Council. [2]
Among other things, Resolution 1820 demands that parties involved in armed
conflict cease committing acts of sexual violence against civilians and
take appropriate measures to protect civilian women and girls from all
forms of sexual violence. It also calls upon parties to debunk the myths
that fuel sexual violence.

There have been mixed reactions from women's rights advocates to the
adoption of Resolution 1820. To begin with, there was no wide consultation
with women's rights organisations prior to the debate and the drafting of
the Resolution. The fact also that the debate was chaired by the United
States was disconcerting to some, but this was alleviated to some extent by
the recognition that women's rights advocates have been raising these very
issues for a long time. [3]

One of the biggest concerns about the Resolution 1820 is that its effect
may be to water down Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000, which
already calls for an end to impunity for sexual violence, and goes further.
Resolution 1325 provides a comprehensive framework for the role of women in
conflict prevention and resolution as well as in peace building. It
recognises the agency of women in matters of peace and security, and does
not portray them merely as victims. For some, isolating the aspect of
sexual violence from other aspects of conflict as they affect women, leads
to a focus on women as victims, downplaying their agency in different areas
including in addressing sexual violence. [4] The truth of conflict is that
many individual women in situations of conflict both experience sexual
violence and are change agents. On the other hand, sexual violence often
impedes women from participating in conflict prevention and resolution, a
fact that Resolution 1820 recognises.

There has generally been a failure on the part of states and the UN itself
to ensure the full implementation of the older Resolution and this has led
many to ask whether the new Resolution will not have a similar fate. It is
not the lack of international instruments or other guidelines that has
undermined the rights of girls and women in situations of conflict.
International law already recognises rape as a war crime, a crime against
humanity and a constitutive act with respect to genocide. It is more likely
that the failure to address sexual violence is reflective of a general
reluctance both nationally and internationally to treat sexual violence
with the seriousness it deserves, hence the scepticism on the part of some.
There are a number of cases where UN peacekeeping forces have been
implicated in sexual exploitation of women and girls. The UN Secretary
General, contributing to the debate preceding the adoption of Resolution
1820 reiterated that the UN had a zero tolerance approach to abuses by its
own personnel. This Resolution places the UN under greater scrutiny.

Another concern revolves around the perception of rape in terms of its use
against a particular ethnic group or nation as represented by women from
that particular group. In the words of Resolution 1820, "women and girls
are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a
tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or
forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group." While
it is true that rape is committed against women and girls as
representatives of their groups, the fact that rape is an abuse of
individual rights should not be obscured.

Although there are some reservations to Resolution 1820, it does break
important ground. As mentioned earlier, it lays to rest debate about
whether or not the Security Council should address sexual violence in
conflict situations. The Security Council possesses significant moral
authority and its pronouncements do have significant strength even though
their implementation has often been a challenge. Therefore its recognition
of the importance of urgently addressing all the dimensions of sexual
violence in conflict is welcome. The Security Council is also the body of
the UN charged with the responsibility of maintaining international peace
and security. It is therefore within its purview to act against states
waging unlawful wars and to outline the roles of UN peacekeeping forces. In
the past, peacekeeping forces have not explicitly been given the task of
providing protection against sexual violence [4]. Hopefully, this will
change with the adoption of Resolution 1820.

Resolution 1820 is not a comprehensive instrument for addressing sexual
violence. It is however, a step in the right direction provided that it
will complement and not distract from Resolution 1325, which is still the
definitive standard so far for incorporating women's rights perspectives
into conflict prevention and resolution, and peace building.
1. 'Security Council Demands immediate and complete Halt to Acts of Sexual
Violence against Civilians in Conflict Zones, unanimously adopting
Resolution 1820 (2008).' UN Department of Public Information, June 19,
2. Women's International League for Peace 'Security Council Resolution
1820: A Move to end Sexual Violence in Conflict,' 1325 PeaceWomen E-News,
Issue 102, June 2008.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
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Posted: Jul 8, 2008 12:11pm
May 2, 2008
On April 20-22, AWID, together with the Global Fund for Women, convened a
feminist strategy meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss feminist
resource mobilisation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
AWID interviews Leila Hessini from the meeting's Advisory Committee, and
Hadil El-Khouly - a young feminist who attended the meeting.

By Rochelle Jones

AWID: What was the MENA strategy meeting all about?

Leila Hessini (LH): The objective of this meeting was to engender dialogue
across donors and women's rights organisations, and between different
women's rights and social justice groups in the MENA region around the
issue of resource mobilisation. This was accomplished through an analysis
of the geopolitical and resource-mobilisation challenges that women's
rights groups face and by identifying potential strategies for addressing
these challenges in ways that strengthen women's movements.

Resource mobilisation is a deeply political issue in the region as funds
are used to support certain agendas, perspectives, and strategies over
others. While literally hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured
into certain countries – through the E.U.'s Mediterranean Partnership
program, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account and other bilateral and
foundational support - hardly any of this is going to support women's
rights organisations in the MENA region.

Increased support from some donors is going to support faith-based
initiatives and "moderate Muslims" as if this is the only viable strategy
in the region. US policies - such as the Patriot Act - make it seem risky
for US-based organisations to fund MENA groups whilst the Global Gag
Rule[1] (GGR) curtails freedom of speech and limits discussions of
comprehensive sexual and reproductive rights.

AWID: Why focus on the MENA region?

LH: A focus on the MENA region is important for many reasons. Firstly,
there is a long history of women's rights activism and scholarship
throughout the MENA region that is at best unknown, and at worst ignored or
even purposely silenced by international organisations and actors.
Providing opportunities to listen to, and learn from, MENA women's
theorising and advocacy is critical to filling this knowledge gap.

Secondly, MENA women activists are often unrepresented at global events -
such as UN conferences - where key decisions are taken that affect women in
the region. Their inclusion at such meetings is especially important given
that governments from key countries in the region such as Egypt and Iran
often create expedient allies with governments like the US to enact
repressive policies that are detrimental to women's rights, especially
their sexual and reproductive rights. Moreover, some of the key global
challenges - ending occupation in Palestine and Iraq, and finding a
solution to the crisis in Darfur, for example - are located in the region
and a feminist and women-centered analysis of these tragedies - and their
potential solutions - is lacking. Donors are increasing support for
"democracy," "peace" and "security", but what is the feminist analysis of
these issues and what is their impact on women's rights activism?

AWID: Hadil, how were you involved in the meeting and why was it so

Hadil El-Khouly (HEK): I was a participant at the Young Women's Dialogue
which started one day before the meeting. Together with four other
colleagues from the Young Women's Dialogue from Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine
and Algeria we gave feedback to the meeting on young women's perspectives
on challenges to resource mobilisation, movement building and concrete
steps and recommendations to overcome these challenges. My part was about
analysing the current situation of the women's rights movement in the MENA

It was an important meeting for the women's rights organisations in the
region as it provided the space to directly interact with donors and
address some of the main challenges faced in the region. For example one of
the challenges is that the region is very diverse, and so are the
strategies that have different effects in different contexts; this is a
point that donors need to be aware of. Furthermore the meeting triggered
discussion on the current situation of the women's rights movements in the
region in general and how we collectively affect change despite our

It was a unique experience for young feminists as it was the first time
for many of us to actually meet young women from the same region to
specifically share our experiences, views and concerns regarding our
integration and involvement in the women's rights movement in the MENA

AWID: Can you tell us about some of the funding issues in the MENA region
from your perspective as a young feminist?

HEK: There is no doubt that the scarcity of funding for women's rights
organisations in general is heavily reflected in the funding situation of
women's rights organiations in the MENA region. Obtaining funding and
resource mobilisation in general has become even more difficult in the
region in the last five years, leading to a shift from collective action to
build strong movements that can realise effective change, to fragmentation
and isolation of each organisation due to the growing competitiveness over
these scarce resources.

I believe that the difficult funding situation in the region has gradually
contributed to an increased focus on our role as executive directors, staff
members or fundraisers in our organisations, a self perception that came to
the forefront over our unique work and identities as activists.

What also makes resource mobilisation a challenge to women's rights
organisations in the region is the restrictive government policies these
NGO's are operating under. In light of the authoritarian nature most
governments in the region are characterised by, the control over NGO's is a
challenge in terms of establishment of NGO's and obtainment of funding. This
is made even more difficult concerning some donor policies that apply a
complex application process and come with rather bureaucratic procedures
not considering the harsh political, legal and economic conditions faced by
the majority of NGO's in the region.

The issue of foreign funding constitutes also a major challenge to resource
mobilisation in the region on two fronts. Namely a) the US occupation and
its controversial interest in the region had the detrimental effect of
channelling funds in the
regions that are mainly political and therefore avoided by many NGO's; and
b)governments in the region either deny access to foreign funding at all or
embark on stigmatising NGO's that obtain foreign funding as agents that work
with a "western agenda".

Access to funding for young feminist organisations or young women in
general is limited also because even though the majority of women's rights
organisations recognise the importance of working with young women, a cross
cutting strategy on how this can be achieved is still absent. Young women's
voices are not yet completely integrated in the national or regional
feminist discourse. This leads to an uncertainty amongst donors on how to
support these young women.

AWID: Some of the positive feedback coming from the meeting has described
it as being a significant space for young feminists to engage in the
issues. How would you describe the involvement of young feminists?

HEK: I believe the Young Women's Dialogue gave the participants a sense of
belonging and solidarity that was carried with them into the larger
meeting. This helped them engage with resource mobilisation and challenges
of the feminist movement in the region positively rather than just claiming
space for young feminists and not using that space to voice our perspectives
with regard to the issues discussed in the meeting. The young feminists also
brought in new and different insights to the meeting, whether in the small
group discussions or in the panels, such as the need to fight the violation
of women's sexual and bodily rights in the region.

AWID: Leila, what were some of the outcomes of the meeting and future
thinking on funding in the region?

LH: This conference was an important step in creating opportunities for
dialogue and understanding across diverse groups of MENA women activists,
international organisations and donors. Through the process of envisioning
a future resource mobilisation strategy, participants were able to explore
emerging funding challenges and opportunities in different sectors and
regions whilst identifying strategies to increase existing resources and
mobilise new support for women's rights work.

For example, some donors committed to increase their support to women's
groups in the region, to provide core support rather than project-specific
funds to allow grantees more flexibility, and to commit to multi-year
grants. Others agreed to support certain areas - such as culture and the
arts - that are under-funded. New strategies for women's rights groups to
mobilise their own resources - through individual giving, local resource
mobilisation and income-generating projects – were also outlined as
necessary to ensuring the financial sustainability of women's rights groups
in the region.

AWID: Hadil, what was the most important outcome of the meeting for you?

HEK: As part of the follow up to the meeting, the participants at the young
women's dialogue are discussing the creation of a network that can link us
together and through which we can collectively take action to contribute to
building a stronger feminist movement in the MENA region.

AWID: Leila, what stood out for you in terms of how successful the meeting
was – and how do you measure the success of such a meeting?

LH: The conference methodology was unique in that it adopted a
multi-generational approach and provided space and ownership of the
conference to young women who made up 20% of the participants. It featured
the vast diversity of organizations, approaches and strategies used across
MENA women's organisations. This diversity was evident in the political
history of certain groups, generational differences and strategies
developed in response to local contexts and realities.

While some women's organisations situate their demands in a historic,
cultural and religious framework that presents an alternative to Islamists'
model of what it means to be a Muslim woman, others are holding their
governments accountable to universal human rights and working to oppose US
interventionist policies. Most groups in the region have not traditionally
worked on sexual and reproductive rights, however the centrality of
sexuality for any discussion of women's rights was
highlighted by the LGBT groups and others. Our physically-challenged
sisters reminded us how their voices and realities have been silenced and
ignored by most donors as well as women's organisations. And the very-real
power dynamics that can exist between donors and women's groups and between
international and local groups was recognised and debated during several
panel and break-out sessions.

>From an immediate perspective, this meeting was successful in that its
original objectives were accomplished. However, genuine change takes time
and we will need to continue to monitor funding in the region and create
opportunities for different groups to meet, strategise and work together
towards a better, safer and more just world.


Leila Hessini, born in Algeria, now lives in Morocco and serves as senior
policy advisor at Ipas, a global organisation that promotes women's sexual
and reproductive rights. She has written extensively on the women's
movement in the Middle East and North Africa. Leila serves on several
boards that promote women's human rights.

Hadil El-Khouly is currently working at the International Relations unit at
the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA). She was born in
Germany as a daughter to Egyptian parents and then moved back with her
parents to Egypt where she completed her high school education at the
German school in Cairo. She then joined CEWLA at the age of 18 and obtained
her bachelor of law at the Cairo University where she studied parallel to
her work with CEWLA.

[1] The 'global gag rule' is a policy of the United States government that
denies US family planning funding to foreign non-governmental organisations
that perform abortions, provide counselling and referral for abortion, or
lobby to make abortion legal or more widely available in their countries.
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Posted: May 2, 2008 7:42am
May 2, 2008
By Kathambi Kinoti

The world is constantly under the real or perceived threat of weapons of
mass destruction. Nuclear weapons, in particular, are touted as the
ultimate guarantee of a nation's security even though the majority of
people regard them as being morally indefensible. [1]

What does gender have to do with WMD?

At first glance, the relationship between gender and weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) may not be obvious. After all, the eruption of a nuclear
bomb is likely to annihilate women men, children, animals and plants alike.
[2] However once the symbolic value of WMD is examined, the gender dimension
becomes apparent. Weapons in general tend to be associated with
masculinity, which is socially constructed. Most of the buyers, owners and
users of weapons are men. Armament and disarmament policies and practices
are influenced by ideas about masculinity. [3] Weapons are considered to be
symbols of masculinity and sexual potency. In 1998, when India detonated
five nuclear devices, Hindu nationalist leader Balasaheb Thackeray is
reported to have said 'we had to prove that we are not eunuchs.' [4]

According to Dr Carol Cohn of the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security and
Human Rights,
'After early policy failures, it is... becoming increasingly recognised
that the symbolic associations of [small arms and light weapons] with
masculinity have political effects. Specifically, in relation to
disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes, real
barriers to effective [small arms and light weapons] disarmament are
created by the ways in which masculine identities and roles have become
conjoined with weapons possession for many (male) combatants.' [5]

It is difficult to carry out small arms disarmament; it is much more
difficult to carry out disarmament where, as is the case with WMD, the
weapons are the ultimate symbol of might and potency. Political masculinity
is linked to preparedness to wage war. Cohn cites the United States
election campaigns as illustrative of this tendency. She says:
'There is often... an anxious preoccupation with affirming manhood on the
part of candidates for political office, for whom it is dangerous to be
seen as "soft" or "wimpish".' [6]

In this context, a tacit understanding emerges that it is difficult for a
political leader not to go to war when 'goaded' or 'rovoked.' Diplomacy or
negotiation are seen as 'effeminate' security strategies. Indeed, 'US
culture has never accorded diplomacy the strong, muscular attributes that
are heaped on soldiering. US movies are not filled with brawny movie stars
playing heroes in the diplomatic corps.' [7]

It is not only political discussions about WMD that are gendered;
professional discussions also follow the strict masculinity code. Cohn
relates the story of a male physicist involved in nuclear strategy. The
physicist reported having 'felt like a woman' when his observation about
the potential millions of human beings killed instantly in a nuclear attack
was met with an uncomfortable silence. He said that since then he was
careful never to 'blurt' out anything like that again. According to Cohn,
even worse that expressing concern for human bodies, the scientist 'evinced
some of the characteristics on the "female" side of the dichotomies - in his
"blurting" he was being impulsive, uncontrolled, emotional, concrete, upset
and attentive to fragile human bodies. Thus, the hegemonic discourse of
gender positioned him as feminine, which he found doubly threatening.

It was not only a threat to his own sense of self as masculine, his gender
identity; it also positioned him in the devalued or subordinate position in
the discourse.' [8]

Proliferation of WMD

Even the question of who can and who cannot have WMD is gendered. Some
nations consider themselves to be entitled to develop and possess WMD and
to have the duty to disarm certain other nations of their WMD. According to
'In drawing a distinction between "the Self" and the (generally
non-Western) "Unruly Other", the prevailing arguments against proliferation
appear patronising, ethno-racist and contemptuous. Not only does
non-proliferation discourse draw on Occidentalist portrayals of third world
actors; it does so through the medium of gender-laden terminology. For
example, the nuclear possessors' Self is responsible, prudent, rational,
advanced, mature, restrained, technologically and bureaucratically
competent (and thus "hegemonically masculine"). By contrast, the Unruly
Others are irrational, unpredictable, emotional, uncontrolled, immature,
primitive, undisciplined, incompetent, technologically backward (marks of
an inferior or "subordinated" masculinity).' [9]

Where are women?

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security makes it
clear that security is women's business. It is dangerous to accept that it
is alright for discussions about WMD to be confined to the political and
scientific spaces that they currently primarily inhabit, or to overlook the
gendered nature of these discussions. They are based on flawed notions of
masculinity and they have fundamental implications for the survival of
humanity. Women's rights advocates must increase their presence and impact
within national and global security discourse if peace is to become a

1. . Cohn et al. (2005) 'The Relevance of Gender for Eliminating Weapons of
Mass Destruction.' Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission.
2. This is not to discount the fact that in many ways, men and women are
affected differently by conflict or by the effects of the testing of
nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. For instance nuclear testing has
worse repercussions on women's reproductive health than it has on men's,
and women are more likely than men to develop fatal cancer when exposed to
radiation. However this article focuses on the prevalent gendered
approaches to discourse on weapons of mass destruction.
3. See note 1.
4. Ibid. p. 3.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid. p. 5.
7. Ibid. p. 6.
8. Ibid p. 8.
9. Ibid.
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Posted: May 2, 2008 7:41am
Mar 14, 2008
Combatting HIV and Violence against Women: Women Won't Wait

Women Won't Wait (WWW) is a global campaign by organizations and networks from the global North and South, that addresses the intersection between HIV
and AIDS and violence against women. The Campaign recently marked its first anniversary. We interviewed Shamillah Wilson, the Campaign's
Communications Manager about the journey so far.

By Kathambi Kinoti

AWID: One year after its launch, what successes can Women Won't Wait celebrate?

SHAMILLAH WILSON: First of all, the Campaign has brought together an international alliance of women's rights advocates committed to working
collectively and in a coordinated way to advance the intersection of HIV and AIDS and violence against women and girls. The shared analysis and
agenda developed by the Coalition not only informs and shapes lobbying internationally, regionally and nationally; it also strengthens and will
continue to shape the work of women's rights advocacy. The campaign has been launched at the international level, regional level and in several
countries such as Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Guatemala to name a few. In Sierra Leone for example, public awareness campaigns and
strategic lobbying have led to the speedy enactment of three bills, in circulation since 2004: (i) Registration of Customary Marriages and
Divorce, (ii) Intestate Succession, and (iii) Domestic Violence Bills. These actions have effectively changed the landscape of women's human
rights in Sierra Leone. There are other such examples at the national level.

In March 2007, the WWW coalition released a report that cited the sexual violence and coercion that women experience at the hands of their male
partners as a leading factor in the increasing "feminization" of the AIDS pandemic. Titled, 'Show Us the Money: Is Violence Against Women on the HIV
and AIDS Funding Agenda?', the report noted that while funding for HIV/AIDS programmes has increased dramatically in recent years, the main donor
agencies have failed to address the link between violence against women and HIV infection. Funding for programmes aimed at promoting women's rights
and access to reproductive and sexual health services has actually decreased.

At the global level, following WWW's launch, we have placed the issue of the intersection of violence against women and girls and HIV and AIDS on
the broader development agenda and donor agenda. A Call to Action to the G8 in June 2007 yielded a commitment to increase targetted support for women
and girls. In addition, WWW has done advocacy and lobbying of bi- and multi-lateral institutions to ensure accountability and delivery of greater
and more meaningful integration of violence against women and girls in AIDS responses.

AWID: According to the WWW campaign, women's rights still occupy the margins of HIV and AIDS strategies and
funding, yet 61% of people living with HIV are women. Why are women's rights concerns not yet at the centre of policies and programming?

SW: There has been general failure by various nstitutions that are responsible for delivery on and access to rights, to ensure that human
rights are accessed through appropriate policy, programmes, resource commitments, monitoring and evaluation.

States and institutions (bi- and multi-laterals) at the regional and international level have largely failed to
realize the critical importance of addressing the intersection itself. State responses and commitments to meeting their obligations is generally
weak, ineffective and uneven with a few examples of situations where strong and effective policy and practice contexts have been created and developed.
With regard to the intersection between violence against women and HIV and AIDS, state responses have been even weaker. Essentially, the issues are
addressed separately â€" separate problems; separate processes; separate institutions; separate infrastructure.

Whilst international multi lateral agencies have the potential to shape and influence national states in committing to, mounting and sustaining a policy
and practice response to this intersection, we know that even these institutions have not properly demonstrated the recognition of the
intersection and its implications for accessing rights.

At the donor level, in terms of resources, the research conducted by the Show us the Money Campaign, confirms that overall, funding and programming
is deeply inadequate for each element in the analysis. Furthermore, there are unclear allocations, within current donor frameworks, for work on the
intersection. The difficulty of tracking this spending increases the complexity of holding donors accountable and of advocating for increased
funding allocations. The trend toward sector wide and basket funding further increases the difficulty in the tracking of financing for the
intersection. There is also a lack of conceptual clarity on the links and intersection of HIV and AIDS and violence against women in donor policies
and communication which feeds into a lack of commitment and policy positions, which fail to account for and address the intersection,
thus increasing women's vulnerability to the twin epidemics.
Finally, civil society as a key institution which influences and shapes policy and practice, has in the past contributed to the policy vacuum
insofar as the intersection is concerned. The response of civil society to the twin epidemics has been strong, and yet two separate and parallel
processes. The issue of violence against women has long been a critical point of entry for the women's movement, feminists and those who are
committed to advancing women's rights. They have managed to shape policy both at an international, regional and national level where the centrality
of violence against women has been acknowledged and appropriately planned for. This gain applies even where the issue of implementation and delivery
on these policies and plans has been absent, weak or uneven.

The civil society aspect of the HIV and AIDS sector has been, in a similar way, instrumental in pushing a progressive rights based approach to HIV and
AIDS. This rights based approach has generally been articulated as a women's rights issue but the extent to which these organizations and
institutions have been able to apply this understanding of rights as inclusive of women's rights has been weak and uneven. There has also been
an acknowledgement of violence against women and gender based violence as having clear and strong links with and to HIV and AIDS.

The commitment to actually address these as intersecting issues has been a slow process within both movements. The bidirectional link between the two
issues and its implications for policy and practice both internationally and nationally has been acknowledged and articulated. The implications of
this link for policy and practice both nationally, regionally and internationally have not been addressed by states and by civil society.
The consequences and risks of this gap have implications for women's rights, including their right to health and to safety and security.

AWID: WWW emphasizes acting NOW to stop HIV and violence against women. What are some of the top priority areas that if in the short term were
addressed, would make a significant impact in stopping the spread of HIV and eliminating violence against women?

SW: Firstly we want the different actors (at the policy, donor and civil society level) to prominently underscore that violence against women and
girls is a major driver and consequence of HIV and AIDS, reiterating that violence against women and girls is a human rights crisis, and that the
fight against one epidemic: HIV and AIDS- cannot be won without tackling the other epidemic: gender-based violence.

Secondly, the most effective strategy to address the intersection of violence against women and girls and HIV is to significantly increase
resources for gender-sensitive and human rights based prevention, treatment, care and support - for both epidemics. This needs to address
responses to HIV and AIDS that cover the spectrum of general education, effective laws and policies and trained health care and legal personnel to
ensure that violence against women and girls are addresses requisite priority. Linked to this needs to be a clear policy framework that will
provide a means for measuring the work that address violence against women and girls in HIV budgets, action plans,
prrogramming and monitoring and evaluation processes.

However, resources are not enough, and need to be accompanied by clear guidelines and policies to ensure that all AIDS prevention, treatment, care
and support interventions integrate community education on zero tolerance for violence. In addition, the promotion of laws and law enforcement that
prevent and protect women from violence, training for health care personnel and legal infrastructures, and the availability of post-exposure
prophylaxis, emergency contraception, female condoms and other female-controlled prevention ALL need to form part of a comprehensive
approach to HIV and AIDS.

AWID: Who are you targeting with the Campaign, and what strategies are you using to get your message across?

SW: This Campaign focuses on addressing failure by states, donors and by civil society as well as by key multi and bilateral agencies at a national,
regional and international level.
At the regional and global level, we are tracking the multi- and bi-lateral agencies to assess how much has changed in resources and policies since the
release of the Show us the Money Report. We will be using the findings to do advocacy and lobbying with each agency directly at strategic moments.

In terms of states, each national coalition is responsible for assessing the most strategic entry points and issues to take up in their context.
The campaign agenda and messaging support this action and provide the international solidarity if needed.

In terms of civil society, we are using strategic opportunities to work together with different groups. Our website is one way for people to find
out more about the campaign and allows groups to sign on to receive a newsletter that informs them of campaign activities and highlights key
areas for collective action.

AWID: What are some of the challenges that the Campaign has faced?

SW: The agenda that the campaign is advocating for is an HIV agenda and we have to find space to move within
established and existing agendas.

Even though we have made some gains in the first year, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether these gains are not the easiest that our
targeted audiences can accede to. We feel that we have to work harder in terms of having the specificities of what we are asking for taken on.

AWID: Keeping campaigns by coalitions or networks of organizations going can sometimes be a challenge, due to the already heavy workloads that
individual organizations have, or for other reasons. How have you addressed this issue so that the campaign remains alive?

SW: We are lucky in that ActionAid has provided some funding for the campaign in 2007 and 2008. This has meant that there is a Secretariat who
is responsible for raising more funds to ensure that the campaign retains autonomous and also that the campaign has the necessary support to achieve
its objectives. The coalition members have been amazing in that they have been consistently engaged and pro-actively identify areas for moving

Keeping the momentum going on a campaign is always a challenge. After the launch of the campaign, it was important for us to find ways to
consistently raise the profile of the Campaign and also to ensure that we advance the agenda.

We are aware that the different members of the Coalition already are quite engaged in many other important activities - and we have been lucky to
have a committed group who have been able to stay engaged and find ways to make the links to their own work. It has also been helpful that the members
of the coalition have been engaged in this work already so the work of the Campaign has just built on this.

As a group we are challenged with ensuring that we build the necessary infra-structure that enables the work of the Campaign - at the same time
we are aware that the Campaign also needs to be taken on at the national and regional level to address the specificities of challenges faced within
those contexts. I think we consciously try and manage the tension of the advocacy work at the global and regional level whilst enabling partners or
campaigns at the national levels.

Read more:
The site features lots of interesting information, fact sheets etc.

End Violence Against Women! Now!
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Posted: Mar 14, 2008 7:15am
Jan 9, 2008
Focus: Human Rights
Action Request: Write Letter
Location: Nepal
Source: WOREC Nepal

[Please note: The information below has been adapted directly from the

The National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRDs), Nepal
requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Nepal.


NAWHRDs has been informed by its member Secretary, Tika Dahal, Chairperson
of Nepal Disabled Women's Association (NDWA) about the physical assualts,
sexual harassments and threats on Women Human Rights Defenders.

Women with disabilities have been marginalized in various societies of
Nepal and the social exclusion is very severe. These women are socially
stigmatized and even ostracized in the society, they are also politically
marginalized due to their lack of space and opportunity in the political
structure. They are economically vulnerable due to lack of opportunities
in earning their livelihoods even if they are skilled and educated. They
are even more marginalized with the movement of the disabled people because
first they are women and secondly, they are disabled. The work and
identity of women with disabilities have not been recognized and their
issues have not been covered by their mainstream movement.

On 13 December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. Nepal is in
a state to sign this convention soon. After signing the convention, the
Nepali government will have to formulate legislations to ensure the rights
of the persons living with disabilities.

Brief description of the situation:

On 28 December, 2007, the National Federation of Disabled Nepal (NFDN)
commenced its Fifth General Meeting in Dhanusha District, Central
Development Region, that was attended by 500 participants out of which more
than 100 were WWDs such as physically disabled, visually impaired and hard
of hearing impaired and intellectual disabled. It was the first time in the
history of NFDN that it has witnessed such participants of WWDs which was an
outcome of strong lobby and advocacy efforts of various disabled Women
Human Rights Defenders who demanded that there should be compulsory
participation of women in the General Assembly nominated by the women and
who shall play
an integral role in it. Beside this Women Human Rights Defenders working
with WWDs who also represents this group had demanded for the participation
of WWDs in the election and to consider WWDs equally competent to contest in
the election for the executive position of the Federation.

With regards to the management for the General Assembly, all the women
participants were booked in Elite hotel to whom it was requested that only
women should be allowed to stay within the premise taking into
consideration the safety of women with disabilities. Hence, it was promised
that no man will be allowed to stay in the hotel with the women.

Inspite of this arrangement, the same night in the hotel, the victim,
visually impaired, Shrijana Baral, 26 from Jhapa districts was approached
by the perpetrator, Bal Dev Mandal, member of NFDN. The perpetrator spoke
with the victim and convinced her that they are one of the organizers who
had come to ask some questions about the number of people staying in the
same room and some other random details. Since the victim did not recognize
the perpetrator, she provided full information that she is staying with her
friends who are visually impaired and hearing impaired and engaged further
into the conversation. The perpetrator then took advantage of Shrijana
Baral for being visually impaired and pinned her down and made an attempt
to rape her however the victim managed to run away by pushing the
perpetrator who fell on the floor and since he is also physically disabled,
he could not stand up quickly either that gave enough time for the victim to
rush into her room. The victim along with other visually impaired and
hearing impaired women locked the door from instead as the perpetrator
tried to force himself into the room. He threatened the women to open their
door and kicked the door several times that created fear, tension and severe
mental torture amongst the women.

The next morning as the victim was getting ready to participate in the
General Assembly, the same perpetrator advanced towards her and passed a
lewd remark that he will do anything for her provided she keeps her room
door open for him and also threatened her not to tell any of these
incidences to anyone. However she shared it with the WHRDs.

The WHRDs strongly condemned this heinous crime and demonstrated demanding
justice that the perpetrator should be reprimanded and then expelled from
his position within NDFN. Most of women participant has rejected NFDN
General Assembly and as the WHRDs continued their demonstration; Tulasa
K.C. a physically disabled woman was beaten by Devi Dutta Acharya,
President of NDFN, Mid Western Development region. Rama Dhakal, another
WHRD was injured and was unconscious for an hour where as Usha Shrestha was
also injured and hospitalized as she fractured her foot. Amrit Rai, director
of Nepal Association of the Blind, central office, Kathmandu also blamed the
WHRDs for raising such a "petty matter of attempt to rape" which can be
solved after the General Assembly. The WHRDs were severely beaten, pushed
and abused by using very derogatory terms such as " down with women", "down
with Women with Disabilities" and "down with Nepal Disabled Women's

This incident became further publicized as the WHRDs did a Press Release
and circulated it around the various media networks. The Press Release
called for social exclusion of all the 3 perpetrators, immediate
resignation from their respective positions with NDFN and a request to all
the concerned agencies, organizations and human rights network to start an
investigation committee to prove the incident, penalize the perpetrator and
an end to impunity.

All the participants of the Eastern Development region rejected to attend
the General Assembly due to the poor management of NFDN who was also unable
to run the programme for one and half days but Amrit Rai and his followers
blamed WWDs and NDWA for not allowing the General Assembly to take place.

The Nepal Disabled Women's Association appealed to the WOMEN OF NEPAL as
well as women of the world to show their support and solidarity in
asserting their rights.

Actions required:

Please write to the Nepal authorities urging them to:

- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity
of Ms. Shrijana Baral;
- Guarantee protection of Ms. Shrijana Baral and Women Human Rights
- Take necessary actions the perpetrators, Devi Dutt Acharya, Amrit Rai and
Bal Dev Mandal;
- Expel Devi Dutt Acharya, Amrit Rai and Bal Dev Mandal from the Social
Welfare Council for breaching the code of conduct,
- Demand the political parties with whom the perpetrators are affiliated to
take necessary actions against them;
- Demand NGO Federation to cancel the membership of National Federation of
Disabled Nepal who have violated the code of conduct for protecting and
promoting human rights by committing violence against women;
- Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and
international instruments ratified by Nepal

Please send your letters to:

Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala

Prime Minister's office
Singha Durbar
Fax: + 977 142 27286

Mr. Krishna Sitaula
Home Minister
Singha Darbar
Fax: +977 1 4211232

Mr. Ram Chandra Poudel

Minister for Peace and Rehabilitation
Peace Secretariat
Singh Durbar,
Kathmandu, Nepal.
Fax: +977 1 4211186 and 4211173

Ms. Pampa Bhusal

Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare
Singha Durbar
Kathmandu, Nepal
Fax: 977-1-4241516

Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala

Nepali Congress
Fax: 977-1- 5555188,555566

Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal

Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist
Fax: 9771-1 425184, 4112241

Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda)

Chairman Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Fax: 977-1- 01622333*

Mr. Lilamani Pokharel

Janamorcha Nepal
Fax: 977-1- 4251841

Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba

Nepali Congress ( Democractic)
Fax: 977-14378701

Mrs. Anandi Devi

Nepal Sadvawana Party (Anandidevi)
Fax: 977-1-4216162,4108008

Mr. Narayan Man
Nepal Workers Peasants Party
Fax: 977-1-6610028

For more information, please visit and/or
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Posted: Jan 9, 2008 11:09am
Oct 30, 2007
India's booming economy and increasing prosperity does not conceal the fact
that an oppressive caste system still exists. The Indian Government has so
far failed in its endeavours to eradicate caste, and women in particular
are regularly subject to gross human rights violations as a result. In this
article, AWID explores the cultural and political terrain of caste and its
intersection with women's rights.

By Rochelle Jones

Caste is a system of social stratification that is descent based and
hereditary, determined by an individual's birth. Different to class, caste
is something that an individual cannot easily transgress. Whilst referred
to as an historical concept in India, the social classification of people
by caste is still prevalent – permeating housing, education, marriage,
employment and social relations in general. There have historically been
four predominant castes in India consisting of the Brahmins, the
intellectual class, Kshatriyas, the warrior class, Vaishyas, the
agricultural and trader class and Shudras, the service or manual worker
class. The former 'Untouchables' - now known as 'Dalits' or 'scheduled
castes' – fall outside the traditional four-fold caste system and primarily
continue to be considered by the upper castes as impure and polluting. As a
result, this large portion of the Indian population has been relegated to "a
lifetime of discrimination, exploitation and violence" [1].

"Untouchability" is a concept related to the demeaning traditional work
performed by Dalits such as sweeping and manual scavenging (the
illegal-but-still-very-much-in-practice task of cleaning human excrement
from India's roads and dry latrines). "Untouchability" was abolished in
India's Constitution, meaning that the dominant castes can no longer
legally force Dalits to perform any "polluting" occupation. Yet this type
of work is "still the monopoly of the scheduled castes...Migration and the
anonymity of the urban environment have in some cases resulted in upward
occupational mobility among Dalits, but the majority continue to perform
their traditional functions" [2].

The Indian Government has implemented comprehensive Constitutional
provisions and other legislation to combat discrimination based on race and
caste, including quotas of reserved seats in Union and State legislatures
and of posts in the public service. The Government has also established
several institutions responsible for the implementation of
anti-discrimination legislation and for the monitoring of discrimination
and violence against members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,
including the Ministry of Social Justice, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,
and the National Commissions on Scheduled Castes and on Scheduled Tribes.

The Prime Minister himself has condemned the discriminatory treatment of
Dalits and likened the practices of "untouchability" to that of apartheid
in South Africa – but at the same time has failed to demonstrate the
political will to address it. Unfortunately caste discrimination against
Dalits is "both a political reality and social fact" [3].

Reality of caste discrimination in India

In a recent shadow report to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and
the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, the current reality of
discrimination against Dalits was exposed [4]. The report is based on
investigations by HRW and the findings of Indian Governmental and
non-governmental organisations on caste-based abuses and suggests, for
example, that the government's failure to address caste discrimination "has
resulted in continued, and sometimes enhanced, brutalities against Dalits"
[5]. Excerpts from the report of some of the main issues facing Dalits

* India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has commented that the
law enforcement machinery is the greatest violator Dalit's human rights...
The police often target whole Dalit communities in search of one individual
and subject the community to violent search and seizure operations. Dalit
women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence by the police, which
is used as a tool to punish Dalit communities. Police also actively allow
private actors to commit violence against Dalits with impunity (p4).

* Residential segregation of Dalits is prevalent across the country, and is
the rule rather than the exception. Segregation is also evident in schools,
in access to public services, and in access to services operated by the
private sector. A recently published survey documented "untouchability"
practices in almost 80% of the villages surveyed (p7).

* The police have systematically failed to protect Dalit homes and Dalit
individuals from acts of looting, arson, sexual assault, torture, and other
inhumane acts such as the tonsuring (shaving a person's head), stripping and
parading of Dalit women, and forcing Dalits to drink urine and eat faeces

*Strict prohibitions on marriage and other social interaction between
Dalits and the upper caste routinely violate the rights of Dalits to marry
and choose their spouse. Dalits who have married 'above' their caste have
reportedly been forced to break all ties with their families (p10 & 70).

* The denial of the right to work and free choice of employment lies at the
very heart of the caste system. Dalits are forced to work in "polluting" and
degrading occupations such as manual scavenging and are subject to
exploitative labour arrangements such as bonded labour, migratory labour
and forced prostitution (p12).

The caste/gender intersection

Dalit women are positioned at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, subject to
multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their caste, class and
gender. According to a 2006 report [6], "Dalit women endure violence in
both the general community and in the family, from state and non-state
actors of different genders, castes and socio-economic groupings". Most of
the violence that Dalit women face is perpetrated against them in public
spaces and women find it almost impossible to obtain informal or formal
justice. Dalit women are subject to a multitude of atrocities, including
rape – which is perpetrated with impunity with little or no redress in the
courts -, sexual abuse and humiliation. As is typical in many situations, a
woman's body is perceived as representing family and community honour, and
to teach a family or community a lesson, women are generally the primary

The practice of devadasi particularly illustrates the gender/caste nexus
with regard to the violation of women's human rights. This practice is
where "a girl, usually before reaching puberty, is ceremoniously dedicated
or married to a deity or temple... Once dedicated, the girl is unable to
marry, forced to become a prostitute for the upper-caste community and
eventually auctioned into an urban brothel". Devadasi's usually belong to
the Dalit community. [7]

In addition to the violence Dalit women routinely face from the upper
castes, they are also found at the bottom of the Dalit hierarchy. This is
directly related to their poorer social and economic status as women, and
they are inevitably channelled into the most hazardous and degrading work
for survival. Government estimates suggest that there are about one
million manual scavengers in India, and 95% are women. Research indicates
that despite manual scavenging being illegal, its practice is actually
increasing [8]. This type of work is demeaning, unsanitary and hazardous,
and has a social stigma attached to it where even other Dalits won't
associate with individuals who perform the work. Their stories are
unfathomable, with one woman describing how she felt that she herself was
human excrement.

The violation of Dalit women's rights is characteristic of the intersection
of caste and gender, and is further legitimised by the subordination of
women's rights in general. "India has failed to address the multiple axes
of discrimination faced by Dalit women - including their unequal access to
services, employment opportunities, and justice mechanisms as compared to
Dalit men - and threats to their personal security, including through
brutal acts of sexual violence" [9]

How can India address caste-based discrimination?

India is bound by its obligations under the UN Convention on the
Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination which in Article 1
defines "racial discrimination" as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction
or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin
which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition,
enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of
public life". [10]

In their fifteenth to nineteenth periodic reports, which were considered by
CERD in February 2007, the Indian government claimed that discrimination
based on caste falls outside the scope of Article 1 of the Convention. As a
result, their reports did not outline any instances of caste discrimination
nor any concrete measures undertaken by the government to address
caste-based discrimination. [11]

This is a clear indication of a lack of political will to fully acknowledge
and address discrimination against Dalits in India. After consideration of
India's position, CERD maintained and reaffirmed that discrimination based
on the ground of caste is fully covered by Article 1 of the Convention -
expressed in general recommendation No. 29 "that discrimination based on
'descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on
forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of
inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human
rights." [12]. India will be required to report on caste-based
discrimination in their next report to CERD, due in 2010.

The inroads taken in addressing this apartheid-style of discrimination -
such as Constitutional amendment, specific legislation and monitoring
bodies and reservations for Dalits in education and politics - are a
positive step in the right direction, but are clearly not being effectively
implemented. Further, there seems to be a need to focus on abolishing caste
itself, not just the discrimination that is inherently built in to the
system. An Indian academic asserts that "caste discrimination exists
because people continue to believe in caste. Indian democracy is,
paradoxically, a culprit. By encouraging the formation of democratic
participation along the lines of identity, caste is, in fact, reinforced
every time India goes to the polls. The recent electoral gains of the
Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh must be seen in the context of this
double-edged nature of caste." [13]. (The Bahujan Samaj Party are a
political party representing the interests of low caste and Dalit

Non-government organisations like the National Campaign on Dalit Human
Rights, the National Federation of Dalit Women and other local
organisations have been extremely active in campaigning and raising
awareness of Dalits' human rights situation, as well as holding their
government responsible for its inadequacies. In order for a complete
cultural shift away from caste to take place in India, however, the
Government urgently needs to back its rhetoric on India's 'apartheid' with
real and quantifiable measures that address the litany of human rights
abuses being perpetrated against Dalits, and in particular, Dalit women.


[1] Hidden Apartheid, 2007. Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human
Rights and Global Justice, p2. Available to download from:
[2] National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
[3] The Hindu. August 2007. The caste system – India's apartheid?
[4] See Note 1.
[5] See Note 1.
[6] National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, March 2006. Dalit Women Speak
Out: Violence Against Dalit Women in India.
[7] See Note 1.
[8] National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
[9] See Note 1.
[10] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
[11] United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Seventieth session 19 February – 9 March 2007. CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS
observations of the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination – INDIA.$FILE/G0741717.pdf

[12] See Note 10.
[13] See Note 3.
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