US Senate Hearing Puts Women's Human Rights in the Spotlight

Tunisian women demonstrate for the protection of their rights in Tunis ©SALAH HABIBI/AFP/Getty Images

As the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, serious concerns are emerging regarding the inclusion of women in the plans for new governance. In Egypt, for example, women stood shoulder to shoulder with men to topple a regime notorious for its human rights abuses and yet, now that those leaders have been forced to step down, women are too often finding their calls for an equal seat at the table rejected.

Yesterday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to highlight these concerns. “Women and the Arab Spring: Spotlight on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya” focused on women’s human rights and emphasized the need for the US to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Senator Boxer (D-CA), Senator Casey (D-PA), Senator DeMint (R-SC), Senator Shaheen (D-NH), and Senator Udall (D-NM) were all in attendance to discuss how the US Senate could work to support women in the Middle East and North Africa.


What Do Tunisia, Palau and the US Have in Common?

Well, it isn’t ratification of the CEDAW treaty but all three countries have made the news lately when it comes to women’s human rights.

CEDAW, formally known as the Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women is the most comprehensive international framework to secure women’s equality. And, as the fight for women’s human rights continues after the recent uprisings in the Middle East, CEDAW is now more vital than ever in the struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are reforming their governments and women must be a part of this political revolution to ensure the success of these emerging democracies.

Here are some of the latest developments on CEDAW:

Celebrate Women's Equality Day: Demand Equality!

By Alice Dahle, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Friday, August 26 marks the 91st anniversary of the vote for women in the US.  On August 26, 1920,  Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution after a 72-year campaign which began in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

The struggle for American women’s right to vote was long, difficult, and at times, divisive.  The Suffrage movement split after the Civil War over whether to support adoption of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, or to insist that women be included before they would endorse it.  One faction insisted on universal voting rights legislation at the federal level, while others approached the issue state by state.

Few of the original suffragists lived to see the successful results of the work they started.  As a new generation of suffragists joined the movement, they used more active tactics, including mass marches and hunger strikes.  As a result, they were arrested and sent to prison, where they were chained, beaten and force-fed.  In 1971, Rep. Bella Abzug introduced a proposal to commemorate their struggle each year on August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.


UN Women: Ruling Women In!

Yesterday I attended the launch of UN Women’s new report: “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice.” Launched on January 1, 2011, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women, works to integrate gender into the UN and global foreign policy.

UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michele Bachelet addressed a crowd of more than a hundred human right defenders, advocates and UN officials in New York detailing the findings of the new report.

“Progress of the World’s Women” focuses on women’s access to justice and the existing barriers, both legal and social, that keep women from exercising their rights. The report shows that while significant legal reforms have been made, women still face persistent discrimination that hinders our, and the world’s, ability to make progress. As Under Secretary Bachelet declared: “In too many countries the rule of law rules women out.”


Speak Out in Solidarity with Egyptian Women!

From the moment protests began in Egypt on January 25, women have been on the frontlines, demanding respect for the human rights of all Egyptians.

On Tuesday, in honor of International Women’s Day, women assembled in Tahrir Square to claim their human rights, the Washington Post reported. However, the demonstration was marred by an angry mob of men who beat and sexually assaulted the female marchers, insisting that a woman could never be president and objecting to women’s demands to have a role in drafting a new constitution.

Image: © Ramy Raoof

The Washington Post reported, “Everyone was chased. Some were beaten. They were touching us everywhere,’ said Dina Abou Elsoud, organizer of the ambitiously named Million Woman March.”

In contrast to the status of women in Ancient Egypt, a period in Egyptian history which gave rise to powerful female leaders such as Queen Hatshepsut and Queen Cleopatra, women in Egypt today are underrepresented and sexually harassed. The gender-based violence seen in Tahrir square on Tuesday points to the long and difficult struggle that still lies ahead for women in Egypt to fully enjoy their rights.

According to a survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights, 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in Egypt. In addition, “20,000 women or girls [are] raped every year,” as cited in an article by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

US: Don’t Abandon Afghan Women

By Elsie De Laere, Afghanistan Country Specialist

Afghan women's rights activists

In his article “As priorities shift, US steps back from goals for Afghan women”,  published in the Washington Post on Sunday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran describes the quiet changes made by the US administration to divert the focus on the rights of Afghan women to ‘other priorities’.

As the Amnesty Afghanistan country specialist, I have invested a lot of energy and passion during the past four years, both here and in Afghanistan on behalf of Afghan women. I have served as a volunteer teacher trainer in Kabul and other provinces during nine trips between the summer of 2004 and spring of 2010.  Even though I admit I was always wary of the US and NATO public media efforts we were there in part to liberate the Afghan women, I witnessed first hand the little progress that was made on this issue.

I am dismayed to read that the US administration is considering the cause of women’s rights as a ‘pet project’, not a priority. When the going gets tough (as in security being worse now than some years ago), the women once again are shoved aside and resources are diverted.


On International Women's Day – Amplify the Voices of Women and Girls!

Sometimes referred to as an International Bill of Rights for women, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive international treaty on basic human rights for women.

It offers countries a practical blueprint to promote basic rights and open opportunities for women and girls in all areas of society. It is a useful tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse for women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights.

CEDAW has led to concrete changes for women in key areas; ending violence and trafficking in women and girls, improving conditions for women’s economic opportunity, increasing women’s political participation, and advancing human rights of women by promoting equality.

In countries that have ratified CEDAW, women have partnered with their governments to engage in a national dialogue about the status of women and girls, and as a result have shaped policies to create greater safety and opportunity for women and their families. For example:


Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Empowerment

Wow! International Women’s Day is celebrating 100 years of women’s empowerment and progress towards complete gender equality! To celebrate this momentous benchmark, Amnesty International USA plans to kick off the first full week of March with a series of blog posts highlighting the work we continue to do address women’s human rights issues.

International Women’s Day represents two sides of the push for women’s rights: one is a celebration of how far we’ve come, and the other is a reinvigoration of the push for total gender equality.

For years, Amnesty has been striving to ensure universal rights for all women – focusing specifically on ending violence against women, including the violence and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the U.S. As we expanded our work to include the broad spectrum of economic, social, and cultural rights, we have taken on the daunting task of fighting for those human rights violations that are both a cause and consequence of poverty.


Welcome UN Women!

Today, we have great cause for celebration because February 24th, marks the official inauguration of UN Women. Launched on January 1, 2011, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, to be known as UN Women, began its work to integrate gender into the UN and global foreign policy.

UN Women is headed by Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, who has years of experience both as a pediatrician and  former Chilean Minister of Health. Bachelet has a strong commitment to women and women’s health and we look forward to her leadership in ensuring and overseeing comprehensive gender integration into UN policy.
Initially, the focus of UN Women will be:

  • To support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms;
  • To help Member States to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it, and to forge effective partnerships with civil society, and;
  • To hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.

The UN General Assembly’s establishment of UN Women is a huge step forward globally for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The importance of integrating women and gender into all aspects of the United Nations will help ensure women’s voices are heard in all arenas and fulfill our human rights. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Success! Senate Holds Powerful Hearing on Women's Rights

Exciting news in the struggle to ratify CEDAW: the Senate is finally moving forward to ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women, or CEDAW.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, chaired by Senator Durbin, held a hearing on CEDAW. The hearing, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights: U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)”, featured several high profile women’s rights advocates and U.S. government witnesses, as well as a huge crowd of supporters.

An exciting group of human rights activists headlined by the stunning actress Geena Davis testified on the importance of ratification. Davis spoke poignantly of being a mother and having her three children, two boys and a girl, able to equally participate in sports and other activities. She voiced her support for CEDAW because she envisions a world where women and girls around the world have the same possibilities and opportunities as children in the U.S.

Wazhma Frogh from the Afghan Women’s Network told a heartbreaking story from her own life. In Afghanistan, girls were only supposed to clean the family’s garden, but Wazhma wanted to play with her male cousin. When her grandfather found out, he broke all of her toys as an illustration of what would happen to her if she broke any family rules again. As a result of her experiences, Wazhma has been fighting for women’s human rights in Afghanistan and has used CEDAW to deliver real change for Afghan women.

Testifying at the hearing for the U.S. government was Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. She testified that in her travels, the number one question she is asked time and time again is, “Why hasn’t the United States ratified CEDAW?” She told the subcommittee that “some governments use the fact that the U.S. has not ratified the treaty as a pretext for not living up to their own obligations under it.” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Bagenstos from the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice also testified in support of CEDAW.

CEDAW addresses basic human rights of women. It can be a crucial tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse to women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights. Amnesty International has been working in coalition to ratify CEDAW and worked hard to make this hearing such a huge success. AIUSA submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in support of ratification, which can be read here.

Help us take advantage of this important opportunity by taking action and calling on Senator Kerry to work for ratification and hold a hearing on CEDAW. Let’s show the Senate that we want them to ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women!