Progress of the World’s Women: New UN Women report

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Cross-posts from other blogs:

Swarna Rajagopalan, Progress of the World’s Women: UN Women’s first report, Asian Security Initiative Blog, MacArthur Foundation, July 8, 2011.

UN Women, which came into existence just last March, has released its first report, the Progress of the World’s Women. Acknowledging a century of progress, from 1911 when only two countries granted women the right to vote, the report focuses on women’s legal and political rights and their ability to access justice.

The report marks a return to thinking about institutional arrangements rather than civil society or market-led initiatives. It culminates with a set of recommendations “to make justice systems work for women” based on successful initiatives across the world. Repeatedly, the report makes the case for law as a vehicle of social change and demonstrates the positive impact that including more women in the decision-making process can have.

This remarkable report deserves to be read because it actually serves well as a brief history of the struggle for women’s rights across the world. For instance, it includes a section describing landmark court judgments in this struggle. It works not just as a policy brief but also as a secondary text to a class on global feminism or social change.

The report may be accessed at http://progress.unwomen.org/ The website is also set up in a very user-friendly manner to allow parts of the report to be accessed and used individually.

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Swarna Rajagopalan, The good news about post-conflict societies, Asian Security Initiative Blog, MacArthur Foundation, July 8, 2011.

Tucked away in the 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report is some good news about how changing values are changing the prospects for women in societies that are crawling out of conflict into post-conflict transitions.

The impact of conflict on women is now well-documented. First, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war cuts across time, place and culture. Second, women disproportionately shoulder the burden of displacements and other breakdown of normal life. This makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual violence outside the home, trafficking and other exploitation.

This report points to and maps the evolution of thinking about this question in international law and it reflects that thinking.

Unanimity seems to have emerged that sexual violence as a part of conflict is unacceptable. The 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity. The five United Nations Security Council Resolutions that deal with women in conflict echo this thinking. 1325 mandates including women in peace processes and transitional arrangements. 1820 calls for prevention of sexual violence and an end to impunity for sexual crimes. 1888, 1889 and 1960 reinforce these two, calling for measures and precautions to be undertaken by conflict parties, governments and international organizations.

The 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report points to some good tidings. First, this changing international legal environment means that sexual crimes have been prosecuted and convictions have followed in post-conflict trials in at least three contexts, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. It is still a challenge to get women to testify and many obstacles remain from logistical issues like childcare and financial assistance for legal counsel to having more women judges preside in such courts.

Second, as women have been mandatorily included in peace processes, a variety of arrangements have emerged that address their concerns, take cognizance of their conflict experiences and provide for their presence in the politics of post-conflict societies. The report points out (page 100) that where on an average women made up 14% of parliamentary membership in non post-conflict settings, in post-conflict settings they make up 27%. Indeed, the country with the largest percentage of women in Parliament (51%) is Rwanda. Correspondingly, the report shows that 93% of post-conflict constitutions include anti-discrimination causes (as opposed to 61% non post-conflict) and 21% mention violence against women (as opposed to 10%).

As the report states:

“The post-conflict moment opens up the possibility of reframing the political and civic leadership, with women at the centre. Women’s participation in the design of all post-conflict justice mechanisms, in peace processes and in political decision-making is essential for ensuring the post-conflict State advances women’s rights and justice for all.” (page 101)

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Finally, from our sister-blog: Law, justice, gender violence: New UN report, GRIT@Prajnya Blog, July 8, 2011.

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