You Go, ‘Grrl!

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“There are too many men in India today.”  So reads the first line of an an op-ed in today’s New York Times entitled “How to Fix India’s Sex-Selection Problem” penned by IntLawGrrls editor Sital Kalantry (congratulations!).   Most of our readers are familiar with the issue of sex-selective abortion and the resulting imbalance in the ratio of males to females in India.  Sital explains that the statistics suggest a correlation (though not causation) between a large male surplus and violence against women.  Rather than the more commonly-presented solution of banning sex-selective abortion, which she argues is unrealistic, Sital suggests the possibility of sperm sorting, which enables parents who want a girl to select the appropriate chromosomes prior to artificial insemination.  Indian law currently prohibits sperm sorting, and she proposes an amendment to “allow pre-implantation sex selection” for families who want a girl child.  The backstory, data, and details are available in Sital’s new book, Women’s Human Rights and Migration, which was published this month by the University of Pennsylvania Press (another congratulations!).  A longer update on the book, which I am in the middle of reading, will be forthcoming soon, but in the meantime I recommend both the op-ed and the book for those looking for a nuanced and thoughtful exploration of the issue of sex-selective abortion in India. You Go, ‘Grrl!

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Court of Justice of the European Union takes on Muslim headscarf employment discrimination cases

With the increased reach of the populist movement and changing demographics, several European countries have been confronted with the need to define secularism and freedom of religion in a way where each of these concepts do not impinge on the rights of the other. This has dominated several discussions in politics, law, education, and social interactions throughout Europe.

One issue that stands at the forefront of these arguments is the wearing of the headscarf by Muslim women in Europe as a practice of their faith. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the highest court in the European Union with regards to European Union law, provided judgments on two cases involving the headscarf in March 2017.

In Samira Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutions NV (G4S), the CJEU was asked to provide guidance on the interpretation of Council Directive 2000/78 as it related to the dismissal of Ms. Achbita, an employee of G4S, for wearing a headscarf as part of her religious beliefs. The Council Directive 2000/78 provides that the “principle of equal treatment” means that there will be no direct or indirect discrimination based on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation. Furthermore, the Council Directive highlights that indiscrimination occurs when apparently neutral provisions, criteria, or practice put persons of a particular religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation, at a particular disadvantage unless it is “objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.”

G4S stated that the company has a policy of not allowing employees to wear any political, philosophical, or religious signs as it may compromise the visibility of G4S’s position of neutrality. The Court ruled that there was no direct discrimination as the Directive did not single out a specific group of people or religion to target and was facially neutral. The Court did leave room to say that the rule may constitute indirect discrimination if persons of a particular religion or belief were put at a particular disadvantage, “unless justified by a legitimate aim” and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Similarly, in Asma Bougnaoui v. Micropole, SA (Micropole), Ms. Bougnaoui was dismissed from her employment at Micropole because of her refusal to remove the headscarf that she wore for religious reasons, and about which some customers of the company had complained. However, here the CJEU ruled that the “the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of that provision.” Continue reading

Write On! The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstrual Studies

backlit_keyboardThis installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes a call for suggestions as follows:

The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstrual Studies, is an ambitious endeavor undertaken by Chris Bobel, Breanne Fahs and Katie Ann Hanson, among others in the United States. The focus is to “establish[] a field of ‘critical menstrual studies’ as a coherent and multi-dimensional transdisciplinary subject of inquiry and advocacy.” Suggestions for chapters by potential authors and other possible lines of inquiry are welcomed and encouraged. Deadline is June 20, 2017.


Launching the Spring Issue of the Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper Series on SSRN

Catherine O’Rourke and Elise Ketelaars

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new issue of the Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper Series on the Social Sciences Research Network. This exciting new issue engages both with highly-topical contemporary questions, as well as long-standing challenges in international law, peace, human rights and gender equality. First off, Thomas Obel Hansen considers the Policy Paper of the ICC on preliminary examinations and its potential to advance ‘positive complementarity’ between the operation of the court and the domestic pursuit of justice for conflict victims. At a time of apparent crisis for the court, scholarship such as Hansen’s that addresses this critical relationship between its operation and broader domestic impacts is critical. Aisling Swaine, the leading global expert in National Action Plans (NAPs) for Women, Peace and Security, examines relevant practice to date in the Asia-Pacific region. She demonstrates an exciting new methodology for gender-responsive planning, which has relevance well beyond the specifics of Asia Pacific, namely the ‘Gender Needs Analysis Tool’. Likewise, the findings, conclusions and recommendations offer immediate policy relevance to the current 63 UN member states with NAPs on Women, Peace and Security, as well as those currently developing or reviewing NAPs.

Contributions by Catherine O’Rourke and the joint article by Anne Smith, Monica McWilliams and Priyamvada Yarnell both address the question of international human rights obligations and their current and potential impact on Northern Ireland. Catherine O’Rourke, in research from the DFID-funded Political Settlements Research Programme, considers the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-recurrence on his country visit to Northern Ireland. She identifies the potential for the report to positively re-shape both the diagnostic (defining the problem) and prognostic (identifying the solutions) framing of the vexed issue of how to deliver accountability for past conflict killings and harms in Northern Ireland. Finally, Anne Smith, Monica McWilliams and Priyamvada Yarnell engage with the highly topical challenges of protecting human rights in Northern Ireland as the UK advances its withdrawal from the European Union. In a timely and important contribution, the authors consider how the long-promised Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland might finally be advanced as part of broader efforts to ensure continued human rights protections in the midst of Brexit.

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Looking for women experts? Don’t make it a beauty pageant

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1946 – Birth of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, photo credit: UN Photo

This post was co-authored by Almut Rochowanski

Earlier this month, the BBC held its BBC Expert Women’s Day, bringing together “female experts who’d like to appear on air as contributors to BBC programmes”. The event gathered a group of 24 professionals, which included lawyers, scientists, political analysts, entrepreneurs, coders, cultural leaders and sex educators, selected from a pool of 450 applicants for a ‘media familiarisation day”. They were given tips on how to sound natural on air and given the opportunity to experience appearing on camera in a BBC news studio.

Seemingly, this is a well-intentioned effort to diversify sources. However, the way the BBC is going about it makes it seem more like a beauty contest.

This is the latest edition of a programme the BBC launched in 2013. At first glance, it might look like an earnest attempt to overcome the notorious “all-male panel” problem, something the BBC should be applauded for having acknowledged and taking steps to address (even if, in 2012, it was the only major UK broadcaster to refuse signing a pledge to get more women on screen). But, on closer inspection, there are a number of deeply problematic aspects to the initiative. In fact, it is a spot-on illustration of why media organizations suffer from the all-male panel problem to begin with.

The BBC Academy’s call for applications asked women experts to send in their CV, a letter explaining their interest in being on air and a two-minute video of themselves talking about their area of expertise. By having women experts compete to be acknowledged for what they are – experts – this “TV expert” competition puts the onus on women to correct and overcome the discrimination that holds them back. Once again, women are expected to jump through extra hoops to prove that they are good enough to do what men routinely get to do with no questions asked. Women need to not only have the talent and put in the work to become experts on topics like Brexit, terrorism or classical music, but must also submit to a screen test and mentoring in order to be recognized as authoritative voices in their field of expertise.

The screen test that forms part of the application is particularly troubling. Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely that the BBC requires screen tests of the male climate scientists, business experts or lawyers they invite on their programs.  And while the instructions for the video do not mention looks, women are judged on their appearance much more than men, and nowhere more so than in the media. Imagine a female expert on development aid or the music industry considering even for a split second whether she should put on lipstick before recording her video, and it immediately becomes clear how this initiative perpetuates gender discrimination and is self-defeating in its stated purpose.

The competition is based on the lazy and ignorant assumption that women are underrepresented as experts in broadcast media because they have not tried hard enough or because they just do not shine as brightly as their male colleagues whom the media somehow manage to find without them having to answer to a casting call. The same argument is routinely employed to rationalize the low numbers of women on corporate boards, among tenured professors or in government. And yet we know that women are underrepresented in roles of power and prestige because they are overlookeddismissedignoredexcluded and discriminated against.

Our critique isn’t directed at the women who took part in this year’s BBC Expert Women’s Day, or the many more who applied and were not invited. Quite the contrary. These women are obviously very good at what they do, and the fact that they’re ready to put in the extra work and face new challenges illustrates why they have become leaders in their fields. Our point is that they shouldn’t have had to go through a competition like this to be recognised for their expertise and to get a chance to contribute to public discourse.

If the BBC concludes that they have too few female experts on the air, they ought to first take a good, hard look at themselves and figure out where they went wrong. Have they sufficiently questioned their own habits and assumptions? Have they probed their organization’s practices for hidden biases and discrimination? Do terrorism experts always look male in the imagination of the editorial staff? Have they given proper research a try?

Because, really, it is not difficult to find women experts out there. We are literally everywhere. We are at universitieshospitals, research centers and think tanks. We publish booksblog post and articles, we are on LinkedIn and social media, we win prizes and fellowships, we are part of professional networks. In addition, numerous databases have been set up to assist researchers who might be at a loss in identifying women experts for their news coverage. There is The Women’s RoomSheSource, Women Also Know Stuff and The OpEd Project, to name but a few. Having women compete to have their voices heard in a space where their opinions should be sought out as often as those of their male counterparts is not a solution. Rather, by failing to acknowledge and reject the systematic inequalities that women face, this casting call for women experts perpetuates the problem it ostensibly tries to solve.

Almut Rochowanski is a co-founder and coordinator of the Chechnya Advocacy Network. Nani Jansen Reventlow is a human rights lawyer with Doughty Street Chambers and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

This post has been cross-posted on Medium.

SCOTUS should grant cert in Castro. Judicial review of Trump’s immigration detention regime depends on it

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60 miles outside Philadelphia, on a bucolic country road in Berks County, PA, sits a brick building with a fenced-in yard fronting a line of trees. To look at it, you would never guess this place is the epicenter of the coming battles over judicial review of immigration detention in the United States.

Today the Supreme Court is conferencing to decide whether to grant a writ of certiorari in the case of Castro v. Department of Homeland Security.

Of the two dozen families who are the plaintiffs in Castro, about half have been released. But 14 families remain at Berks. They fled gender-based violence and threats to their lives in their home countries and sought asylum in the United States. After deeply flawed credible fear interviews and rubber-stamp affirmations by an immigration judge, they have languished in legal limbo for the past year and a half.

The Third Circuit decided that these families had no access to habeas corpus, the ability to seek judicial review of one’s detention – a basic right dating back to English common law. The Third Circuit’s reasoning was that these families had entered “surreptitiously” and were apprehended “near the border,” ergo they had no constitutional right to challenge their detention.

That’s plainly wrong. Even Guantánamo detainees, as law professor Steve Vladeck has pointed out over at Just Security, have been given more right to judicial review than the Berks families.

Vladeck called the ruling “deeply troubling” and pointed out that “it is now so much more important for the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in Castro–and reverse the Third Circuit. Reasonable minds may well disagree about the limits of immigration law, and the extent to which the Executive Order (and other U.S. immigration policies) run afoul of the Constitution. But the courts have to be the institution to settle those disputes; under Castro, the Executive Branch’s actions could theoretically be immune from such review… .”

Over at the Insightful Immigration Blog, David Isaacson writes:

The purpose of the Suspension Clause is to ensure that the government can be held to account in court when it detains someone, whether that someone is a suspected terrorist or a woman fleeing persecution with her child. The Third Circuit panel in Castro denied the petitioners in the case that Constitutionally guaranteed ability to demonstrate that they were being held pursuant to an erroneous application or interpretation of the law. We can hope, however, that … the Supreme Court on certiorari, may restore it to them.

Signing on as amici in Castro are no less eminent legal scholars than Chemerinsky, who literally wrote the book on constitutional law; the American Bar Association; and IntLawGrrls’ own editor Jaya Ramji-Nogales and contributors Lindsay M. Harris and Sarah Paoletti, who conclude: “Particularly given that the procedural and substantive protections provided to asylum claimants are consistently flouted or ignored, safeguarding Petitioners’ access to habeas corpus is of exceptional importance.”

Since last fall, I’ve been working with the Berks families and their attorneys as a legal advocate. Berks may be fine for a short-term stay but to be stuck there for 600 days is a living nightmare. This week NBC published an in-depth investigative article on the facility. If you haven’t read it yet, please do.

I’d really like to let the families speak for themselves, but cameras aren’t allowed in Berks, nor is access to social media.

Here’s America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks recently discussing the Castro plaintiffs with lead attorney Lee Gelernt of the ACLU. The card made for him by the Berks kids says simply, “We want to be free.”

Finally, please watch this 9-year-old girl who was detained in Berks but freed in December after “only” a year. This is her heartfelt message on behalf of the families who still remain:

For the sake not only of the Castro plaintiffs, but all those who are and will be caught up in Trump’s expanded detention regime, let’s hope SCOTUS is listening.

Gender-Sensitive Reparations in the I.V. v. Bolivia Case: A Missed Opportunity?

 

woman-1022060_1280The human rights and feminist lawyers were hopeful. Finally a decision on forced sterilization from the Inter-American Court. Deprived of the remedial austerity of its Strasbourg equivalent, and with a harder legal force than the CEDAW Committee, this judgment was bound to be important. The I.V. v. Bolivia landmark decision on the forced sterilization of a refugee woman in Bolivia was delivered during the late days of 2016.

Inspired by the insightful earlier post by Lisa Reinsberg and Francisco Rivera Juaristi, I here discuss the specific reparations provided by the Inter-American Court and explain why the Court missed an opportunity to do something more transformative.

The reparations in I.V. v. Bolivia demonstrate the usual remedial richness of the Inter-American Court. The Court ordered personalized, specialized, and free medical rehabilitation, considering the direct victim’s sexual, reproductive, psychological and psychiatric health harms and needs. It also ordered the state to include I.V.’s family in the therapy and to pay 50,000 US Dollars in compensation to the direct victim for monetary and non-monetary damages. The Court recognized the encroachment of the applicant’s personal integrity, and the subsequent denial of justice, and commanded the state to publish the judgment and acknowledge its responsibility. As a guarantee of non-repetition, the Court stated that Bolivia needs to secure that consent to sterilization is always prior, free, informed, and full. Hence, all public and private hospitals ought to be equipped with printed, succinct information about the reproductive and sexual health rights of women: for the patients and the personnel. Finally, Bolivia should adopt permanent programs for medical students and professionals on informed consent, stereotyping, gender discrimination and violence.

The reparations ordered by the Court in I.V. v. Bolivia are plentiful, but not groundbreaking. They are largely consistent with existing, cited supranational practice. Indeed, also the CEDAW Committee (in the 2006 case A.S. v. Hungary) highlighted the importance of educating and monitoring medical staff in public and private health centers, and “naming and shaming”-awareness-raising through publication of supranational decisions. Moreover, the 50,000 US Dollars for damages is not that much more than the approximate 30,000 US Dollars that the Strasbourg Court has ordered the state to pay victims of involuntary sterilization (in 2011–12 cases V.C. v. Slovakia; N.B. v. Slovakia; and I.G. and Others v. Slovakia). In comparison to compensation amounts normally figuring in the IACtHR’s decisions, the figure in I.V. v. Bolivia is relatively low. Overall, the Court’s remedial approach is similar to the Inter-American Commission’s recommendations in the same case two years earlier. The landmark nature of I.V. v. Bolivia, in combination with the substantial references to earlier cases, seems to have made the Court self-conscious, adopting a cautious approach.

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