Conservative mobilization and adolescent pregnancy in Latin America

On September 27, 2017, the Brazilian Supreme Court – in a 6 to 5 judgmentdecided that public schools can have “confessional” (Catholic) religious teaching in their curriculum. The constitutional case had been proposed by the Attorney General, who argued that current practice – that privileges Roman Catholic indoctrination – would violate the separation between Church and State as well as religious freedom. Although the judgment brings severe consequences to education rights in Brazil, it is only one example of the recent battles by conservative religious groups to influence Brazilian public education. The Catholic church has a long history of interference in Roman Catholic countries, aiming to block comprehensive sex education in schools. More recently, other churches and conservative groups have adopted similar strategies to influence educational policies in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.

In 2011, a school booklet advocating “Schools without Homophobia,” prepared by the Brazilian Ministry of Education, was recalled after strong pressure from conservative movements, evangelical and Catholic leaders. It was denounced as an instrument to promote homosexuality among children and to destroy families. In 2014, the debate over Brazil’s National Education Plan was the battlefield of conservative and religious groups against what they called “gender ideology”. Supported by civil society mobilization, including a organization (ironically) called Escola sem Partido [Schools without Politics] conservative members of congress overruled a clause in the Brazilian National Education Plan that stated, among the goals of the public educational system, overcoming educational inequalities, with emphasis in the promotion of equality among races, regions, genders and sexual orientations. Vocal critics of anti-discriminatory public policies in education also applied political pressure during the discussion and passing of state and municipal education plans.

Brazil is only one example of a new wave of conservative mobilization that is sweeping Latin America, characterized by the gathering of powerful old economic elites and religious conservative groups. Among its central political strategies, this new wave fights against the inclusion of a gender equality approach in public policies, including school curricula among their principal battlegrounds. Across the region, this movement has won many major disputes with significant impact. They have succeeded on blocking gender approaches and comprehensive sexual education not only in Brazil, but in the Argentinian provinces of Mendoza and Entre Rios, in Monterrey (Mexico), Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and even in the most secular country in the region, Uruguay.
As our forthcoming letter to the Editor of The Lancet (2017) explains, this new wave of conservative mobilization has tangible health effects. By opposing sexual education in the schools as well as the introduction of a gender equality approach within the school curricula, they hinder a core element of public health strategies to empower girls and adolescents, and consequently to prevent teenage pregnancies, which have a devastating negative impact on women, by, for example, contributing to female poverty.

Latin America is already the only region in the world where adolescent pregnancies are not decreasing. . . . Continue reading

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More Than Fair: GQUAL Campaign Mobilizes Law to Change Picture of International Justice

Globally, women occupy only 33% of the 599 seats found on the 91 adjudicatory bodies of international law. But when one excludes the committees and working groups on the rights of women and children, that number drops to 24% of the remaining 533 seats. Only one woman sits on each of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the appellate body of the World Trade Organization, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The paucity of women on international bodies reveals a gross imbalance of power that tips against a community that makes up roughly half the world’s population.

During the first week of October, ambassadors, legal experts, practitioners, and activists from around the world gathered in The Hague to strategize changing this male-dominated picture of international justice during the GQUAL Campaign’s international conference marking its second anniversary. The Action Plan adopted at the conference begins with an important reminder that achieving gender equality on international bodies is not solely a policy of fairness and institutional legitimacy but an action mandated by law. Together with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, GQUAL released at the conference a working paper that identifies the international legal basis for the Campaign’s aim of realizing gender parity.

States establish the nominating and voting procedures that apply to any particular international body, making them ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. Though political will is needed to remedy the stark and pervasive gender imbalance on international bodies, reform should be guided by international law and State practice, both of which support the fair representation of women in global governance.

The positive obligation to eliminate sex-based discrimination is deeply rooted and widely reflected in international human rights law. Numerous instruments, most notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, not only prohibit States from adopting discriminatory laws but also require that States work to dismantle obstacles that result in discriminatory outcomes for women. The working paper looks beyond CEDAW for additional support to further strengthen the legal foundation of the GQUAL Campaign.

We identified several human rights treaties and policy statements that embody the non-discrimination principle and which enumerate three international human rights norms that require gender equality within different contexts relevant to the GQUAL Campaign—the right of access to decision-making within public bodies; the right of access to equal opportunity in employment; and the right of access to justice. In short, women on equal terms with men, are entitled to shape our governments, to employment that reflects our capabilities, and to the protection, recognition, and advancement of international law. Continue reading

IFC report on business case for workplace childcare reinforces maquiladora workers’ campaign in Central America

MSN 2016

MSN 2016

Lack of quality, affordable child care is a significant concern for working parents in every region in the world, regardless of country or socioeconomic status.  According to the 2017 OECD report The Pursuit of Gender Equality An Uphill Battle, single parents – usually working moms – in the U.S. and Ireland pay up to 45% of their disposable income for affordable childcare.  In countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the lack of quality, affordable child care is just one of several challenges to leveraging working people and entire countries out of poverty.  Other challenges include the lack of adequate social security provisions and inadequate or non-existent early childhood education programs.  Authors of the 2016 IADB study Cashing in on Education: Women, Childcare and Prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean argue that the key to boosting Latin American countries out of poverty is female labor force participation – and that child care and early childhood education are key policy measures to move more women into paid work outside the home.  Social security contributions made by working women and their employers strengthen social security systems in poorer countries.  Reducing pay gaps between women and men would strengthen social security systems even more.

Maquiladora workers, trade unions and women’s rights activists in Honduras and El Salvador made workplace funded child care a key platform in their workplace advocacy campaign in 2014.  With the collaboration of Canada-based Maquiladora Solidarity Network, they have focused their advocacy efforts on international apparel brands, industry associations and governments to develop and implement viable childcare solutions.

As outlined in MSN’s  guide to legal requirements and international conventions Childcare in Central America, labor laws in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala require employers to provide child care facilities for their employees.  In 2014, the Government of Honduras, Honduran trade unions and the Honduran Manufacturers Association entered into a tripartite agreement to work on establishing some form of employer-provided child care program for textile manufacturing workers.  Employers have been slow to fund child care centers due to cost and capacity factors as well as lack of clarity in Honduran law – stalling the process.

IFC Tackling Childcare p. 21

IFC 2017, p. 21.

Reinforcement for Central American maquiladora workers’ campaign for employer-provided child care has come from an unexpected source.  The IFC’s new report  Tackling Childcare The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare uses case studies to show that not only is sponsoring child care programs the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do to succeed in business.  As expected, the case studies examined include white collar employers in the IT, financial services, and healthcare industries in wealthy countries like the United States, Japan and Germany.  More to the point to maquiladora workers in Central America, the case studies include blue collar employers in garment manufacturing, agriculture and heavy manufacturing industries in low- and middle-income countries like Jordan, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil.  In fact, the IFC report emphasizes the heightened need for high quality employer-sponsored child care in low income countries, where lack of access to quality early education and care programs can have a long-lasting negative impact on the growing minds of children – and where the economic security of families is threatened when parents must choose between working to provide for their families or staying at home to care for their children.

The report shows that investing in child care improves employee performance by reducing absenteeism, enhancing worker productivity, and increasing employee commitment and motivation.  The positive impression and improved  company reputation resulting from providing quality child care can help companies recruit and retain good employees.  In countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where employer-sponsored childcare is a legal requirement, companies can attract more international business by showing their compliance with local laws.  Thus, making an investment in child care programs can be an income generator for companies.

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You Go, ‘Grrl!

bio_Kalantry_Sital_sk49

“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!

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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