BOOK LAUNCH ~~~ INTERNATIONAL COURTS AND THE AFRICAN WOMAN JUDGE: UNVEILED NARRATIVES (ROUTLEDGE, 2018)

 

The Institute for African Women in Law and the Wilson Center Women in Public Service Project jointly launched the book, International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives (Routledge, 2018) edited by Dr. Josephine Jarpa Dawuni and Hon. Judge Akua Kuenyehia (Former Judge of the International Criminal Court), with a foreword by Hon. Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald (Former Judge/President of the ICTY and Former Arbitrator, Iran-US Claims Tribunal). 

Gwen Young, Director of the Wilson Center Women in Public Service Project introduced the panel.

Dr. Josephine Jarpa Dawuni opened the discussion, highlighting her motivations for editing this volume, noting among others the importance of drawing on the theories of postcolonial feminism, legal narratives and feminist institutionalism to analyze the place of women from the continent of Africa on international courts. She noted, “Why are we looking at African women judges? Why not the fact that she is a judge, she is qualified, she can do it. Legal Narratives help us understand their trajectory to the international bench.”

 

 

Prof. Nienke Grossman discussed the work of International Court of Justice Judge Julia Sebutinde (Chapter 3 below).

 

Prof. Rachel Ellett’s chapter focused  on Judge Kellelo Mafoso-Guni of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) (Chapter 7 below).

Counsellor Christiana Tah, Former Minister of Justice, Republic of Liberia, provided remarks as a discussant. She noted;

“We [women] want to participate, we want to be a part of the process.”

“It’s important to uplift African women, but it’s not all about race, it’s about uplifting all women.”

“One of the things I always think about when discussing Africa and the judiciary is that you have to look at it as a dichotomy because of the history of colonization. How do you harmonize the two?

                                          Other Chapters in the Book Include

Chapter 1: Introduction: Challenging Gender Universalism and Unveiling the Silenced Narratives of the African Woman Judge

By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni

This chapter provides the theoretical and conceptual framework around which the book is developed. By engaging in an overview and analysis of existing scholarship on gender and judging, it questions the gaps in existing theoretical perspectives and exposes questions on gender diversity which have not been addressed. It discusses the method and structure of the book.

 

 Chapter 2: Women Judges in International Courts and Tribunals: The  Quest for Equal Opportunities

 By Judge Florence Ndepele Mwanchande Mumba

This chapter is a personal reflection on the life and journey of Justice Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba. The chapter traces her life growing up in Zambia, attaining a legal education and becoming the first woman High Court Judge in the Zambia. In 1997, Judge Mumba was elected to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  She served as a Trial Judge for six years. She presided over, the Prosecutor vs Anto Furundzija, IT-95-17/1; the Prosecutor vs Kunarac  et al, IT-96-23-T; the Prosecutor vs Simic et al. IT-95-9/T. Convictions in these cases included torture as a violation of laws or customs of war, outrages upon human dignity, rape as torture, enslavement, and crimes against humanity for persecution, cruel and inhumane treatment and beatings.  These were among the first convictions for ICTY where rape and sexual violence were pronounced as crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. Judge Mumba presided over two guilty pleas, The Prosecutor vs Drazen Erdemovic, IT-96-22 and the Prosecutor vs Milan Simic, IT-95-9/2. Judge Mumba’s view is that international crimes trials must be held in the territories where atrocities were committed for the benefit of indicted persons and the community. Statutory provisions for gender balance in international courts and tribunals are essential.

Chapter 3: Julia Sebutinde: An Unbreakable Cloth

By Nienke Grossman

This Chapter discusses the life story of International Court of Justice Judge Julia Sebutinde.  It highlights her determination and strength of character, while raising questions about gender, geographical background, race, ethnicity and judging, and international judicial selection procedures.  After detailing her biography before becoming an international judge, the Chapter turns to her selection to, experiences on and contributions to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and subsequently, the International Court of Justice.  The Chapter contains a section on her advice to future generations, an analysis of why her story is significant, and finally, it suggests avenues for further academic research.

Chapter 4:  Akua Kuenyehia : Leaving a Mark Along the Journey for Human  Rights

 By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni

This chapter chronicles the life and journey of Justice Akua Kuenyehia, an academic, women’s rights activist and an international court judge. Using legal narratives as a tool for centering her experiences, the chapter presents monumental developments in her life as presented sometimes in her voice and situated within existing discourse on women, gender and feminist engagement with international law.

Chapter 5: Fatoumata Dembélé Diarra : Trajectory of a Malian Magistrate and Civil Society Advocate to the International Criminal Court

 By Sara Dezalay

A high-level magistrate and prominent civil society advocate in Mali, Judge Fatou Dembélé Diarra featured among the historic first bench of judges elected to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2003. This chapter gives prominence to the voice of Diarra herself, as an exceptional individual with an acute degree of reflexivity over her own trajectory, the options she had and the professional strategies she pursued, and further, that of her own country’s post-colonial history. In so doing, however, it strives to reconstruct the structural conditions that can help explain her path, in what was still a French colony, in 1949, to the ICC. It underlines, meanwhile, how Diarra’s trajectory can prove a powerful entry-point to account for the position of legal elites in post-colonial Mali, and further, the role played by her appointment to the ICC, as a woman and as an African, in fostering the authority of the court over time. 

Chapter 6: Judge Sophia Akuffo: Balancing the Equities

By Kuukuwa Andam and Sena Dei-Tutu

Justice Sophia was sworn in as the 13th Chief Justice of Ghana on June 19, 2017. Prior to this, Akuffo had served as the first female President of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) in 2012, as Vice-President of the ACtHPR in 2008 and as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana since 1995. This chapter tracks Akuffo’s career from her birth in Akropong-Akuapem, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, to her appointment as the second female Chief Justice of Ghana. In particular, a selection of cases that Akuffo delivered judgments in will be analyzed as a means of contextualizing Akuffo’s legal philosophy. Additionally, this chapter will examine some of the challenges Akuffo faced as well as the lessons learnt during her legal career. In identifying the barriers that Akuffo encountered, this chapter considers the similarities between Akuffo’s experience and the experiences of thousands of female lawyers and judges working on the African continent; with a mind to highlighting avenues for increasing the participation of African women on International Courts. The chapter concludes with some observations and future research questions. 

Chapter 7: Justina Kellelo Mafoso-Guni: The Gendering of Judicial Appointment Processes in African Courts

By Rachel Ellett

Representation of women in domestic and international courts is essential to the legitimacy of those institutions. Over the last decade low representation of women judges has begun to be addressed through reform of appointment processes. However, reforming formal appointment mechanisms does not eliminate the gendered informal structures of judicial appointments. Justice Mafoso-Guni’s biography – first woman to the Lesotho High Court and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) – illustrates the pervasiveness of informal gendered institutions as an obstacle to women reaching the bench; both in Lesotho and the ACtHPR. Utilizing diachronic analysis, this chapter reveals the arch of Mafoso-Guni’s career trajectory and pauses to offer more in-depth analysis on her appointment challenges in Lesotho and to the ACtHPR.  Placing Mafoso-Guni’s appointment challenges in the broader context of increasing numbers of women to the bench more generally; her story highlights both the limitations and the gendering of individual agency in light of weak formal institutional commitments to gender parity. It further reveals the gendered power asymmetries present in the informal institutional mechanisms of both domestic and international judicial appointments. Judicial appointments perfectly illustrate the gendered institutional context in which women seek to carve a pathway to the bench.

Chapter 8: Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson: The Trajectory of a Noble Passion

By Rebecca Emiene Badejogbin

This chapter explores the trajectory of Judge Elsie Thompson from her background, to the Nigerian judiciary and onward as a Judge and eventually a Vice President of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. It reveals the distinctiveness of her experiences and trail blazing paths, and is a demonstration of the impact of various factors such as socio-economic and political, as well as cultural location, education, contextual experiences, institutional opportunities and personal agency on the ascendancy of African women to transnational courts, and according to her, divine providence. The narration and analysis of these experiences engage a convergence of theories that touch on the impact of institutional arrangements on women, and the lingering effects of political, economic and cultural factors on women’s access to political appointments in a post-colonial context. While her experiences generally agree with literature on the subject of women’s ascendancy to these courts, this chapter closely interrogates her ascent as an African woman to a transnational court and states that not only does her presence in the court create judicial diversity, she has made ‘valuable contributions to jurisprudence and the development’ of regional laws.

 Chapter 9: Conclusion: International Courts and the African Woman Judge– Unlocking Doors, Leaving a Legacy

By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni and Akua Kuenyehia

This chapter provides a recap of the goals of this project. It summarizes the key findings, amplifies questions yet to be explored and sets an agenda for the development of future research on women and judging in Africa. It also sets a plan for maintaining the momentum made with African women’s access to international courts and tribunals.

 Copies of the book can be purchased on Amazon.com 

For speaking engagements, email: info@africanwomeninlaw.com

 

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Achieving Gender Parity in International Courts and Bodies: Does Diversity Matter?

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Conference Attendees

From October 3 to 5 2017, women’s rights advocates, feminist scholars, Ambassadors, Heads of Government, policy practitioners and supporters of women’s rights convened in the beautiful city of Den Haag in the Netherlands. Viviana Krsticevic, Maria Noel and the entire team at the GQUAL Campaign organized this conference which had a twofold purpose; first, to celebrate the second-year anniversary of the GQUAL Campaign, and second, to bring together participants under a conference theme “Changing the picture of International Justice.” The highlights of the three-day event included an exciting plenary session with speakers like Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, the current President ofthe International Criminal Court (ICC).

ICC President Judge Fernandéz de Gurmendi and Prof. Josephine Dawuni

Judge Fernandéz de Gurmendi, while acknowledging the gains made in achieving near gender parity on the ICC bench, cautioned participants and feminist advocates that such gains could easily be reversed. The ICC reached a high of eight women judges out of eighteen in 2003, which reduced to six out of eighteen by early 2017. With the  ICC elections in December 2017, women took five of the six available seats. Out of the five women elected, two were from the continent of Africa, Judge Reini Alapini-Gansou of Benin and Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa of Uganda.

 Another highlight of the plenary session was the speech by the current Vice President of Costa Rica, Her Excellency Ana Helena Chacón. While reflecting on her experience in the parliament of Costa Rica and now in the office of the Vice President, Mrs. Chacón hinted at the fact that women have to work together to push women’s equality forward, noting further that “together we can and we should change the face of international quality; democracy is real if we leave no one behind.” Dr. Theresia Degener, Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), gave moving remarks on the imbalance in the UN body, noting in particular the challenges she has had to face as the only woman in the Committee at one point during her tenure. She called for more efforts to nominate women. The rest of the conference was filled with insightful panels and workshops aimed at addressing central questions such as why equal participation of women matters, the international obligations of states in promoting gender equity on international courts and bodies, and strategies on how to achieve gender parity on these bodies.  The conference concluded with the adoption of an Action Plan to achieve gender parity.

The overall goal and theme of the conference, was to acknowledge modest gains, while mapping a strategy for moving the campaign forward. The question that remains to be answered is how do we move this agenda forward? I provide a few strategies, which I believe are important for the overarching goal of changing the picture of international justice with the goal of achieving gender parity on international courts and bodies. In the first place, it is important to acknowledge, celebrate and develop a conscious effort to embrace all forms of intra-group diversity. To borrow from the acclaimed poet, Maya Angelou, “we all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” The global feminist movement has come under attack for tendencies to reproduce the very gendered and privileged hierarchies which it purports to fight in the first place. For Black feminist scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, developing the concept of intersectionality provides a new prism through which feminist scholars can begin to question the multiple and intersecting layers different women face in their struggles against patriarchy and other forms of dominant discourse.

 

The call for acknowledging diversity has also come from what some call “Third World Feminists”. Scholars like Chandra Talpade Mohanty has criticized the western notions of womanhood and the incipient tendency at “othering” non-western women in her powerful piece “Under Western Eyes.” African feminist scholars such as Filomina Steady, Amina Mama, Oyeronke Oyewumi and Akosua Adomako Ampofo have increasingly called for a recognition of African notions of womanhood and the impact of imperialist and globalist layers of oppression in challenging the traditional notions of womanhood and women’s agency. Chicana feminist such as Gloria Anzaldúa, and feminist scholars from Asia such as Trinh Minh-ha, each remind us of the need for the global feminist movement to accept, celebrate and embrace a truly diverse global ethos of feminism.

So, how can the plethora of feminist voices be incorporated in the global agenda for more women on international courts in order to create an all-inclusive bench? The answer is simple; that in adopting strategies to increase gender parity on international bodies, these efforts  should focus on adopting all-inclusive strategies that advocate for the “best woman candidate”, irrespective of national origin, geo-political affiliation, sexual orientation or other identity marker. This sounds like a simple suggestion; however, it requires that feminist scholars develop an understanding of the historical, social and political context from which different women come from. No doubt the domestic politics of judicial nominations will have to be examined as well. Ascribing personal agency to some women from particular regions of the world and not to others­— which has tended to plague the global feminist movement, will need to be addressed in the global efforts demanding the nomination of more women. If indeed, feminist scholars and advocates are interested in achieving gender parity, it must be a gender parity that fully embraces intra-group diversity. The multilayered and intersecting identities women come with, will need to be fully recognized, acknowledged and accepted.

Another important strategy for the success of the GQUAL Campaign will be the cross-pollination of ideas and strategies. In other words, there is the need to learn from one another in terms of what has worked in some places and not so well in other places. Let me pause by noting that I am fully aware of the plethora of different variables at play here—the different legal traditions, the different political systems, the multiplicity of selection methods and the varying levels of political will to name just a few. Nonetheless, as I argued in my presentation at this conference, based solely on my research findings from the continent of Africa, women across the African continent have done relatively well, within a relatively short time period in not only accessing the judiciaries, but rising to the top as Chief Justices. At the international level, women from across the continent of Africa have made immense gains as international judges—both permanent courts and ad hoc tribunals.

Though the gains are not uniform across the continent—and that should come as no surprise for the second largest continent of 54 nation-states, yet certain patterns are evident. The success of African women as judges on international courts at the global and sub-regional levels in the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights are noted in a recently published edited by Josephine Dawuni and Akua Kuenyehia—- International Courts and the African Woman Judge (Routledge, 2018). Using legal narratives, this book presents the lived experiences of seven women judges from Africa. It challenges exiting notions of gender and judging, it elevates the voice of the woman judge and it leaves a legacy for the future through the voices and lives of these remarkable and accomplished women judges. Documenting the experiences of women who have blazed the trail in the international judiciary is important for raising awareness not only to stakeholders, but also to future generations that “yes, women can!” Documentation through theoretically grounded research and the development of context relevant epistemology, such as the matri-legal feminist theory I have argued elsewhere[1] is important for moving the gender equality agenda forward.

IMG_9821Other speakers at the conference spoke about developments that have taken place within the African context. Osai Ojigho highlighted the developments within the African Court which led to the current situation with the African Court being the most gender balanced international court as of this writing. In an earlier post, I highlighted the African court as a roadmap for achieving gender parity and encouraged other courts to follow suit. The African experience provides many lessons which the rest of the world can learn from. To think that in its eleven-year history of existence, it has achieved gender parity, a goal and aspiration which the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights are yet to attain. Sheila Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea highlighted the developments that have taken place within the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights where women have made gains as Commissioners.

Lastly, it is necessary for the survival for a movement, or campaign like GQUAL, that  scholars and policy makers engage in research as a tool and mechanism for awareness raising. Justice Mary Mamyassin Sey, a Justice of the Supreme Court of The Gambia and first woman judge in The Gambia discussed her experiences across multiple jurisdictions, spanning The Gambia,  and as a Commonwealth judge in Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Liberia and Vanuatu. While discussing the challenges of working in different cultural contexts and often being the “first” and often “only woman”, Justice Sey noted that her call to duty, integrity and personal work ethics contributed to her success in these multiple arenas. Indeed, being at the intersection of multiple identities has come with its own costs, for instance with the threat on her life and threat of deportation for her decision in the Vanuatu Supreme Court that led to the conviction of 14 members of parliament.

The foregoing summary is my personal de-briefing from the wonderful conference in The Hague. Many strategies and action plans were adopted during the workshops held over two days. We look forward to more engaged, vibrant, diverse and theoretically relevant and practically plausible strategies that will be developed out of this conference. Many questions abound, such as the issue of setting aspirational targets as posited by Professor Nienke Grossman. For other practitioners such as Osai Ojigho who poignantly

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(L-R )Josephine Dawuni, Nienke Grossman and Osai Ojigho at the foregrounds of the ICJ.

asserted “why walk when you can fly?”, quotas should be used as a necessary strategy to achieve gender parity, Ojigho further argued that “women should not be shamed into thinking that quotas or affirmative action lacks merit.” Gender equality matters not because it is a women’s issue, but because it is a human issue. Together, we can make gender equality on international courts and bodies a reality! Join the movement by signing the GQUAL Campaign Pledge!

 

 

[1] See, Dawuni, Josephine. (2018). Matri-legal Feminism: An African Feminist Response to International Law. In Ogg, Kate and Rimmer, Sue Harris (eds.). Feminist Approaches to International Law. Edward Elgar Publishing. (Forthcoming, 2018).

 

Working women and evolving labor standards in U.S. and Canadian free trade agreements

My forthcoming article in the Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal discusses and compares the evolution of labor standards in U.S. and Canadian free trade agreements (FTAs) since 2000.  It then assesses their usefulness as tools to improve IMG_0646working women’s rights.

With few exceptions, all U.S. and Canadian free trade agreements have included labor provisions since 1994.  They also contain procedures for members of the public to file petitions that trading partners have not met their labor obligations under FTAs.

After 2000, the governments of Canada and the U.S. both incorporated the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as the guiding standard for labor rights in free trade agreements.  The four core labor standards in the ILO Declaration are (1) abolition of child labor; (2) elimination of discrimination in the workplace and occupation; (3) elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor; and (4) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

My article examines the outcomes of a number of recent cases filed under the labor provisions of U.S. FTAs, including the U.S.-Bahrain FTA, U.S.-Peru FTA and the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic FTA (CAFTA-DR).   The article also compares civil society advocacy efforts in Canada and the U.S. related to the negotiation of free trade with Colombia and discusses the implementation of a Labor Rights Action Plan (LAP) between the U.S. and Colombia as a pre-condition for Colombia’s entrance into the U.S.-Colombia FTA.

A definite evolution is observed in the investigative methods, problem-solving techniques and types of remedies adopted in reports issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) in response to public petitions filed under FTA labor provisions during the Obama Administration (2009-2016).  In addition to making fulfillment of certain labor standards commitments a pre-condition to formal entry of trade relations between U.S. and Colombia, USDOL (a) called on one trading partner to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace (Bahrain); (b) worked with another trading partner to develop a method for denying export permits to companies that did not comply with labor court orders (Guatemala); and (c) timed the issuance of labor administration and/or elimination of child labor grants with the issuance of reports (Honduras, Dominican Republic).  USDOL also increased its capacity for addressing threats of violence against trade unionists in the territory of U.S. trade partners (Colombia).

Despite evidence of improvement in USDOL’s administration of labor petitions under FTAs since it first started receiving petitions in 1994, definitional shortcomings in U.S. FTA labor provisions weaken their utility as advocacy tools for workers as a whole and women in particular.

One problem is that only 75% of the ILO Declaration is incorporated into the definitions sections of the U.S.-Jordan FTA and CAFTA-DR.  Both agreements fail to specifically include equal pay for equal work for women and men and the elimination of workplace discrimination in the Definitions section for purposes of international dispute resolution.  This leads to textual uncertainty as to whether discrimination on the basis of sex or other grounds is covered.  As a result, gender-related claims in an omnibus petition filed about labor law and administration in Honduras were ignored in a 2015 USDOL report under the CAFTA-DR.  Ironically, comparison of the 2012 Honduras CAFTA-DR case with the 1997 Pregnancy Testing in Mexico case shows that the NAFTA has been a better advocacy tool for working women that the more modern CAFTA-DR.

Definitional shortcomings in post-NAFTA U.S. FTAs are not limited to incomplete incorporation of the 1998 ILO Declaration.  After 2000, U.S. FTA labor provisions limit the definition of “labor law” as applied to the United States to laws passed by the U.S. Congress.  This definition excludes all U.S. state labor laws, which cover compensation for workplace injuries, govern the time and manner of payment of wages, and guarantee trade union rights to state and local government employees.  My article shows how two 2012 reports released by the Government of Mexico about U.S. failure to comply with NAFTA labor obligations may have played a role in the U.S. decision to narrow the scope of the definition of U.S. labor law in FTAs.

In contrast, there is no such textual or definitional uncertainty in the labor provisions in post-NAFTA Canadian FTAs, which explicitly cover workplace discrimination and equal pay for women and men – as well as compensation for workplace injuries.  Canada currently has FTAs with labor provisions with Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Jordan, Panama, Honduras, South Korea and the European Union.  Canada also has Labor Cooperation MOUs with Brazil, Argentina and China.

The article shows how women’s rights advocates have creatively utilized FTA labor provisions as advocacy tools with mixed results  The most successful gender petitions focus solely on gender discrimination rather than burying gender claims in broader petitions.  Because of definitional shortcomings in U.S. FTAs, however, women’s rights advocates should consider filing labor petitions under Canadian FTAs in addition to or rather than U.S. FTAs.  Not only are the definitional provisions stronger, the petition procedures are very similar and Canada has stronger Equal Pay laws and culture.

Recently, Canada established itself as a leader on women’s issues by advocating for a gender chapter in the 2017 re-negotiation of NAFTA.  Mexico expressed support for the idea of a gender chapter, but observers opine that the U.S. would never agree to binding gender-related provisions in a renegotiated NAFTA – despite the fact that a non-binding 2012 U.S.-Mexico Memorandum of Understanding on Women’s Economic Empowerment is already in place.

As Mark Aspinwall rightfully pointed out in his August 2017 Forbes Op Ed, effective application of FTA labor and environmental provisions is heavily dependent on political will.  Even with strong political will backed by critical human and financial resources, the Obama administration’s free trade and labor agenda had some mis-steps and imperfect outcomes.  There is much work to be done to maintain the gains and momentum achieved.  Unfortunately, the current administration is already off to a bad start.  Congress has already called upon the Trump administration to ensure that U.S. trade partners Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru fulfill their commitments under ongoing labor action plans related to petitions filed under FTA labor provisions.  In addition to a lack of political will to address labor violations among trading partners, the current administration has not allocated sufficient human and financial resources to USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs to properly perform its duties.  In their September 19, 2017 letter to Trump adminstration officials, ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate called on USTR, USDOL and USDoS to fill five positions key to enforcement of FTA labor provisions.  Lack of political will and inadequate resource allocation risks slowing or stopping the evolution made by the last administration in the enforcement and application of labor provisions in free trade agreements.

Conservative mobilization and adolescent pregnancy in Latin America

by Camila Gianella, Marta R. de Assis Machado and Angélica Peñas Defago

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

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!