Launching a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

Three items to share on this, the one-year anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan:

Register and attend what promises to be a riveting discussion on Global Strategies for Countering Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan on Friday 19 August 2022, with courageous Afghan women human rights defenders like Shaharzad Akbar and Zarqa Yaftali and international partners like the University of Michigan’s Professor Karima Bennoune and Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr. Register here.

View filmmaker Ramita Navai’s documentary Afghanistan Undercover, about which noted interviewer Terry Gross of the program Fresh Air remarked in her interview with Navai: “I feel like the world isn’t watching as carefully anymore. And your documentary was a wake-up call to me. . . . things have gotten so dire for women there.”

Read Professor Bennoune’s powerful analysis The Best Way to Mark the Anniversary of Taliban Takeover? Launch a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, which explains why “it is critical to commit to a more effective and principled global response, and to do so by recognizing this grave set of abuses for exactly what it is: gender apartheid.”

Time to act, UN Human Rights Committee

Afghanistan, which ratified the ICCPR in 1983, was last reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1995 – and it was a truncated review at that. The Afghan head of delegation was unable to be present due to delays en route, so the Chair suspended the review that had barely begun, saying that consideration of the report would be resumed at a subsequent meeting.

No subsequent review has ever taken place. Instead, there has been one postponement after another, as shown by the timeline below.  Why the neglect by the premier human rights treaty body authorized to monitor compliance with civil and political rights?  

Prompted by concerns we heard from Afghan women human rights defenders and Afghan human rights defenders more broadly, three of us wrote to the Human Rights Committee last week urging them to schedule a review of Afghanistan without further delay: Felice Gaer, Former Vice Chairperson and member, Committee against Torture, and Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights; Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, University of Michigan, and immediate past UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and yours truly, Stephanie Farrior, professor of international law for 30 years and past Legal Director of Amnesty International. We await a response. The Committee has reportedly already set its calendar of reviews for the next several years. If a review of Afghanistan is not already scheduled, it should be, and without yet more delay.  

Afghanistan has seen significant political turmoil in the years since that partial Committee review held in 1995 – from the Taliban, to the Karzai government after the US invasion and now, back to the Taliban, which is not recognized by the United Nations as the official representative of Afghanistan. This has not prevented other UN human rights treaty bodies from holding a review of the implementation of their treaty in Afghanistan (see below).

The Human Rights Committee did schedule review of Afghanistan for March 2000, but the government requested and received a postponement.  

The review was next scheduled to take place in October 2001, and in the preceding session in May, the Committee developed its “List of issues prior to reporting.” However, the events of 9/11 intervened, and the Committee decided “to postpone review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan to a later and more favorable date.” A concern expressed in that meeting by the late Sir Nigel Rodley and shared by other Committee members at the time was that their statement postponing the review “should not be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that the Committee will henceforth no longer consider the reports of States Parties in which an armed conflict is taking place.” Christine Chanet added that the presence of armed conflict does not only not prevent consideration of a state party, but it actually “adds to the concerns of the Committee.”

It was not until a decade later, in July 2011, that a review of Afghanistan was once again on the table, when the Human Rights Committee announced it would develop a “List of issues prior to reporting” at its July 2012 session.  It did indeed adopt a list of issues at that 2012 session, but in the ensuing ten years, no review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan was ever scheduled or held.

Today, the human rights situation in Afghanistan is dire. For women and girls, as a journalist quoted in Amnesty International’s recent report has stated, “it’s death in slow motion.” For some, it’s more than one can bear. According to UN News: “The situation for women is so desperate in Afghanistan that they are committing suicide at a rate of one or two every day, the Human Rights Council has heard.”

In light of the dire situation in Afghanistan, the Human Rights Committee could take action and schedule a long overdue review of the civil and political rights situation there. The Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for review of a state party in the absence of a report. In this case, the last report submitted by Afghanistan could be updated with the significant body of information documented by UNAMA, the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, and human rights NGOs.  In addition, Afghan human rights defenders are keen to submit shadow reports. They are also keen to see every human rights mechanism engaged to the extent possible, to keep up international attention and pressure.

In a situation where the de facto entity in control of a state’s territory is not a recognized government, the Committee could nonetheless follow normal procedures and send an invitation to participate in a review to the office of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in New York. The UN-recognized (former) government officials could attend, present an oral (or written) report – or not. It should be noted that Rule of Procedure 68.2 allows for consideration of a report if the state party does not send a representative.   

The timeline below shows year after year after year of postponements of a review of Afghanistan by the Human Rights Committee. Other treaty bodies have engaged in periodic reviews of Afghanistan in the years when the Human Rights Committee was not scheduling a review, most recently the Committee against Torture in 2017-2018, and CEDAW in both 2016 and 2020.

It is time for the UN Human Rights Committee to re-engage, and schedule a review as soon as possible, given the critical situation there and the importance of continued international scrutiny. The record of neglect by the Human Rights Committee means that there has been no authoritative analysis of the implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Afghanistan for 27 years. The Committee should correct this situation promptly.  

October 1991: Afghanistan submitted 2nd periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee. 

October 1995: Committee began review of the 2nd report, but soon suspended the review due to the absence of the head of delegation caused by travel delays. “The Chairman said that consideration of the report of Afghanistan would be resumed at a subsequent meeting,” and the Committee requested the Government of Afghanistan to submit information updating the report before 31 May 1996 for consideration at” its session in July 1996.  No additional information was received.

The next mention of Afghanistan in Summary Records after October 1995:

October 1999: The Committee invited Afghanistan to present its report at its March 2000 session. The State party asked for a postponement.

November 1999:  The Committee discussed and adopted a list of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of Afghanistan.  Materials used in the preparation of the list included the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and a report by Amnesty International on the situation of women in Afghanistan.

May 2001: The Committee decided to consider the situation of Afghanistan during its session in October/November 2001, applying Rule of Procedure 68.2, which allows for consideration of a report if the state does not send a representative.

October 2001: The Committee decided to postpone consideration of Afghanistan to a later date, “pending consolidation of the new Government.” “The Committee has very serious concerns regarding the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the situation of women in Afghanistan, public and extrajudicial executions, and religious intolerance. . . . Despite the fact that, with the current situation of armed conflict in Afghanistan, other serious concerns concerning the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant have been added, the Committee considers that reviewing the report would not be productive in the current situation. [The Chairman] has therefore decided to postpone consideration of the report to a later and more favorable date for the purposes of article 40 of the Covenant.”

Continued postponements: In succeeding annual reports, the Committee duly recorded the previous postponements, but never scheduled a review:

A/58/40(Vol.I)    2002-2003

A/59/40(Vol.I)    2003-2004

A/60/40(Vol.I)    2004-2005

A/61/40(Vol.I)    2005-2006

A/62/40(Vol.I)    2006-2007

A/63/40(Vol.I)    2007-2008

A/64/40(Vol.I)    2008-2009

A/65/40(Vol.I)    2009-2010

A/66/40(Vol.I)    2010-2011

May 2011: “Afghanistan accepted the new optional procedure on focused reports based on replies to the list of issues prior to reporting. It is thus waiting for the Committee to adopt a list of issues prior to reporting.”

July 2011:  The Committee report notes: “The timetable for consideration of reports posted on the Committee website would . . . take account of the States parties for which a list of issues prior to reporting was to be adopted in July 2012, namely Afghanistan, Croatia, Israel, San Marino and New Zealand.”

July 2012:  The Committee adopted a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. In the Committee’s July 2012 LOIPR includes the following  “Please provide any other information on measures taken to disseminate and implement the Committee’s previous recommendations (CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2), including any necessary statistical data.”

For those interested in seeing what those previous recommendations were: Per the UN Library Services, “despite the fact that document CCPR/C/AFG/Q/3 clearly mentions CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2, this document symbol is not recorded in any other source or index and according to the historical research above, the second report issued in 1992 was never fully considered – so no formal documented outcome must have been issued.”

Over the ten years that have passed since it adopted the list of issues, the Human Rights Committee has never reviewed implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan.

2013-2014: The Annual Report notes the Committee’s adoption of a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. “This report has still not been received.”

Note: The Human Rights Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for consideration of a State Party in the absence of a report.

2014-2019: The next five Annual Reports of the Human Rights Committee stop giving the prior history of postponed reviews, and only mention Afghanistan in the list of states that are 10 or more years overdue in submitting a report.

There is no further mention of Afghanistan in Annual Reports or Summary Records.

Adoption as Secondary to Childbirth: India’s Maternity Benefit Act

The joyous moments of childhood often include parents cheering on their children on their simplest yet the most beautiful achievements. Sadly, not all children are able to share ‘firsts’ or experience the thrill of their gleaming parents on their achievements. These children who are left abandoned or have lost their parents often feel a disconnect with the world, the feeling of not belonging. According to a recent report of National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR), at least 10094 children were orphaned during the pandemic. Adoption, thus, presents an opportunity for these children to live a happy and secure life. 

Framework of Maternity law in India

In India, firstly, there is no scope of paternal or paternity leave and the leave is limited to the extent of mothers. The Indian legislation is drafted in such a way that it is believed only women have the sole duty of nurturing and taking care of their child. Thus, fathers are kept out of the purview of the legislation of granting paternity benefits. On the other hand, it is often seen that employers refuse maternity leave for adoptive mothers because the law does not mandate it. Adoptive mothers are treated to be a class apart from biological mothers and provide an absolute legislative cover to the latter and an exceptional layer to the former.

Under the current Maternity Benefit Act (1961), according to Section 5(4), a woman is allowed a maternity leave of 12 weeks only if the adopted child is below 3 months of age. If a woman adopts a child who is more than 3 months of age, she is not considered for maternity leave at all. On the other hand, biological mothers are allowed a maternity leave of 26 weeks. The most unsettling aspect is the age limit of the adopted child that is set in the Act. 

After the 2017 amendment, The Maternity Benefits Act has considered adoptive mothers to be deserving of a maternity leave, but the amendment doesn’t solve the cause. Not only is it treating adoptive mothers unequally, but is also snatching away a secured life of the adopted child. Firstly, the age limit of 3 months of the adopted child is keeping adoptive mothers outside the purview of the Act because the adoption process itself is very time-consuming. Secondly, it is disincentivizing adoption of children who are not a newborn baby. Thirdly, it is remiss to think that only children in the 0-3 months of age require continuous care and support. 

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Women Refugees and Gender Persecution

The UN AudioVisual Library invited me to give a lecture on Women Refugees and Gender Persecution. It gives an overview of gender-based violence, the context of forced migration faced by women, the application of the due diligence principle in Refugee Status Determination, assessment of risk, evidentiary issues, credibility determination, gender-related persecution, nexus to protection categories, and the application of cessation clauses and the Internal Flight Alternative. It will be made available on March 7th on the eve of International Women’s Day! Please check the UN AVL website

The Human Rights Brief of American University Washington College of Law published my article titled Examination of the Effects of Deportation as a Result of Revocation of Status Upon the Rights to Non-Discrimination, Family Unity, and the Best Interests of the Child: An Empirical Case from Norway, This article discusses the European and Nordic trend of non-European/Schengen nationals to their countries of origin or transit countries and implementing deportation as a principal mechanism of immigration control. It examines a particular case from Norway resulting from a review of cases involving select nationalities extending back in time beyond five years. This review identified persons who lied about their country of nationality and were subject to revocation of status and deportation in spite of their ties to family and integration within the community. The article discusses the role of the judiciary as a resistant gatekeeper to international human rights, in particular the right to family unity and the best interests of the child, as well as the right to non-discrimination. It calls for reform of review of old cases based on nationality, instead acting only an individualized security risk assessment and the adoption of a human rights based approach to revocation and deportation.

Go On! Book Launch: The Construction of the Customary Law of Peace: Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

You are welcome to register for participation in the book launch of The Construction of the Customary Law of Peace: Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on October 1st at 5pm, live streamed via Zoom:

https://www.jus.uio.no/ior/english/research/news-and-events/events/other/latin-america.html

At present, Latin America may be characterized as a region that has enjoyed an epoch of “long peace”, due to the lack of inter-state wars. Simultaneously we have seen a diametric rise in intra-state violence, evidenced by its ranking as having the highest level of violence in the world, and in particular having the highest levels of violence against workers and women.

This book explores the regional normative evolution of peace from its negative form (absence of violence) to its positive form (equality, non-discrimination, and social justice) and the challenge of articulating a pro homine peace in an increasing authoritarian populist context.

Bailliet has interviewed the sitting judges in The Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court has established a large amount of case law regarding migrants, indigenous and elderly people’s rights. The court also employs orders demanding protection of human right advocates and other civil society actors participating in protests subject to state repression.

The sitting president for The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Elizabeth Odio Benito, views women as the heart of peace, and concludes that the court protects peace because it protects women’s rights. At present there is a high level of polarization in the region, evident by societal mobilization and counter-mobilization regarding abortion, access to IVF, violence against women and family rights.

The book seeks to explore to what degree The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is capable of developing a framework for sustainable peace within the context of the triad human rights, democracy and development.

PROGRAMME:

17:00 Welcome and introduction by Cecilia Bailliet

17: 10 Prepared comment by Professor Thomas Antkowiak, Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the Seattle University School of Law (live streamed from the US).

17:30 Prepared comment by Professor Benedicte Bull, UiO.

Discussion:   Challenges to peace in Latin America 

Migrant Worker Women Advancing Gender Equity through the USMCA

Men only, 1835 years old. 

In 2021, seeing a job posting with those words is startling. Shocking even. But more than a year into a world-changing pandemic that has pushed millions of women out of paid work, U.S. employers continue to discriminate against women, posting ads like that one. To evade legal consequences, U.S. businesses discriminate in Mexico, hiring men to work in the United States with temporary H-2 guestworker visas while turning women away. Other U.S. businesses discriminate by hiring women but channeling them into lower-paying jobs with poorer conditions than those they hire men for. Although the U.S. government knows that H-2 employers discriminate against women, it has done little to stop them. 

For more than fifteen years, since I founded Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM)—the first transnational workers’ rights organization based in Mexico and the United States—I have heard from women in Mexico about patterns of abuse in the U.S. H-2 programs. Migrant women have courageously spoken out about blatant discrimination in H-2 recruitment and hiring, sexual harassment and other violence against women at work, unfair pay, and unlawful working conditions. Women report discrimination in industries ranging from Maryland’s blue crab processors to fruit and vegetable sorting. Sex discrimination persists in H-2 labor supply chains even though U.S. law prohibits employers and labor recruiters from discriminating against women. Laws prohibiting discrimination protect all women who work in the United States, even if businesses hire them outside of the country.

Today, migrant women continue the fight for gender justice. In March, in honor of Women’s History Month, CDM and workers’ rights organizations across North America joined migrant women in filing the first viable state-to-state complaint under the new United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA). The USMCA’s labor chapter, Article 23, requires the United States to enforce its anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In failing to root out discrimination in H-2 recruiting, hiring, and employment and neglecting to ensure gender equity in the program, the United States is violating Article 23. 

In the complaint, we collectively make three demands:

  1. The U.S. government must end sex discrimination in the H-2 guestworker programs once and for all.
  2. The government must ensure that all workers have access to Legal Services Corporation-funded civil legal services. (Without lawyers working in solidarity with them, it is nearly impossible for migrant women to access justice through U.S. courts.)
  3. The government must investigate discrimination complaints from women in the H-2 program under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, rather than ignoring or summarily dismissing them.

And to increase pressure on the Administration, we are filing a supplemental complaint with Professor Sarah Paoletti, a Practice Professor of Law and the Director of the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. The supplement will address the U.S. government’s obligations under the ILO and international human rights law to end discrimination in the H-2 program.

We have reasons to be hopeful that the USMCA can serve as a tool to improve access to transnational justice for migrant workers. Unlike NAFTA—the old trade agreement with its toothless labor side accord—the USMCA has a mechanism for migrant workers and their advocates to push governments to comply with labor and employment laws—or face sanctions. Concretely, this means that the U.S. government may face sanctions if it maintains the status quo and ignores the grave abuses that the petitioners report in the H-2 program. It means that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must end its practice of failing to investigate and meaningfully respond to migrant women’s discrimination complaints. And it means that the U.S. Departments of Labor and Homeland Security must stop allowing H-2 employers to discriminate without consequences. In receiving and reviewing our petition, the governments are legally responsible for showing us that they meant what they said about protecting migrant workers’ and women’s rights when they signed the agreement. 

The historic process for the migrant women petitioners began in Mexico, where we filed the USMCA complaint with the Mexican government. Mexico formally accepted the complaint and is now investigating discrimination and other abuses in the agricultural and protein processing industries, the industries in which the petitioners work. Earlier this month, Mexico asked the United States to honor its obligations under the USMCA and invited cooperation in doing so. And now the Biden-Harris Administration has the opportunity to make good on the promise of the USMCA and proactively address the urgent issues we raise in the complaint.

For too long, U.S. businesses have used the H-2 programs to bypass our civil rights and labor laws. Left without government oversight, H-2 employers have enacted their sexist, racist, and ageist ideas about the kinds of workers who maximize profitability. Sex discrimination in the H-2 program harms not only migrant women from Mexico but also U.S.-based workers. 

Over the next year, as we rebuild the U.S. economy for a sustainable and equitable recovery, justice for migrant women must be at the fore of the government’s labor and employment policies and practices. And next Women’s History Month, we look forward to celebrating meaningful, sustainable reforms in the H-2 program that will end discrimination against migrant women and promote access to justice. 

We would be grateful for your support in standing with migrant worker women to fight against discrimination. Please email me (rachel@cdmigrante.org) to join the supplemental complaint on the U.S. government’s obligations under the ILO or to submit an amicus in support of migrant worker women. 

Violence, Justice, Equity: Reflections on International Women’s Day

On this International Women’s Day (IWD), the official UN theme for 2021 is “women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” The elimination of discrimination and violence against women and girls are targets of the Millennium Development Goals and the UN Agenda 2030, which emphasizes inclusivity in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including gender equality and the empowerment of all females in Goal 5. Goal 10 aims to reduce gender and socioeconomic inequalities globally, including through the elimination of discrimination, violence, exploitation, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.

Dating back to the first celebration in 1909 in the United States, IWD is rooted in socialist women’s leadership in struggles for labor and economic justice, such as the 8-hour workday and limits on women’s and children’s labor; political justice, such as suffrage and liberation from fascism and autocracy; a refusal to sacrifice husbands and children to wars; and breaking down false barriers between “public” and “private” life that conceal the important roles of mothers and wives. Women’s efforts against poverty and violence have also been consistent IWD themes, including the structural violence of female subordination—“a tolerance of violence against women and children” and being “subjected to a life of sub-humanity for the sheer fact alone that they were born female,” as noted on IWD 2012.

To imagine a gender-equitable future from this historical moment in 2021 requires reckoning with how women and girls have been faring. For instance, since the start of the pandemic in the US women—disproportionately women of color—have left the work force at four times the rate of men, reversing previous gains. One of the more well-known outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is the escalation of domestic violence and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), triggered by prolonged social isolation, household tension in close quarters, and increasing strains on individuals and families due to deteriorating health, socio-economic, and/or political conditions. The “Forever Wars” and other conflicts around the world have also raged on during the pandemic, adding to the world’s refugee crisis in which 75-80% of displaced persons are women and children. Trauma is understandably a common preoccupation of our time.

Working at the intersection of human rights and trauma mental health, I have spent the last year writing about SGBV and trauma-informed approaches to interviewing female survivors for purposes of investigating human rights violations such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and mass detention of people seeking refuge from violence and poverty. Among multiple things competing for our attention, mine has been focused intensely on militarism, conflict-related SGBV, impunity, and feminist activism amidst growing societal & global inequities and increasing violence in many forms—criminal, sexual, domestic, and political—during the pandemic. In the ongoing and escalating struggle for gender justice, urgent attention to violence remains important. Among the types of violence and harm SGBV stands out for several reasons. It is the only serious crime for which many justice systems require victims to prove lack of consent to the harm inflicted. Across diverse legal systems, redress for SGBV is difficult to attain due to attribution of blame and complicity to victims/survivors as well as impunity for perpetrators. SGBV has also historically been the least punished offense committed during wartime.

In the long history of international feminist activism, it is only recently that women’s efforts led to the recognition of conflict-related SGBV as a war crime against the long-standing idea that sexual violence against women, girls, men, and boys is an expected military reward or byproduct of war. Women’s campaigning for redress of this injustice, through UN human rights and women’s rights conferences and particularly since the 1990s International Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, resulted in its designation as a crime against humanity. “From time immemorial, rape has been regarded as spoils of war. Now it will be considered a war crime,” said Judge Pillay of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (later, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).

However, all forms of SGBV persist, supported by strong ideological underpinnings: state-supported violence, militarized masculinity, and victim-blaming alongside perpetrator impunity. These thrive in a broader context of social, economic, civil, and political inequities. SGBV is founded on sexist beliefs and compounded by other structural inequalities in the context of globalized discourses of militarized masculinity that merge sex and violence, and which are amplified through warfare. The globally pervasive threat of SGBV reduces the quality of life for targeted persons—disproportionately women, girls, and gender non-conforming persons—and is particularly acute in hyper-masculinist institutions in which sexual assault rates are often highest, such as in militaries. Conflict-related SGBV inflicts collective trauma by systematically targeting individual bodies in furtherance of broader social harms such as the mass displacement, dispossession, and extermination of entire neighborhoods and communities. Female survivors of conflict-related SGBV have reported feelings of complete insecurity and multiple losses: bodily integrity, health, loss of family and their livelihoods, disorientation and lack of belonging, profound dispossession of their personal identity, and marginalization.

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The Black and White Campaign in Turkey and its Repercussions Amidst Rising Femicides and an Increasing Hostility Towards the Istanbul Convention

Pinar Gültekin a 27-year-old University student was brutally beaten and burned to a crisp by her ex-boyfriend on 21stJuly 2020 in Turkey adding to the country’s long list of femicides. The victim was reported missing for six days before being found dumped in a bin strangled to death by her former partner for disagreeing to reconcile with him. 

While the news of Gültekin’s death ignited demonstrations all across the country and women and men alike took to the street’s, the death of Pinar and similar atrocities against women in Turkey inevitably raises a few questions. What should happen when a 27-year-old girl is strangled to death and burned to a crisp by her ex-partner? What are the repercussions of a mother being stabbed to death by her husband in a café in front of her child? What happens when a girl is stabbed and burned to her death because she resists rape? What happens when the mysterious death of an eleven-year-old girl is deemed “suicide” by the judiciary. Maybe the answer to the above-mentioned questions lies not in what happens but how it happened or who/what perpetrated the incidents. While the atrocities may be perceived by some as interpersonal their prevalence only against a particular section of the community indicates towards an institutionalisation of violence abetted by a chauvinist patriarchal society. 

Violence against women existed long before the expression “femicide” was devised in 1976 by Diana E. Russell at the first “International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels, Belgium”. While the term is defined by the “United Nations Office in Drugs and Crime”as the gender-based homicide of women it not just refers to the killing of women but condones an entire system of Judicial administration that fails to safeguard the women and prosecute the perpetrators. The concept is similar to “rape culture” except applying only in cases of murder concerning a women’s sexual orientation, indigenous identity, dowry-related issues. However, contrary to majority perception the acts under no circumstances are unrelated and spasmodic but is abetted by a chauvinistic society exhibiting unequal power structures and conventionally defined gender roles where women often find themselves pushed to the margins. Encouraged by Right-Wing Populist Parties the above-mentioned manifestations of violence against women in Turkey has increased exponentially over the decades.

The misogynistic heteronormative dogmas embedded in the social fabric of Turkey gets exemplified by the Global Study on Homicide, 2018 conducted by the “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime” which reportedly delineated the death of 89,000 women in Turkey in 2017. Turkey has been ranked114 of 167 countries in the “Women, Peace and Security Index, 2019” and 130thof 149 countriesin “WEF’s the Global Gender Gap Index, 2020”. The data is at face value enough to glean the status and treatment of women in the country. 

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Interview with Professor Mallika Kaur

Mallika Kaur is a lawyer and writer who focuses on gender and minority issues in the United States and South Asia including post 9/11 violence, racial discrimination, farmer suicides, and transitional and transformative justice. She is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.  She writes regularly for online and print media as well as academic publications; her work has been published in Foreign Policy, Washington Post, California Law Review among others. We would also like to take this as an opportunity to thank Mallika for all the work and efforts she has contributed to INTLAWGRRLS over the past several years.

Her book titled “Faith, Gender and Activism in the Punjab Conflict: The Wheat Fields Still Whisper” was published by Palgrave Publishers a few months ago. I had the honor of interviewing her with regards to her new book. The interview is transcribed below.

Question: What was your motivation behind writing this book? Why did you specifically choose to cover Punjab’s human rights movement?

Answer: I did not in fact set out with the motivation of writing a book. It was not a part of any academic project or research agenda. It was something that came out of my own journeying. I grew up in Chandigarh, Punjab, having been a part of a community of folks who read their news in English, discussed it perhaps in Punjabi, and largely did not talk to their kids about the armed conflict at all. A seminal year in the conflict history was the Indian Army’s attack on Punjab, epicentered at Darbar Sahib (akin to Temple of David or Mecca) in June 1984. This provoked a visceral reaction from Sikhs, indeed even many non-Sikhs. Yet, within months—I was a toddler still—the justified necessity of the June massacres had taken hold in the non-Sikh psyche of India. Since then, any demands for truth-telling–about that June or the decade of mass violence that followed—have been considered suspect by the majority community and the successive governments of India.

As an adult, my legal and international human rights interest was around courts and commissions and possibility of a regional mechanism for South Asia. I was initially interested in those questions but eventually what I landed on in my work was how powerful stories are in unwrapping things that have been largely silenced for a very long time.

Punjab has been a laboratory of several nation-building projects in India: the Partition in 1947, the not so revolutionary Green Revolution in the 60s-70s, and various attempts at stifling dissent in the 80s and 90s. But these multiple upheavals that contextualize Punjab’s present have seldom been woven and written together, much less by a Sikh woman.

Through this book, I have tried to fight against this idea that the Punjab conflict was just about violence against violence with men combating on both sides. I tried to find stories of people who were non-combatants but chose the dangerous work of human rights defence. The book is trying to re-shift focus from “leaders,” combatants and an obsession with violence to a more nuanced and inclusive approach. Instead of just Indira Gandhi and other perpetrators, the book hopes the limelight comes to rest on women leaders like Paramjit Kaur Khalra, Kuldeep Kaur, Amar Kaur, unnamed women like the police officer who secretly helped inmates in one of Punjab’s many torture centers, and Baljit Kaur, who you see on the cover of the book. Within this marginalized conflict, I am looking at further neglected gender issues. For the men’s stories, I highlight the dangerous tendencies that were conveniently ascribed to all turbaned and bearded Sikh men, and then the general prohibition society imposes on men that makes it quite impossible for them to admit many emotions, much less speak about sexualized torture.

Question: How did you approach and research this topic?

Answer: The story-collection, writing, having the subjects of the story read it, all happened over many years, which was fine because this writing did not have any specific deadline of restriction. One of the benefits of doing a project entirely on your own time and dime! People were generous once they understood where the questions were coming from. They shared their personal archives including videos, legal files and other documents. The book eventually combines legal cases, scholarly analysis, community memory and personal narrative. The hybrid approach is necessary to tease the nuances lost in a more straightforward memoir, collective biography or academic examination. Further, memoir snapshots provide the reader the needed history of the author narrating the history of the conflict: exposing my vantage point and influences directly.

The book is all and not at all about Punjab. When generations of violence may have made silence more expedient than excavation, how might we learn about conflicts’ complexities of the past and their manipulated shadows in the present? Most linear, neat, cited and chronological tellings of conflicts overlook essential dynamics such as gender and trauma.

Each chapter centers on a key case from the year (or years) of its focus, starting in descending order from 1995, the supposed end of the conflict. Legal case details are available to varying extents, which is instructive: till the mid-90s, legal remedies were de facto suspended in Punjab. Case descriptions thus also draw from non-legal sources. Each case necessarily invokes additional cases. And then advocating for the need to embrace complexity and reject binary understandings, each chapter also contains an interwoven section that quickly traverses the earlier history of Punjab, starting in ascending order from 1839, the transition from Sikh rule to British colonial rule. The two timelines, descending from 1995 and ascending from 1839, converge in the final chapter, on the pivotal year, 1984.

Question: What kind of audience did you have in mind while writing the book?

Answer: The audience of this book is pretty large and varied. It includes scholars, lawyers, policy makers, activists, students, and general readers. By presenting convergences between different forms of violence–current and historical, interpersonal and mass social violence—I believe this book has already engaged a variety of readers. I have received very different reactions and reflections from people of various walks of life over the last months. Women who read between the lines when the women in the book remained silent about certain things. Men who have expressed they never thought of some basic gendered dynamics in how even the more popular stories from the Punjab conflict are spoken about.

Also, I strongly felt that since the violence was rendered so common in Punjab, I had to figure out a way of telling the story in a way that is not limited to lawyers or one academic discipline. That it could be understood by anybody who cares about human rights defenders who do the work of helping us retain our belief in humanity during the worst of atrocities! And it’s meant for those unnamed activists and defenders who may be feeling alone in the world. Despite the world today feeling ever-growing in its apathy and ever-shrinking in its attention span towards even the worst of crimes, you are not alone. Different points and places in history have felt the same and still there are people, like the protagonists of this book,  who have made choices against the tide. They felt they really got something out of it, out of this unsalaried and uncelebrated work. They regularly gained inspiration from the folks they worked with and defended. They felt a sense of collective as they became part of history. When you consider the tenacity of centennial litigants like Chaman Lal, it’s hard not to be moved!

Question: What was your approach while selecting the three human rights defenders for the book?

Answer: These three were in fact my windows on many other human rights defenders, some I named earlier, who were always at much more risk and suffered much more. The life stories of the three people you see on the cover of the book, Baljit Kaur, Justice Ajit Singh Bains and Inderjit Singh Jaijee, became trusted vehicles for traveling through Punjab’s recent history. Each of them is credited with saving countless lives.

Speaking of the approach while selecting these three, I’m reminded of a video I watched, which Baljit Kaur took in the late 80s. A Sikh man, a former Army officer is narrating how he was himself picked up, tortured and almost killed. He was speaking in perfect English so this was somebody with enough higher education. He had been treated this way as he had spoken against a young boy being killed. He mentioned that these folks fighting for justice, Baljit Kaur and her colleagues, were in fact the ones preserving the nation’s unity and integrity. Contrary to being seditious or dangerous as the politicians would have folks believe, it was human rights defenders who were providing ordinary people some hope that the legal and justice system could be the answer rather than further violence.

Unfortunately, people fighting for justice often fight very lonely battles. These protagonists had one another. And they had faith in a higher power that kept them going. And they had a lot of pride in Sikh history that they had heard of or witnessed when younger, through anti-British struggles, for example. Still, it was not like they were joined by a large number of other folks living in Chandigarh, Punjab who were enjoying the same relative privilege of upper class these three protagonists had during the 80s and 90s. So it was very fascinating to hear their stories as to how they surrounded police stations, how they compiled reports, how they visited Amnesty International and learnt how to make video footage to appropriately document what was happening at a time international human rights groups were not allowed in Punjab by the Indian government.

Question: How was your experience while interviewing people on this difficult past?

Answer: What I find fascinating especially about my three protagonists is that they are buoyant spirits, so young-at-heart in their 80s, 90s, even though they have seen such horrific things in their lifetimes. These protagonists have made more change than most of us will be able to make in our lifetime. I found this very uplifting despite the subject matter being very difficult.

Since I allowed myself a hybrid approach, and use memoir in the book as well, I put myself very explicitly into the discussions around the legal cases and this too helped me make sense of people’s trauma experiences. Some of the irrational reactions of these people started making more sense because they had gone through very unnatural set of circumstances. The whole Sikh community had been demonized for several decades. And now in India of 2020, the issues of creating an ‘enemy within,’ and what that does to social fabric, is again playing out. Where for example students, including pregnant women, who are protesting new discriminatory laws are picked up and booked indefinitely under draconian laws, themselves iterations of laws previously used in Punjab and then finally repealed on the books. How can we say the unlearnt lessons of past conflicts are not relevant to India today? I am not didactic about the parallels in the book. There is space for the reader to draw lessons for themselves.

Question: What do you think of the post-conflict scenario of Punjab in terms of violence against women and gender-based violence?

Answer: So, the first thing is that I don’t describe Punjab as post-conflict anywhere in the book because there has been no catharsis, no reconciliation, no period of transition, or justice, towards sustainable and inclusive peace. The estimates of those killed vary from police estimates of 25,000 to civil society estimates of 250,000. Even this variance speaks volumes about how the conflict has lived on; there is no closure, no semblance of transparency. Nobody was able to document the dead. Those who attempted to document it, like Jaswant Singh Khalra, whose amazing story I detail in Chapter 2, were killed. We went from this period of heightened killing and mayhem to an abrupt and strident “normalcy” in Punjab.

Coming to your question about gender and violence against women, I think the situation for women remains really bad through these subsequent decades, if not worse. Of course, across India we are dealing with shameful realities like marital rape being still legal. Dowry, being a ubiquitous feature of almost all weddings, despite being illegal. Ideas of honor and purity instead of autonomy and rights being tied to women’s bodies. And then some women’s bodies being deemed as not worthy of honor even: the Dalits of India disenfranchised by caste, or the women in conflict zones, who were blatantly immediately excluded from the changes that were proposed after the much publicized and horrific Delhi rape of 2012. Women who suffered in Punjab in the 80s and 90s at the hand of State forces have seen no reparations, not even in the form of recognition, much less apologies or restitution.

Question: What is next on your research agenda? Would you like to interview more female reformists of Punjab or write about some other aspect of Punjab region or the conflict?

Answer: I remain interested broadly in how we can make connections between different forms of violence that our communities negotiate – current and historical, in the U.S. and in home countries, interpersonal and mass social violence. I have also been writing and teaching on how lawyers specifically manage trauma, their clients’ and their own. Though most importantly right now, through COVID, I am focusing on the work that I have been doing since 2002, advocacy and crisis response for victims of gender-based violence. Working on gender-based violence as a practicing lawyer in the U.S., I am also really fascinated by comparatives. Right now in the U.S. there are a lot of discussions about alternatives to how domestic violence/ intimate partner violence response has been closely tied to increased policing, especially since the 70s. This is a complicated discussion here. Then add other contexts where feminists are fighting for the police to take domestic violence seriously. Or, even more complicated, cases in India where domestic violence laws are not protecting those they were meant to but are regularly manipulated by the upper-class litigants looking for an end-run. This is a part of my broader interest and possible future writing. And I dream of the time and headspace to write fiction someday! But really, I am presently quite consumed with working on the increased challenges faced by domestic violence survivors where I currently live. This too is a lesson from the protagonists of the book: make a difference where you can, don’t overlook the obvious local needs.

VP Biden’s Ambitious Agenda for Women

The presumptive U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, has released his “Agenda for Women.”  It’s a tour de force of dozens of key policy priorities, both domestic and international, focused on advancing women’s rights at home and abroad.  Some key takeaways in the national security and human rights space are outlined below along with some areas where additional attention would be welcome:

ERA YesOne Biden’s his core pledges is to advocate for Congress to recognize that the necessary ¾ of the states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA). First introduced in 1923, approved by Congress in 1972, and then sent out to the states for ratification with a deadline of 1979 (later extended to 1982), the ERA received its 38th ratification in January 2020 when Virginia finalized its ratification. Litigation over whether the time limits placed on ratification by Congress are constitutional has been proceeding in several courts (with one suit filed by Equal Means Equal being dismissed  earlier this month for lack of standing). The House passed a resolution that eliminates the putative deadline; so far, there has been no comparable action in the Senate. The Alice Paul Institute—named for the Quaker suffragist who authored the ERA after being instrumental in gaining passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote—offers a history of the amendment here. Prof. Julie Suk’s take on why it failed before and how it can succeed is here. Biden co-sponsored the ERA nine times while in Congress. President Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, has opposed the lawsuits, including one  brought by three states attorneys general (Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois) to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.

On the multilateral plane, Biden will seek ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a treaty dedicated to global women’s rights. Nearly all U.N members have ratified this treaty (in holding out, the United States enjoys the company of Iran, Somalia, and Sudan and a couple of small island nations—see map below). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has debated the treaty several times, but so far the full Senate has refused to give its advice and consent to ratification, in part due to unfounded fears the treaty will be cited to promote abortions and prostitution and will undermine U.S. sovereignty. Several U.S. cities and municipalities, including San Francisco, have adopted ordinances and policies in keeping with the treaty and the “human rights cities” movement. 1200px-CEDAW_Participation.svg

When it comes to reproductive rights, Biden calls for the repeal of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which bans U.S. federal funds (mainly Medicaid) from paying for abortions (except in cases in which the pregnancy results from rape or incest or if the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy). The Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color. This marks a welcome reversal from Biden’s stance at an early Democratic debate during the primary race.  A bill to repeal the Amendment, known as the EACH Woman Act, is working its way through Congress.

Biden would also rescind the so-called “Mexico City Policy” (a.k.a. the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated but in a more far-reaching form. Withdrawing this ruleGlobal Gag Rule would enable the federal government to support civil society organizations engaged in global health efforts around the world, even if recipients provide information on safe and legal abortion services as part of their public health work. Remarkably, as one of his first moves as President, Trump, flanked by a phalanx of beaming white men, dramatically expanded the policy. Heralding the vindictiveness that has so characterized this administration, this move followed on the heels of hundreds of Women’s Marches that drew millions around the world into the streets (my dispatch is here) and a campaign that repeatedly revealed his deep-seated misogyny. Reversing the global gag rule should be an urgent priority: research has shown that the policy dramatically undermines women’s health and, paradoxically, leads to increased abortion rates in developing countries. Although this move can be accomplished by executive action, the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act (currently in the Committees on Foreign Relations and Affairs) would prevent future Republican presidents from reinstating it again.

Furthermore, as part of his broader immigration platform, Biden promises to dedicate himself to immigration reform and undo the Trump administration’s harshly punitive policies. This includes: reopening the United States to refugee resettlement (raising the admissions cap to 125,000), re-establishing a humane and expeditious asylum process for people fleeing persecution, and reinstating asylum protections for people who are escaping domestic and sexual violence. The latter requires the reversal of a decision by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to invoke a rarely used power and overturn a Board of Immigration Appeals decision that had allowed such survivors to demonstrate persecution on the basis of their membership in a “particular social group”—one basis for receiving refugee status. Biden will also increase the number of visas for survivors of domestic violence under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) and for victims of crime (so-called U-visas), and expedite the process for granting these and related immigration benefits, including T visas for victims of human trafficking. It will not be enough, however, to simply dismantle these cruel Trump policies; rather, Biden should develop ways to repair the harm done, including through providing psycho-social rehabilitation to children and families traumatically torn asunder and placed in inhumane detention conditions. Biden should also explore the implementation of restitutionary immigration benefits, such as expedited pathways to asylum and family reunification.

In addition to issuing a whole plan devoted to ending violence against women, Biden has endorsed passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which would make ending the epidemic of violence against women worldwide a key foreign policy priority. The proposed legislation recognizes that

“Rape and sexual assault against women and girls are used to torture, intimidate, and terrorize communities. Rape and sexual assault are used as tools of war in conflict zones, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and South Sudan.”

If enacted, the IVAWA would commit the United States to helping women and girls who are victims of violence to gain access to justice. The timing of this will be crucial; women everywhere are experiencing higher levels of domestic violence while suffering from reduced access to protective services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These commitments reflect the fact that Biden co-authored the U.S. Violence Against Women Act in 1994 (one of the legislative achievements of which he is most proud) and helped pass the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which strengthened the United States’ anti-trafficking framework.  Biden released a statement on the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, July 30th, setting forth his anti-trafficking priorities.

This focus on ending VAW globally is part of Biden’s larger Women, Peace & Security (WPS) plank that will focus on supporting women’s leadership globally. This includes full implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Act, passed by Congress in 2017, which is premised on research that including women in conflict prevention efforts, peace building processes, and post-conflict governance helps to reduce conflict and instantiate stability. The Act mandates a government-wide strategy to increase the participation of women in peace and security operations and to support transitional justice and accountability mechanisms that reflect the experiences of women and girls. 1_Qz_BwcroQlTViHAMkaJswgThe Act responds to a suite of resolutions emanating from the U.N. Security Council to the same end (starting with Resolution 1325) and builds on the United States’ National Action Plan on WPS, which was released in 2011 and then strengthened in 2016. Both plans call for effective measures to investigate sexual and gender-based violence and to bring those responsible to justice. The Trump Administration has only haltingly implemented the WPS Act, while taking a number of concrete steps in the opposite direction, as demonstrated by Ambassador Don Steinberg, who once led USAID.

Biden’s Agenda for Woman contains a whole slate of economic pledges, underscoring a recognition that economic security is a women’s issue just as much as reproductive rights or the imperative to end gender discrimination. These include support for a number of pieces of draft legislation, including:

Biden has also drawn attention to the need to better support caregivers, particularly in the Covid-19 era. The Agenda announces a whole array of measures in the health, education, and economic sectors for LGBTQI+ individuals (indeed, the list of policies to be reversed vis-à-vis this community is regrettably a long one), as well as disabled, incarcerated, native, immigrant, and veteran women and women of color.

Finally, consistent with an Obama-era Executive Order, Biden has also pledged to ensure his political appointees, and the entire federal workforce, reflect the diversity that is America. Besides his intention to choose a woman Vice President and an African American women for the Supreme Court, he also committed to work for gender parity as he builds his foreign policy and national security teams, a campaign launched by the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS) at the start of the election season. The commitment—which other Democratic candidates also adopted—is based not only on legitimate concerns for gender equity but also on consistent research that diverse teams are stronger, more effective, and more creative. This imperative is echoed by organizations such as Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security & Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), the Athena Leadership Project, and Women in Defense (WID).

All this may explain why polls have VP Biden up 25 points over Donald Trump with women as a whole—an historic margin. This is notwithstanding Trump’s pandering to “The Suburban Housewives of America,” perhaps because Biden’s numbers are also higher in suburban polls. To be sure, gender has always been—and likely will be—an issue on the campaign trail, but the disparity between the two candidates could not be more stark.