ICC trial against Dominic Ongwen commences – some thoughts on narratives

The trial against Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Sinia brigade in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), started at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week. On 6 and 7 December, Trial Chamber IX heard opening statements from the Prosecution and two teams of Legal Representatives of Victims. The Defence had requested to defer its opening statements to the beginning of the presentation of its evidence. The trial is an important one for many reasons, not least because of the difficult issue of Ongwen being a ‘victim-turned-perpetrator’ (see this post by IntLawGrrl Diane Amann). Rather than providing a detailed overview of the submissions, I want to focus on a specific issue that struck me listening to the Prosecution’s opening statements: (gendered) narratives and discourse.

As Michelle Jarvis writes in the introduction to the book Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY, and as IntLawGrrl Daniela Kravetz wrote, there has been a tendency in international criminal law to focus -almost exclusively- on the sexual component of SGBV crimes when committed against female victims. This renders the violence aspect of such crimes almost invisible. On the contrary, where it concerns sexual violence against male victims, the focus has predominantly been on the violence component, as opposed to the sexual component, with such harm often characterised only as torture, or cruel treatment. These gendered dynamics have been pervasive; hence the significance of the ICC’s conviction in the Bemba case classifying rape of male victims as rape.

The Ongwen case marks another breaking point – the Prosecution has classified acts of sexual violence against women and girls not just as sexual violence (rape and sexual slavery), but as torture and outrages upon personal dignity. It has also included charges of forced pregnancy and forced marriage, two predominantly gendered (rather than sexual) crimes (see the Prosecution’s pre-trial brief for its pleadings in this respect). The Prosecution described the LRA’s systematic, institutionalised practice to abduct young women with the express aim of forcing them into an exclusive forced conjugal relationship (“forced marriage”) with LRA commanders. They were raped, forced to carry out domestic duties such as cooking or cleaning, were beaten for refusing to do so, and some bore children as a result of their repeated rapes. This policy was “vigorously enforced” within the LRA and constituted one of its “defining features”. Ongwen himself had many forced wives, some of whom were as young as 10 years old.

The Prosecution summarised in detail the testimony already given by seven of Ongwen’s forced wives to the Pre-Trial Chamber, and referred to broader contextual evidence from other witnesses who have yet to testify. Importantly, the Prosecution underscored that in using the terms (forced) “marriage” and (forced) “wife”, it did not seek to legitimise what occurred. The Prosecution stressed that, while a victim’s lack of consent “may have been obvious at first”, when they were subsequently “bludgeoned into silent submission” this did not mean the acts became consensual.

While it was thus clear the Prosecution was very aware of nuances in language, there was nonetheless a notable change in terminology in its submissions. Continue reading

Call for Papers! Race, Gender and Law: A Tribute to the Scholarship of Sherene Razack

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue Femmes et Droit is available online at: http://bit.ly/cjwlcfp

 

The Canadian Journal of Women and Law (CJWL) seeks submissions for a special issue 30(2) to be published in December 2018 on Race, Gender and Law: A tribute to the scholarship of Sherene Razack (guest edited by Gada Mahrouse, Carmela Murdocca, and Leslie Thielen-Wilson). The deadline for submitting articles for this special issue is September 1, 2017. 

 Dr. Sherene Razack is one of Canada’s leading critical race feminist theorists. She is especially known for developing an analytic that shows: 1. how racial violence is often legally and socially authorized and is integral to the making of states; and 2. how racial violence is gendered and sexualized. This special issue is in celebration of the 20th anniversary of her ground-breaking book Looking White People in the Eye (now in its fourth edition) and her important and on-going contributions to the interdisciplinary field of critical race feminisms and socio-legal studies. We invite articles in English and French from academics, legal scholars, educators, and activists, working in the areas of gender, race, and law. We are interested in receiving articles that are explicitly informed by Razack’s methodology or any other important aspect of her work.

Submissions should be no more than 35 pages (10,000 words) and should conform to the Style Guide available on our website: http://bit.ly/cjwlsubmit.  Please send articles in word format indicating it is for the special issue on “Race, Gender and the Law.” to: cjwl-rfd@uottawa.ca
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Georgia Law launches women’s leadership initiative: “Georgia WILL”

georgiawillheader

I’m very pleased to reprint this announcement of an important Georgia Law initiative, available in its pinkest form here and at the Exchange of Notes blog of our Dean Rusk International Law Center here. IntLawGrrls: see below March 3 and stay tuned this week for more details.

In celebration of its own women leaders and in an effort to nurture women who will lead in the future, the University of Georgia School of Law this year is spearheading Georgia WILL (Georgia Women in Law Lead).

Georgia WILL launched with a breakfast on August 19, 2016, the centenary of the day that the State of Georgia enacted a statute entitled “Attorneys at Law; Females May Be,” and soon admitted Minnie Hale Daniel, whose previous applications had been rejected, as the state’s first woman lawyer. Celebrated along with Daniel were Georgia Law’s first alumnae, Edith House and Gussie Brooks, both members of the Class of 1925, as well as the many women who today help lead the law school. They include: Associate Deans Diane Marie Amann, Lori Ringhand, and Usha Rodrigues; Carol A. Watson, Director of Georgia Law’s Alexander Campbell King Law Library; Ramsey Bridges, Director of Law Admissions; Anne S. Moser, Senior Director of Law School Advancement; Heidi M. Murphy, Director of Communications and Public Relations; and Kathleen A. Day, Director of Business & Finance.

“This is a superb opportunity both to give recognition to our women leaders and to join in the global conversation about women’s leadership,” remarked Georgia Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge. “Given our hope that this initiative will foster a new generation of women leaders, we’re especially pleased that our Women Law Students Association is cosponsoring all events.”

Events in the next twelve months will feature women, including members of the Georgia Law community, who are national and international pathbreakers in law, business, and public service. One highlight event will occur at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in San Francisco, where Georgia Law will host a brainstorming session for women professors who are or are interested in becoming law school or university administrators; another, at Georgia Law’s Athens main campus, where IntLawGrrls contributors will convene in March for a conference marking the blog’s 10th birthday.

Events scheduled so far (at Georgia Law’s Athens campus unless otherwise stated) are as follows:

October 13 Judge Lisa Godbey Wood (J.D. 1990), U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, will deliver “Reflections on Sentencing.” Her service as Georgia Law’s inaugural B. Avant Edenfield Jurist in Residence also includes teaching a week-long course on sentencing.

 

October 19 Judge Navanethem Pillay, a South African jurist whose former positions include United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Judge on the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, will speak on “National Sovereignty vs. International Human Rights” at Georgia Law’s Atlanta Campus. The World Affairs Council of Atlanta cosponsors.

October 25 Ethical challenges faced by corporations will be the topic of a talk by Sloane Perras (J.D. 2002), Chief Legal Officer at Krystal Company and On The Border. Earlier this month, Perras was recognized by the Women’s In-House Counsel Leadership Institute for welcoming other women into her area of practice and also for directing corporate policy toward inclusion of women in high-level legal positions.

January 5 Georgia Law will host “Women’s Leadership in Legal Academia” at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in San Francisco. This brainstorming session for women professors who are or are interested in becoming law school or university administrators will feature academics, as well as Monika Kalra Varma, an executive leadership consultant who served for the last five years as Executive Director of the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Program.

February 4  Georgia State Representative Stacey Godfrey Evans (J.D. 2003) will provide opening remarks at “Georgia Women Run.” Joining her will be a diverse group of elected officials, who will discuss the challenges and rewards of running for office as a nontraditional candidate.

 

March 1 to 31 Georgia Law’s Alexander Campbell King Law Library will host a special exhibit, “Attorneys at Law; Females May Be: Celebrating the Past and Ongoing Leadership of Women in Law,” in conjunction with Women’s History Month and, on March 8, International Women’s Day.

March 2 The Women Law Students Association will present the 35th Annual Edith House Lecture, named after a graduate of Georgia Law’s Class of 1925 whose career included service as the first woman U.S. Attorney in Florida. Delivering this year’s lecture will be Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia.

March 3 Contributors to IntLawGrrls, the pre-eminent international blog authored primarily by women, will convene for a 10th birthday conference and research forum.

 

March 18 Receiving the 2016 Distinguished Service Scroll Awards, given annually by Georgia Law’s Law School Association, will be Ertharin Cousin (J.D. 1982), Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme, based in Rome, Italy, and Audrey Boone Tillman (J.D. 1989), Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Aflac Inc.

 
March 27 Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler, Professor of Law at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, will deliver the 2d Annual Glenn Hendrix Lecture at Georgia Law’s Atlanta campus. The Atlanta International Arbitration Society cosponsors.

 

Fall 2017 Vice-Chancellor Tamika R. Montgomery-Reeves (J.D. 2006) of the Delaware Court of Chancery will teach a short course on advanced topics in Delaware corporate law, and also headline an alumnae reception in Atlanta.

Work On! Opening for a Foreign Affairs Officer for the Office of Global Women’s Issues

The State Department has listed a GS-15 opening for a Foreign Affairs Officer, for the Office of Global Women’s Issues. Apply via USAJOBS.gov; applications close September 13 at midnight.  This is a GS-15 which typically requires 5-10 years work experience and has a commensurate level of responsibility.

They are looking for someone with a bachelor’s or graduate degree in international law, international relations, political science or social sciences or humanities.

https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/449746300

  • Develops policy and programming initiatives in consultation with other Department offices, government agencies, and nongovernmental stakeholders. Develops and leads initiatives to ensure that gender issues are integrated into US foreign policy. Promotes bilateral and multilateral engagement opportunities to advance global women’s objectives.
  • Develops and maintains relationships with a wide array of counterparts across the interagency, with international governmental and non-governmental organizations, and bilaterally with relevant countries as well as with the private sector, U.S. international civil society groups, think tanks, and U.S. embassies and consulates to proactively and consistently raise and advance the objectives of the office and the Department regarding women and girls.
  • Provides expert policy analysis, development and coordination of women’s and girl’s issues covering North Africa / Egypt, countering violent extremism, and religious leader engagement, and oversees work of staff covering South Asia, economic empowerment, and social inclusion.
  • Monitors political, economic, social, and other significant developments and trends in order to gauge the effectiveness of, and facilitate efforts to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives.
  • Provides expert analysis and policy advice on women and Islam in regard to legal, social, and political dimensions and the practical implications for women and girls in Muslim-majority countries related to advancing the status of women and girls globally.

IN ADDITION to the basic requirements, this position requires one year of specialized experience equivalent to at least the GS-14 level in the Federal service which provided the applicant with the particular knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the duties of the position. Qualifying specialized experience must demonstrate the following:

  • Experience making recommendations on how to advance the priorities in the North Africa and South Asian regions related to gender equality, gender-based violence, promoting women’s economic participation, and expanding women’s role in negotiations and peacebuilding activities.
  • Experience providing expert policy analysis, development and coordination of women’s and girls’ issues covering North Africa/Egypt, countering violent extremism, and religious leader engagement, and oversees work of staff covering South Asia, economic empowerment, and social inclusion.
  • Experience providing expert analysis and policy advice on women and Islam in regard to legal, social, and political dimensions and the practical implications for women and girls in Muslim-majority countries.

Good luck!

Read On! ‘Developing the Right to Social Security – A Gender Perspective’

I am really pleased to be writing for IntLawGrrls for the first time and to introduce my new book Developing the Right to Social Security – A Gender Perspective which is part of the Routledge Research in Human Rights Series. The right to social security has become increasingly relevant in the context of austerity cuts to welfare in many parts of the developed world following the global financial crisis. At the same time, there has been a burgeoning of social protection programs in developing nations as a response to poverty. Many countries in the world now recognise the right to social security within their national constitutions and the international law in this area has recently been given greater definition. These developments present an opportunity to consider the gender dimensions of this right, particularly as women face disproportional poverty all over the world.
My book develops a set of principles for a substantively equal, gendered right to social security by rethinking the relationship between the right to social security and traditional conceptions of work. I argue for a new understanding of this crucial right that takes account of women’s unpaid labour, informal work, and care, within the context of global economic changes. The book applies this gender perspective to an examination of the international law on the right to social security and includes three country studies – India, South Africa and Australia. Hopefully the book will be of interest to people working on international law, comparative constitutional law, social policy, feminism and women’s rights.

Race to the top? African women judges and international courts

What do we know about African women as subjects of international law? More so, what do we know about African women judges who sit on international courts at the regional and international levels? These questions are central to moving forward the agenda on increasing the number of women on international courts, especially considering that most judges (though not all) on international courts are also judges at the domestic level. Countries across Africa have made substantial gains in the numbers and leadership roles of women judges, as documented in Gender and the Judiciary in Africa: From obscurity to parity? Across, the continent, women occupy important leadership positions such as that of Chief Justices and Heads of Constitutional Courts (for more see Her Ladyship Chief Justice).

Developments at the domestic levels have been replicated at the international level with a growing number of African women judges serving on international courts. The diversity of the continent of Africa, its peoples, culture and rich history cannot be simply qualified by one word “African”, however, for purposes of creating a uniform understanding of who I am referring to, I use the word “African” to denote women who hail from a country in Sub-Saharan Africa. In “African women judges on international courts: symbolic or substantive gains?”, I have argued that the presence of African women judges challenges notions of tokenism;  indeed they are highly qualified to be in those positions. The professional achievements of these women indicate that they have stellar academic backgrounds, outstanding professional qualifications, trailblazing achievements, and some of them have earned the status as “first” in their various professional endeavors. Notwithstanding these observations, women’s entry into international courts appears to be a road less travelled for various reasons as documented by IntLawGrrl Nienke Grossman. A critical rule of thumb remains that appointments to international courts involve a great deal of domestic politics and women have to find strategies to combine their professional experiences with other political considerations in creative ways. As fellow IntLawGrrl Fionnuala Ní Aoláin notes,

By accessing elite judicial institutions, women exert agency by taking    ‘strategic, creative and intuitive action’, to generate individual opportunity as well as to enable dynamic entry to gendered institutional environments that have been, as a practical matter, closed to the female sex since their inception (231).

 The persistent trend of gender imbalance in international courts is more disturbing when viewed in the light of the fact that international courts are perceived as arenas for fighting injustice and inequality. Increasingly, research has demonstrated that courts, both domestic and international, continue to be informed by masculine expectations, often operating within institutional selection cultures that view the qualifications of women as secondary to those of men, as argued by Terris, Romano and Swigart (another IntLawGrrl).  In essence, Mackenzie et.al remind us that the playing field is not equal for men and women.

That being said, we are seeing some preliminary advancements in the number of women sitting on the benches of international courts. Women judges on the International Criminal Court (ICC) represent the different geographic regions of the world, yet, we see that some countries have had success in nominating women to the court and not so for others.  For instance, women represent about fifty percent of all judicial positions in France’s judiciary. Yet, France has yet to successfully nominate a woman judge to sit on the ICC or the International Criminal Court (ICJ).  Similarly, in Great Britain, women are said to account for about fifty percent of the judiciary, though a dismal number occupy positions on the higher courts. This poor record of women on higher courts may provide some preliminary explanation for its failure to nominate a woman to sit on the ICC, though the first woman to sit on the ICJ in 1995, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, was from Great Britain.  In the case of Uganda, we see success in producing two women on international courts, one on the ICJ -Judge Julia Sebutinde and the other on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR).- Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa. Continue reading

Transitional Justice: What is the role of law in bringing imaginative and imaginary peace to Colombia?

This blog post is based on a reflection presented at the “Transitional Justice as Legal Field, Site and Imagination” panel at the Transnational Law Summer Institute, Kings College, London June 29, 2016. I am grateful to Prabha Kotiswaran and Peer Zumbansen for the invitation.  

What is the role of law in bringing imaginative and imaginary peace to Colombia?

June 23 2016 was described by Colombian and international media as the “last day of the war”, adopting FARC’s hashtag #ElÚltimoDíaDeLaGuerra. The signing of a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC formally ended hostilities in the world’s longest running war. The signing of a peace agreement is expected to take place during the summer of 2016.

To the overlapping academic fields of human rights, transitional justice and post-conflict reconstruction, the sophisticated Colombian transitional justice process is attractive and will likely be highly influential for the coming decade, both as an example of success and of failure. There is also a significant risk that scholars (outside Colombia) will embrace the Colombian experience either deterministically — as an example of systemic yet de-historicized power imbalances — or as a fantastical  and outsized legal progress narrative that can serve as an endless source of political models, constitutional processes and legal arguments suitable for embellishing the transitional justice juggernaut.

My argument in the following is based on one big supposition: I will put forward the idea that approached from a law and social change perspective, the Colombian transitional justice project is necessarily a failure foreseen.

“Everybody” knows that positive peace is not going to happen through legislation, decisions by a progressive Colombia Constitutional Court or the signing of a formal agreement. This Everybody also knows that if positive peace happens, it will not happen soon.  At the same time, it is easy to imagine that a year from now, politicians, ordinary Colombians, pundits and academics will dismiss the transitional justice legislation and the peace agreement as partial or total failures for their inability to perform the impossible expected by the Everybody; namely ending violence, providing reparations and changing the structural inequality that is the source of much of the violence.

However, I think that precisely at this juncture, as a community professionally engaged in the business of imagining peace and transitional justice, we need to reflect on what the critical takeaways from and beyond this failure foreseen could be. We may find that imagined and imaginative outcomes turn out to be imaginary. But this is not enough, it’s not even a starting point. We need to go beyond that.

Hence, after briefly describing the Colombian peace process, I will map out three sets of issues that could serve as tentative points of departure for critical reflection. This includes:

  • How we can gauge the meaning of the Colombian transitional justice process for Colombian citizenry, citizenship and the state;
  • The implications of Colombia being both outlaw and legal outlier for how we consider the role and place of the law in creating durable peace;
  • A first attempt to think through some of the general lessons Colombia can have for transitional justice practice and scholarship.

Peace and conflict as statecraft

The armed conflict between the government and FARC began in 1964. Separate negotiations have previously led to the demobilization of smaller guerillas (MAQL, M-19; EPL) and an agenda for formal negotiations has now been agreed with ELN.  However, Colombia has been at war or seen violent societal conflict for most of the time since the late 1890s. Colombian peace processes and attempts at political, legal and land reform are a fixture of Colombian statecraft. The last round of peace talks with FARC ended with fiasco in 2002. From 2003 president Uribe engaged in a much-criticized effort to demobilize the paramilitary AUC, with a basis in the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. Despite its shortcomings, it must be remembered that this framework has provided a platform for the current process.

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Engendering Reparations in Forced Sterilization Case

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently heard its second reproductive rights case, IV v. BoliviaThis case deals with the sterilization of a migrant Bolivian woman who did not give prior informed consent to the doctors who performed her sterilization. The judgment will be released in the coming months, and is expected to be the first Inter-American Court case to apply the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“Convention of Belém do Pará”) to a woman’s reproductive rights case. This is especially exciting because the Court’s first reproductive rights case, Artavia Murillo et al. (“In vitro fertilization”) v. Costa Rica failed to examine women’s reproductive rights violations through the Convention of Belém do Pará, which ultimately resulted in reparations that were gender-free. The IV v. Bolivia case presents an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to connect gender stereotyping to forced sterilization. It also provides a forum for the Court to expand upon its gender-based analysis in previous women’s rights cases in order to frame reproductive violations within a violence against women framework.

Ciara O’Connell (University of Sussex) and representatives from Dejusticia,  Diana Guarnizo-Peralta and César Rodríguez Garavito, submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case  in order to emphasize the need to repair gender-based harm in reproductive rights cases. The amicus reviews the Inter-American Court’s jurisprudence in relation to gender stereotyping, and in doing so highlights the advancements and shortcomings in how the Court defines the role of women in society. The amicus suggests that the sterilization of “IV” was not an individual violation, but rather, this case is emblematic and represents a culture of gender-based discrimination and “paternalistic control” within the Bolivian medical sector. The final elements of the amicus suggest specific reparation measures designed to address gender discrimination and stereotyping, and the need to comply with international standards on informed consent.

If you’re interested, the amicus can be downloaded here in both English and Spanish. And, the public hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights can be viewed here.

“Rule of Law, Transitional Justice & Gender Politics”: Hague summer school

WT_logo_Grotius_Centre_Summer_SchoolsOur colleague Martine Wierenga writes to encourage readers to enroll in “Rule of Law, Transitional Justice and Gender Politics,” this year’s Human Rights and Transitional Justice Summer School, sponsored by Leiden University’s Grotius Centre for International Law Studies, located at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Here’s a description of the week-long summer school, to be held July 4 to 8, 2016, at Leiden’s Hague campus:

Transitions from conflict to peace mark transformative moments for accountability, justice and gender politics. In many contexts, the very process of transition presents new opportunities to rethink existing gender narratives and inequalities. sanjiBut it also creates certain frictions in relation to gender conceptions (e.g. feminism versus gender inclusiveness), patterns of victimization or agency. In contemporary international practice, there is tendency to ‘mainstream’ gender discourses into legal and political responses. This summer school takes a critical look at this phenomenon. It explores how different institutional approaches, bodies of law and school of thoughts shape gender discourses and conceptions. It pays particular attention to the framing and implications of international criminal justice on gender discourses. It studies newly emerging approaches Teresa_Doherty1towards gender justice in different fields, such as peace settlements, international jurisprudence, fact-finding and reparation practices, as well as violence against boys and men. It also addresses tensions that arise in the interplay of these different fields (e.g., human rights, criminal law, development). It draws on specific country experiences (e.g. former Yugoslavia, ICC situation countries) to examine the nexus between international responses and local context. It further studies gender politics and complementarity.

The week will feature are area of lectures, role-playing, and other learning exercises. As detailed in the programme, the summer school will open with a keynote address by International Criminal Court Judge Sanji Mmasenon Monageng (above right). Later in the week, Justice Teresa Doherty (above left) of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone will lecture on “Gender justice in the field.”

Among other scheduled speakers are 2 IntLawGrrls contributors:

► Dr. Catherine O’Rourke (below left), Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law at Ulster University, on “Gender narratives and politics” (prior posts)orourke-2

► Kate Orlovsky (below right), Programme Researcher, ICC and ICL Programme, International Bar Association, on “Gender Politics and complementarity” (prior posts)

Also slated to give lectures are:

► Dr. Chris Dolan, Director Refugee Law Program, Makerere University, Uganda, on “Violence against men and boys”

Erin Gallagher, ICC Investigator, on “Fact-finding and gender”orlovksy

Michelle Jarvis, Principal Legal Counsel, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, on “International jurisprudence and prosecutorial practices”

► Dr. Alejandro Kiss, Legal Officer, Trial Division, Chambers of the International Criminal Court, on “Reparation policies and practices”

► Dr. William Schabas, Professor of Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law at Leiden, on “Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Efforts to address gender-based violence”

Marieke Wierda, transitional justice expert, on “Introduction to Transitional Justice”

Details and registration here.

Putting the “Woman Question” front and centre: Professor Ruth Rubio Marín

SOU-Ruth

On 5-7 May 2016, the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, hosted the sixth edition of the State of the Union, a space for high-level reflection on Europe. This year, these reflections revolved around the topic of Women in Europe and the World. There were many amazing and strong women who spoke at this conference, such as Valerie Amos and Patricia Sellers, and the various panels featured fascinating discussions on topics such as women in conflict, women and transition in the Middle East, migration, employment and social affairs, or sexual and reproductive politics. One particular highlight of the conference was the State of the Union address on day 2, given by Professor Ruth Rubio Marín (pictured above), who holds the chair of Constitutional and Public Comparative Law at the European University Institute. Her powerful speech was rewarded with what seemed like a never-ending standing ovation. It was well deserved. I highly recommend listening to the address in full, but here are some highlights.

In her speech, Professor Ruth Rubio Marín highlighted the injustices women and girls in Europe and the World face on a daily basis in a very straight forward manner. For those of us working on issues of gender equality and women’s emancipation and rights, the statistics Professor Rubio Marin provided were all too familiar. One in three women will suffer some form of physical or sexual violence at least once during their lifetime, and for one in five women, this violence occurs at the hands of a current or former partner. Yet, only 14 per cent of women report their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police. Women receive only 84 cents to every euro men earn, and the pension gap between women and men is 38 per cent. Working men devote only 9 hours a week to unpaid care and household duties, compared to 26 hours a week for working women. The gap in care responsibilities when high-wage women enter the labour market, is often filled by migrant women, thus perpetuating global (gender) inequalities. Women still account for only 20 per cent of company board members of the largest publicly listed companies, and on average only 28 percent of parliamentarians around the world are women. Androcentric values remain systematically privileged over those traditionally seen as ‘feminine’. As Professor Rubio Marín so rightfully stated: “Oppression does not only happen in cases of a cruel tyrant with bad intentions. Indeed, a well-intentioned liberal society can place system-wide constraints on groups and limit their freedom, relying not only on overt rules but also on unquestioned norms, habits and symbols.”

But what struck me most about her address was her courage and honesty. The personal became the general, the general the personal. When speaking about the by now well-known statistics about the number of women who have suffered some form of physical or sexual violence (1 out of 3), she bravely said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have never said so publicly, but the time has come to unite and end any form of silence. I was one in the ones out of three.” And when addressing the gender pay gap, she directly addressed the president of the European University Institute, Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler, saying: “The gender pay gap is perpetuated by the generalised practice of lack of transparency around payment by almost every employer, including our beloved European University Institute. Dearest president, perhaps the time has come to change that?”

By drawing on these experiences, Professor Rubio Marín made the numbers we so often hear personal, perhaps making it a little easier for those more unfamiliar with the statistics to grasp their meaning. I could not help but notice that the majority of speakers on the second day of the conference, held at Palazzo Vecchio, were men (14 men versus 13 women spoke on day 2). I hope we can count on all of them in the struggle for gender equality, both in Europe and in the World. Women remain an oppressed group, and it is up to all of us together to change that. To paraphrase Professor Rubio Marín: Now, more than ever, we must put the “Woman Question” front and centre, both in Europe and in the World.

  • Listen to Professor Ruth Rubio Marín’s speech in full
  • Get a written copy of the speech