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SAHR submitted recommendations for CEDAW convening on women in decision-making held on 22.2.23

On Wednesday 22 February 2023, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) held a half-day of general discussion on “Equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems” within the framework of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The half-day of general discussion was organized by OHCHR.

The purpose of the half-day of general discussion is to prepare the elaboration by the Committee of a General Recommendation on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems.

The aim of the general recommendation will be to provide guidance to States parties to the Convention on the measures they should adopt to ensure full compliance with their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill women’s human right to equal and inclusive representation in decision-making systems.

Our team at SAHR submitted written observations and drafted an oral statement (remote) for the half-day discussion on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems.

SAHR brought to the Committee’s attention the inclusion and participation of women, especially underrepresented and marginalized women in the legal profession and justice sector, and provided recommendations. Find below SAHR full submission.

SAHR_Observations on equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making proces
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Women human rights defenders and lawyers have significantly influenced law, policy and politics in the last half a century. Whether leveraging informal relationships, building alliances and convincing others, women have found meaningful ways to exercise power through personal and professional relationships to strengthen gender-responsive justice.

Through these various ways of participation and organizing, women have advanced a vision of justice that is not solely focused on punishment, but one that is holistic and dismantles structural discrimination. Women have achieved this despite prevailing unsafe working conditions, demands from survivors and their families, threats by defendants, lack of protection from the State, and a lack of social and political support system.

Further, within groups of marginalized, vulnerable and underrepresented women, their leadership, presence and participation are visibly absent across the board. Beyond gender parity, legal, political and public decision-making are still reserved and occupied by white women, highly educated women and women with privileged political and social affiliations.

With the objective of promoting women’s decision-making in the justice sector that is truly inclusive, we recommended the following to the Committee:

Leadership in civic spaces in contexts of non-democratic governments: the cases of Iran and Afghanistan

Case of Iran Iran’s laws and policies perpetuates discrimination in law and practice. In Iran, women frequently face unequal access to economic and professional opportunities. Government loans to incentivise early marriage to those who marry at 25 and younger promotes early and child marriage. By law, a girl as young as 13 years can marry, while girls even younger can legally marry with judicial and paternal consent. Under the Civil Code, the husband can prevent his wife from having certain jobs if he deems them against “family values”. Furthermore, Iran does not have policies in place to prevent abuse, protect women, and prosecute domestic violence.

Overall, gender discrimination permeates almost all areas of women's public and private life. Women and girls continue to be treated as second class citizens and the government is progressively more restrictive of civil rights.

The death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini–who died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for breach of the country’s strict dress code has provoked public unrest, with demonstrations and protests taking place in some 80 cities, an uprising that has been brutally responded with wider government repression. In Iran, women have been fighting against compulsory dress code for decades and are now openly defying repressive government rules. The denial of women’s choice of dress has a greater impact on their right to take part in all aspects of public life including study, work and even leaving their home. Although compulsory dress code is just one of the most visible forms of discrimination, it is just one aspect of the systemic discrimination women face.

Strict dress code is one of the layers reflecting deeply embedded patriarchal norms that undermine women’ agency. In such contexts, women's capability to participate and lead a formal political and institutional life is void. However, women movements and feminist activism have become an opponent of the Iranian dictatorial and patriarchal regime. One recent example came when Kurdish women attending Amini’s funeral in her hometown of Saqqez bravely took off their headscarves and chanted the slogan “death to the dictator” at great risk to their own safety. Yet, Iranian women have historically fought against the ideology and intervention of the state.

In order to fight Iran’s authoritarian government, collective action organised under strong leadership with effective networks of solidarity has proved to be powerful and effective, especially in the post-Islamic revolution era. In addition, digital spaces and social media have become a fundamental platform for Iranian women and sexual minorities to defy oppressive bodily regulation and open social deliberation on the restrictive gender politics of the regime. This is undoubtedly a positive example of innovative models of community-based governance.

Case of Afghanistan Since the Taliban took power in August 2021, Afghan women have lost their basic rights and freedom. Women have become victims of violence, torture and brutal censorship. Girls are banned currently from education at secondary, tertiary and higher education. They are harassed for their manner of attire. They are banned from working in civil service and civil society, and travelling or working without a male family member as a companion. The presence of women and girls in the public sphere is rapidly shrinking and justice for gender-based violence is widely absent.

The Taliban's oppression has been met with fierce resistance by Afghan women. They have protested and fought for their basic rights and a more equal Afghanistan. Their protests have continued despite the Taliban’s brutal beatings, arrests, detentions, and abduction of protesters. Women grassroots initiatives have emerged as an attempt to respond to authoritarian governments and demand women’s social and political participation in society.

Afghan women became involved in humanitarian aid through NGOs largely founded in Pakistan after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. From there, the expansion of NGOs, independent media, associations, unions, and cooperatives has emerged under the understanding of civil society’s role to counterbalance the State and scrutinise its actions. However, months after the return of the Taliban to power, 257 media outlets stopped their activities due to restrictions placed by the Taliban and many other civil society organisations and actors left the country. UN experts has described the policies and laws on women as "collective punishment of women and girls, grounded on gender-based bias and harmful practices".

As certain cultural spaces have come important places of gathering for Afghan women, the closing of many civil institutions and social spaces such as women radio stations and programs, women magazines, women civil society organisations, as well as, music institutions and sports institution where women could participate freely are also indicators of exclusionary practices that must be recognised and condemned. Although the space for civil society has considerably shrunk inside Afghanistan, such organisations still play an important role in humanitarian relief or advocacy through already established or newly emerging Afghan diaspora organizations. This is despite the fact that local efforts are blocked from equal access to funding, and receiving foreign funding to continue efforts remains a serious challenge due to financial sanctions and over-compliance by financial institutions.

Afghan women’s resistance under the first and second Taliban regimes has been significantly shaped in the given circumstances at the time. Women use and rely on collaborative and community-based networks and stay connected through the internet, social platforms and international media. They film their civil resistance on the streets, reveal the Taliban’s abuse of women, and conduct interviews with national and international media from unknown places. They have self-organised and used new forms of virtual resistance to overcome their systematic repression.

Contributing authors: Angie K. García Atehortúa, an international human rights lawyer and member of SAHR's HRD Network, Natasha Latiff, an international human rights lawyer and SAHR Founder and Co-Executive Director. Edited by Sara Bergamaschi, SAHR Co-Executive Director.


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