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Alarming level of reprisals against activists, human rights defenders, and victims

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Thousands of Nicaraguans have protested since April. More than a hundred people have died in clashes with the authorities. Photo: Álvaro Navarro/Artículo 66

An alarming and “shameful” level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the United Nations in an effort to uphold human rights, has been revealed by a new UN report launched on Wednesday.

The ninth annual report of Secretary-General António Guterres details the level of retaliation against human rights defenders on a country-by-country basis, including allegations of killing, torture, arbitrary arrests, and public stigmatization campaigns, which also target victims of rights abuse.

The report documents allegations of reprisals and intimidation in 38 countries, some of which are members of the Human Rights Council.

Prior to officially presenting the Human Rights Council with the report next week, assistant rights chief Andrew Gilmour said: “The cases of reprisals and intimidation detailed in this report and its two annexes represent the tip of the iceberg,” adding that “many more are reported to us.”

“We are also increasingly seeing legal, political and administrative hurdles used to intimidate – and silence –­ civil society,” he flagged.The report points out that selective laws and new legislation are restricting and obstructing organizations from cooperating with the UN, including by limiting their funding capacity, especially from foreign donors.

The report points out that selective laws and new legislation are restricting and obstructing organizations from cooperating with the UN, including by limiting their funding capacity, especially from foreign donors.

According to the report, the fear of reprisals is not only visible in the field, where UN personnel often encounter people who are too-frightened to speak with them, but also at what would perhaps be regarded as safe spaces such as UN Headquarters in New York, Geneva and elsewhere.

Against the backdrop of numerous non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, activists and experts having been labelled “terrorists” by their governments, it highlights a “disturbing trend” of national security and counter-terrorism strategies used to block UN access to communities and civil society organizations.

“The real global threat of terrorism notwithstanding, this issue must be tackled without compromising respect for human rights,” the report says.

The wide scope of reprisals greatly inhibits the UN’s work, including in conflict settings, when delivering humanitarian assistance or in protecting civilians, it adds.

The report recognizes the need for more information collection on acts of intimidation and reprisal, including by documenting and analyzing incidents experienced by women, human rights defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. It also encourages all stakeholders to report allegations of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights as they occur, to ensure follow-up and action.

“As the Secretary-General has said, we should all be deeply shocked and angered by the extent to which civil society actors suffer reprisals because of their work, including when they cooperate with the UN,” Mr. Gilmour said.

“But shock and anger must translate into real action,” he continued. “Governments can do much more to stop reprisals, ensure that they do not recur, and hold those responsible to account for their actions.”

The countries named in Annex 1 of the report, in which new cases are listed (in alphabetical order), are: Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

Countries named in Annex 2, where the UN has been following up, and where cases are ongoing, are: Algeria, Bahrain, Burundi, China, Egypt, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

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New Social Compact

Feminism: A Critique of Realism and The Way Forward

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In around eighteen countries of the world, for e.g. Bolivia, Iran, Qatar, Sudan and Syria, men can legally stop women from working. Women still need to take permission from their husbands to participate in the labour force of the country. There are around 59 countries yet to regulate laws concerning sexual harassment at workplace and around 45 nations with no laws protecting women from domestic violence. Women, even in the 21st century, are not independent in the true sense. Alone in South Africa, according to a survey conducted by the South African Medical Research Council, approximately one in four men surveyed admitted to committing rape. This alarming oppressive status of women even in the contemporary times leads us to the question, where did this male dominance come from?

 It is the colonialism, war and power struggle between the states which resulted into oppression of women even in the regions where women were particularly considered of high status. John Hoffman argues “states themselves are an expression of patriarchal power; leadership itself is monolithic, hierarchical and violent” (Hoffman, 2001) Historically, women had less rights and they were viewed as subordinate. Their role was limited to the household chores. During this time, only men had opportunities by which they participated in economic, social and political activities. Women lacked education and had fewer opportunities. In fact, for several years, women were not allowed to study ‘manly subjects’ such as science and law.Thus, leading towards a world of man forming a state and representing the interest of men. These manly states, being formed at the time when women had limited or in some places, no civil rights were led by a hegemon. This is also known as masculine hegemony.

Through the lenses of realist theories such as Hans Morgenthau, international society is anarchic in nature and all states function to maximize their state’s interest. These state’s interest is essentially achieved by power. Power, according to realism, equates military force and war. It revolves around the issues of war and security. It focuses on the role of nation-state and makes a bold assumption that all the states act in accordance to their national interest. It believes that states cooperate with each other solely for selfish national interest. Realist also don’t believe that the international organizations can establish peace where state cooperate without selfish interest. Plus, they believed that all the conflicts can be resolved only by coercion. (Morganthau, 1948) However, the emergence of economic interdependence due to globalization has increased cooperation from economic relations based on trade and investment. Furthermore, after the world war two, rise of multilateral institutions such as United Nations, led the world to more cooperative relations amongst states. For instance, realist failed to predict the fall of Soviet Union and peace post-cold war.  Hence, due to structural challenges and changes in the international relations, the relations amongst states does not revolve only around the realist issues of war and security.

In the late 1980s, theorist started to examine the role of gender in international relations. According to feminist, the conventional IR theories, realism and liberalism, present a partial view. The feminist theory has evolved through the three major movements, popularly known as waves of feminism. The first aimed to achieve recognition of equal rights, with a focus on suffrage. The second wave further demanded equal rights and treatment, and was marked by the emergence of the study of gender as a social construct. This feminist theory of IR is a critic of realism which focuses on power and considers patriarchy. Realism’s pessimistic approach to the international relations ignores the role of individuals. In contemporary times, the feminist theory brings new prospective to the international relations. J. Ann Tickner, a standpoint feminist argues that IR is gendered to “marginalize women’s voices”. She emphasizes that women have knowledge, perspectives and experiences that should be brought to bear on the study of international relations.” (Ruiz). Despite all the gender equality movements, we are still far from achieving the equality in society. Today, Women represent around 50% of the total population of world and only 39% of women globally participate in the labour force. As Emma Watson rightly points out, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcomed to participate in it?”  Out of around 193 countries, only 22 countries have female head of the states. According to the feminist, the key roles in international relations of diplomats, policy makers are played by men who come from patriarchal backgrounds. Thus, feminist challenge the Eurocentric and masculine theories of IR who fail to accommodate gender, race, class and ethnicity. Hence, on the contrary, feminism prioritizes development, peace and human security.

In the year 2014, Sweden, for the first time in the world, announced a feminist foreign policy and became the first country in the world to have a ‘feminist government’. Six years later, September 2019, Mexico pledged to adopt a feminist foreign policy during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier this year in January 2020, it became first Latin American country to launch a feminist foreign policy. France, Canada and Norway also expressed interest to set out feminist guidelines of their foreign policies. This indicates a beginning of new approach to the international relations.  Feminist foreign policy broadly refers to a state’s commitment to adopt policies wherein citizens, irrespective to their gender, live to their full potential. In case of Sweden, the country has recognized a separate gender equality policy since the early 70s. Hence, it was not as shocking for the citizen’s as it was for the world. The feminist foreign policy of Sweden emphasizes on three Rs: Rights, representation and resources. Rights refers to combating discrimination and full enjoyment of human rights, representation emphasizes on participation of women in decision making at all levels of the civil society, and resources seek to ensure that the resources are allocated to promote equality and equal opportunities. (Handbook Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy, 2018)

Feminist foreign policy broadly means the acknowledgment of injustice that exist globally. It emphasizes on building peace promoting organizations and criticizes military alliances such as NATO. The feminist foreign policy also criticizes the five permanent members of the UN security council who are the world’s biggest arms exporters. Sweden not only become the “strongest voice for gender equality and full employment of human rights for all women and girls” but also inspired many countries. For instance, global south’s first country to have a FFP, Mexico, not only aims to include women’s rights but also LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, immigration and trade. (Delgado, 2020)

The FFP of Sweden has made a significant impact. In 2017, Sweden during its presidency at the united nations security council elaborated and emphasized on gender equality. It also played a crucial role in peace talks with respect to Yemen crisis. Yemen crisis is influenced by the Arab spring, an anti-governmental protest, against the president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in power since last thirty years. This uprising ended with a political deal, mediated by the United Nations and the Gulf cooperation Council. Thus, president Saleh stepped down and gave power to the vice president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Followed by a national dialogue conference, a constitution was agreed to be drafted. This process led to tensions between the parties and the negotiations resulted into escalation in conflict and formation of Saudi led coalition in March 2015 with support of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, UAE and Qatar. (they further left the coalition in 2017). The coalition had received arms and intelligence from powerful countries such as USA, UK and France. This has created more conflict since they conducted several air campaigns causing death of civilians and a major humanitarian crisis. As the tensions grew, not only women and children but civilian’s vulnerability grew. The UN officials have called this a ‘man-made crisis.’ Sweden’s Foreign Minister as well as one of the architects of feminist foreign policy of Sweden, Margot Wallström, played a key role. She had personally visited Yemen after catastrophic bomb blasts in the country.  Khaled Al- Yamini, the foreign minister of Hadi government and Houthi’s representative, Mohmad Abdelsalam signed the ‘Stockholm agreement.’  The Stockholm agreement came in three parts, the first part dealt with ceasefire and redeployment of forces, then the second term of agreement was facilitating the movement of humanitarian aid and lastly, Prisoner swap (reuniting POW with their families). This was a breakthrough agreement as it brought an end to a long pending peace talk. The usage of diplomatic technique of negotiation to resolve a conflict is the practice of feminist approach to the study of IR.

The theory of ecofeminism is a branch of feminism which examines relation between women and nature. Ecofeminist draw parallels between oppression of nature and oppression of women. French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne coined the name in her 1974 book le feminisme ou la mort (Feminism or Death). She argued that everything is related to everything else. Man dominates the nature for selfish interests and in similar ways women are oppressed and objectified. Thus, liberation of women is essential to bring about the environmental change. Connecting the feminist foreign policy of Sweden and ecofeminism, we can see a positive impact with respect to action towards climate change. Sweden worked to mainstream gender equality in the new Paris climate agreement (COP21). Sweden gained regional support to put women forward and in focus for climate change and climate justice. This led to the establishment of Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice. This campaign was supported by over 7700 organizations. Along with this, Sweden has adopted a climate policy, aiming for zero net greenhouse gas emission by 2045. The Swedish government has a specific fund for bilateral cooperation with strategic countries in the field of environment and climate. Currently, cooperation with around ten countries, among others Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, China, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, USA, and Vietnam are financed by the fund. For e.g. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has been cooperating regarding India’s ambitions to phase down the use of the powerful greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons. In addition to peace talks and climate change action, Sweden has taken action to strengthen the human rights of refugee women and girls. According to Linklater, critical theory can be seen as the instrument of powerless to advance more equitable global relations. Sweden has initiated multiple bilateral-multilateral meetings to address the link of migration and human trafficking, prostitution. Sweden has successfully ensured that these issues are included in the UN resolutions and in the declaration of UN summit for Refugees and Migration, 2016. Hence, looking at the feminist foreign policy of Sweden through the lenses of ecofeminism, critical theory and feminist theory, it appears to be the new way forward in IR. (Sweden, 2017)

Besides Sweden, India’s declaration of Triple Talaq as unconstitutional, Argentina’s vow to legalise abortion and emergence of female state leaders such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Dilma Rousseff and Tsai Ing-wen has introduced world a new feminist leadership. Furthermore, during the extraordinary crisis situation- covid19 outbreak, under the leadership of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan recovered exceptionally well. Jacinda Ardern’s emotional response to terrorist attack and Angela Merkel’s strategic Ukraine crisis’ negations with Russia indicates as rightly said by Barack Obama, “If women ran every country in the world, there would be improvement in living standards and outcomes

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New Social Compact

Women in leadership ‘must be the norm’

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Ola Alaghbary, co-founder and chairwoman of a youth foundation in Yemen, works on empowering women to make positive changes in their communities.photo: Heba Naji

We can no longer exclude half of humanity from international peace and security matters, the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday, emphasizing the need to fully address the challenges and gaps that continue to prevent women having an equal say.

Today, women’s leadership is a cause. Tomorrow, it must be the norm”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the meeting, covering landmark resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Frontline women

Having just visited the photo exhibition, In their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace – a collection of inspiring stories of women around the world seen through the lenses of women photographers – he told ambassadors that the exhibit brings to “vivid life” their dedication to “the most important and consequential cause of all, peace”.

“From the safety of this chamber, we discuss and debate pathways of peace for countries around the world”, said the UN chief. “But the women portrayed in the exhibition are on the front lines of the fight for peace”.

He called them peacebuilders, changemakers and human rights leaders, and described their work mediating and negotiating with armed groups; implementing peace agreements; pushing for peaceful transitions; and fighting for women’s rights and social cohesion throughout their communities.

Yet, he pointed out, “women remain on the periphery of formal peace processes, and they’re largely excluded from rooms where decisions are made”.

Disheartening trend

Citing rising rates of violence and misogyny; the extreme under-representation of women in decision-making positions; and a myriad of challenges faced by those in conflict, the top UN official observed that the power imbalance between men and women remains “the most stubborn and persistent of all inequalities”.

In every humanitarian emergency, the clock on women’s rights has not stopped. It’s moving backwards”, he said regretfully.

In Ethiopia, women have been victims of sexual violence; in Yemen, excluded from political processes by the warring parties; in Afghanistan, undergoing a rapid reversal of the rights they had achieved in recent decades; and in Mali, after two coups in nine months, “the space for women’s rights is not just shrinking, but closing”, Mr. Guterres said.

‘Fast-track women’

The UN chief stressed: “We need to fight back, and turn the clock forward for every woman and girl” – the commitment outlined in Our Common Agenda and Call to Action on Human Rights.

“Increasing women’s representation and leadership across every aspect of the UN’s peace activities is critical to improving the delivery of our mandate and better representing the communities we serve”, he said.

But Council’s support is needed for partnerships, protection and participation.

Women leaders and their networks must be supported to meaningfully engage in peace and political processes, he explained.

Secondly, women human rights defenders and activists must be protected as they carry out their essential work.

And finally, women’s “full, equal and meaningful participation” must be supported in peace talks, peacebuilding, and political systems as countries transition to peace, he said.

We need full gender parity”, underscored the UN chief. “We know it can be done”.

Advancing women’s rights

Women should not have to accept reversals of their rights in countries in conflict, or anywhere else.

Mr. Guterres said that the UN will double down on “truly inclusive peacemaking” and put women’s participation and rights “at the centre of everything we do – everywhere we do it”.

The best way to build peace is through inclusion, and to honour the commitment and bravery of women peacemakers we must “open doors to their meaningful participation”.

Let’s turn the clock forward on women’s rights and give half of humanity the opportunity to build the peace we all seek”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Time to say ‘enough’

To create a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls, UN Women Executive Director, Sima Bahous, highlighted the need for governments and the Security Council “to step up” to address the way we confront peace and security issues.

For too long violence has targeted females and their rights; and women continue to be marginalized and excluded “in those very places where they can drive change”, she told the Council.

“Surely the time has come to say enough”, she said.

Open doors to women

While acknowledging a “glimmer of light” resulting from the passage of the original resolution, Ms. Bahous said that while not enough, it must be used in the fight for women’s equality.

Noting that vast military spending has been “in bitter contrast” to limited investments in other areas, she advocated for curbing military spending and expressed hope that delegates “share my sense of urgency” on the issue, which impacts other priorities, including women’s rights.

The UN Women chief noted that increased participation, combined with curbing the sale of arms in post-conflict settings, significantly reduces the risk of backsliding.

She reminded ambassadors that while “equal nations are more peaceful nations”, equality requires higher levels of support for healthcare and related services.

Moreover, Ms. Bahous regretted that women’s organizations are poorly funded, noting that without the necessary financial resources, they cannot effectively carry out their work.

Turning to Afghanistan, she shone a light on the women who had collaborated with the UN and whose lives are now in danger, advocating for doors to be opened wider, to women asylum seekers.

Women at the stakeout

Subsequently, former Afghan women politicians took to the Security Council stakeout to ask the international community to pressure the Taliban “to put their words in action” and fulfill their promises made in 2019 in Qatar including supporting girls’ education and women’s rights.

“The reason we are here today is to meet with different Member States and ask them to regard women and human rights in Afghanistan as a matter of national security of their own countries, because it’s not just a political or social issue but it’s a matter of security”, said Fawzia Koofi, former Peace Negotiator and first woman Deputy Speaker of Afghan Parliament.

Former Afghan Parliamentarian and Chairperson of the House Standing Committee for Human Rights, Civil Society and Women Affairs, Naheed Fareed, questioned whether the world wanted to “register in history” their recognition of “a de facto structure that is in place in Afghanistan”,  to represent Afghan women, their dignity and desires. “From my point of view, they don’t”, she told reporters.

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New Social Compact

Gender Mainstreaming and the Development of three Models

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The field of gender mainstreaming plays a central role in the debate of critical feminist International Relations (IR) theorists. Reading the influential work of Enloe 2014 regarding the locations and the roles of women in the subject of IR brings women into the central discussion of international studies. However, some of the feminist IR scholars defy the negligible participation of women in international political theory and practice. 

The main aim of gender mainstreaming is to achieve gender equity in all spheres of life (social, political, economic), without any doubt that gender mainstreaming has had a central role in pushing the strategy of realising gender equity since the concept’s inception. However, feminist IR scholarship admits that it is not the best approach, or in other words, the right pathway concerning feminist struggle. There are many different approaches and mechanisms in which such dissatisfaction is conveyed; nonetheless, at the axis of Postcolonial Feminist scholars debate, gender main streaming depoliticises the concerns of feminist scholars. Feminist studies show that theoretically, the change of structuring of gender equity determinations from women to gender in gender mainstreaming perhaps contradicted achievements made to bring women from the periphery to the centre of Feminist IR. 

The emergence of Models in Development:

Discussion asking to what extent women have been benefited (or not) from the developmenthas given rise to the following three models. These approaches show how men and women are affected in different ways because of the development of how the lives of women, in particular, are affected. 

Women in Development (WID):

By the 1970s, the reality that women were subjugated and left far behind in the process of development became clear and widely recognised. In some areas, this recognition even acknowledged development has further worsened the status of women, for example, the exclusion of women from the main development projects. The Women in Development (WID) approach proposed the inclusion of women into programs related to development. WID was a successful initiative that strengthened the consideration of women as an integral part of society. The decade of 1975 to 1985 was even declared the decade of women. However, this approach was problematic, as WID did not focus on structural changes in social and economic systems, which were necessary for discussion. Furthermore, this approach was not enough to bring women to the mainstream of development successfully.  

Women and Development (WAD):

Thisapproach was critical and arose in the late 1970s using Marxist feminist (critical) thoughts. As its nature, the Women and Development (WAD) approach criticised WID because of an increasing gap between men and women. According to WAD, the idea of women’s inclusion was wrong because women already contributed substantially to society. Yet, they were not receiving the benefits of their contributions, and WID further contributed to global inequalities. The main rationale of WAD was to increase interactions between men and women rather than just implementing strategies of women’s inclusion. Besides, WAD considered the class system and unequal distribution of resources to be primary problems, as it’s women and men who suffer from the current system. On a theoretical level, WAD strongly endorsed changes to the class system; however, it proved impractical as it ignored the reason for patriarchy and failed to answer the social relationships between men and women. 

Gender and Development (GAD):

In the 1980s, further reflection on development approaches started the debate of Gender and Development (GAD). As GAD followed and learned from the weaknesses and failures of WID and WAD, it was a more comprehensive approach. GAD paid particular attention to social and gender relations and divisions of labour in society. The GAD approach strove to provide further rise to women’s voices while simultaneously emphasising women’s productive and reproductive roles, contending taking care of children is a state responsibility. As a result of GAD, in 1996, the Zambian government changed their department of WID to the Gender and Development Division (GADD). These changes made it easier for women to raise their voices more constructively in an African country. Gender development is a continuous, current phenomenon. Women have choices today that they did not have in prior or even the last generation. 

The main point is that instead of discussing whether to mainstream gender or not, it needs to be discussed how it can happen in a better way. Gender mainstreaming is considered a theory of change in GAD. 

The above discussion has offered an overview of how gender mainstreaming’s theoretical approaches and expectations have met with the praxis; however, some scholars critique the concept of depoliticising and diluting equality struggles. These considerations are also worth inquiry and, accordingly, are discussed below. 

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