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Violance against women

Political violence against women

by Ms. Elizabeth Salguero Carrillo, Chairperson of the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies Human Rights Committee

Ms. Elizabeth Salguero CarrilloEven though women have advanced in terms of the quality and quantity of their political participation in almost every country in the world, some of them are still experiencing gender based harassment and violence in politics. In countries that have incorporated the principles of alternation and parity in the drawing up of candidates’ lists for elections, with a man and a woman in the titular and substitute positions, many women are still victims of harassment and violence and are forced to renounce their positions, leaving men in the positions of power.

For that reason, several Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico are pushing legislation to prevent and punish all forms of persecution, harassment and violence against women. In Bolivia, the anti-gender-based harassment and violence in politics Act was widely approved by the House of Representatives and women expect it to be passed before the end of the parliamentary term. They want to have it as a tool to defend the rights of female candidates in the general elections next December and in the prefectural and municipal elections in April 2010.

The purpose of the anti-harassment and violence in politics Act is to protect, defend and guarantee the enjoyment of political rights by female candidates - incumbent and elected - and to guarantee a legal framework and set penalties for individual and collective harassment and political violence.

The provisions of the Act are applicable to all incumbent and elected candidates with a popular mandate to democratically represent their constituents at the national, departmental and municipal levels, who are prevented from or restricted in exercising their political rights.

Political harassment is defined as the act or series of acts of pressure, threats, harassment or persecution, committed by a person or group of persons directly or through a third party against a woman candidate - elected or incumbent - in the exercise of a public or political function. Furthermore, exerting pressure on the candidate’s family to prevent the candidate - by act or omission - from discharging her rights and duties is also covered by the Act.

The definition of political violence encompasses actions, conduct or assault causing bodily harm, psychological or sexual abuse against a woman or her family aimed at preventing her from or restricting her in exercising her duties or causing her to take decisions against her will, principles or the law.

The anti-harassment and violence in politics Act also provides that penalties can be more severe when these acts of discrimination are committed against a pregnant woman, if as a result of the events a miscarriage occurs, when the act of aggression is committed against a woman over sixty years of age and if the perpetrator is a repeat offender. A further factor to consider is if the abused woman is illiterate or has a low level of education and the perpetrator is the leader of a political party or civic groups, a public servant and if the acts of discrimination involve minors or family members of women politicians.

Furthermore, resignations tendered by elected women officials are valid only if the woman in question appears in person before the National Electoral Court. This is due to the fact that some women have been forced to sign their resignation under duress, thus resulting in a violation of their rights.

This innovative law is also based on the new State Constitution approved by the Bolivian people in February 2009, which sets out the principles of equal opportunity and gender equality. Similarly, the Act provides for the prevention and punishment of all acts of discrimination and violence of any kind against individuals, in particular against women. Regarding women’s political rights, Article 26 guarantees fair and equal participation for men and women. Article 147 guarantees the participation of men and women for the election of members to the National Legislative Assembly.

The composition of the Government of the Republic of Bolivia is based on a democratic, representative and participatory approach, with equal conditions for men and women in accordance with Article 11 of the Constitution.



A call to action against female genital mutilation in Africa

by Ms. Rebecca Kadaga, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda

Ms. Rebecca KadagaNearly 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, and despite legislative provisions in a number of countries, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) remains one of the features of CEDAW that has received the least “visible” action. In parts of North and West Africa, the entire Horn of Africa and a number of countries in the East and Central Africa Region, the practice persists in varying degrees of form and severity. In some communities, it has been so deeply entrenched that refugee/asylum- seeking communities have either exported the practice or routinely send back their girl children to Africa ostensibly for “holidays”, but in reality to ensure that they undergo the practice, which is largely prohibited in Europe and other developed countries.

In Uganda, the CEDAW provision was incorporated into the 1995 Constitution and under Article 32(2), which provides: “Laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare and interest of women or any other marginalized groups to which Clause (1) relates or which undermines their status are prohibited by this Constitution”.

Despite this clear provision, the practice of FGM has been going on for several years among the Sabiny, Pokot, Tepeth, Kadam and Somali peoples. Initial attempts by the government in 1985 to end the practice were met with violent resistance by the practicing communities, which sought to ensure that the government did not “interfere with their culture”, by enacting a bye-law making FGM compulsory for both boys and girls. This prompted the government to focus its attention on sensitization activities.

Because of the several deaths, injuries and disfigurements that have resulted from the practice, the Sabiny community enacted another bye-law making FGM “optional” for girls in the 1990s. In 2006, the same local authority finally enacted an ordinance prohibiting FGM in the Kapchorwa District, and requested their members of parliament to facilitate urgent support for the new law. This came after several years of lobbying and sensitization by the parliamentarians.

At the time of writing, a Private Member’s Bill to end FGM is at the first reading stage in the Ugandan Parliament. The change of attitude was brought about by continuous sensitization by members of parliament and UN bodies, but the ultimate transformation was spearheaded by the elders and women’s rights activists in the practicing communities.

Why did the practice persist? The biggest factor was the social stigma attached to “non-compliance” with the cultural norms; any girl or woman who opted out and remained in the community was continuously humiliated.

She could not draw water at the communal well until all the “women” had collected water; she still had the status of a child. She was not permitted to collect food from the family granary. If she died, an opening would be created in the wall of the house to avoid taking her body out via the main entrance of her husband’s or father’s house. In other words, she was ostracized both in life and in death.

An uncircumcised girl or woman brought “shame” to the family and the community. Perhaps the most annoying thing is that no attention was paid to the women after circumcision, and to cases of painful periods and scarring, painful intercourse and obstructed delivery. For most women who have undergone circumcision, it was almost routine that after the age of 45, they opted out of their marriages or abandoned their husbands because sex was too traumatic for them.

A number of members of the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Caucus have campaigned steadfastly together with the communities to end the practice.

What can we do as leaders? Political will and support are crucial to ending FGM as is funding for advocacy and sensitization campaigns. Other important ingredients include: enhancing awareness through the media, debates on the floor of the House, workshops on the subject educating the law enforcement and implementation agencies about the nature, effects and repercussions of FGM and investing them with the requisite powers, sensitizing and changing the attitudes of the “surgeons” and encouraging them to find alternative means of income-generation, encouraging young boys and men to love and respect their wives/sisters/ partners who are not circumcised, enacting the relevant legislation and budget for its implementation, lobbying for the establishment of protected boarding schools where girls can study without fear and complete their education.

I am delighted to report that on 1 July 2009, the Pokot community of Uganda launched the 1st Annual Culture Day in Amudat at which the President of Uganda, Mr. Y. K. Museveni, launched a nationwide campaign to end the practice of FGM in Uganda.

Members of parliament have a unique and influential position in their communities and should therefore embrace the campaign on behalf of the young, the voiceless and the stigmatized women of Africa. It is lamentable that the campaign has largely been left to the women when in fact it should be placed at the centre of community strategies.