Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing + 5 Review Process

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Action Number: 
16.2
IMPORTANT: This archived action campaign has been completed or discontinued, and the information contained in it may not be current. Please see Take Action for current and ongoing campaigns.
Date: 
1 Nov 1999

In July 1999, Equality Now issued a Women's Action highlighting a cross-section of laws currently in force in 45 countries which explicitly discriminate against women. The Action calls on governments to repeal or amend these laws before the Beijing + 5 Special Session of the UN General Assembly in June 2000, as a demonstration of commitment to implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. There have been some developments regarding the laws highlighted in the Women's Action campaign report, including the following:

Peru: The Government of Peru amended the Penal Code in May 1999, removing the last exemption from penalty in the law for men who marry girls between the age of 14 and 18 against whom they have committed sexual offences. This amendment was made just prior to the publication of Equality Now’s campaign report and was therefore not reflected in the report.To date, this is the only law highlighted in the report that has been repealed.

The Bahamas: The Office of the Prime Minister informed Equality Now that the government recently appointed a Constitutional Committee to "consider amendments to and make recommendations for the removal of all visages of discrimination" which may exist in the Constitution. Simultaneously, the Law Reform Commission is currently reviewing the inheritance laws as well as the Nationality Act with a view to the removal of all discriminatory provisions.

Ethiopia: The Vice Minister of Justice has informed Equality Now that one of the law revision projects underway in Ethiopia is the revision of the Penal Code. Articles 558 and 599 of the Penal Code, which provide for non-prosecution of men who subsequently marry women they have abducted or raped, are among those which have been identified as an area of concern for the government. The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association has been working for the reform of various discriminatory laws including the Law of Nationality, the Family Law and the Pension Law, as well as the Penal Code. In a statement to ECOSOC, the government announced that a National Committee on Rape and Abduction has been formed,comprised of representatives from Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Women's Affairs Bureau within the Office of the Prime Minister, and other government agencies and non-governmental organizations. This Committee intends to formulate a national plan of action against the practice of rape and abduction in Ethiopia.

Jordan: In July 1999, a legal committee of the Justice Ministry recommended abolishing Article 340 of the Penal Code, which provides a reduced penalty for men who murder their female relatives in cases of "honor killings." In September 1999, a draft law amending this provision was submitted to Parliament for consideration. A coalition of women's groups, journalists, lawyers and other advocates in the country is circulating a petition calling for the repeal of Article 340 of the Penal Code, for which according to the Jordan Times an estimated 15,000 signatures have been collected. Several members of Parliament, however, organized opposition to the amendment. Mahmoud Kharabsheh, a member of the House Legal Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying the amendment was "an invitation to obscenity," and that "females are the ones who take the initiative and demonstrate consent to committing adultery." He collected signatures from 27 Members of Parliament who felt the amendment should not even be discussed. On 21 November, the amendment was defeated by a large majority of the Lower House of Parliament. Only one Member of Parliament spoke in favor of the amendment. In accordance with the Constitution, the amendment will now be referred to the Senate. According to the Jordan Times, 22 women were killed in the country in the name of family honor last year, and more than 14 cases have been reported this year.

Kuwait: Following the issuance of a decree by the Emir in May 1999 to give women in Kuwait the right to vote, the newly constituted National Assembly was expected to consider and approve the decree when it convened in November. However, reports from the BBC World Service and the Egyptian newspaper El Hayat indicate that the decree is very controversial and might not have sufficient support at this time to be voted into law by the Assembly. El Qabas, a Kuwaiti newspaper, reported that the government wants to delay the vote for this reason but that some Parliamentarians who oppose the decree are advocating immediate action on alternative measures.

Switzerland: The President has informed Equality Now that the whole organization of the army is being revised and that it is planned that by the year 2003 all military functions and responsibilities will be open to women, effectively abrogating the law cited in Equality Now's campaign report which bars women from functions requiring the use of personal arms other than for self-defense.

United States: In September 1999, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the citizenship law which establishes different standards for citizen fathers and citizen mothers to transmit citizenship to children born overseas and out of wedlock to be unconstitutional.

Many non-governmental organizations around the world are actively working on campaigns at the national level to change discriminatory laws. In addition to the activities of groups in Ethiopia and Jordan mentioned above, in Israel, the Israel Women's Network organized a rally in February 1999 demanding that rabbinical authorities allow marriage annulments and a right to divorce in cases where the husband is abusive or has disappeared. In Kenya, FIDA-Kenya has prepared two separate bills on Equality and Family Protection to present to parliament. In Malawi, the Society for the Advancement of Women has called for the repeal of discriminatory laws in that country. In Mexico, local activists and organizations have formed a coalition, The Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Communication Toward Equality, to propose and advocate legislative reform, and specifically legislation against discrimination. In Nepal a coalition of women's groups convened by the Forum for Women, Law and Development is campaigning for the repeal of all laws in the country which discriminate against women, including the property law highlighted in Equality Now's campaign report.

Equality Now has presented its Beijing + 5 campaign report to the Heads of State and the United Nations Permanent Representatives of all the countries featured in the report, seeking their support for the repeal or amendment of discriminatory laws prior to the Beijing + 5 Special Session in June 2000. To date, Equality Now has received responses from the governments of the following countries: Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, France, India, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Switzerland. Equality Now has also met with representatives from a number of UN missions including Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan and Kenya. Such meetings will continue throughout the year. Equality Now has also presented the campaign report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the Human Rights Committee, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. On 11 October 1999, Equality Now organized a briefing at the United Nations, co-sponsored by the Group on Equal Rights for Women in the United Nations. Among those in attendance were representatives from the following governments: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Guinea, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At the briefing, representatives from the governments of Japan, Jordan and Switzerland announced that the laws highlighted in Equality Now's campaign report are currently under review with the intention of reform.

What You Can Do: 

Please continue writing to the heads of state and their embassies in your country listed in the campaign report and bring the laws cited in the report to the attention of the media and the general public. You might mention in your letters the above updates and urge these countries to accelerate any initiatives underway so that their successful efforts can be highlighted at the Beijing + 5 Special Session in June 2000. Note the enclosed corrections and contact updates to the campaign report.