Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing+10 Review Process

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1 May 2005

Ten years ago at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, governments pledged in the Beijing Platform for Action to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.” In 2000, the Outcome Document of the Special Session of the General Assembly convened to review the Platform for Action established a target date of 2005 for revocation of all discriminatory laws. In 2004, Equality Now re-launched its 1999 campaign with an updated report, Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing + 10 Review Process (PDF, 196K), highlighting a representative sampling of explicitly discriminatory laws still in force around the world and calling on governments to fulfill their pledge by the 2005 target date. There have been significant legal reforms in some countries. Sixteen of the fifty-two countries highlighted in Equality Now’s reports have effectively repealed or amended the discriminatory laws highlighted. These countries are The Bahamas, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Jordan, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Republic of Korea, Serbia and Montenegro, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela. Such reform moves from words to action, reflecting a commitment to implementation of the Platform for Action. However, the great majority of discriminatory laws highlighted in Equality Now’s reports and many more around the world remain in force.

In March 2005, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convened for a ten-year review of the commitments made in the Beijing Platform for Action. At the CSW, Equality Now highlighted the urgent need for a new mechanism to carry forward the process of eliminating legalized discrimination against women in light of the widespread failure of governments to meet the 2005 target date. With support from a coalition of international, regional, and national non-governmental organizations around the world, Equality Now called on the CSW to create a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women. A resolution introduced by the Rwandan and Philippine Governments, co-sponsored by Angola, Argentina, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Gabon, Iceland, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia, was adopted by the CSW, calling for consideration of the advisability of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women at the fiftieth session of the CSW in March 2006. The resolution calls on the Secretary-General to report to the CSW on the implications of creating such a Special Rapporteur, including the views of Member States, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A Special Rapporteur reporting annually to the CSW on progress and challenges in the reform of discriminatory laws would breathe new life into the implementation of this commitment made in the Platform for Action. A Special Rapporteur would allow the CSW to highlight ways in which Member States have used law reform effectively to counter discrimination against women and would be able to engage in a dialogue with States regarding laws that discriminate against women and support ongoing efforts to revoke these laws. S/he could also promote exchange of information among Member States on issues of common concern. The Special Rapporteur’s work would draw from and complement the work of CEDAW, as does the Platform for Action. Unlike the Commission on Human Rights, the CSW currently has no special rapporteurs to facilitate the implementation of its mandate.

What You Can Do: 

Please call on your government to support the creation by the CSW of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women, and to communicate this support to the Secretary-General for inclusion in his report. Thank your government if it is a co-sponsor of the resolution that was passed in March 2005, and note the importance of building support for the next session of the CSW in March 2006. If possible, please get and send us copies of any communications from your government to the Secretary-General on the Special Rapporteur. Continue also to write to the governments of countries highlighted in Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing + 10 Review Process (PDF, 196K). Call on them to ensure that the laws cited, and any other discriminatory laws in force, are repealed or amended, noting the agreed target date of 2005. Ask your own government to undertake a comprehensive review to identify and address any laws with sex discriminatory language or impact. Share the report and your concerns, and the recent developments noted on the reverse side of this page, with the media and the general public to enlist their support in the campaign to eliminate laws that discriminate against women.

Following are developments relating to the laws highlighted in Equality Now’s 2004 Beijing + 10 report:

Colombia: The Constitutional Court struck down the discriminatory provisions of Article 140(2) of the Civil Code, ruling that disparities in marriage age based on sex were unenforceable in light of Colombia’s international commitments and the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution. The marriage age, previously 12 for girls, is now 14 for both boys and girls. While Equality Now welcomes the removal of sex discrimination in this provision, it encourages the government of Colombia to institute further reform to raise the marriage age to 18, the age of majority under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Colombia is a party.

Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Parliament adopted a new Penal Code in 2004 that removes the marital exemption from penalty for crimes of abduction and rape. The new Code came into effect on 9 May 2005.

Kuwait: On 16 May 2005, the Kuwaiti Parliament amended the election law to grant women the right to vote and stand for election.

Monaco: The government has revised Article 1 of Law No. 1155, so that it now provides equivalent rights to Monegasque mothers and fathers to pass their nationality to their children. The amendments were effected, however, by a structure that enumerates specific categories of mothers who could pass on nationality, while preserving to fathers a blanket right to do so. Consequently, while the change is welcome, the law remains facially discriminatory. According to government officials, this differentiation derives from the law regarding acquisition of Monegasque nationality by marriage, including Article 3 of Law No. 1155, which was also highlighted in Equality Now’s full report as discriminatory. Article 3 permits non-Monegasque women to acquire Monegasque nationality in certain circumstances through marriage to Monegasque men, but Monegasque women do not have the equivalent right to pass on their nationality to their non-Monegasque husbands. Please write to the government, welcoming the changes that have been made to Article 1 but calling for the amendment of Article 3 to provide for equal nationality rights for non-Monegasque men and women who marry Monegasque nationals and further revision to remove the discriminatory structure of Article 1.

Morocco: Morocco has effected broad legal reform that includes the following amendment to the provision cited in Equality Now’s report, which had been limited to violence committed by a husband against his wife:

Section 418—A mitigating circumstance obtains in cases of murder, injury or beating committed by one spouse against the other spouse, when either party is caught in flagrante delicto committing an act of infidelity.

While Equality Now welcomes the revision of this law to eliminate explicit discrimination against women, Morocco, together with other governments, committed in the Beijing Platform to “ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice” (emphasis added). The new law, while gender neutral on its face, may continue to be applied in a way that discriminates against women by mitigating punishment for offenders who are all, or almost all, men who have killed women in so-called “honor” killings. Please write to the government, congratulating it on the several reforms made that provide for sex equality. Urge the government to continue this reform through the repeal of Section 418, which maintains an exemption from punishment for murder that will in practice largely, if not exclusively, be applied to men who murder women.

Republic of Korea: The Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the provisions of Articles 778 and 781 that established male primacy with respect to succession to the family headship. The National Assembly passed legislation on 2 March 2005 amending the provisions of the Civil Code (Family Law) accordingly and also amended the provision that had mandated that children be given their father’s surname. However, a child will still automatically take its father’s name unless the couple stipulates otherwise during the registration of the marriage. A new registration system is intended be put into effect, details of which are scheduled to be proposed to the National Assembly in June 2005, but which is unlikely to come into force until 2008. It will only be then that married women who so choose can be registered under their own name.

Corrections and Contact Updates

Page 2   Colombia  

The provision should read Article 140 instead of Article 40.
To email President Uribe, go to www.presidencia.gov.co.

Page 4   Poland   The Prime Minister of Poland is now Mr. Marek Belka.
Page 5   Romania   The President of Romania is now Mr. Traian Basescu. President Basescu's e-mail address is presedinte@presidency.ro.
Page 10   Monaco   Article 1 has been modified by the addition of the following paragraphs:
“4. Every person born of a Monegasque mother who acquired Monegasque nationality by naturalization, by reestablishment of nationality, or by application of the provisions of the second paragraph of article 6 or the fourth paragraph of article 7 of this law.
5. Every person born of a mother who acquired Monegasque nationality by declaration following a simple adoption.
6. Every person born in Monaco of unknown parents.
The nationality of a child who has been the object of a legitimating adoption is determined according to the distinctions established in the previous paragraph.”
The Head of State of Monaco is now Prince Albert II.
Page 14   Phillippines   To e-mail President Macapagal-Arroyo, go to www.op.gov.ph. See updated fax number below.
Page 16   Nepal  

Please contact
His Majesty The King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev
Royal Palace Secretariat
Narayanhity Royal Palace
Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: +977-1-227576, 227577
Fax: +977-1-228295
The provision in the report should read: “If she [an unmarried daughter] gets married… the property remaining shall go to her successors in accordance with law.”

Page 17   Bolivia   The e-mail for President Mesa is despacho@presidencia.gov.bo. No fax number is available.
Page 18   Latvia   The Prime Minister of Latvia is now Mr. Aigars Kalv_tis.
The wording of Section 138(6) of the Labour Law has been amended, but remains discriminatory. It now reads: “It is prohibited to employ at night persons who are under 18 years of age, pregnant women and women for a period following childbirth of up to one year, but if a woman is breastfeeding then during the whole period of breastfeeding, if there is a doctor’s opinion that the performance of the relevant work causes a threat to the safety and health of the woman or her child.”
Page 19   United Kingdom   Section 85(4) has been amended but remains discriminatory. It now reads: “Nothing in this Act shall render unlawful an act done for the purpose of ensuring the combat effectiveness of the armed forces.”
Page 21   Guatemala   The President’s full name is Mr. Oscar Berger Perdomo. President Berger’s email address is presidente@scspr.gob.gt. See updated phone and fax numbers below.
Page 22   Uruguay   The President of Uruguay is now Mr. Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas.
Page 22   India   The Prime Minister of India is now Dr. Manmohan Singh. See updated phone and fax numbers below.
Page 24   Tonga   Please contact HRH Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata
Prime Minister’s Office
P.O. Box 62
Phone: +676 25 063
Fax: +676 23 888
E-mail: go to www.pmo.gov.to
Page 25   Haiti   The interim President of Haiti is Mr. Boniface Alexandre. See updated fax number below.

Updated contact numbers are as follows:

Page 2   Colombia  

Fax: +57-1-337 5890

Page 2   Israel   Fax: +972-2-670 5475
Page 3   Japan   Prime Minister's Office
1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Tokyo 100-0014
Tel: +81-3-3581 3111
Fax: +81-3-3593 1784
Page 10   Kenya   Fax: +254-20-25 02 64
Page 14   Philippines   Fax: +63(2) 736-1010
Page 15   Lesotho   Fax: +266-22-310 518
Page 19   Madagascar   Phone: +261-2022 548 41 Fax: +261-2022-562 09
Page 21   Guatemala   Phone: +502-239 0000 Fax: +502-239 0076
Page 22   India   Phone: +91-11-2301 2312 Fax: +91-11-2301 9545/2301 6857
Page 24   Nigeria   Fax: +234-9-314 6347
Page 25   Haiti   Fax: +509-228-2319/228-2320/224-4875
Page 27   Iran   Fax: +98-21-646 2774