Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +15 Review Process

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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.
24 Aug 2010

At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, 189 governments pledged in the Beijing Platform for Action to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.” In 2000, the UN General Assembly established a target date of 2005 for revocation of all sex-discriminatory laws. Fifteen years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, and five years past the set target date, numerous laws that explicitly discriminate against women are still in force.

Equality Now believes that a special mechanism – such as a rapporteur, independent expert, or working group – within the United Nations system is needed to ensure full implementation of the commitment in the Beijing Platform for Action to ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice. In October 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution noting that “although human rights treaty bodies and special procedures do, to some extent, address discrimination against women within their mandates, their attention to such discrimination is not systematic.” The resolution further “[c]alls upon States to fulfill their international obligations and commitments to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex” and requested the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the issue of discrimination against women, in law and in practice, and on how it is addressed throughout the UN system. This report will form the basis of a half-day discussion at the 15th session of the Human Rights Council, to be held from 13 September – 1 October 2010, in order for the Human Rights Council to consider taking further action at that session to end discrimination against women, which we hope will include creation of a new mechanism to focus on women’s legal equality.

In conjunction with the UN General Assembly’s five-year reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Equality Now has issued regular reports tracking a representative sampling of explicitly discriminatory laws around the world. Since the issuance of our latest report, Words and Deeds -- Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +15 Review Process (Beijing +15 report), in February 2010, some progress has been made towards revoking the highlighted discriminatory laws in a few countries, although the laws still remain in force. The countries in which progress has been made include the following:

The Bahamas: According to the Prime Minister’s office, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2009, was introduced to Parliament. This bill would ban marital rape by amending Section 3 of the Bahamas’ Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 1991. However, the bill was neither considered by Parliament before the last session ended nor placed on the legislative agenda for the new Parliamentary session.

Kenya: The new Constitution of Kenya, which was approved by public referendum in August 2010, amends Sections 90 and 91 of the current Constitution to ensure that men and women receive equal treatment with regard to establishing Kenyan citizenship or passing on citizenship to their children.

Swaziland: In February 2010, in the case of Doo Aphane v. Registrar of Deeds et al., the High Court of Swaziland found unconstitutional Section 16(3) of the Deeds Registry Act, which prohibits a woman married in community of property from registering property in her own name. In its decision, the High Court rewrote Section 16(3) to bring the provision in line with the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Swaziland affirmed the unconstitutionality of the original provision in May 2010 but held that Parliament and not the High Court should amend the law. The Supreme Court then gave Parliament one year in which to remedy the provision.

United Kingdom: The Ministry of Defense is currently reviewing its restrictions barring women from serving on submarines, as mine clearance divers or as Royal Marines Commandos and from engaging in close-combat roles. A decision is expected by the end of 2010.

United States: The case of Flores-Villar v. United States, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, presents the question of whether mothers and fathers may be treated differently in determining the transfer of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad and out of wedlock. In June 2010, Equality Now, together with other human rights organizations from around the world, filed an amicus brief in support of Flores-Villar. The amicus brief notes that other national supreme courts have recognized the presumptive importance of sex equality in citizenship laws. The brief also argues that international treaties and decisions of international bodies consistently require sex equality in citizenship laws.

Contact Updates for Beijing +15 Report

Please note the updated contact information for the following countries mentioned in Equality Now’s Beijing +15 report.

p 4 Japan The Prime Minister of Japan is now Naoto Kan. To email him, go to https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html.
p 14 Philippines The President of the Philippines is now Benigno S. Aquino III. His fax number is +63 2 736 1010. His email is corres@op.gov.ph.
p 15 Chile The President of Chile is now Sebastián Piñera. His telephone number is +56 2 690 4000. To email him, go to http://www.gobiernodechile.cl/contactate.
p 17 Australia The Prime Minister of Australia is now Julia Gillard.
p 20 United Kingdom The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is now David Cameron.
p 25 Nigeria The President of Nigeria is now Goodluck Jonathan.


What You Can Do: 

Please call on your government’s foreign ministry as a matter of urgency to support the creation by the Human Rights Council of a special mechanism on women’s equality before the law, including through active engagement in the half-day discussion at the September 2010 session of the Human Rights Council. Share this update and your concerns with the media and the general public to enlist their support in the campaign to hold governments accountable to the Beijing Platform for Action. Please also sign our petition calling on the heads of state indicated in our Beijing +15 report to repeal or amend any discriminatory laws in force as a matter of urgency.

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