Campaign for a Special Rapporteur on Laws That Discriminate Against Women (Beijing+10)

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At its 49th session in March 2005, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) passed a resolution to “consider … the advisability of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women” at the 50th session of the CSW in 2006. The resolution asks the Secretary General to report on the implications of appointing such a Special Rapporteur—in consultation with Member States, and with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and other relevant UN bodies. The full text of the resolution is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw49/documents.html#fin in document E/CN.6/2005/11 Final Report on the 49th Session of the CSW. Rwanda and the Philippines were the primary co-sponsors of the resolution. Other states that co-sponsored were 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. Equality Now’s statement in support of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women is below.

STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF A SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON LAWS THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WOMEN—AUGUST 2005

Introduction
Why a Special Rapporteur?
Is there authority and precedent for appointment of a Special Rapporteur by the CSW?
How will a Special Rapporteur on Laws That Discriminate Against Women relate to CEDAW?
What qualifications would the Special Rapporteur have?
What would a Special Rapporteur on Laws That Discriminate Against Women do?
The NGO Coalition

At its 49th Session in March 2005, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) reviewed implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, ten years ago. The Beijing + 5 Special Session of the General Assembly, held in 2000, focused on implementation. The Outcome Document adopted at that meeting established a target date of 2005 for the revocation of all laws that discriminate against women. While progress has been made, this target date will not, unfortunately, mark the end of sex discrimination by law.

A new mechanism is needed to carry forward the process of eliminating legalized discrimination against women. At its 49th Session, the CSW adopted a resolution sponsored by the governments of Rwanda and the Philippines and co-sponsored by 21 other countries to consider the advisability of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Laws That Discriminate Against Women at its 50th session in March 2006. The CSW appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women would support and facilitate the continued implementation of the commitment made in the Beijing Platform for Action, and reinforced in the Outcome Document, to revoke these laws. A Special Rapporteur created by and reporting annually to the CSW will accomplish this task in an innovative manner that builds on and breathes new life into the Platform for Action, a comprehensive vision adopted by the United Nations for the advancement of women that urgently needs and deserves new life.

The Special Rapporteur mechanism would provide a vehicle for the CSW to interact meaningfully with member states on an ongoing basis regarding laws that discriminate against women, as well as play a more proactive role in carrying out its agenda to promote sex equality and fulfilling its mandate to promote women’s rights and advance the status of women. Laws that discriminate against women are a thematic concern well suited for a CSW Special Rapporteur. The continued existence of these laws fundamentally blocks efforts to promote equality between men and women. While not a panacea to end all forms of discrimination against women, the revocation of laws that facially discriminate against women is a critical threshold step, without which women have little or no legal recourse. In addition, these laws blatantly violate virtually every international human rights treaty, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

A Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women could build on the important work of CEDAW and play an extremely helpful role in addressing issues of common concern to member states, facilitating exchange of information and ideas among member states, and highlighting progress toward the revocation of all laws that discriminate against women. The terms of reference for the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women might include:

 

  • Compiling laws in force around the world that discriminate against women, submitted annually to the CSW, with an update on progress made during the reporting period
     
  • Engaging in ongoing dialogue with member states regarding laws that discriminate against women and related legal reform efforts
     
  • Undertaking thematic studies and general recommendations on issues of common concern to member states
     
  • Highlighting ways in which member states have used law reform effectively to counter legal discrimination against women
     

Why a Special Rapporteur?

While significant progress has been made with regard to implementation of the Platform for Action since its adoption in 1995, the persistence of laws that discriminate against women suggests that the document alone, with the current five-year review process, is insufficient to effect the elimination or reform of existing laws that discriminate against women. A Special Rapporteur would facilitate the implementation of the Platform for Action in this respect. Able to engage in direct dialogue with member states, and able to promote the exchange of information and ideas among member states with similar areas of concern, particularly with regard to thematic issues, a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women would help governments fulfill the promise of the Platform for Action to eliminate discriminatory laws.

Is there authority and precedent for appointment of a Special Rapporteur by the CSW?

Yes. The appointment of a Special Rapporteur is entirely within the CSW’s mandate, as established in 1946 and expanded for the last sixty years. Not only is the CSW responsible for making recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on urgent human rights problems, it is also responsible for developing proposals that will give effect to those recommendations. The Commission’s mandate has been expanded several times since its establishment in 1946. To date, the Commission is responsible for “monitoring the implementation of measures for the advancement of women, and reviewing and appraising progress made at the national, subregional, regional, sectoral and global levels.” After the Platform for Action was adopted in 1995, ECOSOC determined by Resolution 50/203 that the Commission “shall have a central role in the monitoring of the implementation of the Platform for Action.” This central role included the authority to “assist the Council in monitoring, reviewing and appraising progress achieved and problems encountered in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at all levels ” and advising the Council thereon.

In 1968, on the recommendation of the CSW a Special Rapporteur on the Status of Women and Family Planning was appointed and undertook research culminating after five years in a Final Report submitted to the Commission. Unlike the Human Rights Commission, however, the CSW has not continued its use of this important mechanism. The appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women is consistent with the Commission’s mandate to monitor, review and appraise the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

How will a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women relate to CEDAW?

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is responsible for monitoring member states’ implementation of CEDAW, including a specific undertaking to abolish sex discriminatory laws. However, CEDAW does not provide scope for cross-cutting thematic examination of laws that discriminate against women, and it is not in a position to support efforts in one state with reference to achievements in another state. The work of the CEDAW Committee would greatly complement, and be complemented by, the work of a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women, who could start from and build on the important work of the CEDAW Committee. It is anticipated that the Special Rapporteur would coordinate and maintain close contact and exchange with the CEDAW Committee, as well as draw on CEDAW, as the Platform for Action does.

By establishing ongoing rapport and dialogue with government officials from member states, drafting reports based on such correspondence, and presenting reports to the CSW on an annual basis, a Special Rapporteur will be in a position to help advance efforts to address legal issues of common concern to member states.

What qualifications would the Special Rapporteur have?

A Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women should be an independent expert appointed on the basis that he or she possesses the requisite legal training, knowledge, and expertise to research and interpret laws, to engage in a constructive dialogue with member states, and to make appropriate recommendations to the CSW. The Special Rapporteur should have training in international law, experience in women’s rights, and be highly regarded in the international and legal communities.

What would a Special Rapporteur on Laws that Discriminate Against Women do?

The Special Rapporteur would be responsible for compiling information on laws in force that discriminate against women, as well as information on ongoing and successful law reform efforts, and reporting on these developments to the CSW on an annual basis. The Special Rapporteur would be available to member states, and in dialogue with member states, with regard to law reform initiatives that may be underway. In particular the Special Rapporteur would be in a position to provide helpful information and examples of law reform to support such initiatives. A Special Rapporteur could also undertake to conduct thematic studies (e.g. transmission of citizenship, family law, sex-based evidentiary requirements, etc.) and provide general recommendations on issues of common concern to member states in their promotion of women’s rights and sex equality.

Through discussions with member states, a Special Rapporteur will also be able to highlight legal reforms that have been or are being adopted by various governments in their efforts to implement the Platform for Action. These reforms can act as models for other member states that have discriminatory laws still in force. Both Morocco and Mexico exemplify the kinds of legal reforms that are necessary to ensure the implementation of the Platform for Action. At the time of the Beijing + 5 Review, both countries had discriminatory laws still in force. Since Beijing + 5, Morocco adopted a new family code—a legal reform action that effectively eliminated legal discrimination against women in this area. Mexico repealed two marital laws that discriminated against women. Making such examples more widely visible and accessible to the world community will encourage similar reforms where needed and promote progress for women’s rights worldwide.

NGO COALITION IN SUPPORT OF THE CREATION OF A SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON LAWS THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WOMEN

We support the creation of a Special Rapporteur by the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on laws that discriminate against women, to facilitate implementation of the commitment made by governments in the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice.” Despite the target date of 2005 agreed in the Beijing + 5 review process for implementation of this commitment, explicitly discriminatory laws remain in force around the world. We believe a Special Rapporteur, working in conjunction with CEDAW as well as the CSW, would help achieve the fundamental goal of legal equality between women and men, which is critical to the realization of actual equality between women and men, a cornerstone of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Equality Now (convenor)
African Women's Development and Communications Network (FEMNET)
Afromujer (Spain)
All Women's Action Society
Amnesty International
Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association
BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights (Nigeria)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center for Women's Global Leadership
Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance
Centre for Rehabilitation and Education of Abused Women (Kenya)
CLADEM: Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights
European Women’s Lobby
Forum for Women, Law and Development (Nepal)
Heinrich Boll Foundation
Human Rights Watch
India Women's Watch
International Federation for Human Rights
International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
Joint Action Group Against Violence Against Women (Malaysia)
Kenya Women Political Caucus
Legal and Human Rights Centre (Tanzania)
Malaysian Trade Union Congress--Women's Section
Rights & Democracy-Droits et Démocratie (Canada)
Sisters in Islam (Malaysia)
South Asia Watch
Union Internationale des Avocats (International Association of Lawyers)
Women in Europe for Common Future
Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF)
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Women's Aid Organisation (Malaysia)
Women's Centre for Change (Malaysia)
Women's Centre for Legal Aid & Counselling (Palestine)
Women's Development Collective (Malaysia)
Women's Environment and Development Organization

NOTE: At the European (UNECE) Regional Preparatory Meeting for the 10-year review of Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing +10), more than 300 participants from 42 countries in the Economic Commission for Europe, which took part in the NGO Forum on 12-13 December 2004 preceding the government meeting, agreed by consensus that “The Commission on the Status of Women should create a Special Rapporteur on national laws and practices that discriminate against women.”