Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing + 5 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.
1 Mar 2000

In July 1999 Equality Now issued its Women's Action campaign report highlighting a representative sampling of discriminatory laws currently in force in 45 countries around the world. Equality Now and its campaign partners have since been calling on governments to repeal or amend laws which discriminate against women prior to the Beijing + 5 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, to be held from 4-9 June 2000. Paragraph 232(d) of the Beijing Platform for Action calls on states to "revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex." Section IV of the draft Outcome Document for the Special Session includes a provision calling on States to "repeal all discriminatory legislation by 2005." Since the first Update issued in November 1999, there have been additional developments with regard to the reform of discriminatory laws in countries around the world, including the following:

Costa Rica: The President informed Equality Now that Article 93(8) of the Penal Code, which provides an exemption from penalty for perpetrators of crimes of indecent assault, abduction or statutory rape if they offer to marry their victims, has been superceded in part by the August 1999 Law Against Sexual Exploitation of Minors. Article 93(8) has, in effect, been rendered obsolete with regard to indecent assault and statutory rape although its provision on abduction remains in force.

Germany: In January 2000, the European Court of Justice issued a ruling on a case filed by Tanja Kreil, a woman from Germany, regarding the rejection of her application to the weapon electronics maintenance branch of the Federal Armed Forces. The Court held that Article 1(2) of the Law on Soldiers and Article 3a of the Regulations on Soldier's Careers, which exclude women from military posts involving the use of arms and restrict their participation to the medical and military-music services, violate the principle of equal treatment of women and men in employment outlined in Council Directive 76/207/EEC (9 February 1976).

Jordan: In January 2000, the Lower House of Parliament voted for the second time against amending Article 340 of the Penal Code which provides a reduced penalty for men who murder their female relatives in cases of "honor killings." The amendment, which had been defeated by a large majority of the Lower House in November 1999, was presented for a second vote after it was passed by the Upper House (Senate) in December 1999. Opponents to the amendment argued that it would incite widespread social delinquency. The proposed amendment will be presented to a joint session of both Houses for a final vote before the end of the parliamentary session. Protesting the Lower House's vote against the amendment, a coalition of women's groups, journalists, lawyers and other advocates organized a march and rally in February 2000 calling for the repeal of Article 340. According to Reuters, the march drew men and women protesters, including members of the royal family such as Prince Ali and Prince Ghazi.

Kenya: In December 1999, Parliament approved a motion to introduce a bill on equality. The Office of the Attorney General and FIDA-Kenya have been working together to draft this bill, which is to be tabled in March for consideration by Parliament in June 2000.

Kuwait: On 23 November 1999, by a two-thirds vote, the National Assembly rejected the Decree issued by the Emir which would have granted women the right to vote and to run for political office. Many liberal members and religious moderates voted against the Decree on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional use of the Emir's powers as it was issued while the National Assembly was not in session. Following the vote, a bill identical to the Emir's Decree was submitted for consideration but was narrowly defeated by a vote of 32-30 on November 30. The government has pledged to resubmit the bill and has extended ministerial duties to Sheika Rasha al-Sabah, the female Undersecretary of Education. Meanwhile, women in Kuwait tried to register to vote and, after being refused, have initiated a court petition for review.

Nigeria: In October 1999, Islamic Shari'a law was introduced in Zamfara, a predominantly Muslim state in Northern Nigeria. According to the Post Express, the Governor of Zamfara instituted Shari'a law in order to fight prostitution, gambling and other vices. In Zamfara, single women were directed to get married within three months or lose their jobs. Women were also prohibited from using public transportation with men. In February 2000, the Governors of Niger and Sokoto States in Northern Nigeria, signed bills under which Shari'a law is expected to come into effect in May. The Governors of two other states - Kano and Yobe - are reported to be considering similar initiatives. A coalition of women's organizations in Nigeria has issued a joint statement noting that these restrictions are unconstitutional and calling on the Government to take action.

Rwanda: The Minister for Gender and Women in Development has informed Equality Now that the government is currently in the process of revising all discriminatory laws against women, particularly in the areas of employment and family rights. The Government is also seeking to revise the Penal Code and the Nationality Code. A new law on Matrimonial Regimes, Liberalities and Succession was passed by Parliament in November 1999 which gives equal rights to women in marriage, marital property and inheritance.

Turkey: The Mission of Turkey to the United Nations informed Equality Now that a new draft civil code has been submitted for consideration by Parliament and is currently being reviewed by several commissions in accordance with Turkey's parliamentary rules. The draft code amends Article 88 of the current civil code which sets a minimum age of marriage of 17 for males and 15 for females. It also revises Articles 152 and 154 of the current civil code which establish the husband as the head of the marriage union. If approved, the new civil code will raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both men and women. It will also allow women to be jointly responsible for marital property.

Venezuela: A new Constitution was voted into law by public referendum in December 1999. The new Constitution effectively revokes Articles 37 and 38 of the previous Constitution which prohibited Venezuelan women from transferring citizenship to their foreign-born spouses. Article 33 of the new Constitution provides for the acquisition of Venezuelan citizenship by "foreigners who contract marriage with a Venezuelan man or woman . . . ."

What You Can Do: 

Please continue writing to the heads of state and their embassies in your country 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 governments to accelerate any initiatives underway so that successful efforts can be highlighted at the Beijing + 5 Special Session in June 2000.