||Background Information on the Global Themes
> Gender equality
While in the 1970s and 1980s women activists talked about "integrating
women into development", in the 1990s the emphasis was on
the integration of gender issues as part of development policy
ought to be a beautiful position in life: to be young and to have
a life ahead for which you can plan and dream. It ought, furthermore,
to be equally beautiful whether you are a young woman or a young
man. In reality, however, many young people are deprived of their
rights to make plans and have dreams, as well as of their rights
to security and dignity in life. In reality, it also makes a substantial
difference if you are born a girl or a boy. Young women run a
much higher risk of having their fundamental rights as human beings
Today, both the terms "women's
rights" and "gender equality" are used. What do
the terms mean and what is the difference between them? The phrase
"women's human rights" is used to emphasise the point
that women's rights are human rights, rights to which women are
entitled simply because they are human. This idea integrates the
topic of women into the human rights movement, and integrates
human rights principles into the women's movement at the same
Gender equality means an equal level of empowerment, participation
and visibility of both sexes in all spheres of public and private
life. Gender equality is not to be thought of as the opposite
of gender difference but rather of gender inequality. It aims
to promote the full participation of women and men in society.
Gender equality, like human rights, must be constantly fought
for, protected and encouraged.
The term `gender' refers to the socially-constructed roles of
women and men which are attributed to them on the basis of their
sex. Gender roles therefore depend on a particular socio-economic,
political and cultural context and are affected by other factors
including race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and age.
Gender roles are learned and vary widely within and between cultures.
Unlike a person's biological sex, gender roles can change.
"The discussion about socialisation and stereotypes revealed
the `old' forms of socialisation created spaces for new forms
of identity and individuality. `New' forms of socialisation are
taking their place but they may be replicating similar stereotypical
expectations and producing similar consequences as before. The
influences of the family, school and the workplace may no longer
be so powerful, but new information technologies and burgeoning
cultural practices (in music, media and television) may be stepping
into the breach, strengthening the social power of men and maintaining
the subordination of women."24
How easy is it for men to adapt to the changes that have come
about as a result of the recognition of women's rights?
Examples of violations of women's rights
The most common form of violence
against women is domestic violence. Domestic violence has for
many years been considered a private affair, in which the state
and the judicial system has no business interfering. Yet domestic
violence is not only a violation of the physical and psychological
well-being of the women concerned, and therefore a direct attack
on their human rights, it is also a criminal offence.
Statistics show that a woman is more likely to be beaten, attacked
and even killed by her partner or former partner than by any other
- Depending on the European country concerned, between 20%
and 50% of women are victims of domestic violence.
- Domestic violence affects all sectors of society and all
- Domestic violence takes many forms: physical, sexual, psychological
- One woman in five is subjected to sexual assault at some
stage in her life. The age of the victims ranges from two months
to 90 years.
- 98% of aggressors are male, and 50% are married men or living
in a de facto marriage or as a couple.
- 70% of rapes are premeditated and only 3% of aggressors are
- There is an increase in the phenomenon of multiple rape.
- Figures show an increasing number of cases of assault against
very young girls.
"Statistics are grim, no matter which part of the world
one focuses on ... No country or region is exempt from domestic
abuse". So says a UNICEF report on domestic violence against
women and girls, published in 2000, in a first attempt to establish
the global dimensions of this phenomenon.
Trafficking of women and girls
Every year, millions of men, women and children are the victims
of trafficking worldwide in conditions amounting to slavery. Among
these numbers, many thousands are young women and girls who have
been lured, abducted or sold into forced prostitution and other
forms of sexual servitude. The process is made even easier by
globalisation and modern technologies. The underlying causes of
trafficking include poverty, unemployment and a lack of education,
all of which force people to take risks to improve their quality
of life. One worrying trend in industrial countries is "the
use of cheap and undeclared labour forces as well as the exploitation
of women and children in prostitution and pornography."25
Trafficking in human beings is hardly a new phenomenon, but
selling naïve and desperate young women into sexual bondage
has become one of the fastest-growing criminal activities in the
global economy. "The trafficking flow between certain developing
countries (Northern and Central Africa, Latin America and Asia)
and Western destination countries continues. However, the most
striking factor ... is the increase in the number of women and
children trafficked into the European Union from central and eastern
European countries. Estimates of up to 120000 women and children
being trafficked into western Europe each year are made."26
For several years now, the trafficking of women and children -
and of people in general - has been a priority issue on the working
agenda of the Council of Europe.
Female genital mutilation
year in the world, two million little girls are circumcised in
this way, and that is in addition to the 130 million circumcised
The practice of female genital
mutilation (FGM) affects an estimated 130 million girls and women
and is most prevalent in Africa. FGM is a cultural practice harmful
to women, which violates women's human rights to life, body integrity,
health and sexuality. Because it is practised mostly on young
girls, female genital mutilation also raises serious questions
about children's rights.
In conflict areas...
In recent years, episodes of violence against women were reported
in Bosnia, Cambodia, Chechnya, Haiti, Peru, Somalia, Sierra Leone,
East and West Timor, and in other conflict zones of the world.
At some point, the international community will have to find alternative
responses to the small number of ad hoc international criminal
tribunals - such as the ones for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. While
these are useful and necessary, they are clearly inadequate and
insufficient for protecting women's rights.
|The Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe
"regrets that despite
the fact that rape has been recognised as a war crime, it
continues to be systematically used - and has been so in
recent conflicts (Kosovo and Chechnya) - as a war weapon
inflicting not only psychological trauma but also forced
What can be done to put an end to violence against women and girls?
Existing international human rights instruments
Since the United Nations held the first world conference on
women (Mexico City, Mexico, 1975), important progress has been
made towards achieving equality between women and men.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was set
up in 1976 to fund innovation and change in this area. Since then,
it has supported numerous projects and initiatives throughout
the developing world, promoting the political, economic and social
empowerment of women.
The first legally binding international document prohibiting
discrimination against women and forcing governments to take steps
in favour of equality for women is the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("Women's Convention"
or CEDAW). This was adopted in 1979 and came into force in 1981.
The convention aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination
against women. This is defined in Article 1 as "any distinction,
exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the
purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition of
enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital
status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights
and fundamental freedoms in the political, social, cultural, civil
or any other field". States Parties are obliged to submit
periodic reports on their compliance with the convention.
and disparities between women and men in the field of human rights
are inconsistent with the principles of genuine democracy."
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe, Resolution 1216 (2000).
Over the past decade, a global
movement has emerged to challenge the limited notions of human
rights that see the rights of women as secondary to other human
In 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations added an
optional protocol to the CEDAW that had been elaborated by the
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women. The Optional Protocol entered into force in 2000.
It marks an important step in the protection of women's rights,
in so far as it allows individual women or groups of women to
submit allegations of human rights violations directly to the
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
It also provides the Committee with the ability to initiate inquiries
into cases of grave or systematic violations of women's rights
around the world. However, the force of the protocol is limited,
since ratifying states have the option of rejecting a request
from the Committee to investigate violations of women's rights
on their territory.
Within the Council of Europe, the issue of equality between
women and men is seen as a fundamental human right and is the
responsibility of the Steering Committee for Equality between
Women and Men (CDEG). This is an intergovernmental body within
the Council, which carries out analyses, studies and evaluations,
defines strategies and political measures and, where necessary,
decides on the appropriate legal instruments.
main problem is that the definition of equality used is a very
narrow one of de jure equality and this does not always provide
protection against discrimination. A second problem lies in the
fact that women have traditionally had to work on these questions
outside the "mainstream" of society. A third problem
is that women occupy a weak position in decision-making structures
in most countries.29
The 1995 Fourth World Conference
of Women, held in Beijing, China, drew together almost 47000 women
and men, and to date it remains the largest gathering of government
and NGOs representatives at any United Nations conference. At
this historic event, 189 countries unanimously adopted the Beijing
Declaration and the Platform for Action. National governments
committed themselves to promoting gender equality in the formulation
of all government policies and programmes. They identified the
following twelve common critical areas of concern: poverty, education
and training, health, violence against women, armed conflict,
economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for
gender equality, human rights, media, the environment and young
Education ... the solution.
A very important step would be to move from rights recognition
to rights empowerment. All human rights educators need to appreciate
the sensitive nature of the human rights vision and to honour
the differences among individual women's needs and responses.
Without such sensitivity, human rights education could become
just another form of manipulation or oppression of women. Education
is a key target for gender equality, since it involves the ways
in which societies transfer norms, knowledge and skills.
"Combating gender-based violence and promoting gender equality
requires education and active involvement of all sectors of society,
especially young women and men and members of minority groups,
from the beginning"30
As an educator or youth leader, do you use a gender focus in your
work with young people?
Some useful websites on women's issues