Gender and Human Rights 2018


Why Latin America Should Recognize Venezuelans as Refugees

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


Latin America has one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees, yet it is reluctant to apply it to Venezuelans. Expert Luisa Feline Freier argues that the Venezuelan displacement crisis is a crucial test for the Cartagena Declaration

An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years. According to their refugee laws, most Latin American countries ought to recognize these Venezuelan migrants as refugees. Yet they have been reluctant to do so.

The region developed one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees in a 1984 declaration in Cartagena, Colombia. Going beyond the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, the Cartagena Declaration defines refugees as people who flee their country “because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.”

The Cartagena definition, then, not only focuses on the well-founded fear of being individually persecuted but also includes adverse circumstances that a country may go through that would cause large groups of people to flee.

Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay have all included the Cartagena refugee definition in their national refugee legislation.

In private conversations, many officials and representatives of international organizations share the assessment that the forced displacement of Venezuelans falls under the Cartagena definition. Yet the political cost of being the first and potentially only country to recognize this publicly is high. Governments fear this could lead to a further influx of Venezuelans to their countries, putting more stress on already underperforming public services and stirring xenophobic sentiment.

There thus exists an official consensus in the region that Cartagena does not apply to the Venezuelan displacement crisis. “The situation in Venezuela is not as bad yet,” a high-ranking official of Peru’s refugee department declared at an event in Lima on World Refugee Day on June 20.

Somewhat surprisingly, only a small fraction of Venezuelans have filed asylum claims. Many do not know that they can apply for asylum, while others do not want to be recognized as refugees because they feel it comes with a stigma attached.

Even so, asylum applications by Venezuelans have almost tripled each year since 2014. Numbers worldwide rose from 3,975 in 2014 to 113,428 in 2017. In 2018, 126,998 Venezuelans had applied for asylum in Peru by mid-June, 72,722 in the U.S. by the end of June and 57,575 in Brazil by the end of July, according to the latest data compiled by UNHCR.

However, Latin American governments are processing only a small number of applications. For example, from 2014 to 2017, Peru decided only 971 cases, accepting 239 and rejecting 548. The large number of claims left pending – whether through lack of capacity, deliberate policy or both – leaves Venezuelans without adequate protection.

The low levels of refugee recognition come despite Venezuela’s socioeconomic, political and humanitarian crisis meeting three of the Cartagena criteria: generalized violence, massive violation of human rights and other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order.

Regarding generalized violence, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), Venezuela is the second most violent country in the world, with a homicide rate of 89 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017. While the Venezuelan government did not release any official figures on crime for 2017, unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased that year.

The government’s countermeasures of militarizing public security and the increasing participation of civilians in armed groups and “colectivos” have worsened the situation. According to the Committee of Relatives of Victims (COFAVIC), the number of extrajudicial executions grew by 37 percent in 2015 and by 70 percent in 2016. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the deployment of the military and armed civilian militias seriously compromised the state’s duty to ensure its citizens’ security and safeguard their human rights.

Concerning the massive violation of human rights, the government led by President Nicolas Maduro represses any form of opposition. Those who disagree with the government run the risk of reprisals, including arrest and dismissal from public office. IACHR has declared that Venezuela’s practice of requiring authorization for any public demonstration is incompatible with inter-American standards, violating the right to protest and freedom of expression.

Thousands of people have been arrested without a warrant based on the mere suspicion that they are supporters of the opposition. Protesters have been prosecuted under military criminal jurisdiction and prisoners have become victims of torture and sexual violence. The right to freedom of expression is further curtailed by censorship and the shutdown of media outlets, harassment of journalists and criminalization of information opposing the regime.

Finally, regarding other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, as referred to in the Cartagena Declaration, Venezuela is going through a severe humanitarian crisis. At the end of 2017, 87 percent of the population in Venezuela lived in poverty, with 80 percent affected by food insecurity. In December, aid group Caritas said there were close to 300,000 malnourished children at risk of starving, with six dying every week in the Venezuelan capital Caracas alone. Ninety percent of households could not afford children’s daily meals, and 33 percent of children showed irreversible mental and physical developmental delays, according to the charity.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan health system has collapsed, with a severe lack of medicine and materials for medical treatment. Venezuela’s education system has also been compromised by the lack of teachers and materials.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the IACHR consider that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelans fall within the definition of Cartagena and see its application as a potential solution to the Venezuelan displacement crisis.

Given the potentially high cost of being the first or only country to apply Cartagena, regional cooperation is essential to reach a joint response and adhere to the spirit of Cartagena.

This would be the first time that Cartagena is applied as a definition to groups of people prima facie and would significantly strengthen the region’s progressive protection framework. If countries continue to resist applying Cartagena, they run the risk of reducing their heralded legislation to mere words and window dressing.


Luisa Feline Freier is assistant professor of social and political sciences at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. She holds a PhD in government from the London School of Economics. Her research focuses on immigration and refugee policies in Latin America.


By            :               Luisa Feline Freier

Date         :               September 28, 2018

Source     :               NewsDeeply




Are women the last line of defence against Brazil’s authoritarian shift?

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally.

In the world’s most celebrated footballing nation – where ‘the beautiful game’ is akin to religion – it’s almost no surprise that this week’s general elections have looked more like a football match than a democratic process that will shape the future of Latin America’s largest country.

A sizeable number of Brazilians are behaving more like football fans, following the polls as if they were league scoreboards and supporting or opposing candidates out of passion rather than reasoned analysis of policy positions. One important distinction, however, stands out: while football and politics are both male-dominated games in Brazil – only two out of the thirteen presidential candidates are female – the outcome of this particular match may very well be in the hands of women.

On October 7, in a “celebration of democracy” – a commonly used expression in Brazil that serves as a reminder of the country’s not-so-distant dictatorial past (1964-1985) – voters will cast ballots for the presidency and the House and Senate as well as state leadership. If no candidate wins 50% of votes cast, runoff elections for president and state governors will be held on October 28.

The current political environment provides a textbook example of a fertile breeding ground for far-right populists taking advantage of dissatisfaction and despair to propose deceivingly simple solutions to very difficult problems. In 2016, following a traumatic presidential impeachment process, the Workers’ Party’s (PT) Dilma Rousseff was succeeded by Michel Temer, a very unpopular president whose aggressive austerity and pro-market measures left a staggering 13 million Brazilians unemployed, including 30% of youths.

Although the corruption investigations that sealed the fate of the previous administration are still ongoing, distrust in politics and institutions have only grown among a citizenry that overwhelmingly believes that the machinery of corruption benefitting parties and politicians of all stripes, will not be dismantled. Neoconservatives have been quick to seize the opportunity.

For several months, the polls were consistently led by former president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, PT’s then-presidential candidate, despite the fact that he was in prison following a politically motivated corruption trial. Given that Lula’s conviction could still be overturned following appeals, the UN Human Rights Committee had urged the government to guarantee his right to run for president, a call echoed by the Coordination Bureau of National NGO Associations and Networks of Latin America, among many others.

In record time, however, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided that the UN request could be in conflict with national legislation and on September 11, PT had to replace Lula with the largely unknown former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad.

Enter Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who has been both decried and hailed as the Brazilian version of Donald Trump. Now leading the polls with close to 30%, Bolsonaro’s racist, sexist and homophobic views have set the tone of the election campaign. The 27-year Congress veteran has advocated for Brazil to leave the UN, the Paris climate agreement and any international human rights mechanism that could be deemed a nuisance. A defender of torture and military rule, his running mate is an Army general who said a new constitution could be drafted without popular participation, if the new president so decides.

Worryingly, the view that repression might be required to get the country back on track is becoming widespread. Since President Temer took office in August 2016, Army officers have been increasingly vocal about their preparedness to seize power if necessary – a stark contrast with neighbouring Uruguay, where a military officer was recently served with an arrest order for making political comments publicly.

Equally worryingly, ‘fake news’ has effectively spread the anti-rights views held by Bolsonaro and his circle, which appear to have resonated with about one third of voters, according to polls. In Brazil, as in the US, these tactics have led to the relative normalisation of the idea of violence as a means for conflict resolution and change.

Amid the incendiary rhetoric, policy discussion has taken a backseat. Besides the two successive PT candidates, only Guilherme Boulos and Vera Lucia, a couple of left-wing presidential nominees with no prospects of election, have taken a progressive stance on issues such as the criminalisation of human rights defenders, the use of the controversial Antiterrorism Law against civil society, and the need to shift the debate on migration from security to human rights.

Boulos, Haddad and Marina Silva, an environmentalist with also little chance of winning, are the only candidates that mention the need for protection measures to counter the increasing violence and human rights violations that make Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for indigenous, land rights and environmental rights defenders.

With hopes looking slim for progressive contenders in a climate of regressive, reactionary campaigning, a fiery challenge to Bolsonaro has unexpectedly come from a demographic well under-represented in Brazilian politics. While they account for 52% of the country’s population, women currently make up only 30% of all candidates to elected positions.

Brazil holds the worst record in South America for female congressional representation, with only 10% in the House and 16% in the Senate. No election campaign has put women at the center – unless misogynistic attacks count. But if something has shaped the climate more than anything, it has been Bolsonaro’s violent discourse, frequently targeting women. His and his supporters’ attacks have been instrumental in sparking a loud feminist response.

Building on Brazil’s recent Feminism Spring – powerful national campaigns that saw millions of women publicly protest gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination – an online feminist movement has mushroomed, overflowing the web and out onto the streets. Using the hashtag #EleNao (#NotHim), Brazilian women are urging other women, and men, to vote for anyone but Bolsonaro.

In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally. When, a week later, their online group was hacked and renamed in support of Bolsonaro, some three million angry women harnessed public support against the cyberattack, amplified their voices with the backing of several well-known artists and celebrities, and summoned a massive day of protest in late September. Dozens of events were planned abroad to accompany the hundreds taking place throughout Brazil.

Will this be enough to swing the vote against Brazil’s Trump? It’s unclear – any prediction on the election’s results is premature. But what is certain is that women will play a key role in it. If anything can stop Bolsonaro, it is the higher-than-average proportion of women that outright reject his candidacy – more than half of those polled.

When there is no other choice than to resist, women have raised their voices. For them, there is no going back to the obscurity of home or second-class citizenship, regardless of who the next president will be.

A day will come when these elections are remembered for the role played by women against hate and for democracy. In a game in which they’ve been forced to sit on the bench for so long, Brazilian women are scoring goals that count, regardless of what the final score turns out to be.



By            :               Ana Cernov and Inés M. Pousadela

Date         :               October 6, 2018

Source     :               OpenDemocracy


Tokyo: New Law Bars LGBT Discrimination

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


Olympics-Inspired Act Should Spur Japanese National Legislation

(Tokyo) – The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has passed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. The act, enacted on October 5, 2018, also commits the city government to conducting public education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Tokyo authorities were inspired to draft the bill in advance of the city hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Tokyo metropolitan government has enshrined in law its commitment to hosting an inclusive and rights-respecting Olympic games,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities now need to put the policy into action and end anti-LGBT discrimination in schools, workplaces, and the wider society.”

Human Rights Watch participated in the government’s open consultation for the act to fulfill the Olympic Charter’s human rights values. The law states: “This act upholds the goal of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to make Tokyo a city that upholds the human rights values of banning any sort of discrimination as stated in the Olympic Charter.”

The Olympics have driven some changes in how governments hosting the games act on LGBT rights issues. This has in part been a rebuke to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Russian government’s passage of the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law marred the games, along with other human rights violations such as forced evictions, abuses against migrant workers, and media censorship. In December 2014, as part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that all future host city contracts would include a requirement to specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The new Tokyo law states “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” and pledges that the government will “conduct measures needed to make sure human rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city.”

Japan’s national government has, in recent years, taken positive steps toward recognizing and protecting LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. The Education Ministry issued a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016 that outlines how to treat LGBT students in schools. That same year, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying. In March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students. Japan has also voted for two United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite these promising steps, Japan still has no national legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, though more and more local authorities are doing so. It also labels transgender people who request legal recognition as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and leaves them with no alternative but to undergo unnecessary and invasive medical procedures to secure official documents that reflect their gender identity.


Date         :               October 5, 2018

Source     :               Human Rights Watch


Palu quake and tsunami sweeps away key Indonesian human rights activism

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


When the earthquake and tsunami hit the city of Palu, Central Sulawesi, last weekend, they not only brought wreckage and death. The twin disasters also swept away efforts by activists and the municipal administration to support the survivors of Indonesia’s violent anti-communist purges in 1965-1966.

In the rest of the country, such survivors are still very marginalised.

In Palu, a city of some 350,000 inhabitants and the capital of Central Sulawesi province, activists had convinced local government leaders to work with them in helping these survivors.

Palu is the only place in Indonesia where a government leader has made an official apology to the victims of the anti-communist violence in the area. Some nine days after the devastating natural disaster, the fate of some of those activists is still unknown.

Indonesian people lived under Suharto’s New Order authoritarian regime between 1968 and 1998, when the president was forced to resign. From 1965-66, the army, under Suharto, spearheaded anti-communist operations that killed half a million people and led to the detention of hundreds of thousands.

The army blamed Indonesia’s Communist Party (PKI) for the murder of seven army officers on the night of 30 September and in the early hours of 1 October, 1965, by a group calling itself the Thirtieth September Movement. The 53rd anniversary of these events coincided with the terrible disaster in Central Sulawesi.

In 2012, the Palu mayor, Rusdy Mastura, apologised to the victims of the anti-communist violence. He pledged to provide assistance to them and their families in the interests of “equality, openness and humanitarian considerations”.

In his speech, Mastura recalled how, as a boy scout in 1965, he had been tasked with guarding leftist detainees.

Victims of abuses

Mastura was speaking at an event organised by local human rights group, SKP-HAM (Solidaritas Korban Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia, Solidarity with Victims of Human Rights Abuses).

SKP-HAM was founded in 2004. Its best-known leader is the dynamic secretary, Nurlaela Lamasitudju, the daughter of local Islamic cleric, Abdul Karim Lamasitudju.

SKP-HAM is part of the national Coalition for Truth and Justice (Koalisi Pengungkapan Kebenaran dan Keadilan, KKPK).

In 2012, the KKPK held several public events and community “hearings”, dubbed the “Year of Truth Telling”, to pressure the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rehabilitate the victims of the violence.

In April 2012, Yudhoyono was reported as having expressed his intention to apologise to victims of human rights abuses committed during the Suharto New Order regime.

Yudhoyono’s promised apology never materialised. However, the “Year of Truth Telling” events yielded some important gains in Palu.

Following his apology, the SKP-HAM lobbied Mastura to deliver on his promises by providing healthcare and scholarships. A mayoral regulation and a Regional Action Plan for Human Rights (Rencana Hak Asasi Manusia, Ranham) were promulgated to enable this.

Autonomy laws

These local government instruments have been made possible through Indonesia’s regional autonomy laws.

The mayoral regulation also established a committee to oversee human rights protection and restoration of victims’ rights. On May 20, 2013, Palu was declared a “Human Rights Aware City”.

Each year, the city holds a series of human rights-related events.

In May 2015, the Palu City Regional Planning Body oversaw the process of checking and verifying the identity of victims and their needs, using the information compiled by human rights groups as a base.

A trailblazing city

SKP-HAM had collected 1200 testimonies about the 1965-66 violence from victims in the area. From these testimonies, it had created and uploaded to YouTube short films of survivors’ testimonies.

It had also published a book about the 1965-66 events in Sulawesi, in collaboration with Indonesian author, Putu Oka Sukanta. Mastura wrote the book’s preface.

The group supported weaving cooperatives involving women survivors and ran a café and meeting space, Kedai Fabula, at its office in Palu. In partnership with religious groups and the municipal administration, members of the group organised social activities to involve abuse survivors in the life of the city.

The activities of SKP-HAM Palu is a reminder of what has been lost. It was a trailblazing city whose achievement in human rights advancement provided a model for the rest of the country.

The people of Palu, with a great deal of assistance, will rebuild, but we still wait for more news from the city.

SKP-HAM leader, Lamasitudju, survived the earthquake and tsunami. With a sprained ankle and having lost several family members in the disaster, she is volunteering to collect and provide information regarding the situation in Palu.

Indonesia needs groups like SKP-HAM that campaign for inclusiveness and equal rights to survive into the future.


Dr Vannessa Hearman is a lecturer in Indonesian studies at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory. She is a member of the Asian Studies Association of Australia Council. Charles Darwin University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU. Asia Pacific Report republishes this article under a Creative Commons licence.


Analysis by             :               Dr Vannessa Hearman

Date                         :               October 8, 2018

Source                     :               Asia Pacific Report



Africa’s Women Belong at the Top

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural, political, and economic biases are conspiring to keep talented women from pursuing leadership positions. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.

ZOMBA, MALAWI – When I was eight years old, a family friend told my father that he thought I was destined for leadership. My dad never let me forget that heady observation, and as a result of his constant encouragement, I took every opportunity I had to pursue our friend’s prophecy. Today, I owe much of my success to my late father, whose belief in me was unwavering.

Unfortunately, most African girls are not as lucky as I was. While many girls possess leadership qualities, social, political, and economic barriers stymie their potential. This is especially true for girls in rural parts of Africa, where poverty, abuse, and tradition conspire to limit opportunity.

The heartbreaking story of my childhood friend, Chrissie, is illustrative. Chrissie was the star student in the village in Malawi where I grew up. But she dropped out of secondary school because her family could not afford the $6 in monthly fees. Before Chrissie was 18, she was married with a child; she has never left the village where we were born.

Chrissie’s experience is repeated millions of times over in my country, across Africa, and around the world. Today, more than 130 million girls worldwide are out of school through no fault of their own. By the time many African girls turn ten, their fate is already determined. Some are victims of harmful cultural practices, like female genital mutilation and child marriage, while others are unable to escape the poverty that grips their families and communities.

Economic bias is especially damaging to girls. When resources are limited, poor families must choose which children to send to school, and in many regions, boys are viewed as “safer” investments. Girls, meanwhile, are married off, or sent to work in the fields or as domestic helpers. These decisions about the allocation of educational opportunity severely stunt female leadership potential.

One of the objectives of the Joyce Banda Foundation is to strengthen the financial independence of Malawian women, and thereby create the conditions for the development and emergence of young girls as future leaders. Evidence shows that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. Furthermore, once women have their own sources of income, they are better able to participate in the political process.

Changing endemic cultural norms about gender and identity – and developing more female leaders – begins in the classroom. School-age girls must be taught to value themselves and one another, and that it is their right to be educated, healthy, and empowered. At the Joyce Banda Foundation School in Blantyre, Malawi, educators have adopted a curriculum based on four building blocks: universal values, global understanding, service to humanity, and excellence.

Parts of Africa are moving in the right direction. Today, nearly a quarter of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lawmakers are women, up from just 10% in 1997. Rwanda, meanwhile, has the highest percentage of female legislators in the world. And throughout Africa, women have been elected to leadership roles at all levels of government.

Still, much work remains. As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will make clear in its annual Goalkeepers report later this month, governments must recommit to supporting female leaders’ development by investing in the health and education of women and girls. Delivering services to girls under ten years of age, especially in rural areas, is essential if Africa is ever to achieve lasting gender equality.

Over the course of my career in Malawi – first in civil society, then as a Member of Parliament, and finally, as president – I became convinced that the only way to change Africa’s misogynistic narrative is by helping more women reach the highest levels of power. Research from India shows that when governments increase the percentage of women in their ranks, social issues like health care, education, and food security receive higher priority. Having more women in leadership is thus good for everyone.

Leaders are born as well as made, but when they are born in Africa, they are not always recognized. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.


Joyce Banda, a former president of the Republic of Malawi, is the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation.


By : Joyce Banda
Date : September 12, 2018
Source : Project Syndicate


Living the double life: behind the lies of women’s daily lives in Egypt

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


The consequences of living this sort of double-life go far beyond family disagreements.

25-year-old Sara does not feel secure telling her parents how she feels about myriad things. Having struggled with the concept of religion from a very young age, her proclamation of atheism was not met with much open-mindedness. “They freaked out and insisted I see a family sheikh”, she says. Her father also threatened to cut off funds for her college education. “The whole thing traumatized me which made me—in the end—say that I believe in God,” she adds.

Sara now lies about sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and more. What Sara describes as an ‘off and on switch’ made apparent the restraints fashioned by a conservative, mostly Muslim society. Based on three indices—the Social Progress Index, the Environmental Performance Index and the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap report—Egypt comes at number six amongst the 15 least liberal countries in the world.

The Middle Eastern country was first faced with this wave of Islamism and ardent Wahhabism around Islamic theorist and Islamism figurehead Sayyid Qutb’s time in the 1950s and 1960s. Qutb lead the Muslim Brotherhood group and incited violence. The conservative shift was felt by many in society, except women suffered more than men as a result. And, despite Egypt’s uprising in 2011 against Mubarak’s regime and the injustice it inflicted, Egyptian women still experience malignant treatment and regard. To this day, women remain an afterthought on matters of divorce, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual harassment, and education.

According to a survey conducted by the International Men and Gender Equality Survey, 86.8% of men think women’s highest priorities should be caring for her home and family ahead of life ambitions afforded to men such as holding a career. Meanwhile, 90% believe that women should accept violence from a spouse or partner without leaving as long as the family stays together. For the same parameters, women did not think much differently (76.7 and 70.9, respectively), reflecting a similar thought pattern amongst women themselves.

The lies Sara told and still tells are part deep love for her family and part convenience, except the emotional toll is hefty, and guilt and shame are overpowering. “I can’t even tell them I was raped. I have to deal with paranoia, anxiety and disturbing nightmares,” says Sara who also now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, panic attacks, and minor depressive episodes. “I feel stuck living under a mask. I believe if they find out, I’ll kill myself,” she says.

Nora shares a similar sentiment, under a harder reality. “Traditions are a whip my parents use against me,” the 28-year-old Ph.D. student laments. “I’d like to be sincere about everything, but every time I envision this I panic over the possibility of violence against me, or worse, alienation. I often resort to [self-harm like] cutting [myself] and trichotillomania (hair-pulling) to relieve my stress,” Nora has even been told by her brother, on a number of occasions, that her bisexuality warrants death. The young professional’s mental and physical well-being is in tatters, with severe migraines and crippling anxiety now a part of her daily life., “Ironically, I pray to the same God, to get me through this or make it all go away somehow.”

Zainab, 32, attributes the differences she has with her parents to their socially conservative worldview. “According to their beliefs, these aspects of my life are not culturally or religiously acceptable and are morally wrong. They also think that I’m jeopardizing my future and putting myself at risk, so in a way, they are concerned,” she says.

This induces Zainab’s anxiety which prompts her to evade their questions rather than lie. “It’s still lying by omission though,” she adds. “It feels like there’s a lot of hostility directed at me and makes it impossible to ever feel completely comfortable. I’m always on edge. I’ve internalized a lot of shame. I’m frustrated a lot, which is tiring,” she adds.

One of the most difficult aspects of Zainab’s double-life is her inability to speak openly about how she feels, even during some of life’s most difficult moments. “I recently went through a difficult break-up, and I had to fake normalcy. Repressing all those feelings took its toll on me, leaving me with more pain to handle as well as exhaustion. My anxiety about it can be severe at times, and this affects my day-to-day decisions. I’m left feeling defensive, irritable, drained, and burned out. I don’t feel financially secure and I feel like my physical safety and health are threatened, which makes me anxious and depressed.”

Sociologist and political sociology lecturer at the American University in Cairo, Amro Ali, has spoken out about what he describes as a “societal disruption”. “Unfortunately, a woman tends to be one of the first victims on the frontlines of societal disruption,” he explains. “Egyptian society has been swallowed into the globalization and consumerism vortex, that has been accompanied with neoliberal dehumanization, that ramps up hyper-individualism, fragmenting society and making people feel lonely. I now see women in some form of internal exile,” he adds

“Egypt has inherited the dysfunctions of modernity that makes it a very paradoxical place on the political and social level: we have elections without democracy, a parliament without representation, we sing the merits of citizenship without acknowledging the citizen,” he adds.

Ali points out how the women who attend his public lectures are often forced to act more conservatively in public than they do on the internet where they can behave more freely. “It is not unusual to see women who are self-conscious (of others observing them) when approaching or asking questions at a public talk, as opposed to the much more direct and confident emails and social media messages they would send before or after enquiring about the talk. However, this gap seems to be decreasing in recent years in favor of a woman’s assertive communication in public spaces,” he remarks. Meanwhile, Ali also refers to the dimension of “shame” that steers people to be hyper-aware of the image they project in the Egyptian public sphere.

Egyptians were divided following the release of a video on social media in recent weeks in which a young woman is being sexually harassed while traveling home from work.

The woman in question, Menna Gobran, video-recorded her alleged harasser outside a branch of popular chain store ‘On The Run’ and posted the footage to Facebook prompting people to ridicule her while defending the guy’s lewd actions. “Not only did they cruelly shame her, the victim, but they elevated the harasser to stardom even by some so-called feminists through taking photos next to him,” Ali adds.

He further added that in Egypt, there is an obsession with what other people would say which discourages many women from speaking out. “It’s unmanageable and the latest example is  the “On The Run” sexual harassment case.”

Given how  99.3% of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, normalization around such a horrific issue is hardly shocking.

Following the 2011 uprising which swept the country’s former autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, from power, there was a brief glimmer of hope for many Egyptian women, both conservative and liberal, who hoped for greater freedoms.

“Mubarak indirectly skewed the approach to religion; by suffocating the political sphere, he forced many people into the religious sphere as a compensatory measure rather than as a choice, and this perhaps peaked in the mid-2000s when we saw a sudden spike, albeit it was already steadily increasing, in religious displays of piety in newer social classes, such as women turning to the hijab,” Ali remarks.

In post-2011, a significant wave of women took off their hijabs in a minor cultural revolution provoking a negative reaction to what could be perceived as a seemingly mundane act.

“It is not uncommon for me to hear from Egyptian women who are experiencing a crisis of faith of sorts, that they want to love God and feel a sense of mercy, but this is severely shaken when they are shamed and reduced to two-dimensional characters who must be straitjacketed into fulfilling a checklist of obligations, for example, the hijab or what a woman should be like in society.  This type of male power-reinforcing and uniform battering ram approach reduces from the complexities of human beings living in extremely complex times, and it is even an injustice to Islamic jurisprudence which has a rich history of mercifully accommodating nuances and showing compassion to changes in the landscape,” Ali says.

“The religious sermons have hit a tone-deaf level. I think the biggest assault on the Egyptian landscape is mediocrity. There is almost a complete lack of imagination to find viable routes to resolve matters,” he adds noting that publics are born every day and that we need to keep hoping that,” he adds.

However, mental health experts believe that the consequences of living this sort of double-life go far beyond family disagreements.

In a 10-week study conducted by the University of Notre Dame, people who lied less experienced reduced mental and physical health complaints. Additionally, respondents who told fewer lies experienced more positive relationships and better social interactions.

Cairo-based psychologist Sherif Othman says that through lying, these women inflict guilt upon themselves even when it’s carried out for self-preservation or noble reasons. “There’s also a lot of mental stress as they’ll have to keep track of all the lies they tell,” Othman says. “For long-term lying, people can just turn into habitual or compulsive liars and lies become uncontrollable and turn pathological.”

Othman goes on to highlight how keeping track of so many falsehoods can develop psychological disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is a state of being constantly anxious, even when there is no trigger. He also goes on to mention additional stresses which can affect the person physically like lack of sleep due to the pressing feeling of guilt, and anxiety-induced heart conditions and fluctuating blood pressure.

When it comes to social interactions and maintaining personal relationships, Othman says that piling-up lies can easily shatter trusts with loved ones. “Losing people’s trust will alienate those who are lying and usually those who are lying tend to be socially withdrawn because they don’t want to face all the anxieties that come with lying or the fear of getting caught. You’ve got to weigh the pros and cons of lying and make an informed decision he adds.

Othman explains in terms of living in Egypt’s conservative society. “Lying should not be the first option. People should communicate with their parents and voice their mindsets instead of sweeping it all under the rug. The first step to get an idea accepted into a society is through voicing this idea.”

Meanwhile, Othman also recommends compromising on matters that are not accepted by families. “We should try using our negotiation skills to demand more rights, and not everything is [set] in stone, which could be a plan to resort to before lying,” he says.

Othman believes that change is coming and that we do not have to wait for generations for a certain cultural upheaval to happen. “Women are more vocal now, and never underestimate the power of social media. We’re not fed what to be or do as before and women are going strong in claiming their rights. With that trajectory, in a few decades, Egyptian women will be free to do what they want to do,” he believes.

On her end, clinical psychologist, Sharon Perry said that these held information from family should definitely be shared with other individuals so that these women wouldn’t have to carry the brunt of these lies. “Most families are adamant about their own opinions and there’s even denial about what their children might be doing or not doing,” Perry says adding that lying protects the families but eventually harms the person carrying those lies. “[It’s] not just about sex. We need to look at pregnancies, STDs, AIDs, things that young people here don’t seem to be aware of,” she explains.

Perry has a rather positive outlook on what to come: “People are slowly opening up and talking to their kids and even providing assistance. We can’t interfere with cultural norms or advocate lying but we can limit the behaviour itself,” she remarks.

Though a number of women do not agree with Othman and Perry’s hopeful projection, Nora believes her family’s love for her should trump any disaccord between them. “I know I sound naive, but maybe it’s my mind trying to cope with the grim reality of things,” she says.


Eman El-Sherbiny is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist and has reported from the MENA region before. She is also a managing editor of, a platform on green initiatives around the Mediterranean region. She is a former Thompson Reuters investigative journalism fellow (Wealth of Nations programme) and has been published in regional and international outlets, such as Euronews, Lonely Planet, Al-Monitor, Al-Bawaba, and soon, Ozy.


By : Eman El-Sherbiny
Date : September 14, 2018
Source : Open Democracy


LGBTQ rights: Asia has a long way to go

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


In most Asian countries same-sex relations are illegal with varying degrees of tolerance, and we take a look at some.

Last week, India’s top court decriminalised homosexuality with a prayer to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community to forgive history for their “brutal” suppression.

The LGBTQ community was outraged when the Supreme Court had reversed a landmark ruling that had decriminalised homosexual acts under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 153-year-old colonial-era law.

Around 2.5 million Indians identify as LGBTQ. This data is not inclusive as it takes into account only those who have declared their sexuality to the health ministry. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 1,347 cases were lodged against the community in 2015 alone – an “offence” that was, till last week, punishable by up to a 10-year jail term. Often this law was misused to intimidate, blackmail and extort money from the community.

While India’s LGBTQ community has erupted in joy, here’s a look at the status of such communities across Asia – which clearly have a long way to go.

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to rule in favour of same-sex marriages, but homosexual acts are largely illegal in the subcontinent. Over the weekend, a Queer Parade in South Korea met with obstacles. In Malaysia, two lesbian women were caned last week – an act that was later disapproved of by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Last year, four gay men were lashed 83 lashes in full public view in Aceh in Indonesia. Pakistan and Bangladesh are against same-sex relations and are sailing in the same boat as other largely Islamic countries. A survey published in the Straits Times today says more than half of Singaporeans still support Section 377A of the Penal Code.


Last year, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages.

Taiwan’s highest court, the council of grand justices, said barring gay couples from marrying violated “the people’s freedom of marriage” and “the people’s right to equality”, China Post reported.

The island’s parliament has to amend and enact laws addressing same-sex unions within two years, otherwise gay couples will automatically be allowed to register under the current framework. Two of the 14 justices hearing the case dissented and one recused himself.

The New York Times listed this ruling among 17 critical moments of 2017 from across the world.


Having been found guilty in a Shariah court, two Acehnese men convicted of gay sex were publicly caned in this Shariah-compliant provincial capital of Banda Aceh last year, each receiving 83 lashes, the Jakarta Post reported.

The men, identified only as MT, 23, and MH, 21 – were both university students. Thousands of people witnessed the caning. The caning was the first imposed on a gay couple since Shariah law was implemented in the province in 1999.

LGBT activists in the world’s largest Muslim democracy condemned the caning, which they said exacerbated Indonesia’s poor human rights record.

Aceh’s position is extreme – it is the only province in Indonesia that has implemented Shariah (Islamic law) and the 2014 local criminal code which includes punishments for adult consensual same-sex conduct.

Media reports say the crackdown on the community since 2015 is fuelling a public health crisis and contributing to the spread of HIV. Some lawmakers have proposed complete criminalisation of sex outside of marriage, with extra penalties if it is between two people of the same gender – an anti-adultery law, with an anti-gay provision.


Two Malaysian Muslim women convicted of attempting to have sex in a car were caned last week in a rare public whipping that was denounced by some politicians and rights groups, the Star reported.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were seated on stools facing the judges and given six strokes from a light rattan cane on their backs by female prison officers. More than 100 people witnessed the caning in an Islamic court in the conservative northeast state of Terengganu.

On August 12, the Syariah (Shariah) High Court fined the women RM3,300 and ordered that they be caned six times each after they pleaded guilty.

The punishment drew criticism from human rights groups, NGOs and a few politicians. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the caning gave a bad impression of Islam.

Mahathir said it was important to demonstrate that Islam was not a cruel religion or one that loved to mete out heavy punishments that humiliate others. He added that this was not the way of Islam.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia under section 377 – a colonial era law. Under the law, sodomy is punishable with a jail term of up to 20 years and whipping. Politician Anwar Ibrahim was convicted and imprisoned for sodomy twice under the law.


Even though Pakistan made history last year by becoming one of only a few countries in the world to pass progressive legislation guaranteeing the fundamental rights of its transgender citizens — including rights of employment, property, inheritance, to vote and to hold public office – its LGBTQ community has not had it easy.

Pakistan’s first anonymous gay blogger gave up writing out of fear after this reporter wrote an article on his blogposts that articulated the stigma attached to being a homosexual in a largely conservative country. The penalty for same-sex relations is a fine, imprisonment for two years to life, or both.

Even in large cities, gays and lesbians have to be highly discreet about their sexual orientation. The colonial era Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 punishes sodomy with a possible prison sentence. Acts of homosexuality are illegal in the Islamic nation.

In a piece for Dawn, Em, a student of anthropology argues that the British erased the pre-colonial queer narratives and criminalised the gender minorities.

“The section 377 of Pakistan Penal Code that criminalises homosexual conduct is a remnant of colonial times. Never was seen such a massive project of destruction of queer cultures in the name of ‘civilising’,” the student wrote.

“The purpose is not to glorify the pre-colonial past – which, after all, was patriarchal and heteronormative – but to highlight how the indigenous culture recognised and coexisted with queer communities for a long time.”


Nepal is one of the most progressive countries in the world with regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights, and its current LGBTI laws are some of the most open in the world.

Nepal’s new constitution, approved by the Constituent Assembly on September 16, 2015, includes several provisions pertaining to the rights of LGBTI people, some of which include the right to have their preferred gender displayed on their identity card and a prohibition on discrimination on any ground, including sex or sexual orientation.

The new constitution has recognised LGBTI rights as fundamental rights; but sadly, they have yet to be practically implemented in society, Kathmandu Post reported.

Despite official recognition on paper and some political advances, it is family pressure and social expectations that force most LGBT people to stay firmly in the closet.


A US government employee, who was editor of an LGBT magazine in Bangladesh, was hacked to death in Dhaka in 2016.

Mannan – a senior editor of Roopbaan, the first gay rights magazine in the country – was stabbed to death along with a friend, according to Daily Star.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The country’s legal code prohibits “unnatural offences,” which it says includes voluntary “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.” The offense is punishable with life in prison.

The law is rarely enforced, but LGBT groups have reported that police use the law as a pretext to bully gay or simply effeminate individuals to prevent the formation of LGBT organizations

In 2009 and 2013 there were two recommendations to decriminalise same-sex relationships but Bangladesh rejected them.

According to a report in Daily Star, 25 LGBTQ activists left the country following the murders of Mannan and another activist.

“The community had to cancel the third annual Rainbow Rally in the face of opposition from the government in April 2016 [while] four gay men were illegally detained by the police suspecting them to be attendees of Rainbow Rally,” the report stated, portraying the movement’s inability to exercise the right to assembly.


With its famous “ladyboy” performances in Pattaya and elsewhere, Thailand is perceived as a very gay-friendly land, and can hardly be described as an anti-gay or anti-LGBT society.

However, a report in the Nation points out that “there is an illusion of rights where they don’t actually exist in law”.

“For example, there are few formal complaints of job discrimination made by LGBT people, but this does not mean that there is no job discrimination against LGBT people in Thailand. Indeed there are instances of discrimination, but they are not normally considered violations of the rights of LGBT people.”

Activists also want Thailand to push ahead with the Life and Partnership Registration bill to promote the rights of people with same-sex partners.

The Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) began work on the bill in 2013 after a gay couple petitioned for legal recognition of their right to establish families as enjoyed by heterosexual couples, but it was interrupted after a political setback in 2014.

“We want the bill to pass and take effect soon. I want to see it in this life,” Kittinun “Danny” Daramadhaj, president of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand, who helped draft the life partnership bill, told the Nation.

Many in Thailand believe that Buddhism regards homosexuality as a sign of sins from past lives – a fact that activists want changed.


Slightly more than half – or 55 per cent – of Singaporeans still support Section 377A of the Penal Code, even as one in three Singaporeans is more accepting of same-sex relationships than he or she was five years ago, a new survey has found.

The survey was reported by the Straits Times and aims to understand the current social attitudes towards same-sex relationships.

A total of 750 Singaporean citizens and permanent residents aged 15 to 65 took part in the study.

When asked the extent to which they supported or opposed Section 377A, which is the law that criminalises consensual sex between adult men, more than half (55 per cent) indicated that they supported it, while 12 per cent said they opposed it.


Japanese companies are increasingly integrating gender diversity policies into their central business strategies, to keep up with the global trend of harnessing the skills and purchasing power of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Mizuho Financial Group Inc last year became Japan’s first banking group to treat loan customers’ same-sex partners as a spouse at Mizuho Bank. The bank also held a life planning seminar exclusively for same-sex couples in May, Japan News reported.

Through such efforts, Mizuho aims to boost a variety of financial products for LGBT customers, the group’s managing executive officer Hidenobu Mukai said at an event in Tokyo to promote corporate awareness of gender diversity.

One in 13 people in Japan is estimated to be a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, according to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Inc.

In March 2009, Japan began allowing Japanese nationals to marry same-sex partners in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

As of 2018, sexual orientation is not protected by national civil rights laws, which means that LGBT Japanese have no legal recourse when they face discrimination in such areas as employment, education, housing, healthcare and banking. Efforts are on to bridge that divide by 2020 when Japan will host the Olympics.


China has an estimated 70 million LGBT people, according to China Daily.

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in China since 1997. However, China has no laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Same-sex couples are unable to marry or adopt, and households headed by such couples are ineligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.

A growing number of gay men and lesbians on the Chinese mainland plan to come out within five years, according to a survey released by WorkForLGBT, a non-profit business network that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, China Daily reported.

Only 22 percent of gay men and 12 percent of lesbians don’t intend to reveal their sexual orientation in the next five years, compared with 30 percent of gay men and 16 percent of lesbians last year, according to a survey.

“I believe that we’re still far from a situation where many LGBT people can come out publicly, which requires a change in the mainstream mindset and legal protection in the country,” a 31-year-old, who wanted to be identified only as Hank, told China Daily.

In both Chinese history and literature, homosexuality was open and tolerated.

Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe calls social tolerance China’s “cultural advantage”. An article in China Daily quotes Li – “China had been ahead in the acceptance of homosexuality but had fallen behind again”.

Li notes that China had, in the past, treated homosexuals with more tolerance than some Western societies which persecuted them, sometimes to death. She feels that the culturally confident Chinese were not afraid of accepting an alternative lifestyle, but that they would rather ignore it than oppose it. But, Li adds, tolerance does not mean full acceptance.

Sri Lanka

Article 365A criminalises homosexual sex as an act of gross indecency between persons in Sri Lanka. However police harassment is rare and there has not yet been a conviction under the act.

A report in the Island states that the LGBT community has been discriminated against for 134 years.

There are three specific discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka – Section 365 (against the order of nature) criminalizes same-sex activity with up to 10 years of imprisonment, Section 365A (gross indecency) can put people convicted of same-sex acts behind bars for two to 20 years, and Section 399 is used by police to harass transgender and gender non-conforming people on grounds of impersonation.

While these laws are applied infrequently, they nevertheless undermine the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ Sri Lankans and give carte blanche to authorities to violate the rights of LGBTQ individuals with impunity.

Activists in Sri Lanka have faced other challenges in recent years. The 12th Colombo Pride event in 2016 received online threats from radical groups.

The European Union has stepped up its controversial campaign to pressure Sri Lanka to do away with Penal Code Sections 365 and 365A, which provide for prosecuting LGBT persons.

At an EU-sponsored business roundtable on the “challenges and benefits of the diversity in the workplace”, leading local LGBT organization Equal Ground pointed out the absurdity of continuing with laws introduced by the British even as the same laws had been abolished in the UK. Equal Ground has launched an online petition called 134 Campaign to garner support for its project.

South Korea

It’s not easy being LGBTQ in South Korea. Recent figures show a majority of the population does not support homosexuality, in addition to the general indifference toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights and issues.

Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea, but there is currently no regulation outlawing discrimination. Same-sex marriage remains illegal, while a number of sexual minorities have been subject to hate crimes in the past.


The first queer festival held in the South Korean port city of Incheon was severely delayed, as some 1,000 Christians staged an anti-gay protests on the scene, which led to physical attacks and verbal abuse against LGBT individuals, the Korea Herald reported.

In spite of the violent clashes and subsequent delays, and many planned events being cancelled, the LGBT community persisted with and completed the queer parade.

Tens of thousands of people descended on Seoul Plaza in July to celebrate this year’s Seoul Queer Culture Festival.


By : Lamat R. Hasan (Associate Editor at Asia News Network)
Date : September 10, 2018
Source : Asia News Network



Human Rights Safeguards Take a Backseat in New Global Economics Institutions

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


As states struggle to balance commercial interests with the promotion of human rights, social safeguards in trade and loan agreements—often included at the insistence of Western countries—are increasingly under threat.

Coauthored with Joshua Okada, former intern for the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will soon celebrate its seventieth birthday, but the world will only offer a disappointing gift: a weak human rights track record. In recent weeks, the United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council; Saudi Arabia continued to crack down on human rights activists; and Myanmar failed to make any progress on its deal to repatriate Rohingya refugees.

Of more concern, however, has been the wholesale weakening of major international human rights enforcement mechanisms, especially in Asia. As countries around the world pursue rapid economic growth, social safeguards in trade and loan agreements—often included at the insistence of Western countries—have become critical mechanisms for promoting human rights. Such safeguards are increasingly under threat, as semi-authoritarian states in Asia avail themselves of new, competing multilateral development banks (MDBs) and trade agreements that privilege national sovereignty over human rights protections.

Free trade agreements (FTAs) and development bank loans often contain stipulations designed to protect fundamental freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and subsequent UN multilateral conventions. For example, developed economies have leveraged their influence to promote international human rights within FTAs. During the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, for example, the Obama administration compelled Vietnam to reform its labor rights to more closely approximate international standards. Likewise, the World Bank promotes projects that contribute to the realization of fundamental human rights, such as fighting corruption, increasing transparency, and access to health care and education.

Unfortunately, the United States appears to be relinquishing its role as a proponent of international human rights at the same time that semi-authoritarian states—such as Thailand and Vietnam—reassert their sovereign prerogatives. To be sure, Asian skepticism of human rights is nothing new. When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the Bangkok Declaration in 1993, its members made clear that sovereignty would trump universal human rights law. What is different today is that the diverse bloc is gaining economic and political clout, enabling its semi-authoritarian members to align with China and others to challenge an established human rights order that suddenly lacks its traditional champion.

According to current GDP growth projections, the ASEAN bloc will boast the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050. As Southeast Asia booms and major global economies attempt to dodge U.S. protectionism, ASEAN member states are increasingly attractive trade partners. The EU is already negotiating bilateral FTAs with Thailand and Vietnam, with additional talks planned for a blockbuster EU-ASEAN FTA.

As the EU expands its regional economic presence, however, it is struggling to balance its commercial interests with its promotion of human rights. When a military coup overthrew Thailand’s civilian government in 2014, for example, the EU froze discussions on an economic and political cooperation agreement with the country. But the EU lifted sanctions after only partial government reform efforts. Thailand has continued to resist EU pressure for real political liberalization, setting a date for a general election, but allowing the current prime minister—the leader of the 2014 coup d’état—to remain in office. Meanwhile, an EU-Vietnam FTA remains on the table, even as Hanoi continues to hold over a hundred human rights activists captive. As ASEAN nations become higher value trade partners, the economic interests of the EU, its member states, and other nations are likely to trump international human rights concerns, diluting protections contained within trade agreements.

A similar dynamic is likely to occur in development finance, thanks to the emergence of new MDBs that are not dominated by traditional Western standards of conditionality. Alternatives to Bretton Woods development banks, such as the New Development Bank (NDB), are more congenial than the World Bank or the Asia Development Bank to semi-authoritarian states’ concepts of sovereignty. The NDB’s 2017-2021 strategy deemphasizes regulatory and institutional reforms and follows domestic laws and procedures on project implementation, rather than international law for cross-border investments. This growing focus on sovereign state prerogatives suggests that multilaterally-funded projects will increasingly turn a blind eye to international human rights standards.

Countries are pivoting toward the NDB because these new institutions promise them greater voice and weight than conventional MDBs and also present fewer challenges to borrowers. As competition heats up, the World Bank appears to have tempered some of its safeguard policies. While its new 2016 Environmental and Social Framework included goals important to human rights, the World Bank also placed more responsibility on borrowers, and gave them more leeway to police themselves. This left some human rights groups concerned that borrowers will ignore the safeguards. In part, this allows the Bank to align itself more closely with the NDB’s emphasis on sovereignty, so that states may follow domestic standards instead of international ones.

The struggle for universal human rights has long been fought on multiple fronts. Two of the most important battlefields have been trade agreements and development finance, where Western powers, led in the past by the United States, have used economic incentives as leverage to press for fundamental protections. The emerging landscape of FTAs and development banks in Asia places these gains at risk, by allowing semi-authoritarian states to weaken the modest protection mechanisms supported by institutions like the World Bank, or by Western-framed FTAs.

As the United States abdicates its global leadership role, the EU and other traditional proponents of universal human rights face a choice and a predicament: whether to hold the line on international standards or to cede their values in the pursuit of narrow, short-term material gain. Given its large voting share in the World Bank, the EU has the power, should it choose to use it, to ensure strict protections within projects co-financed by the AIIB or the NDB. It has ssimilar leverage within an EU-ASEAN free trade pact, in which human rights and labor protections should be thoroughly discussed. Here’s hoping that the EU, on its lone journey without the United States, makes the right choice: upholding multilateral efforts to protect international human rights in the face of growing regional assertions against them.


By : Stewart M. Patrick and Guest Blogger for Stewart M. Patrick
Date : September 6, 2018
Source : Council on Foreign Relations


Women’s Rights are Human Rights

By SOCVS | Published: AUGUST 10, 2018


How are women’s rights human rights as well?

Women’s rights are human rights. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating today on Human Rights Day.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence is an international campaign symbolically linking 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. The team at the UNU Institute for Globalization, Culture, and Mobility (UNU-GCM), building on our current research program on female agency, mobility and socio-cultural change, has participated in the 16 Days of Activism with a campaign on our Facebook and Twitter highlighting issues including the importance of language, women with disabilities, migrant women and refugees, and art as activism.

We are using our research to raise awareness on these pressing concerns facing women today, and particularly applying our research to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. SDG 5 seeks to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, with a particular focus on eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

Language, hate speech and cyber violence

“Language is not neutral: it has an active role in our understanding of diverse realities, our practices, and behaviors,” says Cecilia Gordano. She draws attention to a situation when local news reports referred to various “passion killings” that left several women “dead”, arguing that “it’s high time we improved the vocabulary to name gender-based crimes and leave behind the passive voice: women do not just ‘die’, they are ‘killed’, mostly by intimate partners, so they are victims of ‘intimate femicides’.” Media framing, which differs across contexts, plays a critical role in how we perceive gender-based violence.

While the internet provides new opportunities for women’s rights activist, it is also space where new forms of violence are performed. Aishih Webhe-Herrera explains that “the terms ‘Feminazi’ and ‘Gal-Quaeda’ are gaining visibility in current lingo to refer to feminists who denounce everyday sexism, gender stereotyping, and gender discrimination. They are used to shun and silence feminists by delegitimizing their claims, harassing them verbally, publicly and privately. They also promote a misleading understanding of feminism(s) and the collective project of gender equality, which are viewed as an attack on the universalist and degendered ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ of what Michael Kimmel calls‘Angry White Men’. With striking parallelisms with far-right discourses, the popularisation of this terminology in the media and even everyday conversations are clear examples of hate speech against women, and more precisely, gender-based violence against women and girls.”

Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, points out that “hate speech against women is a long-standing, though the underreported problem in Europe”. Not only are these words an attack on women’s right to freedom of expression, but they also violate women’s human rights to privacy, dignity, non-discrimination, and life free from violence.

These virtual forms of violence have concrete consequences, as Webhe-Herrera explains that “the spread of this terminology also incites to discrimination, violence and gender hatred against feminist and women’s human rights campaigners, which has forced several feminist bloggers either to adopt a pseudonym to remain safe in the blogosphere or to abandon their virtual platforms and public activism altogether.”

Women with disabilities

Certain groups of women are more vulnerable to violence due to social marginalization. On 3 December for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Inés Crosas drew attention to women with disabilities, who suffer from among the highest levels of gender-based violence. Nearly 80% of women with a disability are victims of violence, and they are three times more likely to experience abuse compared with “non-disabled women”.

Crosas argues that “this reality seems to be overlooked and these subjects totally misrepresented, since many institutions lack the necessary means to deal with this specific type of violence and data and statistics are often hard to find. As activist groups and scholars point out, the roots of this ‘normalization’ of violence come from prevailing stereotypes and prejudices against women with disabilities, which are sustained through persistent patriarchal and ableist [ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people] notions. It is the hegemonic social construction of ‘woman’ and ‘disability’ which makes this collective particularly vulnerable and imposes deep communicational, attitudinal and structural barriers upon them in their daily life. Therefore, in order to change this situation, social cooperation and awareness is the first, and most important, step.”

The research book Gènere i Diversitat Funcional: una Violència Invisible (Functional Diversity and Gender: An Invisible Violence) provides an in-depth examination of the main causes and consequences of gender-based violence against women with disabilities and exposes good practices for dealing with it.

Migrant women and refugees

Migrant women are another group that is socially marginalized, rendering them even more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Domestic violence poses a particular challenge for migrant women. As we explained in a previous article, any woman suffering from domestic abuse struggles with how to handle the situation. The problem is doubly difficult for immigrant women, who face additional barriers to reporting violence and accessing services. Migrant women must be empowered to denounce domestic violence and access appropriate support without fear of losing their legal residency status. The violence that takes place in the private sphere is a public issue: it is a violation of women’s human rights that the State has the responsibility to prevent.

Parvati Nair adds that “gender-based violence in domestic contexts is not a one-off event. Even if sporadic, it is the symptom of a power relation where intimacy becomes confused with violence. In the film Te doy mis ojos (Take My Eyes) (directed by Icíar Bollaín, 2003), we see how Pilar constantly scans her partner’s moods, trying to pre-empt the moment when his mood will turn. As such, gender-based violence turns the home into a place of fear and dread. It is, therefore, a form of violence that is as much psychological as it is physical.”

The gender-based violence that migrant women experience is not confined to the domestic sphere. “Migrant women are vulnerable to violence at all stages of their journey due to gendered inequalities and relations of domination,” explains Jane Freedman. “Current EU policies restricting migration exacerbate migrant women’s vulnerability. The only way to improve these women’s security is through a genuine commitment to providing safe and legal routes for migration and/or claiming asylum.”

Armed conflict puts women in a particularly vulnerable situation, and protecting female refugees against sexual and gender-based violence in camps remains a major challenge. “Staying in a refugee camp within the country of origin or seeking protection elsewhere brings serious threats to women’s security, freedom, and health,” explains Marija Obradovic.

“The international community has long resolved to end this scourge. Yet, despite declarations and resolutions, current reports show that protecting female refugees from gender-based violence remains a complex problem. This challenge is solvable, however, as it largely a matter of policy not adequately implemented, and world events prove that implementation should be prioritized.”

The precarity of female refugees often goes unnoticed, and this is especially true in the case of minority groups, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. “Given their status as women, stateless and part of an ethnoreligious minority, Rohingya women (and girls) are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence that can affect not only their physical and psychological development but can restrict the socio-economic opportunities available to them both within Myanmar and in their new country of residence,” notes Yu Kojima.

She emphasizes that “it is clear that improved and more coordinated policy efforts are needed among key government agencies and between women’s rights and pro-migrants groups and international agencies in order to begin combating the wider scope of sexual and gender-based violence that Rohingya refugee and migrant women are at risk of during flight and in the country of asylum. Because of the magnitude and seriousness of this challenge, the issue of sexual and gender-based violence involving Rohingya women deserves more serious international attention.”

Human trafficking frequently involves the forced movement of people across borders, and it is a form of violence that disproportionately targets women. The UN has made trafficking a focus of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which falls during the 16 Days Campaign on 2 December. Human trafficking should not be conflated with slavery, but the action is needed in order to advance policies that prevent trafficking, rescue victims and provide for reintegration and prosecute traffickers. A holistic human rights approach is critical to respect the dignity of all victims of trafficking while working toward its eradication.

Art as activism

Across the world, activists are finding creative strategies to bring attention to women’s human rights. “Literature, music, performance, and the arts are powerful tools that reach wide sectors of society, appealing to their sensitivities, interests, and worlds in languages far removed from the realm of international human rights law, but intimately connected to it,” argues Webhe-Herrera.

She discusses “writers, artists, musicians, performers: all of them are raising their voices to denounce femicides or feminicidios, the consistent and massive murder of women in Ciudad Juárez (Chihuahua, México) and worldwide. With more than 400 women assassinated in this city since 1994, and thousands disappeared, writers and artists engage with this feminicidal reality in their works to render it visible, and to claim state accountability for this violation of women’s human right to life and to a life free from violence, as enshrined in the 1994 Convention Belém do Pará and the 2011 Istanbul Convention.”

Webhe-Herrera continues, “good examples of human rights ’artvocay’ can be found in the works of Chicana writer Ana Castillo, who has published several poems, a novel and a play about it, and London visual artist Tamsyn Challenger, whose art installation 400 Women consists of 175 portraits of different women killed as a result of gender-based violence in the Mexican-American borderland.”

Gordano gives another example of Mexican artist Elina Chauvet, who collected 33 pairs of women shoes painted red in Ciudad Juárez and arranged them on the public space in 2009. She called it ‘Zapatos Rojos’ [Red Shoes] and conceived it as “a meeting of art and collective memory” to rise awareness on feminicides, the most extreme materialization of gender-based violence. “It is through the ethics and aesthetics, through absence and visibility [that] red shoes show the void left by the daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives.” Her artistic intervention has been replicated in various cities in Latin and North America and Europe.

Photography is another powerful medium for advocacy. Megha Amrith tells the story of Xyza Cruz Bacani, a Filipina domestic worker turned photographer. “Her photographs, documenting migrant domestic workers in a Hong Kong shelter who escaped physical and mental abuse, won her a photography scholarship for raising awareness about the grave situations that migrant domestic workers live through. In this new series of photographs, she demonstrates how gender-based violence and labour abuses are common experiences among migrant women across countries and continents,” explains Amrith.

Nair also suggests that “this is an apt time to reflect on the work of the Indian-American photographer Fazal Sheikh, who, in his photo-essays, Ladli and Moksha, focuses on the social structures in contemporary India that relegate women to disempowerment within severely patriarchal structures. Through conversations and photographs, Sheikh portrays the untapped potential and the resilience of these women and girls.”

Webhe-Herrera says that “these works represent a global cry for gender and social justice in the face of personal, collective and state violence against women. They also open a creative and political space from which to raise awareness about global violations of women’s human rights, and compel (inter)national actors to take responsibility for the massacre of the female population across the globe.”

The way forward

The UN took a major step in recognizing women’s rights as human rights in the 1993 Vienna Declaration. Campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism draw attention to the challenges that we still face so that we can continue making the necessary policies and changing attitudes to fulfill women’s human rights.

This year, the focus of the 16 Days Campaign is on the relationship between militarism and the right to education. As such, it is essential to consider the impact of ongoing conflicts across the world on education, particularly for young girls who are living in situations of conflict or who have been displaced.

In Syria, Marta Guasp explains that “[the] ongoing crisis has left almost 3 million Syrian children out of school and puts their future at risk”. Guasp argues that “given the mobility of families, active conflict, and limited humanitarian access, the international community will need to look at ways to find more suitable and effective solutions to a long-term education response to address the needs of out of school children, boys and girls, in Syria.”

Alongside all these stories of the violence women face, there is optimism to be found in stories of empowerment. UNU-GCM’s Women of the World project tells the stories of 16 immigrant women in Barcelona, and these are examples of agency and empowerment. While 16 Days of Activism alone cannot put an end to gender-based violence, it is a critical platform for raising awareness and demanding action.


Written as part of the global campaign for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, this article includes contributions from members of the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM) research team: Megha Amrith, Inés Crosas, Jane Freedman, Cecilia Gordano, Marta Guasp, Yu Kojima, Parvati Nair, Marija Obradovic, and Aishih Webhe-Herrera.



Date : July 29, 2018
Author : Janina Pescinski
Source : The Good Men Project


The brutal personal costs of the Philippines’ human rights abuses

By SOCVS | Published: AUGUST 10, 2018


In September 2017, Sheerah Escudero’s world came crashing down. Her beloved younger brother Ephraim had been missing for five days and the Escudero family was growing increasingly desperate. Then the call came: His body had been found lying by an empty road more than 100 kilometres away in Angeles City, in Pampanga province in the Philippines, northwest of Manila. Ephraim had been shot in the head, his body wrapped in packing tape.


The 18-year-old had been a recreational drug user but as far as his family knew, hadn’t used in a few years. Yet the father of two had still become ensnared in the increasingly brutal drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose government has been killing suspected drug users and “drug pushers” since 2016. Duterte recently announced he was ramping up his efforts.

Sheerah and her family tried to identify those responsible for Ephraim’s death. They reported his disappearance immediately to police. Local police departments have refused to release any information or leads. Witnesses have told Sheerah that Ephraim was picked up by two men on a motorcycle, a common killing tactic now known as “riding in tandem.” CCTV footage confirmed this.

Sheerah, a diminutive woman in her early 20s with a bright smile, bears the trauma of her brother’s death with stoicism. Her Facebook page is a mix of joyful pictures with friends at coffee shops, juxtaposed with photos of her brother’s bloodied body lying in the street.

His death made the impact of the drug war personal in the most visceral sense — a brother lost, a father taken too soon.

Human rights workers targeted

We met Sheerah in late April 2018, during a trip to the Philippines to investigate the deteriorating human rights situation in the country — part of a broader research project at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, to understand Canada’s role in the region.

Our conversations with more than 50 human rights defenders, environmental activists, lawyers, artists and Indigenous groups revealed troubling patterns in a country that’s increasingly closing its borders to outsiders.

Sheerah’s story is all too common. The Duterte government’s brutal crackdown on drugs continues unabated. Duterte has publicly galvanized the Philippine National Police force to “slaughter them all,” proclaiming that we “can expect 20,000 to 30,000 more” deaths before the war is over.

As with any state directly targeting its own people, actual numbers are difficult to quantify, but Human Rights Watch estimates there are more than 12,000 dead. The body count rises daily; victims include children and young people like Sheerah’s brother Ephraim. Their deaths destroy families and the social fabric of communities.

 Sheerah’s story shows the profound and far-reaching reverberations of state-induced violence. This violence takes many forms. For example, the regime has been explicitly targeting human rights advocates, placing many lawyers, NGO workers and environmental activists on a “suspected terrorist” hit list, which the government filed at a Manila Court in March 2018.

The lawyers and organizations we spoke with in metropolitan Manila all mentioned numerous colleagues who have been placed on this list, with some detained by the regime, while others have ominously disappeared.

Mining and degradation of the environment

The hit list has also created a climate of fear among environmental activists who have been advocating for agrarian reform, basic human rights for farmers, as well as highlighting environmental degradation as a result of extractive mining activities across the country.

During our time in rural Santa Cruz in the province of Zambales, we interviewed numerous environmental activists and farmers who spoke about the inaction of the government to address the tremendous environmental impacts of a neighbouring nickel mine.

The mine has destroyed rice paddies, polluted rivers and ocean water, killed livestock, and made it extremely difficult for farmers and fisherfolk to sustain their livelihoods.

The community’s incredible hospitality during our stay was contrasted by the stark poverty as a result of ongoing mining in the region. Many farmers and activists also expressed fatigue at having to deal with more researchers who ultimately do nothing to help their situation.

As one farmer told us: “I don’t want to talk to another Westerner ever again — nothing is changing. Your mines come in, our government sells away our lives, and we are left with nothing.”

While Canada is not operating a mine directly in Zambales, the deteriorating security situation at the time of our fieldwork did not allow us to visit Canadian mining sites as we had initally planned in the southern island of Mindadao, or the Oceana Gold mining facility in Didipio in central Luzon, which has already faced strong criticism by environmental groups in Canada.

Canadian mines also devastate the environment

However, the environmental impacts we observed in Santa Cruz are apparently similar to those at the Oceana Gold mine, according to representatives of the Didipio community as well as environmental activists in Manila who regularly monitor Canadian mines.

In Mindanao, thousands have been displaced by the mining activity and the counter-insurgency war, including numerous Indigenous peoples, who are often also directly targeted and murdered by the Duterte government for speaking out.

According to an Indigenous Lumad chieftain, Datu Lala: “Mindanao is now so militarized that we cannot breathe. We have to get out — otherwise we will be killed.”

The chieftain and his community have been seeking sanctuary in Manila for the last few months after a number of their family members, including children, were killed. Communities such as the Lumad are increasingly afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal, and environmental activists do not want to become the next target.

The Duterte government has also undermined fundamental democratic institutions and the independent judiciary, removing Maria Lourdes Sereno, the chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, and publicly attacking the Commission on Human Rights, an independent and constitutionally mandated body that monitors and investigates human rights in the Philippines.

Duterte has even threatened to slash its annual Human Rights Commission budget to a mere $20 and has called its chairman, Chito Gascon, a “pedophile” on national television.

 Duterte doesn’t stop with his own people.

His administration has also been sealing its borders to international observers, and he’s barred foreigners like the Italian politician Giacomo Filibeck and a delegation from entering the country in April.

Even religious missionaries are not immune. During our time in the Philippines, Duterte ordered the expulsion of 76-year-old Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox, who has been living in the country for 20 years, for so-called “human rights activism.”

And the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the right of Indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has been placed on the suspected terrorist list and is now afraid to return to the Philippines.

Our fieldwork was marred by this increasingly hostile environment. We were repeatedly told to keep a low profile, and our sources warned us that the government does not like foreign criticism.

Canada must do better

As two Canadian lawyers specializing in human rights law, we were profoundly disturbed by the discrepancy between this reality on the ground and Canada’s silence on the Philippines.

The International Criminal Court has initiated a preliminary investigation against Duterte himself, and the president retaliated by calling for a complete withdrawal from the court and threatening to arrest its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, if she ever dared to set foot in the Philippines.

However, during our visit to the Canadian Embassy in Manila, a spokesperson emphasized Canada’s insistence on maintaining “friendly relations” with the Philippines.

It’s possible that Canada benefits from these friendly relations. We import labour from the Philippines through its many temporary foreign worker schemes. Perhaps calling out human rights abuses in the Philippines would not bode well for maintaining a steady stream of labour that bolsters the Canadian economy.

 At the absolute minimum, however, Canada must critically re-examine its foreign aid policy and trade relations with the Philippines, such as the recently cancelled $300 million helicopter deal, which would have sent 16 combat-ready helicopters to the Philippine military were it not for backlash by the Canadian public and the media.

However, in April 2018, there were renewed discussions about the sale of the same helicopters, as well as an additional helicopter going directly to the Philippine National Police in June this year  — the very same police force perpetrating the drug war murders.

It’s hard to reconcile Canada’s rhetoric of upholding international human rights with the suffering of people like Sheerah, who lost her only brother to the drug war.

Sheerah is particularly disturbed that “Duterte has made it OK to tell people that it is normal to kill, that people should die for using drugs instead of having access to treatment and rehabilitation.”

To deal with her trauma, Sheerah has become an activist and writer, volunteering with Rise Up, a network of organizations advocating against the drug-related killings.

Ephraim’s death continues to reverberate through her life in unexpected ways, acting as an “ice-cold” wakeup call, but one that also makes her life more dangerous. Keeping her brother’s memory alive makes her a target, she says, with a mix of quiet resignation and courage: “If this bloodshed continues, we are all potential victims here.”


Date : August 2, 2018
Authors : Petra Molnar (Lawyer, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto)
Anna Su (Assistant Professor, University of Toronto)
Source : The Conversation