Illustrate your essay with specific examples.
The evolution of Human Rights has been the result of a long, tough process of political, economic and social struggles, which has given rise to the recognition and acceptance that all humans are equal before the law. However, in spite of all the theoretical advances, gender inequality is, in practice, one of the most pressing problems in the current worldwide panorama, both in the countries of the so-called first world and to a greater extent in the less developed ones.
Certainly, a brief review of the positive law worldwide shows many advances in regard to the protection of women which did not exist one century ago. Among the most significant achievements in favour of the development of women are aspects such as greater access to basic education, health services, political events and their incorporation into paid work. The specialist in the subject B. Kliksberg (2003), who is an advisor to organisms such as UNO, UNISEF and the IDB, indicates that the most representative achievements on an international level in the pursuit of gender equality are summarised as follows:
2. The interdependence of the spheres of public and private activity was recognised.
3. It was demonstrated that human rights may be enjoyed both in the public and private spheres, and therefore they may be violated on both areas.
4. It was admitted that there are various types of family and the right of all of them to receive a wide range of protection and support.
5. It was agreed that violence against women constitutes a violation of their human rights and basic freedoms.
The international legal framework which accounts for the rights that protect women is wide and diverse. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, born within the framework of the United Nations in 1948, we find that in Articles one, two and seven, the equality of rights between men and women is recognised. Also, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UNO, 1976), equality is guaranteed in Articles three, fourteen and twenty four. In the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights UNO, 1976) reference is also made to gender equality in Articles three and seven.
Even with the basis of the international legal framework in force, discrimination against women still throws up alarming statistics world over. Three aspects that represent most of the problems faced by women in achieving the defence of their Human Rights are demonstrated below.
Domestic violence is possibly the most common form off aggression suffered by women, even from the moment of conception. Statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 3 women in the world has been, or is, a victim of bad treatment within her own home, whether through their partner, father or other family member. According to the report World Development: The impact of international commerce on gender equality (2004) drafted for the World Bank, domestic violence and attacks culminate in the loss of more years of healthy life in women aged between 15 and 44, than breast cancer, cancer of the uterus, childbirth, war or traffic accidents.
The privacy of the home gives rise to several forms of violence including physical, sexual and psychological aggression. A report drafted recently by Amnesty International titled Making rights a reality. The duty of the States to tackle violence against women (2004), gives data which reflect that Latin America is one of the regions where cases of domestic violence are recorded most frequently. It also gives the example of Russia where it is estimated that 14,000 women were killed at the hands of family members during 1999, in spite of which there is no law in that country which deals specifically with family violence.
One of the most patent weaknesses of the international legal system with regard to the protection of women has to do with the existing dichotomy between violations of human rights in the political arena, and that which happens in the private sphere. It was not until three years ago that the United Nations Organization made a pronouncement specifically on this matter, which gave rise to a resolution against domestic violence against women (2004). However, the final responsibility in the application of protection and penalisation measures rests on the state, which as we will analyse later, has done little in the way of penalising this type of violation.
The Declaration on the elimination of violence against women (UNO, 1993) indicates that the lack of preventive and punitive measures regarding aggression against women in their homes constitutes an obstacle, not just for the achievement of gender equality, but also a deterioration in the consolidation of world development and peace.
The consequences of domestic violence go beyond the limits of the home and leave their print on society. “[Violence] makes its impact on the woman’s ability to look after herself and her children and is associated with self-destructive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse. Besides, violence has a determinant influence on the feelings of self-respect, autonomy and capacity to feel and act independently” (Garcia, 2000).
It is imperative that both the state and society in general identify domestic violence as a violation of human rights, no matter who are the attacker and the victim. Otherwise, the state will become an accomplice of these violations, even though these occur in the privacy of one’s home.
Gender inequality does not necessarily end upon crossing the front door of the house, but it extends to the workplace as well. “The integration of women into the workplace is occurring with an active tendency towards obtaining lesser positions and having a large presence in the informal economy. Salary discrimination is still very active. In 27 out of 39 countries with data available it is recorded that women’s pay was 20 to 50 percent less than men’s (Kliksberg, 2003:14).
In that study the specific example is quoted of the differences in pay by gender at managerial levels in the United States, which far from disappearing have become wider over the last few years. Kliksberg (2003) points out that “in the 10 industries which employ 71 percent of the active female work force, the women in managerial position earn less than their male counterparts and the differences increased in seven out of 10 fields. So, in 1995, a female manager in the area of communications would earn 85 percent of the salary of men in similar positions in that industry. In 2000 that got worse, and she only received 73 percent (p15).
Although inequality between men and women has tended to become less in the labour market due to factors such as greater access to education, participation in politics, work positions and basic services, nowhere in the world has a full and genuine equality between the genders been achieved. The report World development: The impact of international commerce on gender equality (2004), mentions the regions of the world in which inequality is more palpable: Southern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the report drafted by the European Commission entitled Mainstreaming gender equality (2006), it is indicated that “women constitute 22 percent of the employed workers in the world, and yet, their proportion represents 50 percent of the hours worked worldwide. Women in Asia and Africa work 13 hours more per week than men, and most of them are not paid for that. Worldwide, women earn between 30 and 40 percent less than men performing the same job” (p12). This situation expressly contravenes the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNO, 1976), which in its Article seven (a) (1) obliges the state to guarantee equal pay for equal work without sex discrimination.
Another situation which demonstrates discrimination against women in the workplace is the tendency that, in times of economic recession, companies / employers try to lay off female workers instead of male employees. The excessive rotation of women employees, that is, massive dismissals, temporary contracts and relocations, makes the negotiation of fair salaries and other benefits very difficult.
It is demonstrated again that without the efficient intervention of the state in matters of defence of the rights of female workers, the violations will continue to find fertile soil for their proliferation. Therefore, it is urgent to identify work discrimination as a violation of women’s basic rights, which implies that the state must take special protection measures in favour of that group.
Within the European Union
The Human Rights situation of women inside the European Union shows similar features to those of other regions in the world. However, added to the situation of gender inequality, one can observe within the territory of the European Union the double discrimination: woman – immigrant. This situation aggravates the already precarious conditions of women in the face of society, since it provides new territory for judicial insecurity, such as the impossibility of obtaining employment legally, which gives rise to labour exploitation, and also implies the lack of nearly all aid and benefits, such as national insurance.
With the opening of frontiers to the countries of the East, the European Union has exceeded its capacity to attend women who are victims of discrimination. In a report published within the European Parliament, entitled Review of the basic rights situation in Europe (2003), it recognises that the situation of women has changed little in spite of the efforts that have been made to improve the situation. It mentions for example that at the time of publication of that report, the United Kingdom had not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which demonstrates that without the political will of the member states it will be impossible to tackle discrimination.
In view of this, the European Commission created an independent body whose purpose it is to monitor and analyse the situation of human rights throughout the Community territory. This organism also seeks to promote the active participation of the various governments in setting in motion the special measures which will help to promote a more equal environment in a short time.
However, the panorama is not completely negative. This report mentions the case of countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Belgium which adopted concrete measures in 2002 which improved the situation of women the workplace. This was achieved through a special provision which imposed hiring quotas on companies so that they would maintain a balanced proportion of women and men in managerial and executive positions.
The role of the State and Society.
When speaking of human rights violations we must necessarily attribute a large part of the responsibility to the state, because this is the principal guarantor of the implementation of the measures and actions which will enable their implementation and ensure that the rights are recognized on an international level. It must be stated that the state is directly involved in the discriminatory behaviour suffered by women, both as regards domestic violence and in the workplace. The state must distance itself from its neutral position concerning gender, to face up to a reality in which the conditions of inequality are a constant in the daily lives of many women.
The international legal framework certainly recognises the equality of rights between men and women, however, for this to become a reality, the state must take affirmative action so as to diminish or eliminate the conditions which promote discrimination.
The organization Amnesty International in a report published on its web site entitled No more violence against women (2006), identifies two kinds of law which by their nature constitute legal obstacles which reinforce discrimination against women. In the first place it quotes the discriminatory laws, which are those which treat men and women differently in regard to rights and penalties. It mentions the example of some countries in which women need the consent of a male relative to apply for a passport, use contraception, acquire property or transmit their citizenship to their children. These laws restrict the capacity of women to flee violence or seek justice.
It also points out the existence of the so-called inadequate laws which demonstrate a lack of precision when defining the aggressions and the outdatedness of these laws in regard to what has been expressed internationally. They quote as an example the definitions of domestic violence which in many cases do not expressly include the physical, sexual or psychological aggression perpetrated by the spouse.
This report also mentions the so-called honour crimes in which the man may receive a lower sentence if he argues that the acts were in defence of his good name. “In September 2002, a 20 year old Jordanian man was sentenced to a mere 12 months imprisonment for killing his sister, whom he had strangled with a telephone wire, when he discovered that she was pregnant when she got married. In the sentence, the court decided to lower the charge from murder to a lesser crime, because the woman had sullied the honour and reputation of the family” (No more violence against women, 2006)
The conflict of these laws with what has been established internationally is evident, given that it exposes that cultural traditions prevail above everything in many societies when laws are enacted and these are wielded as arguments to justify and perpetuate a patriarchal society.
In conclusion, the international legal framework effectively recognises equality among genders, which implies a nucleus of favourable guarantees against every type of discrimination against women. However we can clearly identify that there are still problems associated with the fact of being a woman and which severely affect their full enjoyment of basic rights.
Among the special problems there is in the first place, the distance between the provisions of international law and domestic legislations which in many cases, whether in content or application, promote a discriminatory treatment between men and women. The role of the state is imperative in order to eradicate inequality through the implementation of concrete actions which favour the balancing of the power ratio between genders. The incorporation of more women into the political arena and positions of authority is an effective measure in the struggle against discrimination.
In the second place there is the problem of the exclusion of domestic violence from human rights violations in national legislations. Many countries lack laws which penalise this criminal conduct and those that do have them lack the material resources to enforce them. The controlling role of the state is vital for a timely decrease in the statistics of violent deaths of men and women at the hands of their partners. This involves, on the one hand, facilitating access to justice by the victims and on the other, helping to protect women and their dependents when they flee their homes because of domestic violence.
Lastly, the eradication of the forms of discrimination against women must pass through educating the society. The cultural vision of women as the weaker sex has to disappear as she gains respect and her value is recognized within society. The task of many non-governmental organizations in favour of education in the human rights sphere is opening new paths towards obtaining the true, complete fulfilment of women’s and girls’ human rights in the world, but there are still many areas to conquer.