41st CEDAW session in New York and Kyrgyzstan

It has been over a month since I wrote last time. I have been very busy with a vacation and working on moving my commitments to a more international level. Right now I am preparing two reports on two Central Asian countries on sexual and reproductive health which is an interesting endeavor.

And right now I am sitting in the UN building in New York and listening to the Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is now welcoming the participants of the 41st Session of the Committee on the Conventional on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). During this session Yemen, Nigeria, Tanzania, Finland, the UK and Lithuania will present their reports. The structure of reporting allows NGOs to present their shadow reports in response to the official government reports.  The Committee will consider both reports and make recommendation to the governments on what needs to be done to improve the situation of women in their country.

Kyrgyzstan is presenting in October 2008 and I am here to learn about the process and to prepare for presenting Labrys report on the situation of lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people. Kyrgyz government has submitted their report already and Kyrgyz women’s NGOs are working on preparing their shadow reports. Council of Women’s NGOs, Forum of Women’s NGOs, Labrys and possibly sex workers organization Tais Plus are drafting reports.

Women and Men in state bodies

Just found very interesting statistics about the percentage of men and women working at administrative positions in the government. It is 86% men and 14% women at top positions, 91% men and 9% women at mid-level positions and 41% men and 59% women at junior positions. So guess who’s got the power in this country?

Some of recent highlights was talking to a lot of HIV positive people from Kyrgyzstan from other countries of the former Soviet Union. I admire their energy and activism. It takes a lot of strength to be open about their status and to live knowing that there is no cure yet. I wish we had so much energy flowing in the women’s/gender ‘movement’.

LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ responds to police visits

The past weeks have been hectic and I was in and out of the country which probably is noticeable on the blog.  The most interesting information flow that I am coming across everyday is how LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ is responding to the police visits that it has encountered in the past weeks. The first raid which happened two weeks ago received a lot of responses and reactions because it was an official event with guests from Dutch donor organizations and because Labrys acted on the situation using international human rights protection mechanisms.  Labrys contacted Human Rights Watch and used UN Special Procedures to address the issue. Human Rights Watch issued an official press release condemning the police raid while the UN sent a note to Kyrgyz Ministry of International Affairs.  

The press release has a photo of the district police officer who lead the raid and it was put on the wall in the community center to be shown to other police who might want to raid the center.  The community center staff has a strategy to deal with new visits and list of contacts of people and organization who could help in case of police visit. There are two duty staff at nights and Labrys is in high alert due to possible revenge from the police which other human rights activists warned Labrys about.  Meanwhile the reactions to the visit are coming from all over the world with LGBT organizations expressing solidarity and asking what they can do about the situation.

In my opinion the reactions and the impact that the information has made will improve Labrys advocacy because the Kyrgyz human rights activists who usually do not relate LGBT matters to their priority work can now understand that LGBT activists experience the same harrassment and pressure from the state that the other organizations do.  Also Labrys realized that there is a lot of support from both within and outside of Kyrgyzstan and will be more active in its advocacy work.   

Riots in Bangladesh against women’s inheritance rights

Yesterday evening Euronews reported about the riots of Muslims who were protesting against women receiving the rights to inherit property equally to men in Bangladesh. It was the first time that I actually realized that globally women’s struggle for equal rights will take dozens if not hundreds of years. It was maybe a hundred of women marching, some of  them had severe scars on their faces after men who proposed to them spilled acid on them. Men were throwing rocks and screaming. Rather a strange picture for a post-Soviet person, women against men walking on the streets.

I hope that Kyrgyzstan will never turn to Sharia law which is the justification that they use in Bangladesh.

Gender mainstreaming in large instititions: not an easy task

Yesterday I had the honor of attending a public discussion of social and environmental policies of European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. To my surprise I only found gender in two places of the 72-page-long document . When I inquired why the document does not cover gender, a representative of EBRD responded that EBRD does not have the expertise to provide gender perspective within the document.  I realized that one of the issues that exist still even for large institutions is that there is a problem with lack of expertise in gender mainstreaming and few people even among professional consultants look at gender as a factor of utmost importance in their assessments and recommendations.

From theory and practice that I have been exposed to, it is very clear that any intervention or project or program or legislation or action affects men and women differently, just like it affects different ethnic groups differently, people with special needs differently. Yet as gender is usually the most rigid categories the differences are vast, yet it is usually assumed that they are not there. Market-oriented firms do assess their market through a gender lense, why don’t other institutions?

Writing shadow reports on CEDAW

Today I acutely felt the differences between mainstream gender NGOs and gender NGOs working with stigmatized communities like sex workers or lesbian women.  CEDAW reports that come from Kyrgyzstan hardly include the latter groups and the people working for putting together the reports usually come from mainstream NGOs e.g. working with ‘normal’ women. A normal woman would be a young woman, probably married, probably with one or two or three children and probably in need of support in terms of a mini-credit or legal support in case she is divorcing or shelter/consultation in case she is living with an abusive partner. The usual approach to this ‘normal’ woman is victimizing, she does not sound like an agent in the reports but rather as somebody who is a recipient of care and support.

The ‘other’ women are not present in the mainstream reports or discussed in one sentence because it is a requirement (‘the number of sex workers under 16 years old has increased due to harsh economic situation’ or ‘criminal code mentions forced lesbian sexual contacts as grounds for longer rape sentence’).

This post is rather a short though on the larger reports, I will be looking at the texts soon and posting more in detail about some of the interesting mismatches in the reports.