Posts Tagged ‘Gender Equality’

Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Myriam Merlet

Part IV of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Myriam Merlet was considered one of Haiti’s most prominent leaders and catalysts of the women’s rights movement. Merlet was one of the 300,000 people who perished in the  7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. As part of our series on inspirational and influential women, we take a look at her work as an advocate for gender equality and the rights of women facing sexual violence.

Myriam Merlet

 

In the 70s, Merlet left Haiti and sought refuge in Canada, where she studied economics, women’s issues, feminist theory, and political sociology. Upon the completion of her studies, Merlet returned to Haiti in the mid 1980s, stating, “While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. We’re a country in which three-fourths of the people can’t read and don’t eat properly. I’m an integral part of the situation…as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them [the problems].” Upon returning to Haiti, Merlet used her education to lead grassroots advocacy to promote the rights of Haitian women and worked with others to change the culturally accepted norm of gender-based violence.

Merlet was involved in an array of organizations seeking to create and enforce gender equality. In Merlet’s early advocacy years, she founded EnfoFanm, an organization that sought to raise global awareness about the challenges Haitian women face, namely the history and continued use of sexual assault by government soldiers, police, and criminal gangs as means of controlling and oppressing women. EnfoFanm also led a campaign to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women to celebrate and commemorate their work as well as elevate the status of women within Haitian culture. Later in 2006, Merlet took part in creating the Coordination Nationale pour le Plaidoyer des Femmes [National Coordination for Women’s Advocacy] and served as a spokesperson for the organization to fight against sexism within the public sector.

One of Merlet’s greatest accomplishments was leading the efforts to reclassify rape. Prior to 2005, rape was considered a “crime of passion” or an “offense against morals” in Haiti. Rape victims and their families seldom received monetary compensation from the perpetrators, and had no hope for a legal sentencing or justice for the victim. In large part thanks to the work of Merlet and many other women activists, rape has been reclassified as a criminal offense. However, there remains a lack of a precise definition of rape as well as strong judicial system to uphold and enforce the criminalization of rape. As a result, many rapes continue to be overlooked by authorities and there is a stark lack of rape prosecutions, leaving victims vulnerable and susceptible to further gender-based violence.

From 2006 to 2008 Merlet acted as the Chief of Staff to Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. There, she continued to promote equal rights and end gender discrimination and violence. Though in a government position, Merlet continued to participate in grassroots advocacy and worked closely with the Minister for the Coordination of Women and Women’s Rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. Together, Merlet and Lassegue opened the first Haiti Sorority Safe House and V-Day Safe House, both of which act as safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence. At both of these safe houses women can access medical, legal, and psychological aid as well as gain life skills through the business and computer training courses offered. There continues to be an overwhelming lack of safe houses and aid offered to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Merlet and Lassegue’s work is carried on by organizations like Fanm Deside, but more needs to be done.

The earthquake served as a reminder of how crucial the work in which Merlet was involved continues to be. A report by Amnesty International stated, “the displacements and living conditions in the displaced persons camps have increased the risk of facing gender-based violence for women and girls, while the destruction of police stations and court houses during the 2010 earthquake further weakened that state’s ability to provided adequate protection.” Women and girls living in the camps with poor lighting at night, unsecure tents, and limited police presence continue to be increasingly susceptible to rape and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the child sex ring run by United Nations Peacekeepers exacerbated the sexual abuse women and girls faced in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

The work Merlet started for the promotion, empowerment, and protection of Haitian women’s rights at the grassroots level remains imperative. The UN’s debacle illustrates why women and local leaders must be involved in the disaster relief process and the need to bring female issues to the forefront of government policy in the hopes of strengthening the justice system to deter rape and gender-based violence as well as provided justice for female victims.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn coming April 20th

 

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United Nations Commission on the Status of Women: The Need for Gender Parity within Human Rights Bodies

For an introduction to the Commission on the Status of Women read here 

Uruguay, Sweden, Liechtenstein, and The Gambia sponsored a panel entitled Closing the Gender Gap: Achieving Gender Parity in UN Human Rights Bodies at the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW), which examined the continuation of historical male domination within international human rights bodies through an intercultural feminist view point. Female inclusion within the UN, as well as other international human rights bodies is crucial because these entities must accurately represent humanity if they are to be considered legitimate and effective. There is a current lack of considering gender as a critical issue when discussing human rights. This creates a problem when analyzing human rights violations such as sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, and modern slavery – all of which disproportionately affect women and girls due to global, cultural, and societal norms.

The Gqual Campaign was created to accurately report female representation within international human rights bodies as well as to promote female nominations after they found that, “women are underrepresented in virtually all international bodies for monitoring and developing international law, human rights, and international relations.” In 2015, Gqual conducted a study illuminating the stark lack of female representation in positions of power within international human rights bodies. Women occupied a mere 17% of all positions within regional and international tribunals. For example, within the five international tribunals, only 13 of the 72 judges were female. The lack of women nominated to international tribunals and monitoring bodies stems from historic exclusion of women based on cultural and societal norms.  

2016: the International Criminal Court, 2 Women 8 Men

Traditionally, women are secluded to the private sphere as caregivers, homemakers, domestic workers, etc., while men dominate the public sphere in government, trade, work abroad, etc. affording males the opportunity to exchange ideas, become confident in their abilities, and achieve economic independence. Through the continued enforcement of traditional roles, females are shut out from society and sequestered into ‘female only spaces.’ This practice dampens women’s experience, confidence, and voices, leaving women without the ability or confidence to enter male dominated spaces in order to participate in discussions and decision-making. Without female participation at a local level, there is little hope that women will gain the skills and experience required to sit on international human rights bodies in the future.

2015: the Inter-American Court of Humans Rights, 2 Women 4 Men

Furthermore, the continued trend of minimal or no female education exacerbates women’s inability to be nominated to international human rights bodies. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted a study on women living in the rural mountains of Nepal, finding that a lack of formal education for girls resulted in a disproportionate number of women unable to speak the national language. Instead, the majority of mountain women solely spoke local dialects. This phenomenon is replicated in rural communities throughout the world. Lack of female education not only prohibits women from gaining the expertise needed to sit on international human rights bodies, but also bars them from participating in local decision-making meetings held in the national language, further silencing them and excluding them from important discussions.

All international human rights bodies must adopt a gender sensitive participatory approach in order to enhance women’s empowerment and inclusion in decision-making entities. ICIMOD indicates that the enforcement of traditional gender norms silences women, making them uncomfortable and unwilling to participate in male dominated decision-making bodies. The first step to achieve a gender participatory approach in international human rights entities is to create local female groups that allow women to freely discuss ideas and experiences and to propose solutions affording women the opportunity to gain experience in decision-making entities and gain confidence in their abilities. Next, women must be integrated into the existing international human rights bodies with the understanding that women offer unique and valid experiences, viewpoints, and solutions; and therefore must be viewed as equal members.  

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The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women: the Unequal Effects of Climate Change on Rural Women

This year, the United Nations held the 62nd annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in order to gather the international community to discuss the importance and necessity for inclusion and empowerment of women on a global level and to propose strategies to enact positive change. The first CSW was held in 1947, two years after the inception of the United Nations, with the purpose of creating international conventions and standards to change existing discriminatory male-oriented legislation as well as to foster global awareness on the legitimacy of women’s issues.

http://www.op.org/en/content/csw-62-empowering-rural-women-and-girls

Each year CSW adopts a theme based on the current global realities of women. The theme this year was Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. As the name suggests, there is an array of issues that affect rural women and girls. This post focuses on a particular panel of interest: Harnessing Women’s Rights to Natural Resources to Advance the Status of Rural Women

Many assume that climate change affects people equally or affects them based on geographic location; however, this is not the case. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change across the globe. This is often easier to see and understand in rural areas. Like in urban areas, rural women typically act as the primary caregivers and providers for the household. Rural women face unique challenges in this role in regards to collecting water and food. Due to the increased regularity and length of droughts, women are forced to travel further distances to gather water. Irregular weather patterns caused by climate change can lead to crop and livestock failure, forcing women to find alternative sources of nutrition. Both of these activities have physical tolls on women’s bodies and reduce their ability to actively participate in the formal economy.

In contrast, though urban women often act as the primary caregivers within homes as well, they do not face the same challenges rural women do when gathering necessary household resources. The unequal affect of climate change on urban women is better understood when examining the intersectionality between the lack of socioeconomic empowerment and female participation in the environmental decision making process. Globally, women are more likely than men to experience poverty, often rendering them reliant on community networks and social services. This makes it difficult for women to recover from natural disasters that affect the infrastructure, job market, and housing.

Mother and Child Post Hurricane Harvey

Along with the primary impacts of natural disasters (i.e. lack of shelter, food, water, etc.), women face more secondary impacts, including sexual and gender-based violence, loss or reduction of economic opportunities, and an increased workload. A prime example of this is their susceptibility to human trafficking post-natural disaster due to an increased vulnerability, need for economic stability, and lack of options. Further contributing to female economic disadvantages, the UN Women found that the female unpaid workload is more likely to increase following natural disasters because women are most likely to be tasked with caring for the ill or injured while the men continue to work, further limiting their economic opportunities. Girls were also more likely than boys to be taken out of school to aid with the domestic chores after a disaster, resulting in a lack of universal primary education and further disadvantaging females.

Given the unequal impact of climate change on women, there is an obvious need to include them in climate change decision-making bodies. However, the average representation of females in national and global climate negotiating bodies is currently less than 30%. Women, especially in rural areas, are more knowledgeable about local water systems and crop growth and are regularly forced to find alternative solutions to increase water and food availability by finding new areas to drill wells, using of modified seeds, etc., highlighting their ability to actively contribute to disaster planning and recovery. Furthermore, women account for 50% of the world’s population, and the bodies responsible for climate change response should therefore more accurately represent humanity.

In order to increase female representation in climate change decision-making, governmental and intergovernmental institutions must codify regulations enforcing gender equality in not only the environmental ministries but also gender and economic ministries. This will ensure equal representation, create a shift in cultural and societal norms that portray women as victims as opposed to equals, and create intersectionality between government efforts to address climate change and to empower women in order to make the link between climate change and gender.

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