Legal Tools for the Establishment of Gender Equality through International Law

This manual starts with a general background on the role of international law and how it can be used in a domestic context. It then touches on the concept of Customary International Law and some international forums for enforcing women’s rights when domestic efforts fail. We then look at some of the tools women are using – the laws – starting with the women’s rights treaty – the bill of rights for women – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, followed by a brief discussion of other treaties with a bit of extra focus on the ICCPR. In addition to treaties, a number of other international legal tools have developed including, most recently, Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. The manual then reviews two other forums for enforcing women’s rights—regional bodies and tribunals. It then discusses the role of constitutions and quotas in advancing rights. Finally we try to provide other resources for understanding and researching international law. We hope this guide will be the beginning of your use of international law to advance rights.

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Advancing the Legal Enforcement of SCR 1325: Structural and Political Obstacles Imposed by the United Nations

The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) in 2000 was a legal milestone for women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination. For the first time the UN Security Council not only recognized the gender-biased impact of internal or country conflict,  it also mandated that the UN itself and all member states erect and monitor enforceable protections from such gender-based violence. However, there is still an urgent need to address:

  • The lack of any systematic progress towards parity for women as decision-makers in UN sponsored and other peace negotiations;
  • The failure to recognize SCR 1325 as a binding international law, particularly, as applicable to transitional justice processes;
  • The total exclusion of women stakeholders from such pariah states as Burma who are forced to operate only in exile and because of their difficult legal status are prevented from travel and access to critical  INGO and UN networking;
  • The discrimination against women survivors/victims of conflict from certain countries like Iraq where the politicized nature of the conflict has led to such actions as the de facto UN “blacklisting”, stopping any UN  support to the war crimes tribunal or to women victims of gender crimes under the Saddam regime;
  • The absence of any penalties or sanctions for repeated violations of SCR 1325 or country funding conditions based on compliance in country action plans.

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The Use of CEDAW to Invalidate Discriminatory Laws and Promote Gender Equality

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) defines discrimination against women and requires states not only to prohibit discrimination but also to take affirmative steps in order to achieve gender equality.  The Convention is legally binding upon States that have ratified the Convention and any laws in violation of CEDAW must be struck down.

CEDAW has been used to support affirmative action policies and programs as well as to strike down laws that are in violation of the Convention.  These cases carry significant import: the application of CEDAW in domestic courts gives CEDAW legitimacy globally and reinforces the principal that domestic courts are bound by international treaties such as CEDAW.

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Iraqi Women's Rights and International Law

The Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq (WAFDI) and the Global Justice Center (GJC) jointly organized a three-day conference on women’s rights and international law November 13th – 15th at the Dead Sea, Jordan.  Attendees included twenty members of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) and representatives from the President’s office, the Prime Minister’s office, the Parliament, the Ministry of Human Rights as well as prominent members of civil society.  The conference addressed a crucial subject for women in Iraq: sexual violence, as a war crime, a crime against humanity and an instrument of genocide, and its drastic impact on the victims.  This issue was addressed in the context of international law and its role in the IHT, with an eye towards having the IHT address these crimes in its upcoming indictments and judgments.

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